Hiking boots come from the factory with a waterproof coating on the outside.
It’s not what makes it actually waterproof but it helps. The coating is DWR or Durable Water Repellency. This is a creme or a spray coating that makes water bead off, kind of like that coating you can get on the windshield of your car.
Beading the water off helps do 2 things. First, it keeps your boots drier! Beading gets the water off before it has a chance to soak in and getting your feet wet.
Secondly, getting the water off the boots before it soaks in prevents ‘wet out’. Boots need to breathe to get moisture like sweat out of the boot and away from your feet. If the outer layer of your boot is soaked with water, it can’t breathe and can’t let that moisture out. Your feet stay sweaty which can lead to blisters.
Over time to the DWR starts to wear off. The water doesn’t bead off any more and soaks into the outer layer of the boot. If the water isn’t beading, the boot isn’t breathing.
Time to re-waterproof those boots.
One last thing before we get into the process. ‘Re-waterproofing’ boots doesn’t actually make them ‘waterproof’ any more. The leather or Gore-Tex membrane makes them waterproof. The DWR coating helps the water bead off, not soaking in. If the waterproof membrane is shot, then you can help the water bead off but it will still get inside eventually.
Step 1: Figure out what kind of waterproofing spray, creme or wax you need. It depends on the kind of boot you have.
Full-grain leather is the smooth, shiny ‘leather’ look on the outside of the boot. Leather is naturally very water and abrasion resistant. You can use something like Nikwax Waterproofing Wax Liquid for Leather.
Nubuck or Suede is the brushed leather look. Nubuck is a brushed full-thickness leather while suede is brushed but a thinner split-grain thickness. Nikwax Nubuck & Suede Proof works well on this kind of leather. Waterproofers can change the colour of Nubuck or Suede so test a small patch before doing the whole boot.
Synthetic is anything man-made in a boot, often nylon or polyester, but can be mixed with leather. They often have a Gore-Tex waterproof membrane inside or something similar. Nikwax Fabric and Leather Proof is a good choice here. Don’t use wax, grease or oil on Gore-Tex boots.
Now that you’ve sorted which kind of boots you have and what kind of waterproofer you need, it’s time to clean your boots.
Waterproofing works best on clean, damp boots. For more details see our guide to how to clean hiking boots.
Here’s the short story:
- Remove laces
- Brush off the dust and dirt
- Rinse with clean water
- Wash with Nikwax Footwear Cleaning Gel if they are really dirty
Sometimes they need a soak they’re so dirty. Don’t soak nubuck. It will soften the leather too much.
Right after cleaning, when the boots are wet is the best time to put the waterproofer on.
Follow the instructions on the container of the waterproofer but usually it goes like this:
- Apply all over in a well ventilated area or outside. Spray from 6 inches away.
- Let sit for a few minutes
- Wipe off excess
- Let boots dry
If the boots aren’t wet enough wrap in a wet towel and put in tub or sink.
Drying your boots
Now that they are clean and waterproofed, it’s time to dry.
Let them dry in a room temperature place with low humidity.
Don’t put them by anything warm like a wood stove or radiator. If you want to speed up the process put them in front of a fan or on a boot dryer.
If the inside is wet, stuff some paper towel or hand towel inside.
Storing your boots
Store your boots where the temperature is stable and doesn’t get too hot or cold. Outside, in the trunk of your car or beside the wood stove are not good places to store boots.
How often should you re-waterproof?
Re-waterproof as often as you like but once a year is a good minimum.
If you are using them heavily you will have to apply more than that. Watch the beading on the boots and re-apply when needed. Before big trips is a good time for a clean and waterproofing.
Boots work better and last longer if you keep them clean, so clean often.
Does re-waterproofing help when water goes over the top of the boots?
Nope. Nothing will help when the water in a stream or puddle is over the top of your boots. Gaiters will keep mud and snow out and water during a quick dunk but eventually that water is getting in if it’s higher than the top of your boots.
Let’s hear your comments below.
What do you use to re-waterproof your boots? How often do you do it?