Hiking Boots and Waterproofing Explained

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Waterproofing is a simple but often neglected task of maintaining your hiking boots. Just like regular cleaning, this procedure helps keep your boots in tip-top condition while adding more life to them. With proper care and waterproofing, you can trek confidently through wet conditions like puddles, shallow streams, mud, and rain.

Hiking boots require waterproofing once their water-repellent finish starts wearing off. When this happens, they begin to let in moisture through the boots’ outer layers. You’ll then need to replace the waterproofing before your boots deteriorate from moisture.

Keep it here to learn all about waterproofing your hiking boots, including: 

  • Why you need to waterproof your hiking boots
  • How to choose the right waterproofing treatment
  • The right way to waterproof your hiking shoes
  • Tips and tricks to help maintain your treated boots

Why You Need to Waterproof Your Hiking Boots

A new pair of hiking boots often comes with a waterproof coating. However, repeated use leads to wear and tear, and your boots’ waterproofing capacity gradually worsens. What’s more, the more mileage you cover, the faster this deterioration happens, rendering your boots’ Durable Water Repellent (DWR) finish ineffective.

Therefore, to keep your feet dry and extend the life of your boots, you will need to conduct regular waterproofing. The best way to do this is to apply the waterproofing treatment several times during the hiking season, depending on how often you hike and your boots’ general condition. It’s better to give them a fresh coat before going on a big trip to be on the safe side.

While every hike doesn’t entail wading through muddy puddles, you might encounter unexpected rain, so it’s best to prepare for a worst-case scenario. Still, it’s important to note that a waterproof hiking shoe doesn’t breathe as well as a non-waterproof one. So, while waterproofing keeps water out, the boot tends to get damp and sweaty in humid conditions.

What Type of Boot Waterproofing Treatment Should You Use?

While dozens of different hiking boot waterproofing products exist, each is designed for a specific material. As a result, the ideal waterproofing treatment to use depends on the material used to make your hiking boots. Thus, you can choose your treatment based on the following hiking boot materials: 

  • Leather. New leather hiking boots appear smooth and shiny. Made from animal hide, these boots are naturally waterproof and boast a breathable waterproof membrane that further improves their waterproofing abilities. A great treatment to use is Nikwax Waterproofing Wax Liquid since it absorbs into the leather fast. 
  • Synthetic. Non-leather hiking boots are not always waterproof. Their uppers consist of man-made fabric though the use of a Gore-tex membrane plus a DWR coating makes it both waterproof and breathable. Go for a waterproofing treatment that treats both fabric or leather hiking boots with a Gore-tex membrane like Gear Aid Revivex Suede & Fabric Water Repellent.
  • Nubuck Leather. Unlike full-grain leather, nubuck leather is neither smooth nor shiny. Instead, it sports a brushed effect that comes from being buffered down like suede. This results in a thinner, less durable, and less waterproof material. Still, most nubuck leather boots also bear a breathable waterproof layer to boost their waterproofness. Try Nikwax Nubuck & Suede Proof Waterproofing for an extra DWR coating. 

Now that you know why waterproofing is essential and the type of treatment to use, let’s look into the actual steps to take when waterproofing your hiking boots.

How to Waterproof Your Hiking Boots

Before buying and using your waterproofing treatment, the first thing to do is to read product descriptions and application instructions carefully. Then, once you are good and ready, start with cleaning your hiking boots. For an in-depth guide, visit our A-Z guide on how to clean your boots.

Follow these steps:

  1. Remove the shoelaces.
  2. Using a soft brush, gently but firmly remove dust, dirt, and grime.
  3. For deeper cleaning, use running water, your preferred boot cleaner, or mild detergent to wash the boots.
  4. If too soiled, you can soak the boots in water but skip this step altogether if you have suede or Nubuck leather boots.
  5. Rinse the boots with clean water.
  6. Towel dry the shoes.

Now, your shoes are ready for the next step – waterproofing. You don’t want to allow your boots to dry completely. The waterproofing treatment works best on damp boots. Wet leather boots, in particular, enable the treatment to settle into the leather more effectively. 

  1. Using the sponge applicator, apply the waterproofing treatment to clean wet leather boots.
  2. Leave for a few minutes.
  3. Wipe off excess treatment.
  4. Buffer.
  5. Allow the shoes to dry completely – at normal temperature – before use.

In general, the procedure is the same for all hiking shoes, but the waterproofing treatment you use will depend on the material they are made of. For instance, hiking boots that sport a Gore-Tex® membrane or a similar type of waterproof layer don’t require waterproofing. All you need to do is clean the fabric. 

That said, Gore-tex, like any other material, also deteriorates over time. To help keep your boots in tip-top condition, some waterproofing treatment is advisable. Not only will it help revitalize the material’s breathable properties, but it will also maintain its stability.

Homemade Waterproofing Remedies

Even with waterproof hiking boots, there’s still more you can do to get them better prepared to face the outdoors. You can even use stuff lying around your home.

  1. In a small jar, mix 200 ml (0.67 ounces) olive oil with 50ml (1.69 ounces) beeswax. 
  2. Add some lavender and tea tree essential oil.
  3. Place the jar in cold water and heat it. 
  4. After a couple of minutes, your paste is ready for use. 

Additionally, you can waterproof your boots by using commercial water-based waxes or creams. Such ointments help maintain durability and also repel water. The water-based formulas are also ideal for worn-out shoes since they help prevent leaks. 

Tips and Tricks on Maintaining Your Waterproof Hiking Boots

To keep your waterproof boots in excellent condition, follow the below tips and tricks:

  • Clean your boots often, especially after a rigorous hike. 
  • For best results, use your waterproofing treatment on clean, damp boots as dirt, grit, or dust might hamper coverage and penetration. Besides, you want moisture inside your boots’ exterior layer to help draw in the waterproofing treatment.
  • Avoid using wax waterproofing if you plan on resoling your boots since the residue hampers a new adhesive’s ability to bond with the new sole. 
  • Avoid using grease, wax, or oil waterproofing treatment on Gore-tex as it can impair the membrane’s breathability. Use a spray or sponge treatment instead, but be sure to check your boots’ care instructions before usage.
  • Opt for a product that’s convenient to use. While wax treatments provide excellent waterproofing for leather boots, they are more time-consuming to apply than sprays or creams.
  • Always choose a waterproofing treatment that doesn’t discolor your boots. In the case of a spray, go for an odorless one.
  • Okay, so your boots are waterproof. That doesn’t mean you can wade through all the streams you hike across. Rather, wear gaiters to help you get across. 
  • While the waterproofing process is basically the same for all hiking boots, remember to read and follow the specific application instructions for your preferred product.
  • When drying your waterproof shoes, avoid sunlight, direct heat, or damp, unventilated places like the attic, garage, or car trunk. Alternatively, you can speed up the drying process using a fan or stuffing the boots with newspaper.  

Final Words

Waterproofing your hiking boots can make a world of difference. Protect your shoes from unnecessary wear and tear and you’ll not only get to wear your boots for long but save money in the long run too. 

If pressed for time, choose a quick to use boot waterproofing treatment such as a spray or water-based formula that you simply shake well and apply. Treat your hiking boots well, and they’ll function remarkably and look good. Always.


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