How to Waterproof Hiking Boots

In a perfect world, a pair of waterproof hiking boots would stay waterproof for life. Unfortunately, with use and wear, the waterproofing on hiking boots begins to deteriorate and the more miles that you wear them for, the faster this will happen.

Alternatively, you could have a favorite pair of hiking boots that aren't waterproof, but you need to make them resistant to water. So, if you want to make sure that your feet are kept dry and, at the same time, prolong the life of your hiking shoes, then regular waterproofing is a must.

How often should you waterproof your hiking boots?

Assuming you want your hiking boots to last more than just a couple of years of use, you need to apply a hiking boot waterproofing treatment to your day hiking boots at least a couple of times during a hiking season. If you're in any doubt, give your backpacking boots a new coating before any big trips.

Remember that your boots are designed and made in order to withstand dirt, mud, rocks as well as water. However, this doesn't mean that your hiking boots are indestructible. This means that it's really important to give them a quick wipe down after every time you wear them. This is because dirt, as well as mud, will wear down your hiking shoes and dry them out over time, which can lead to cracked boots.

In addition, dirt attracts water. This makes the waterproof coating less effective, which makes it more difficult for the moisture from sweat to escape. You don't have to give your boots a thorough scrub, just make sure they're dirt-free before you put them in storage again.

Waterproofing various hiking boot materials

Keeping your feet dry is one of the most critical things that you should pay attention to when you’re out hiking. Wet feet are not only uncomfortable, but may be dangerous in the cold and contribute to blisters, or you getting the flu. Making sure that your hiking shoes are waterproof is easy. Only 20 minutes of work can keep your feet dry and your boots in great shape.

Waterproofing leather hiking boots

Leather is the most traditional material which hiking boots are made out of. Leather hiking boots are very durable, which means that they will last for a long time after they are worked in. The only downside to hiking in leather boots is that the material is not as breathable, so your feet may get hot and sweaty inside.

Many full-grain leather hiking boots don't possess a waterproof membrane. Rather, they rely heavily on the naturally waterproof properties that leather has. However, with use, even leather boots can begin to get a tad bit leaky. Apply a boot waterproofing treatment before you go on a hike where you know you'll be doing water crossings, which will help to keep the leather in a better condition for longer.

How to waterproof leather boots

Once you've thoroughly cleaned your leather boots, it's important that you don't leave the boots to dry fully. Hiking boot waterproofing treatment is much more effective when it is applied to wet boots, especially when these are made of leather, as it allows the treatment to settle into the upper.

Recommended products for leather hiking boots

Wax is superb for conditioning and lubricating full-grain leather without softening it. However, this type of conditioning product shouldn't be used with Gore-Tex as wax can alter its breathability. Although applying wax is one of the best products that you can use for waterproofing leather boots, using this method takes a bit of time and is not as convenient as opposed to others.

Here's how to use it to waterproof your leather boots:

  • Heat the wax to soften it
  • Work it into clean and wet leather with a cloth or with your fingers wearing rubber gloves
  • Repeat the process
  • Leave to dry fully before use

Liquid wax is water-based, biodegradable and is free from fluorocarbons and VOC’s. It has a sponge applicator and is much simpler to apply as opposed to traditional wax. It performs in much the same manner as wax, but absorbs into the leather far more quickly.

Here's how to use the liquid wax to waterproof your hiking shoes:

  • Apply to clean and wet leather with the sponge applicator
  • Leave on for a couple of minutes
  • Wipe off the excess
  • Buff
  • Leave to dry fully before use

Waterproofing suede hiking boots

Suede leather needs a bit more TLC than full-grain leather. Utilizing wax will ruin the soft, brushed finish and could also stain the boots. This means that you should use a specially designed treatment.

How to waterproof suede leather boots

Make sure that you clean your day hiking boots well. Be careful not to soak your hiking shoes in water. Most suede leather treatments require your backpacking boots to be damp in order to improve the uptake of the spray or cream. See the instructions on your specific treatment before you get started.

Recommended products for suede hiking boots

Specifically designed to maintain the texture of suede leather, the Nikwax treatment adds a DWR coating to the individual fibers of the leather. Light leather may become darker after treatment, which means that you need to be sure to test a small patch first.

Here's how to waterproof your suede hiking boots:

  • Spray onto clean, dry suede from 15cm away
  • Leave it to dry
  • Add another coating
  • Leave to completely dry before use

How to waterproof fabric boots

A lot of fabric hiking boots will not have many natural waterproofing properties. These backpacking or day hiking boots rely greatly on a waterproof membrane as well as a DWR coating which keeps water from the surface of the boots. In addition, because there are often lots of seams, knowing how to waterproof Gore-Tex boots well is incredibly important.

How to waterproof fabric hiking boots

Clean the boots thoroughly. You may need to give fabric boots an extra scrubbing in order to get dirt and dust-free from the seams and joins.

As with leather boots, most products for fabric boots require the boots to be wet or damp when applying treatments. However, a rule of thumb is to check the instructions first.

Recommended products for fabric hiking boots

For fabric waterproofing, the Nikwax boot waterproofing treatment can be used on leather boots as well as synthetic boots. This makes this ideal for boots that combine the two. The product coats the individual fibers of the fabric with a DWR treatment that is flexible and makes sure that breathability is retained.

  • Apply to clean, wet hiking boots by spraying from 5cm away
  • Leave for several minutes
  • Wipe off the excess
  • Leave to dry fully before use

The Revivex Fabric waterproofing spray is a fantastic option if you are treating fabric or suede leather boots which have a waterproof and breathable membrane such as Gore-Tex. The treatment puts a DWR coating to the boots' uppers.

  • Spray onto damp, clean boots
  • Leave for a period of five minutes
  • Wipe off the excess
  • Leave to dry fully before use.

The process of waterproofing your hiking boots

If you're an enthusiastic backpacker, hiker, need boots for work, or are just a general lover of the outdoors, then waterproofing your boots is incredibly important. If your day hiking boots do not come from a factory with a waterproof guarantee, it will be difficult to completely waterproof them in order to keep water out.

If you need truly waterproof boots, find ones which are made of rubber or a pair of hiking shoes that come from the factory with a permanent waterproof seal. You can then use some of these tips to further waterproof those boots for extra peace of mind.

  • 1. Rinse the boots with clean water in order to remove mud and dampen their surface.
  • 2. Use a technical cleaner and shake it well. Press the sponge applicator in order to break the seal.
  • 3. Apply clean gel generously over the area that you want to clean. A light foam should develop. If your boots are very dirty, scrub with a stiff nylon brush.
  • 4. Rinse well with clean water.

Applying the waterproofing solution

Select a cream, wax or spray waterproofing product. This will be determined by the fabric of your boot. The next thing that you'll do is to find a well-ventilated room in order to apply the product. Alternatively, go outside to make the application.

Rub the waterproofing solution in or spray liberally on the hiking boot. Wipe off any excess, or rub it in, a clean rag. Let the boots dry as instructed (at least overnight).

Storing your boots

Store your waterproof hiking boots in a dry and well-ventilated room. If you don't utilize your boots for a long period of time, you may use a shoe tree in order to preserve the shape of the boot.

As we've mentioned previously in this article, most hiking boots contain leather and leather doesn't respond well to heat. Too hot or simply moist areas will result in your hiking shoes and boots cracking. Your best storage bet is probably your closet; however, since you don't wear your hiking boots every day, put them in a less prominent spot than the shoes you wear throughout the week.

How often should you waterproof your hiking boots

The frequency with which you'll need to waterproof your boots will depend on the frequency with which you wear them. A good rule of thumb to adhere to is to waterproof your hiking boots whenever they get extra dirty or when water doesn't bead on their surface. This might equate to waterproofing them once every couple of months.

Buy high quality hiking boots online today

Hiking boots are crucial to your comfort as well as performance on the trail; however, this no longer means a stiff and hefty model which will weigh you down. The trend is toward lighter materials which still offer decent support, and waterproof boots are the most popular by far (many are offered in a non-waterproof version for hiking in hot or dry climates).

At Ridgemont Outfitters, we understand this, which is why we've designed our boots for ruggedness, water-resistance and traction. But, most importantly, they also look great. Browse our online catalogue and choose a pair that will fit all your hiking and life needs!

Alex Hall