Moisture inside hiking boots is not just uncomfortable and smelly, but it's also the fastest way to get blisters. Over the long term, moisture can even contribute to unhealthy feet.
If you hike in rainy, wet conditions, it's a great idea to know how to waterproof hiking boots.
It's also important to know that if you have purchased waterproof hiking boots, they will lose water resistance over time, and you will eventually need to refresh the waterproofing.
Leather will also degrade over time, drying and developing cracks, so maintaining the waterproofing helps to keep leather hiking boots properly conditioned.
When to Waterproof Hiking Boots
How often your hiking boots need new waterproofing depends on how heavily they are used, and how much water they are exposed to. However, as a general rule, you should re-apply waterproofing when:
Water Stops Beading on the Surface of Your Boots
If you notice that drops of water no longer form tight beads and roll off the boots, they need new waterproofing.
They are Extremely Dirty and Muddy
If your boots have become very dirty and muddy, they need a thorough cleaning and conditioning. You may as well refresh the waterproofing at the same time.
What You Will Need to Waterproof Hiking Boots
You will need a waterproofing treatment that is appropriate for the material of your hiking boot uppers.
Whether your hiking boots are full-grain leather, suede, synthetic, or fabric, they need the appropriate waterproofing product.
If you aren't sure what your hiking boots are made of, the manufacturer's website will usually tell you, and may also recommend the appropriate product. Waterproofing products typically come in:
A spray is a convenient way to waterproof hiking boots, and there are sprays available for almost any kind of material. Be careful with spray to get even, thorough coverage on every surface.
Creams are a popular way to condition and waterproof leather and synthetic hiking boots.
Waxes are less popular than they once were, because they are a bit more difficult to use, but they are an excellent way to waterproof leather and suede.
Depending on your waterproofing product, you may need a clean cloth, sponge, or other applicator
Gentle Scrubbing Brush
You may also need a boot cleaner if your hiking boots are extremely dirty.
You may also want to stuff your boots with newspaper or packing paper to help them dry more quickly
How to Waterproof Hiking Boots
Before waterproofing your hiking boots, you will need to clean them. To clean your boots:
- Remove the laces.
- Use a brush to gently scrub away dirt and debris.
- If the boots are caked with mud and dirt, soak them in an inch of water to loosen and remove it.
- Rinse the boots with clean water and make sure they are clean.
- If your boots are extremely dirty, you may need to use a cleaning product to get the material clean.
Fabric hiking boots can usually be waterproofed when wet or dry. Most leather waterproofing treatments work best when the boots are slightly damp.
It's important to read and follow the instructions on your particular product. In many cases, you can simply progress from cleaning to waterproofing as the boots will be slightly damp at this stage.
However, full-grain leather boots may need more time to get wet enough to absorb a waterproofing treatment. If the leather of your boots isn't damp inside and out after cleaning, wrap the boots in a very wet towel and let them rest in a bucket for a couple of hours to get fully saturated.
Once your boots are sufficiently damp, follow these steps to waterproof your boots:
- Test your waterproofing product on a small, less visible area of the shoe. Some products may darken leather, which you may not want in your hiking boots.
- Apply your waterproofing treatment following the manufacturer's instructions.
- Pay special attention to seams and creases in the boot, since those areas receive more wear and are more likely to leak.
- Allow the boots to dry thoroughly before wearing them.
When drying hiking boots, place them in an area with good ventilation and low humidity, at room temperature. Do not use heat to try to dry the boots more quickly.
If you want to speed up the drying process, you can use a fan to improve air movement and speed drying. If your boots are very wet, you may want to stuff them with newspaper, and then change the newspaper several times as it absorbs water from the hiking boots.
Following these steps will keep your hiking boots looking their best, improve their durability and lifespan, and keep your feet comfortable and dry.