While hiking boots always used to be made of various kinds of leather, today, more and more hiking boots are being made of synthetic materials.
While we may often think of synthetic materials as being cheaper or of lower quality, the truth is that a wide range of manmade materials represent new technologies that can improve the performance and durability of hiking boots.
Gore-Tex, for example, was only invented in 1969, and has become very much in demand in hiking boots.
Also, more and more people want footwear that doesn't use any animal products, and manmade materials are naturally cruelty-free.
Here is a quick guide to how to care for and waterproof synthetic boots.
What to Use to Waterproof Synthetic Boots
When choosing a waterproofing product for your boots, it's important to know what your hiking boots are made of. If you aren't sure, check the manufacturer's website and find out. The manufacturer may also recommend particular cleaning and waterproofing products, which is helpful.
Typically, waterproofing synthetic boots is done with a spray. Spray-on products are convenient, and effective, giving fast, even coverage. These products are often not very long-lasting, and spray treatments may need to be repeated fairly often.
Waterproofing can also be done with a cream or polish-type product, that is buffed onto the surface of the boot. This method is more time consuming, but the effects often last longer because the product penetrates the boot more deeply.
Tips for Waterproofing Synthetic Boots
- Many hiking boots have uppers that are made of a combination of materials, and that combining leather with nylon or polyurethane is very common. There are products designed for combinations of materials, so choose something designed for that situation
- Remember that if you want to resole your hiking boots later, you should avoid wax-based waterproofing methods. Wax can leave a residue that impairs the adhesion of a new sole
- Synthetic boots should never be exposed to direct heat, especially during the drying process. While it may seem that heat will help boots dry faster, synthetic materials are often bonded together with glues and adhesives (rather than the stitching used in natural materials) and that these adhesives degrade more quickly when heated. The effect is greater if the shoes are cool and wet and then quickly heated.
How to Waterproof Synthetic Boots
Before waterproofing boots, they need to be thoroughly cleaned. Applying polishes, conditioners, or waterproofing over dirt simply locks it in place and makes the boots more difficult to clean. Cleaning is a crucial first step.
Use a brush to gently scrub away any mud, dirt, or debris from the shoe, and wipe them clean with a damp cloth. If necessary, soak the sole of the boots in water to soften caked-on mud before scrubbing it away.
For very dirty boots, you may want to use a cleaning product that will help to remove tough dirt. Choose a boot-cleaning product that won't harm the material of your synthetic boots, and follow the manufacturer's instructions to clean the boots.
If you have salt stains, the most effective way to remove them is to mix a small amount of a solution that is half vinegar and half water. Use a clean cloth to apply the vinegar solution and buff it on the stains. Use small amounts at a time, and don't saturate the boot, since vinegar is acidic. Repeat until the stains are removed.
Most waterproofing products for synthetic boots require the boots to be completely dry before application. Leave the boots in a cool, well-ventilated area until they are completely dry. This may take several hours or a day, depending on your humidity levels.
When your boots are clean and dry, they are ready for a waterproofing treatment.
- First, test a small, hidden area of the boot with the waterproofing product you want to use. Some products may change the color of the boot, and it's a good idea to test ahead of time. Give the product 30 minutes or so to soak into the test area, and then check to make sure you are happy with the result.
- Apply your waterproofing product, paying special attention to the seams around the sole, which are especially prone to moisture and leaks. Allow them to dry completely again before wearing them.
With some regular cleaning and proper care, synthetic hiking boots can last for years, and keep your feet dry and comfortable for hike after hike.