When it comes to outdoor gear, one particular thing that takes the most abuse are your boots. As you might know, a pair of hiking or camping footwear is not exactly cheap, which is why it is important that you know how to waterproof boots to maximize their life.
Any seasoned hiker or camper will tell you that it’s not enough that you have the proper gear; you should also take proper maintenance measures to ensure their longevity.
Aside from regularly cleaning your outdoor boots, waterproofing them should also be at the top of your list. Water is the mortal enemy of your boots. So make sure you know how to wash hiking boots properly to not ruin them.
Elements such as rain and snow do more than simply wet your socks and make you feel uncomfortable, they will effectively shorten the life of your boots.
Little by little, continued exposure will deteriorate your outdoor footwear, and they’ll start failing at protecting your feet. Wearing damaged boots while trekking swamps, and other wet areas is enough to ruin your wilderness experience.
Most Common Ways to Waterproof Boots
There are many ways to keep your outdoor boots waterproof. You can’t just choose one proofing method and be done with it. It is important that you know exactly the right product and method to use depending on the pair’s material.
Choose carefully which one is best for you to achieve the desired results. Otherwise, you run the risk of ruining the pair as opposed to protecting it.
Using waterproofing sprays
Perhaps the easiest and quickest way to waterproof your boots is to use sprays and similar products. This waterproofing method has received the most amount of review due to its less efficient results.
One of the most common arguments against waterproof sprays is that they don’t allow the material to breathe, especially if applied to leather boots.
However, if convenience is the main issue (or if you’re just feeling lazy), using sprays is a good option. They’re definitely better than not waterproofing your boots at all.
When using sprays, make sure you use the product that’s right for your kind of boots and preferably has good reviews.
How to apply waterproofing sprays on boots:
1. Using a footwear cleaning soap (don’t use bar soaps or detergents) or cream and water, remove all the dirt, grit, debris and mud from your boots. Make sure to use flexing motion to remove all particles especially when working with leather or fabric.
2. Wipe the boots with clean cloth to remove excess water but don’t make it too dry. The dampness will help the spray’s absorption into the material.
3. Hold the waterproofing spray can about 6 inches way from your boots and begin spraying. We recommend that you apply a few thin coats instead of doing one thick coat.
4. Allow your pair to dry overnight in normal temperature.
5. Depending on the product, some will require you to apply a second coat so be sure to read the instructions on the label.
As you apply the waterproofing spray, make sure that you check the seam and joints of the boots, as these areas are the most susceptible to water leaks. Make sure these parts are properly soaked with the spray.
Using wax-based products
For many people using wax-based products for waterproofing footwear strikes a good balance between convenience and protection.
There’s a good reason why this technique is popular among many outdoor enthusiasts. Using wax (including creams, gels, and pastes) is definitely a step-up from the spray method we’ve provided above.
A good wax-based product will not only protect your boots from water but it will also give them a lovely shine and even restore their condition.
They’re not only effective for repelling water from your boots, they are also utilized for tents and other outdoor gear. Check out our piece on best winter boots, to make sure you have the right ones for your needs.
How to apply waterproofing wax on boots:
1. Make sure that you thoroughly clean your pair of boots and get rid of any dirt or dried mud. You may use a footwear cleaning cream to achieve the best results. Using a soft brush, scrub the boots properly and rinse afterward.
2. Here’s the key to using wax on your boots: soft warmth. Take your wax and boots and put them in a nice warm place like a heating vent or in direct sunlight.
Keep in mind that too much heat will damage your boots. Just place it in soft warmth for a fair amount of time until the boots are warm to the touch but not hot.
3. Apply the wax using a clean cloth or tissue around the leather area of the boots. Avoid applying the wax on rubber or plastic surfaces of the boots.
4. Upon finishing the application, take your boots to the same warm place and let it sit for an hour or even overnight. This allows the wax to be absorbed.
5. Wipe away any excess wax using a clean cloth or tissue.
Wax-based products like beeswax does a great job of protecting your boots from water and it may even last for several months before reproofing is required.
Using specialty waterproofing compounds
Another common way to waterproof boots is to apply specialty waterproof compound products. These are specifically made to provide heavy-duty protection to your boots.
Specialty compounds are mainly used for protection, and it doesn’t give a special shine or restorative benefits to the footwear.
However, these products generally wear off slower so they provide better protection for extended periods of time. If you are looking to shine or polish your shoes, application of special wax or nourishing paste is required.
How to apply waterproofing compounds on boots:
1. Clean the surface of your boots and get rid of any dirt or mud in them. Make use of a damp rag to remove any stains on the surface.
2. Before applying the compound, remove the laces for a more effective application.
3. Apply the compound all over the boots using your bare hands. Your body temperature will actually help melt the compound and soak it deeper into the material.
4. Take your boots outside and place them in the sun. This will allow the compound to seep deeper into the material of the boots. Note that the color of the boots may take on a darker hue after application.
5. After 30 minutes, use a clean cloth to wipe off any excess compound.
As you can see, waterproofing compounds are simple to apply. As a rule of thumb, always read the label on how to properly apply the compound.
For nubuck and suede booths, be sure that you use the specialized waterproofing compounds designed for these materials. Don’t use a leather waterproofing compound on a nubuck and suede, and vice versa.
DIY Waterproofing Techniques
If you need to waterproof your boots in short notice without access to the products mentioned, there are numerous DIY waterproofing techniques that you can use to quickly protect your boots.
These are just quick fixes, temporary and in no way a replacement to the techniques provided above. Only use these methods as a last resort. We highly recommend that you get a legitimate waterproofing spray or wax for your boots.
Clear coat enamel spray
Many homes have this one lying around and many don’t know that it can be used as a quick-fix waterproofing solution for outdoor boots.
Spray a few coats around your boots for a temporary protection. It does flake and crack easily so it’s not exactly a long-term solution.
This is one product that you can buy at just about any supermarket or drugstore.
After you are done cleaning your outdoor boots and removing the laces, apply 1 tbsp. of Vaseline cream, petroleum jelly using your fingers, paper towel or soft cotton rag. Apply the cream in circular motions.
This will repel water just fine but it certainly not the most elegant waterproofing solutions out there. Your boots may turn red after application, so use this method at your own risk.
Alternatively, you may also use lavender or tea tree oil but make sure you buy one from a reputable brand.
The idea here is that wax can be an effective waterproofing solution, so you can use a candle. If you’ve got a candle and hair dryer, you can use it to protect your footwear from water.
Take the candle and rub it all over your boots, covering the entire surface. Then, set the hair dryer to the max setting and point it at your shoes.
This should start melting the wax and will seep deep into the pores of the boots. Be careful not to make it so hot while blow drying.
Again, it’s worth repeating that these are simply quick fixes and should only be utilized when you don’t have a readily available waterproofing solution.
General Tips and Tricks
For those who will be waterproofing their boots for the first time, it is highly recommended that you keep in mind the following guidelines, to make sure you do it right.
Always test first
The last thing you’ll want is to permanently damage your boots because you’ve applied the wrong waterproofing compound.
Always make it a point to test the solution first on hidden part of the boot and see if it might cause any discoloration or damage. With that said, it always pays to read the label. Better safe than sorry.
Do proper cleanup before application
Again, this is a rule of thumb that you can’t afford to disregard. If you want your waterproofing task to be a success, clean up any dirty patches, dried mud, debris, sand and anything else from your boots.
This is especially true if you are dealing with nubuck, fabric and suede boots. Remove the in-soles and laces before proceeding with the cleanup. Do not put your hiking footwear into the washing machine.
Be thorough when applying the waterproofing compound. Water has the tendency to find its way into the littlest or cracks and holes.
It’s important that you cover every inch of your boots’ surface to make sure they’re totally waterproofed.
Waterproofing doesn’t last forever
While some techniques last longer than others, it’s a fact that they are not permanent. You can’t just apply them and be done with it. You will always need to re-apply if you wish your boots to stay waterproofed.
Overall, it’s just good practice to re-proof your boots once in a while depending on the method you use. Other folks would even re-apply after every camping / hiking trip.
Waxes and sprays can’t do repairs
If your boots are leaking due to a hole or damaged seams, there is nothing a waterproofing wax or spray can do. Waterproofing is only good to protect outdoor boots that are in good condition.
Otherwise, you should patch them up yourself or buy a new pair. For more tips on how to repair leather hiking boots, see our earlier article on this topic.
Dry your boots properly
In case your boots get soaked or drenched in water, don’t take drastic steps to dry them. If you’re thinking of placing your pair before a fireplace or heating them up, let us stop you right there.
Speeding up the drying process by exposing the pair in heat will cause cracks and repairing is not an option.
For proper drying, place your boots in a leaning position against the wall so the excess water drops down. Stuff it with paper towels or rags to suck the extra moisture out.
Use leather conditioner
Owners of heavy-duty leather outdoor boots should consider using a leather conditioner. This is a good way to prevent your boots from cracking especially when it’s the winter season.
Many waterproofing products will contain conditioner in them but don’t assume they all have them. Using a leather conditioner not just adds another layer of protection but also restores the suppleness of the material.
Observe proper storage
In many cases, outdoor boots aren’t exactly used all year round. When not in use, find a suitable and accessible storage spot for your trusty boots.
A dry, well-aired place would be ideal and never store your boots in a humid or damp space due to the possibility of mildew growth.
While you’re at it, get a cedar shoe tree if you are planning to store your pair for a long time.
It’s not the end of the world if you’ve found mold somewhere in or on your shoe, but you should certainly remove it immediately.
The best way to remove mold from footwear is by mixing water with vinegar and using the solution on a paper towel to wipe out the mold.
Why You Should Waterproof Your Boots
1. They’re expensive: as mentioned, a pair of quality outdoor boots can set you back a good deal of money. Prices for a pair can range from $100 to thousands of bucks.
Isn’t it only natural that you want to make the most out of your investment by making it last? Prolong your boots’ life by protecting it from its worst enemy: water.
2. Ensure they provide the right protection: a good pair will protect your feet from the harsh conditions of the great outdoors. With a worn and leaky pair of boots, not so much.
Waterproofing your boots ensures that your feet will be protected, leaving them dry and warm as you trek the wilderness.
3. You care about comfort: have you ever experienced having wet feet due to leaky work shoes? Now imagine being in the wilderness with no option but to walk around barefooted.
Nothing can ruin a camping trip like having a cold wet feet and squeaking outdoor boots. Why should you let something you can easily control become a distraction?
4. It doesn’t matter if they’re already waterproof: there is no shortage of waterproof boots in the market. Just because you’ve bought waterproof boots, it doesn’t mean that you’re all set for life.
Although most outdoor footwear are made with Gore-tex and come with a waterproof membrane, knowing proper waterproofing techniques is still key to longevity.
Is silicone spray good for leather boots?
Silicon spray is not good for leather boots. It does waterproof, but I would not recommend using it unless it’s an absolute last resort.
You want your leather to be able to breathe, but silicone coats it in an almost impermeable layer that darkens the leather and requires a solvent to get off. That means it can damage your boots.
Now you are more knowledgeable on how to waterproof boots than the average person. The key here is to test waterproofing techniques and products and see which one works for you.
Sure, waterproofing can be a bit of busy work but it certainly beats not doing it at all, especially when you want your pair of boots to last you a long time. Waterproofing and optimal footwear care will certainly add many good years to your pair. Following this comprehensive guide should put you on the right track.
Before you head out on your next adventure, check out our piece how to choose the top mountaineering boots to help you with more options.
Any other waterproofing ideas we missed? Which waterproofing technique worked for you? Feel free to let us know your thoughts by leaving a comment below. Finally, share this article with your family and friends so they can benefit from it as well.
Daniel is a gear freak when it comes to hiking, climbing and camping. He went to REI Outdoor School to meet new people and learn best practices. Don’t even try to argue with him about the latest backpack or ice axe, he tried most of them. Daniel’s dream is to climb Mount Everest.