Waterproofing Boots

7:42 p.m. on January 5, 2013 (EST)
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Back at the dawn of time when I first started hiking with the scouts we would buy leather boots and rub some sort of waterproofing on them to keep water out.

Now days I see boots still made with leather outers but they have some sort of breathable waterproof membrane inside.  I also see leather boots that are waterproof but the method isn't disclosed.  Now with the "waterproof" boots I don't see anything wrong with adding my own waterproofing.  I'm just not sure about those with breathable membranes.

The idea of the membrane is to let sweat out while keeping the foot dry but how well does it work when the membrane is covered by non-breathable leather.  And would waterproofing the leather be a bad thing or not?

11:01 a.m. on January 6, 2013 (EST)
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Don't overthink it.  Add some leather dressing to keep the life in the leather.  I like Hubbard, Sno-Seal and the like or something with mink oil.

4:40 p.m. on January 6, 2013 (EST)
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the only thing for leather with a membrane is nikwax. if you put some kind of oil based dressing on them you will seal the leather, rendering it unbreathable. this will totally negate the effect of the membrane. you need to keep the pores of the leather open so it can breathe and let the membrane work. the only preparation that does this while waterproofing the leather is nikwax.

5:21 p.m. on January 6, 2013 (EST)
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The idea behind the membrane is the marketing ploy making people think; A) I can buy leather boots and never have to maintain them at all and they will still be waterproof... or B) the manufacturers can make boots out of all kinds of supposedly breathable, highly flexible mesh this & that... {read: Cheap materials needing no craftsmanship at all to make boots to fit a fad, have glitz & style (completely non functional of course) and they can advertise as "water proof". 

Putting a membrane (Gore-Tex) in a boot was the worst idea anyone has ever come up with. It doesn't work anywhere close to as well as the marketing suits would have you believe. It traps sweat and only last so long before it is worn out or worn through/torn on the inside & no longer waterproof.

Also, not maintaining the leather because the membrane is keeping out the fourty day flood, is going to let the leather get saturated, lose it's oils and rot. Then you throw them away and go to Walmart for another pair of cheap, gore-tex lined junk.

The best boots out there still come all leather, no gore-tex and yes, you have to take care of them, both to keep them in good shape so the leather won't dry out/rot & to keep them water proof for years & years & years past when the membrane would have failed.

There are many here that are big fans of Obenauf's LP. I heard about it from Rick Pittsburg & it's outstanding stuff. I use it on all kinds of things from my Italian made all leather Alico & Scarpa boots to family heirloom gun holsters, leather belts, cases & coats. It doesn't just waterproof the leather, it conditions & preserves it. There is nothing better IMHO.

I used to use Mink Oil years ago but it tends to soften leather too much. I had been warned about using it on gun holsters due to it making them lose their formed shape. This would be equally bad for most boots. I used Sno-seal for a short time too, didn't like it. It builds up on the surface and doesn't last very long, also didn't help the leather much.

8:24 p.m. on January 6, 2013 (EST)
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The reason I asked is this fall I got my son a pair of boots that worked fine but the leather was soaked through and wouldn't last long.  It didn't make much sense to me to have a breathable membrane under an non-breathable one so I wondered if I was missing something.  

I used Sno-seal for a short time too, didn't like it. It builds up on the surface and doesn't last very long, also didn't help the leather much.

I typically spend an afternoon putting on a thin layer, warming it with a hair dryer or near he fire until it melts in and repeat until no more will soak in.  If I can put the Obenauf's on my dress shoes I'm going that way in the future.  Thanks

11:11 a.m. on January 7, 2013 (EST)
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11:26 a.m. on January 7, 2013 (EST)
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This discussion has been on this site before. Oil tanned leather should get an oil based product. Chrome tanned leather will take a wax based product. Biwell is apparently no longer made per Bill S. Sno Seal works well for chrome tanned leather. Hubbards Shoe Grease is fine for oil tanned leather. The key is to work the product in to the leather. All require heating, especially Sno Seal. The idea is that they do make the leather water resistant, but they also make the leather last. Sweating and frequent immersion in water, etc. will remove the oils and the leather will dry out. Frequent application will maintain the leather for years.

As far as a breathable inner layer, they work, but for a limited time. Sweat and dirt tend to clog the pores of the fabric and then you have a waterproof layer next to your feet, which is not very practical.

1:15 p.m. on January 7, 2013 (EST)
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Erich, how does one know the difference between oil & chrome tanned leather? What would be the consequence of using oil on chrome tanned leather?

The Obenauf's LP is both oil & wax but just the friction created by rubbing it on with your thumb is more than sufficient to liquify it. If I have the wood burning stove going I may set them near it to help improve penetration.

I did use heat with the Sno-seal but still found it built up & had to be reapplied quite often. There was a very tangible difference with Obenauf's LP. I typically only have to put Obenauf's LP on my boots every two or three months. Maybe once a year or so I'll use Saddle Soap to clean of any accumulated grime and then retreat.

Tycho, I don't use the LP on my dress shoes because of the wax, although my wife has on a couple of her's that are specifically for winter [snow/slush & salt] use. They have a liquid oil that works better for dress leather which is what I use on my dress shoes and soft leather jackets.

1:52 p.m. on January 7, 2013 (EST)
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Like a lot of people, I hate the fact that it is near-impossible to find boots without ****tex membranes. I am always grateful for the threads that deal with treating genuine leather hiking boots on Trailspace and have learned a lot over the years. One thing that doesn't get mentioned enough, perhaps, is cleaning the inside with warm water and (check with manufacturer) possibly a cleaning agent to remove any serious build-up of salt/oils/bacteria; I do this about once a year.

The reason why it is hard to find alternatives to GTX is partly ignorance, partly value-perception and a fair (unfair?) amount of monopoly-power (see this article).

6:05 p.m. on January 7, 2013 (EST)
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leather should get treated/conditioned regardless of whether it has a gore tex membrane between the leather outer and the lining, for reasons already stated above.  boots will last longer and repel water better, and that's to your advantage. 

most manufacturers, if asked, can tell you how they tan the leather they use in their all-leather boots.  it's not always easy to figure out via the web.  i agree with the comment above that the waterproofing/conditioning you should use depends on how the leather was tanned.

some discussion related to this previously:  http://www.trailspace.com/forums/gear-repair/topics/62856.html

i have limmer boots, which are chrome-tanned leather.  Limmer makes boot grease specifically for their boots.  i can't recall what the ingredients are, but i could follow up after i look at the container at home.  i'm pretty sure it has some silicone and some animal products, eg lanolin, but no wax.  interestingly, their boot grease doesn't need to be heated.  you spread it on, wipe off the excess, and let it sit.  heat may help but isn't necessary. 

6:53 a.m. on January 9, 2013 (EST)
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ingredients in limmer boot grease: 'natural hydrocarbons,' lanolin, silicone, oils, white camphor.  suitable for waterproofing chrome-tanned leather.  i usually reapply twice a year, maybe more often if the boots are getting used more.  

5:11 p.m. on January 9, 2013 (EST)
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I used to use sno seal but I gave up on it. to much of a pita to apply. now I use nikwax or danner clear boot dressing. Ireapply two to three times a year. so far no problems with either of these products. I like the danner boot dressing better than the nikwax because you don't have to apply it as often. I may go to the danner exclusively in the future. 

6:06 p.m. on January 9, 2013 (EST)
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Another way to "cure" boots after being treated with Obenauf's if to place the boots in a black trash bag after application, tie off the top of the bag and then place the bag in the sun for a few hours(or the whole day as I do.)

This only works well in the warmer seasons from my experience so I wouldn't personally recommend doing this when the sun is out and it is -20F. :p

2:07 p.m. on January 10, 2013 (EST)
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"The idea of the membrane is to let sweat out while keeping the foot dry but how well does it work when the membrane is covered by non-breathable leather.  And would waterproofing the leather be a bad thing or not? "

Trailjester is correct. An aqueous wax (like Nikwax) stops water from soaking into the leather, but doesn't interfere with its breathability. Therefore you can have waterproof leather boots that will still let an internal membrane breathe. 

As Erich points out, you have to be careful to make sure that Gore-Tex, in ANY application, stays clean. That's why it works so well in a jacket - regular washing is highly recommended to keep it working at its best. In a boot, though, body oils and dirt can clog up its pores more quickly  making it less breathable. 

As I've said before, my favourite boots are leather, which I waterproof with Nikwax, but personally, I still like the Gore-Tex liner for insurance. I am careful to keep the inside as clean as possible, and after three years and a few thousand kilometres, my feet still stay dry. 

Is Gore-Tex just a marketing gimmick? It's obviously more than that. The science of how it works is indisputable, and the many variations now available (like e-Vent, Pertex and even Omnishield) show that such specialized fabrics are highly valued by the customers, and not just because some marketing guru told them to. All those fabrics offer different combinations of waterproofness and breathability, and they all do what's promised to different degrees.

Do any of them work in a boot? Of course, but as in a jacket, how well that happens depends on the amount of moisture in the air, the activity level, the temperature, and the age and cleanliness of the fabric. In my experience, the latter is the most important factor since it's hard to keep the inside of a hiking boot clean. Is there a limit to how long Gore-Tex can last? Of course, same as any other fabric liner in any hiking boot. And unlike other fabric boot liners, Gore-Tex usually has a protective layer over it to help keep it performing as intended.

7:00 p.m. on January 10, 2013 (EST)
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my new gtx boots are still working, my feet don't get sweaty in them. it's been about four months now and I have had them in the water, they did very well. I think theres more to goretex than just marketing, the stuff works. I have yet to see if my boots will hold up, I have read some bad reviews about them, souls falling off and the like. so far I have had no problems, fingers crossed!

1:34 p.m. on January 11, 2013 (EST)
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This is a great topic--and timely for me as I need to finally do something about my Hi-Tec Altitude IVs. What do you folks recommend to clean the boots prior to applying the waterporoofing?

And I am also wondering if it is a good idea to somehow seal the area where the leather meets the rubber sole around the edge of the boot--and what would you use?

3:23 p.m. on January 11, 2013 (EST)
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look here


there are a number of cleaners and conditioners listed, as well as where to buy them. I would go for the nikwax cleaning gel. there really is no way to seal around the sole - just use leather conditioner and make sure you get it into that area thoroughly. what kind of leather are your boots made of? the type of leather will determine the type of conditioner. don't get any of that spray on crap - that stuff doesn't work. good luck!

9:13 a.m. on January 12, 2013 (EST)
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Trailjester--thanks very much! The leather is nubuck. Your suggestions are very helpful and I appreciate them greatly! I'm not exactly a newbie, but I am ashamed to say I've never cleaned or waterproofed a pair of boots! I usually wear out the soles before I've had problems with water proofing.

4:06 p.m. on January 30, 2013 (EST)
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nikwax makes a conditioner\treatment for newbuck. rei has it.

8:18 p.m. on February 2, 2013 (EST)
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My votes:

cleaning: Fiebing's saddle soap

restoring/conditioning: Montana Pitch Blend, or Leather Honey

lasting waterproofer: Obenauf's LP, or Uncle Vinnie's 'Stache Wax.

This is for the treatment of my full-grain, vegetable-tanned Nick's Wildfire Boots, and should work similarly well on any vegetable-tanned FGL. Nubuck and split leather sans-membrane, too, if you don't mind darkening them a measure...

Generally, I try to avoid products with mink oil or neatsfoot oil in them because I believe even judicious use of them can lead to premature stress lines and stretching. Yes, the Montana Pitch Blend has a bit of mink oil in it, but it really is only a little bit.

Also, if your boots are lasted using a welt and screws, one can also use an oven set to "warm" (about 160F) to help stuff soak in. Warm the boot up thoroughly (10-15 min) before the wax is put on, and the leather darn-near sucks it in. I put the boots on ceramic plates (dinner plates) rather than directly on the rack or on a baking pan as the plate does not hold onto heat well.

All of this, however, is kinda moot for the OP's situation; in such cases you are, unfortunately, limited to the aforementioned aqueous waxes, of which Nikwax makes a pretty good one. I've used the Nikwax stuff, and it works well; one just needs to re-apply it every week or so if one tromps through the woods every day.

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