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Waterproofing Hiking Boots: A Step By Step Guide

Walking in the rain

Just as cleaning your hiking boots regularly is a super important (if not annoying) job, so is treating them to a good old waterproofing. Once you know how to waterproof hiking boots you’ll wonder why you resisted the simple task for so long! So, take a read of our guide, get yourself set up with the right treatments for your boots, and your boots (and feet!) will most certainly thank you for it.

Waterproofing hiking boots

In the perfect world, a waterproof pair of hiking boots would stay waterproof for the duration of their life. However, with use and wear, the waterproofness of hiking boots starts to deteriorate. And the more miles you put in, the faster this will happen. So if you want to keep your tootsies dry and at the same time prolong the life of your boots, regular waterproofing is a must.

Do it for the planet!
If keeping your tootsies dry isn’t enough of a motivator to waterproof your boots regularly, then doing it for the planet might be. Yes, waterproofing hiking boots is good for the planet! Stay with me here…

According to a study carried out by Gore-Tex, the GWP (Global Warming Potential) of a pair of Gore-Tex branded waterproof and breathable hiking boots is 77% or 27.1kg Co2 -eq. The material production and distribution of the boots are the main impacting factors. But the report also concludes that the single most influential factor in minimising the environmental impact of hiking boots is longevity. The longer you are able to keep your boots functioning for, the lower the impact on our planet.

My point? Keep your hiking boots (and all of your outdoor gear) in good condition and they will last you longer, thus reducing their impact on the planet and saving you some pennies in the meantime. Everyone’s a winner!

Waterproofing synthetic or leather?

There are a ton of different products for waterproofing hiking boots, each of which is specially designed with a particular boot material in mind. Before we advise on which boot waterproofing treatment to use, you need to ask yourself what sort of hiking boots you want to be waterproofing!

Here are your options:

  • Leather hiking boots


    Also known as full grain leather, they are made from the hyde of animals and appear smooth and shiny when new. Leather is naturally waterproof and many leather boots also have a breathable waterproof membrane to improve the waterproofness even more.
    Click HERE to learn how to waterproof leather boots.

  • Nubuck leather boot

    Nubuck leather

    Nubuck leather is not smooth and shiny like full grain leather but it has a brushed effect from being buffered down — similar to suede. This makes it thinner, less durable and not as waterproof as full grain leather. As a result, many nubuck hiking boots also have a breathable waterproof membrane to increase the waterproofness.
    Click HERE to learn how to waterproof suede boots.

  • Synthetic boot


    Non-leather hiking boots are known as synthetic. The fabrics that make up the boots’ uppers are made-man and vary greatly from brand to brand. Synthetic boots are not always waterproof. The presence of a Gore-tex membrane (or similar) and a DWR coating makes the fabric waterproof as well as breathable.
    Click HERE to learn how to waterproof fabric hiking boots.

How often should boots be treated with waterproofing?

Assuming you want your boots to last more than a couple of years of use, you should be applying a boot waterproofing treatment at least a couple of times in a hiking season. Of course this does depend on how much use they get, and in what conditions. But if in doubt, give them a new coating before any big trips.

Waterproofing Gore-tex boots

You wouldn’t be the first to question why hiking boots with a Gore-tex membrane need re-waterproofing. But unfortunately, just like any fabric that is constantly being tested and used in challenging conditions, Gore-tex also starts to deteriorate over time. Gore-tex that performs well relies upon the complex balance of moisture on both sides of the membrane, making it important to keep your boots in tip top shape. A little help from a boot waterproofing treatment can help revitalised the breathable properties of Gore-tex as well as maintain the stability of the fabric or leather.

NOTE: Wax, grease or oil shouldn’t be used as a boot waterproofing treatment on Gore-tex as it can have a negative effect on the breathability of the membrane. Instead, consider a spray or sponge treatment and be sure to check the care instructions of your boots first.

How to waterproof hiking boots

Cleaning your hiking boots

Before you start your boot waterproofing treatment it’s essential that your hiking boots are clean. You can read our guide to cleaning your hiking boots for more details, but the basics of boot cleaning are as follows:

  1. Clean off the dirt and mud with a brush
  2. Take out the laces
  3. Wash the boots with mild detergent
  4. Soak the boots in water if needed (*see note on nubuck leather)
  5. Rinse boots with water
  6. Towel dry

NOTE:*Nubuck leather boots shouldn’t be soaked as water can stain and soften them too much. Be sure to miss out the soaking part from above if you’re dealing with nubuck or suede.

Waterproofing leather hiking boots

Many full grain leather hiking boots don’t have a waterproof membrane, but rely heavily on the naturally waterproof properties of leather. But with use, even leather boots can start to get a little leaky. Apply a boot waterproofing treatment before you start to get soggy toes and this will also help keep the leather in better condition for longer.

How to waterproof leather boots

Once you’ve cleaned your boots, it’s important that you don’t leave the leather boots to fully dry. Boot waterproofing treatment is much more effective when applied to wet boots, especially leather boots as it allows the treatment to settle into the leather.
Here are a couple of options for waterproofing full grain leather boots:

Atsko Sno-Seal Original Beeswax Waterproofing

  • Wax waterproofing
    Wax is excellent at conditioning and lubricating full grain leather without softening it. It shouldn’t be used with Gore-tex as it can alter the breathability of it. Although one of the best products for waterproofing leather boots, this method takes a bit of time and is not as convenient as other methods.

    • Soften the wax by heating it
    • Work it into clean, wet leather with a cloth or wearing rubber gloves
    • Repeat the process
    • Leave to fully dry before use

Nikwax Waterproofing Wax Liquid for Leather

  • Liquid wax

    This Nikwax liquid wax is water based, biodegradable and flourocarbons/VOCs free. It has a sponge applicator and is easier to apply than traditional wax. It performs in much the same way as wax but absorbs into the leather more quickly.

    • Apply to clean, wet leather using the sponge applicator
    • Leave for a couple of minutes
    • Wipe off excess
    • Buffer
    • Leave to fully dry before use

Waterproofing nubuck hiking boots

Nubuck leather needs taking care of a little more carefully than full grain leather. Using wax will ruin the soft, brushed finish and may also stain the boots, so a specially designed treatment should be used.

How to waterproof nubuck leather boots

Clean your boots well, being careful not to soak them in water. However, most nubuck leather treatments require the boots to be damp to improve the uptake of the spray or cream. Check the instructions on your specific treatment before you get started.

Here are a couple of options for waterproofing nubuck leather boots:

Nikwax Nubuck and Suede Leather Waterproofer

  • Nubuck waterproofing

    Specifically designed to maintain the texture of nubuck and suede leather, this Nikwax treatment adds a DWR coating to the individual fibers of the leather. Light leather can become darker after treatment so be sure to test a small patch first.

    • Use the sponge applicator to generously coat wet leather boots
    • Leave for a couple of minutes
    • Wipe off excess
    • Leave to fully dry before use

Scotchgard Suede and Nubuck Protector

  • Scotchgard Suede & Nubuck Protector

    This spray-on treatment adds a coating of waterproof protection to suede or nubuck without altering the appearance of the leather. Be sure to test a small section of light coloured leather before a full application.

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

Waterproofing fabric boots

Most synthetic hiking boots will have very few natural waterproofing properties. They rely heavily on a waterproof membrane as well as a DWR coating which repels water from the surface of the boots. And because there are often lots of seams, knowing how to waterproof Gore-tex boots well is super important.

How to waterproof fabric hiking boots

Clean the boots thoroughly as outlined above. You may need to give synthetic boots an extra scrubbing to get dirt and dust out of the seams and joins.

As with leather boots, most products for synthetic boots require the boots to be wet or damp when applying treatments, but check the instructions first.

Here are a couple of options for waterproofing synthetic boots:

Nikwax Fabric and Leather Proof

  • Fabric waterproofing

    This Nikwax boot waterproofing treatment can be used on leather boots as as well as synthetic boots making it ideal for boots that combine the two. It coats the individual fibers of the fabric and leather with a DWR treatment that is flexible and maintains breathability.

    • Apply to clean wet boots by spraying from 5cm away
    • Leave for a couple of minutes
    • Wipe off excess
    • Leave to fully dry before use

Gear Aid ReviveX Nubuck Suede and Fabric Waterproofing

  • Revivex Fabric waterproofing

    This boot waterproofing spray is a great option if you are treating fabric or nubuck leather boots that have a waterproof and breathable membrane like Gore-tex. The treatment adds a DWR coating to the surface of the boots.

    • Spray onto damp, clean boots
    • Leave for 5 minutes
    • Wipe off excess
    • Leave to fully dry before use.

How easy is boot waterproofing?

One more thing to consider when choosing the best products for waterproofing hiking boots, is convenience. For some people, the best stuff to waterproof boots with may not be the highest performing. The stuff they are most likely to use will be best. Although a wax treatment may be the best product for waterproofing leather boots, it can be a much more time consuming process than the cream or spray options. So if a faffy process puts you off a boot waterproofing session altogether then go for the easier option.

Whichever treatment you choose, be sure to do some boot waterproofing often and your boots will go the extra miles when you need them to.

Happy waterproofing, happy hikers!
hiking boots gear guide

Joey Holmes

Joey Holmes
Joey is based in Cornwall, UK, and runs Cool of the Wild. She can’t get enough of being outdoors – whether that’s lounging around the campfire cooking up a feast, hitting the trail in her running shoes, or attempting to conquer the waves on her surfboard – she lives for it. Camping is what she loves to do the most, but has also spent many hours clinging to the side of a rock face, cycling about the place, cruising the ski-slopes on her snowboard, and hiking small mountains and big hills.

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