Categories: Hiking

How to Waterproof Hiking Boots – Easy Care in 5 steps

It is all very well to spend hours looking for the perfect pair of hiking boots, then to save money to be able to buy them. All that, to come back from your last hiking and “store” your shoes in a closet as is, expecting that your hiking boots will keep their waterproofing the same as the first day you bought them.

It is true that after a hike, with heavy legs, we hardly ever have the desire and the courage to deal with our shoes. After all, “it may well wait until the next day” – and when we take them out the next season, they are always in the same state!

The problem is that in doing this, the boots are deteriorating, are aging rapidly, their performance decreases and they may more easily “let you down” in the middle of next hiking.

You must admit that this would be a pity, after so much time and effort to find a good pair!

To avoid this, it is important to take care of your hiking shoes from time to time. And contrary to certain received ideas, maintenance is not reserved only to the leather footwear – even if they need it more.

The first thing to do is to refer to the advice of the manufacturer – because certain mountain boots require specific maintenance. Where? On the little manual that you have thrown in the trash after unpacking your shoes. Do not worry, you probably find this information on the Internet site of the brand.

In the meantime, stay with me for a few tips for the maintenance of your hiking shoes and how to waterproof hiking boots – all in 5 steps.

1 – The Cleaning

This is not always logical at first: why clean your shoes since we are going to resoil them? One might think that the mud and dirt act as a protection layer. 

Unfortunately, this is not the case. If you leave mud or dirt on your shoes or debris (sand, twigs…) trapped inside, they will be damaged by abrasion.

Although we should mainly deal with the outside, it does no harm to maintain the inside of your hiking shoes from time to time.

Cleaning the outside

The simpler way to clean hiking shoes is to use a soft brush and cold or lukewarm water – and some elbow grease. Also, remember to clean the soleplate.

It is not necessary to do so after each outing but do it regularly – even if your shoes do not seem too dirty. This allows you to get rid of the small particles that degrade the materials of the upper.

Cleaning the inside

The inside of the footwear must also be cleaned from time to time. It is especially important for breathable shoes so that they do not lose their breathability. Clean the inside also allows you to limit the development of bad smell – a plus for your teammates!

You can do this by filling the interior of your boots with cold or lukewarm water and rubbing it gently. Be aware, however, that your shoes will need a long time to dry with this method. Do not expect to reuse them the next day!

There are special cleaning products that are more effective than the water only, but they are not necessary if you do regular maintenance. 

2 – The drying

If there is an essential step after each hiking, this is it! You have no excuse not to do it, it is the easiest. So to dry your shoes:

  • Remove the insole to let your shoes breathe and dry faster.
  • Wide open your shoes by loosening the laces. The ideal would be to completely remove the laces, but I share your lack of motivation to do this after each hike.
  • Let them dry at room temperature. Do not expose them to a source of direct heat (fire, radiator, etc.) – it is one of the best ways to destroy your hiking boots quickly.
  • If your shoes are soaked, stuff them with newspaper to accelerate drying.

To dry your shoes, you can also use a natural dryer, made of shavings of red cedarwood. Cedarwood has the ability to absorb moisture 8 times faster than air. The interest is to absorb moisture quickly and to prevent bacteria from appearing. These bacteria create odors in shoes or other accessories, causing the appearance of mycosis and other fungal infections. It is also known that these bacteria can degrade fabrics. For this, there are some dryer inserts called “Stuffitts”  that you can find here.

3 – The Treatment

Before applying any treatment, your shoes must be clean. Some treatments require that the shoes are dry, others that they are wet – refer to the Instructions for Use of the product. There are two types of Main treatments:

The “re-waterproofing” products

It is possible to “re-waterproof” hiking boots thanks to these products. I have put the term in quotation marks because it is in fact to restore water repellency to the material (the water pearl and does not penetrate) – although this kind of product claims to restore “waterproofing”.

A shoe that lacks water repellency absorbs water and is not breathing as good – the inside air can no longer escape through the pores filled with water and the difference in humidity on both sides remains low.

Everything depends on the frequency of use of your hiking shoes, but on average I would recommend doing this once a year.

Attention, because “waterproofing” products are specific to each material (leather, nubuck, suede, etc.) – Do not use one randomly. One last advice: properly follow the instructions for applying the product if you want a good result.

Protective creams

Protective creams are used primarily on leather boots in order to avoid them to dry and crack. Usually, such creams are applied with a cloth and then slightly heated with a hairdryer for better penetration. As for “waterproofing” products, make sure you use a product that suits the material of your hiking boots.

Avoid the use of animal fat on leather hiking boots, because it softens the leather too much and makes it watertight (it does not breathe anymore).

4 – The inspection and repairs

Regularly inspect your hiking shoes and repair them as soon as possible if needed. It is better to do this after every hike rather than to have a bad surprise before next departure.

Do not wait for your sole to be half detached to reglue it. As soon as a part of your shoes is damaged, repair it. Sometimes a simple drop of glue is needed.

There are two reasons for this: 

  • A repair performed early has more chance to last longer.
  • A repair not performed can ruin a hike or compromise your safety.

Of course, you can also send your pair of damaged hiking boots to Dave Page, Cobbler, “THE WORLD’S FINEST MOUNTAIN BOOT REPAIR”.

5 – The Storage

Of course, before storing them, your hiking boots must be dry (and clean ideally). Store them in a dry, ventilated place. Avoid leaving your shoes near hot areas or exposed to the sun. 

If your mountain shoes remain unused for a long period of time, the ideal would be to stuff them with newspaper to help them keep their shape – or use another system.

A last word

You have no more excuses now for neglecting the maintenance of your hiking boots. With a minimum of effort, you can ensure long-lasting, performing, and comfortable hiking boots.

It would be a shame to deprive yourself.

And as for waterproofing, you can try a little test after your hiking boots have been properly cleaned and treated; if the water is pearling on the surface of the material then they have been correctly and sufficiently maintained and are waterproofed again.

In this article, I spoke of cleaning products, maintenance, and “waterproofing”. The most known and used are currently the brand Nikwax. You can easily find them on Amazon here.



Published by
Lara Sein

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