Best Waterproofing for Hiking Boots
When you buy a pair of hiking boots, you want them to be waterproof. Getting your feet wet on the trail is a nightmare. Wet socks lead to rubbing, numbness, and an all-around uncomfortable hiking experience. If water gets in your shoes, you can get blisters at best, or frostbite at worst.
Most boots are waterproof out of the box but over time, they lose their waterproofing. The more you hike through rivers, ice, and snow, the less repellent to water they will become. To keep your shoes functioning as they should, here are some top ways you can retain waterproofing for hiking boots.
How Does Waterproofing Work?
Generally, when a fabric shoe is manufactured, a Durable Water Repellent (DWR) finish is applied to it in the factory. Or a waterproof membrane such as Gore-Tex, or another similar brand, is stitched into the shoe to maximise waterproofing for hiking boots.
If you have a leather hiking boot, this step is skipped as the material has a natural waterproofing ability! However, in both cases, this waterproof layering is often not a permanent part of the shoe and over time with trail wear, it decreases in effectiveness.
Not all waterproofing technology is the same and some are considered better than others. However, at some stage, no matter what brand you’ve bought, you’ll have to reapply the waterproof layer.
Be aware that there’s a clear distinction between water-resistant and water-repellent. Water-resistant hiking boots will lose their ability to prevent water absorption rapidly. Water-repellent shoes are much better at waterproofing. Generally, this will be reflected in the price and more money should be invested to purchase the water-resistant boots.
Leather vs Fabric
There are three main materials used for hiking boots.
Leather is a traditional material made from animal skin. It has a natural waterproof layer and is very popular due to its comfort and breathability. Full-grain leather is thick, hardy and waterproof. Nubuck leather is buffed and more supple. Therefore, it’s comfortable and thin but less waterproof than full-grain leather.
Fabric or synthetic hiking boots are not naturally waterproof. Man-made fibres are woven together to make these hiking boots. As mentioned, they are often impregnated with a membrane such as Gore-Tex or finished with a water-repellent layer to make them waterproof.
Fabric and nubuck leather boots often have more holes and seams in them where water can slip through. They appear to lose their waterproofing layer faster than leather boots and may require more upkeep to retain their water-repellent layer. However, they are both easier to maintain than full-grain leather.
When to Waterproof Hiking Boots?
This will depend on how much hiking you do each year. Some hikers top up their waterproof layer at the end of the season ready for the following year. Other hikers actively maintain their boots after each trek to keep their footwear at maximum water repellence. It will depend on the brand of shoe and how much hiking you are doing.
You know your boots need their waterproofing renewed when moisture stops beading on the surface. If your shoes continuously darken in colour and become heavy, they are absorbing water rather than repelling it.
The aim of applying waterproofing for hiking boots is to allow air to still pass through the shoe. The waterproof layer won’t work if there is no breathability in the shoe and the interior becomes wet through condensation. Leather has the benefit of being naturally breathable but synthetic shoes must be designed this way.
How to Waterproof Hiking Boots?
Start by removing the laces of your hiking boots. Clean them in warm water using a sponge or brush. You want to remove as much of the dirt or grime as possible before applying the waterproofing layer. Once the boots are wet, apply the waterproofing treatment to the outer material.
After the boots are adequately covered, leave them to dry in a well-aerated space. Don’t heat them in a dryer or put them on a radiator. You can stuff newspaper or rags inside the boot but allow it to dry naturally.
Depending on whether your boots are synthetic or leather, different treatments will be required. Sprays, creams, and waxes are all available. Make sure you purchase the correct product before starting the treatment on your boots.
Convenience is a key factor when applying waterproofing for hiking boots. For example, leather wax polish can be time-consuming and technical to apply. Alternatively, for synthetic boots, a spray can be quickly applied without much hassle.
Best Spray for Waterproofing Hiking Boots
Nikwax is a popular brand offering waterproofing for hiking boots. Both leather and fabric are covered by their sprays. The Nikwax TX Direct is easy to apply and works well with waterproofing fabrics such as Gore-Tex, SympaTex, and eVent. This spray balances breathability with water-repellent technology to create the perfect waterproofing for hiking boots.
Granger’s Performance Repel Plus is another good choice. The spray can be applied to most fabrics and works well on nearly all outdoor clothing. It too maintains breathability whilst keeping the boots waterproof. However, it wears off faster than Nikwax and should be applied more regularly.
Grangers Fabsil Universal Protector has similar benefits to the Performance Repel Plus. It can be applied to a wide range of materials and works by mimicking the original waterproofing of your hiking boots.
When looking for the best waterproofing for hiking boots, there are other factors to take into consideration. Often, waterproof sprays are made with chemicals. Eco-conscious hikers may want to opt for water-based sprays that are less damaging to the environment. On the bottle, it will often say whether it’s eco-friendly and purchasing one of these sprays helps to reduce unnecessary pollution.
Wax, grease, and oil all used to be applied to old-fashioned leather hiking boots to aid waterproofing. However, these days, this strategy is less common as it reduces breathability. You can still find some of these products on the market but ensure you’re only using them for full-grain leather boots.