How to Waterproof Hiking Boots

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Having dirty worn-out hiking boots are a sure sign of making memories and having a good time out on the trails. But, over time boots become less waterproof and highly benefit from re waterproofing. Oftentimes you will know when it is time to replace it because water will start to soak in and no longer bead up and roll off. Learn how to waterproof hiking boots to not only enhance your comfort out on trail but also extend the lifespan of your hiking boots.

With the right approach, waterproofing can make a world of difference when it comes to keeping your feet dry and protected from the light wet and rainy conditions.

Key Takeaways

In this guide on how to waterproof hiking boots, we are going to cover the following:

  • Choosing the right waterproofing method
  • How to prepare boots for waterproofing
  • How to waterproof boots
  • Tips for maintaining hiking boots

By the time you are done with this guide you should have adequate knowledge in how to waterproof hiking boots and maintain their longevity. Let’s get started!

How to Waterproof Hiking Boots (Step by Step)

1. Determine the Type of Materials on Your Boots

Leather Boots

Leather boots known for their durability and classic appeal, require specific care to maintain their waterproof properties. These products create a protective barrier on the leather surface, effectively repelling water while preserving the material’s breathability. Modern boots have slowly made their way to using more synthetic materials because leather is not very breathable and gets very warm.

Suede or Nubuck Leather

Suede also known as “rough” leather comes from the inner layer of a hide. It is much softer and not as durable compared to leather. Suede tends to not be very breathable and holds moisture instead of repelling it. Most suede boots are treated with DWR and have a mixture of a synthetic breathable layer as well. 

Nubuck Leather is similar to suede but comes from the outer layer of a hide. It tends to be a bit more durable and sturdier than suede. Nubuck is also sanded down like suede but with a different technique both are soft leather.

Synthetic Materials

These materials usually consist of durable synthetics such as nylon. They tend to be a good fabric due to how lightweight and breathable the material is. Synthetic materials are easily one of the easiest materials to re waterproof. However, they tend to be not quite as durable and rely on DWR. Gore-Tex® is a popular synthetic type of membrane that is extremely waterproof and breathable.

2. Choose the Waterproofing Method for Your Hiking Boots

Selecting the right waterproofing method for your boots ensures that you do not ruin the fabric of the boot and optimizes waterproof protection. Not all hiking boots are created equal, and different materials require specific treatments.

This part covers the main boot materials: leather, Suede & Nubuck Leather, synthetic, and Gore-Tex. Each type demands a unique approach to waterproofing to ensure the boots stay dry and maintain their integrity. We will examine the methods for each material type.

Leather Boot Waterproofing

Most leather boots don’t have a waterproof layer because leather has natural waterproof resistant properties. But even leather boots can start to lose their natural water resistance and can benefit from a waterproofing layer. 

When choosing a product for leather boots you have quite a few options to choose from. Most leather boots do well with wax or greasy type of waterproofing treatments to add an extra layer of protection.

Always double check the product label to make sure it is suitable for leather material. For leather boots I highly recommend a wax like Nikwax for Leather or Sno Seal.

Suede and Nubuck Leather Waterproofing

Generally, when waterproofing suede boots or nubuck leather boots avoid using wax or greasy products. Stick to products that are specifically designed for waterproofing suede or nubuck leather boots.

Also, when brushing dirt off suede or nubuck leather boots be sure to be gentler as it’s a softer material. For waterproofing suede or nubuck leather boots I highly recommend using Nikwax Suede & Nubuck waterproofing spray or this kit from GearAid for Nubuck and Suede

Synthetic & Gore-Tex Waterproofing

Synthetic boots, often made of materials such as nylon or polyester, require a different approach to waterproofing. Durable water repellency (DWR) treatments or sprays are ideal for synthetic boots, ensuring water resistance and breathability.

Waterproof Gore Tex boots provide a waterproof and breathable membrane that is widely utilized in hiking boots for its superior performance in wet conditions. Avoid using wax, grease, or oil on Gore-Tex boots, as these substances can diminish the membrane’s breathability.

For synthetic fabrics I recommend using Nikwax fabric waterproofing spray

3. Gather Your Supplies

Gather the appropriate supplies for waterproofing your hiking boots. I recommend:

Small soft brushScrub off dirt and debris
Cleaning Solution (dish soap, cleaning gel, spray)For cleaning the hiking boots
Waterproofing Solution (spray, wax, or cream)For waterproofing the hiking boots
Small cloth (microfiber towel, paper towel, etc.)Wiping off any extra solution

4. Cleaning Your Boots

Cleaning your boots is not only crucial for maintaining their appearance but also for ensuring the effectiveness of the waterproofing treatment. A clean surface allows the treatment to be applied evenly, providing optimal water resistance and preventing leaks.

Ensure your boots are clean before you start the waterproofing process. Here’s how to clean your boots:

  1. Remove your shoelaces.
  2. Use a brush to remove dirt, mud, and debris from the surface of your boots. Scrubbing may be needed to get rid of dirt and dust from the stitching and joins on synthetic boots.
  3. Then rinse of your boots to removes the loosened dirt off the boot.
  4. Use a mild blend of dishwashing soap and water, or a specialized boot cleaner to wash your boots. When I clean my boots, I like to use Nikwax footwear cleaning gel it works well for all fabrics and leather.
  5. After cleaning rinse the hiking boots again
After you scrub the dirt off rinse the boots
It is time to clean the boots.

5. Waterproofing your Hiking Boots

When it comes to waterproofing your hiking boots it will depend on the method you use whether you will apply it to the boots when they are dry or still wet. For my guide I will discuss how to apply various of types of waterproofing creams, waxes, and sprays. This will give you a few more options in how you want to approach the application process.

Applying Wax or Cream to Leather Boots

When applying wax or cream to your leather boots, follow these steps:

  1. Begin with clean, damp leather.
  2. Apply Nikwax Leather wax or cream using a soft brush or sponge applicator, covering the entire surface of the boots, including seams and creases that are often prone to leaks.
  3. Allow the wax or cream to fully absorb into the leather before proceeding to the drying stage.

Spraying Nubuck & Suede Boots

To apply waterproofing treatment to your nubuck or suede boots, follow these steps:

  1. Ensure the boots are clean and damp.
  2. Spray the hiking boots with Nikwax Suede & Nubuck waterproofing evenly across the boots’ surface, taking care to cover all exposed areas, including seams and joins.
  3. Use a clean sponge or cloth to rub off any excess treatment and then proceed to the drying step.

Spraying Synthetic & Gore-Tex Boots

To apply waterproofing treatment to your synthetic boots, follow these steps:

  1. Ensure the boots are clean and damp.
  2. Following the product instructions, spray Nikwax all fabric & leather waterproofing spray treatment evenly across the boots’ surface, taking care to cover all exposed areas, including seams and joins.
  3. Use a clean sponge or cloth to rub any excess treatment off the boots, ensuring even application. Then proceed to the drying process.
Time to rinse off the cleaner gel.
Apply a waterproofing layer to the boots!

6. Drying Your Boots

After applying the wax, cream, or spray leave the boots to air dry for at least 24 hours, away from direct sunlight and heat sources, such as radiators or heaters. This will ensure that the waterproofing treatment is fully absorbed.

To expedite the drying process, you can remove the insoles and insert crumpled newspaper into the boots to absorb moisture. I also recommend putting your boots somewhere with high ventilation to help with the drying process.

Proper drying is essential for the success of the waterproofing treatment, as it guarantees that the treatment penetrates the material completely and provides maximum protection against water ingress. Once dry now it is time to grab those laces and weave them back in your hiking boots and your hiking boots are back and ready for action! 

Waterproofing Maintenance and Tips

Boot waterproofing is a continuous process needing consistent maintenance. This part discusses the frequency of boot waterproofing and the significance of appropriate storage and care. By following these tips, you’ll ensure that your fabric hiking boots remain waterproof.

How Often to Waterproof Your Boots

How often you need to waterproof your boots depends on the type of product used and how frequently you use the boots. Most waterproofing treatments require reapplication every few months.

But it could be more frequently if the boots are heavily used or exposed to harsh environmental conditions. The key is to be vigilant and monitor the boots for signs of poor waterproofing and water saturation. I recommend just monitoring and reapplying the treatment as needed to maintain their waterproof properties to your liking.

Remember that the waterproofing treatment’s effectiveness may diminish over time and with exposure to dirt, sweat, body oils, and abrasion. Regular reapplication of waterproofing treatment is essential to ensure your waterproofing boots remain protected from the elements.

Proper Storage and Care

Appropriate storage and care are also key in preserving your boots’ waterproof features. Store your boots in a cool, dry place with low humidity, away from direct sunlight or heat sources, to prevent damage to the materials. Clean your boots regularly with mild soap or specialized cleaning products to keep them looking their best and ensure the effectiveness of the waterproofing treatment.

When drying your boots, avoid direct heat sources such as radiators, as this can cause damage to leather or fabrics. Instead, opt for air drying in a well-ventilated area with natural light. By following these storage and care tips, you’ll prolong the life of your boots and maintain their waterproofing properties.

Common Waterproofing Misconceptions

There are some myths and misconceptions about waterproofing hiking boots that you may have come across. For instance, some people believe that using WD40 or Vaseline as a waterproofing agent is effective. While WD40 or Vaseline can provide temporary protection in a pinch, it is not a long-term solution and may even discolor lighter boots or soften and damage the boots material.

Another common misconception is that waterproofing is a one-time process, and boots will remain waterproof indefinitely. In reality, the waterproofing of boots, including wet boots, can be compromised due to factors such as wet weather, dirt, sweat, body oils, and abrasion.

These factors necessitate regular reapplication of waterproofing treatment to maintain their effectiveness. Don’t fall for these myths; instead, stick to proven waterproofing methods and maintenance practices.

Frequently Asked Questions

Does waterproofing spray work on hiking boots?

Overall, it depends on the material that the hiking boots are made out of. Waterproofing sprays work well for suede, nubuck, and fabric hiking boots. Leather often responds the best to wax or creams for waterproofing.

How do I protect my hiking boots from the rain?

To protect your hiking boots from rain, ensure your boots have waterproofing that has not worn off. If it has re-waterproof them using wax for your full-grain leather boots or apply a waterproofing product to suede, nubuck, and fabric boots. Additionally, make sure your boots are not caked in mud and dirt beforehand.

What makes a hiking boot waterproof?

Hiking boots and shoes are designed to be waterproof thanks to a lining made of a waterproof membrane also known as DWR. Some hiking boots use a fabric called Gore-Tex that has a special water resistant and breathable membrane.

How can I make my shoes waterproof?

You can make your shoes waterproof by cleaning your shoes, applying a waterproofing spray or product. And then drying them.

Can I use WD40 to waterproof my hiking boots?

WD40 can provide temporary protection in an emergency, but it is not a long-term solution and may damage materials. It is best to stick to proven waterproofing methods for your hiking boots.

How to Use Nikwax Footwear Cleaning Gel and Fabric & Leather Proof DUO-Pack


In conclusion, waterproofing your hiking boots can be very helpful for keeping your feet dry and comfortable when out on the trails and can also help extending the lifespan of your boots. By choosing the right waterproofing method for your boot material, following essential preparation steps, and maintaining regular waterproofing treatment, you can ensure optimal protection against the wet conditions.

Remember to store your boots properly and care for them with regular cleaning and drying. If you have any further questions about how to waterproof hiking boots, please let us know down in the comments below or contact us.

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