How to Guide: Waterproofing for Hiking Boots

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Having dirty worn-out hiking boots are a sure sign of making memories and having a good time outdoors. 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 you will notice that water starts to soak in and no longer beads up and rolls off. In this article we are covering the steps to waterproofing for hiking boots. 

Steps to Waterproofing for Hiking Boots

  1. Determine the material type of your hiking boots 
  2. Choose the appropriate waterproofing product
  3. Clean your boots and rinse cleaner 
  4. Spray or rub in waterproofing all over the hiking boot.
  5. Let sit for a minute and wipe off any excess
  6. Let dry completely about 24 hours 

Types of Hiking Boot Materials 

Hiking boots are made out of many different materials. Most use a blend of leather, suede or nubuck, and synthetic materials. Each material has advantages and disadvantages in regard to durability and waterproofing.  

Leather: Traditionally this is the material that hiking boots were originally made out of. And for good reasons: leather is extremely durable and lasts a very long time and it is naturally water resistant. However one of the biggest downsides though is that it is not very breathable and gets very warm. 

Suede or Nubuck Leather: Suede also known as “rough” leather 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. 

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. Out of most materials used with hiking boots. 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.

Choosing a Waterproofing Product for Your Hiking Boots

When it comes to the types of waterproofing for your boots there are quite a lot of products to choose from. Some waterproofing agents are only okay for certain materials so double check the materials on your boots and read the label on the products. 

Also, be sure to test the product on your boot because some of the waterproofing agents will make your boots a shade darker. If this is what you want then that might be an added bonus! 

Waterproofing Leather Hiking Boots 

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 DWR 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 the following:

Sno Seal Leather Protection

  • Wax is one of the best ways to waterproof leather boots.
  • Highly water resistant 
  • Extends the life of leather boots 
  • One downside is it takes a bit of time to apply 

NikWax Waterproofing Wax for Leather 

  • Cleaner works for full grained leather, suede, nubuck, and synthetic footwear
  • Revives waterproofing for smooth leather 
  • Does not soften leather 
  • Ideal for Ideal for smooth leather footwear
  • Water based, contains no PFCs, optical brighteners, or added scent

Waterproofing Suede or Nubuck Boots 

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 suede or nubuck leather boots I highly recommend the following:

Nikwax Waterproofing for Nubuck & Suede

  • Cleaner works for full grained leather, suede, nubuck, and synthetic footwear
  • Waterproofing works for nubuck and suede footwear
  • Spray-on or rub on application.
  • Water based, contains no PFCs, optical brighteners, or added scent.
  • Adds water repellency and maintains breathability.

Gear Aid Revivex Suede & Fabric Boot Kit

  • Protects footwear from water and stains
  • Maximizes breathability and waterproofing
  • Boot care kit includes: water repellent spray, suede cleaner, boot brush and eraser
  • All season protection
  • Protect suede, nubuck, canvas and waterproof-breathable shoes including Gore-Tex® boots.

Waterproofing Synthetic 

Synthetics hiking boots tend to use DWR and a waterproofing membrane such as Gore-Tex®. Gore-Tex® is a popular synthetic type membrane that is extremely waterproof and breathable. However, per Gore-Tex® with time the DWR applied will wear off and need a re-application.

For the treatment of Gore-Tex® be sure to avoid waxes and greasy type of waterproofing as this will ruin the fabric. 

For synthetic materials I recommend using: 

Nikwax Fabric & Leather Footwear Cleaning & Waterproofing

  • Cleaner works for full grained leather, suede, nubuck, and synthetic footwear
  • Sponge on or spray applicator
  • Waterproofing works for fabric, leather, Gore-Tex®, SympaTex®, and eVent®
  • Water based, non-persistent, and contains no PFCs, optical brighteners, or added scent

Cleaning Your Hiking Boots 

In my demonstration I’m cleaning and waterproofing my spouse Lissy’s, dirty hiking boots. They have definitely lost their DWR and water soaks right in instead of beading and rolling off. 

Before you get to waterproofing your hiking boots you need to clean all the dirt and debris off. By doing this you ensure that the waterproofing reaches all the fabric and is able to adequately soak in. 

Start by using a coarse brush or smacking off the chunks of dirt from the boots. I recommend doing this outside or into a trash can. For getting into the nooks and crannies a toothbrush or a coarse brush tends to work well. 

Really scrub next to the stitching of fabric and near the eyelets. I recommend removing the shoelaces prior to cleaning. This will make it easier to clean the tongue and the areas between. I usually end up rinsing and washing the laces separately. 

After you scrub the dirt off rinse the boots

Next, rinse the boots to clean off any wet dirt or residue. Hopefully, you got those big chunks of dirt off prior to using a cleaner. 

It is time to clean the boots.

After you scrub the dirt off and rinse your boots. It’s time to clean them. I recommend using a boot cleaner like Nikwax Footwear Cleaning Gel. Be sure to give a good shake and scrub the cleanser all around the boots. 

Time to rinse off the cleaner gel.

The cleanser will help remove any trapt or hard to pull up dirt from the boots and thoroughly clean the boots to open up the pores of the fabric.Once you are done using the cleanser. Then you will need to rinse the hiking boots again to get the cleanser off so you can start applying the waterproofing for the boots. 

Apply a waterproofing layer to the boots!

Waterproofing Your Hiking Boots 

When waterproofing your boots make sure to use the appropriate waterproofing for the fabric type. Remember using wax or greasy creams for leather works pretty well but is definitely a no-no for Gore-Tex® fabric and will ruin the membrane. 

After finding the correct waterproofing. It is time to sponge or spray the waterproofing all over your boots to ensure your feet stay dry and not soggy.  I like to find a well-ventilated area to apply my waterproofing product. Once applied, let the waterproof sit for about 2 minutes, then wipe off any excess product. 

Next, let the boots completely dry. I usually wait about 24 hours for the drying process and that’s usually good enough. 

Now it is time to grab those laces and weave them back in your hiking boots and now your hiking boots are back and ready for action! 


Do I need to Waterproof my hiking boots? You do not usually need to waterproof your hiking boots right off the shelf if it has factory DWR. Which most hiking boots labeled as waterproof do. Over time though this layer of DWR will wear off and need to be reapplied to continue working. 

You don’t have to waterproof your boots if you do not want to. If you look at the Merrell Moab, they have a waterproof version and a ventilation version. Waterproofing can slightly make a fabric lose some of its breathability but keep your feet drier on the outside. A more breathable shoe is less water resistant but keeps your feet drier on the inside. They both work, it’s more up to preference. 

Does Gore-Tex Need Re Waterproofing? Yes, per Gore-Tex® at some time the DWR that is applied will wear off and need a re application. Luckily it is pretty easy to re waterproof hiking boots with synthetic materials!

Can I use WD40 to waterproof my boots? WD-40 can actually be used to waterproof boots. But you will likely only want to use WD-40 for darker leather hiking boots because it will stain lighter hiking boots. I would not recommend using WD-40 for suede or nubuck leather boots. And most certainly do not use WD-40 for synthetic materials unless you want to completely ruin the waterproofing for your hiking boots. 

Can I use Vaseline to waterproof my boots? Vaseline should not be used on suede, nubuck, or any synthetic materials. It could be used on leather hiking boots and provide a short-lived waterproofing coat. But it is petroleum based and leather tends to dry out and crack with use of petroleum applications. Also, it is worth noting that petroleum-based applicants are dirt magnets. 

Final Thoughts 

Follow these steps to waterproofing your hiking boots the next time they start losing their ability to repel water. Be sure to really look at the waterproofing products labels and identify your fabric types on your hiking boots. Do this and you will be on your way to having drier feet in the backcountry. 

Have comments or other questions feel free to drop one below! As always, get outdoors and put more miles on those feet.

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