Keeping your feet dry when you are out in the wilderness should be, if it isn’t already, one of your top priorities. A brief glance through military history will reveal countless battles and wars lost because soldiers’ feet became frostbitten or infected from improper protection. How to waterproof boots is a serious matter and one that needs to be taken seriously. There are a variety of different methods, from silicone pastes to DIY methods using transmission oil or Vaseline, and they each have their own specific purpose.
Below, we are going to look at three specific types that seem to get a little less attention when talking about waterproofing boots: oils, creams and wax. This doesn’t mean they are necessarily the best, it all depends on what you are looking for, but we will discuss some of the advantages and disadvantages of these two and how to use them.
Why use oils, creams and waxes?
The waterproofing method you use depends greatly on the material of the shoe you are hoping to keep dry. The leather is a popular material in boots for hiking and wilderness activities because it is naturally resistant to water and it is very effective in keeping your foot protected. However, over time, leather can dry out and become stiffer. This will make it more susceptible to cracks and could begin to allow water to permeate the material. To help prevent this and to help prolong the life of your shoes, it is a good idea to treat it or condition it with something that will help it stay fresh and waterproof. Oils, creams and waxes do a good job with this and they are preferred because they are derived from other natural materials. Since leather is also a natural material, it makes sense to use these types of products and we are going to discuss their individual benefits and some best practices that will help you both waterproof and extend the life of your shoes.
Oils are nice because they come in a liquid and are therefore easy to spread around on the shoe. The two most typical oils used to treat and waterproof leather shoes are:
Neatsfoot oil made from oils on the shins and feet of cattle
Mink oil made from the rendering of mink fat
What sets these oils apart from other oils such as mineral oil, another popular oil used for waterproofing, is that they are derived from natural sources. Mineral oil is a petrochemical product. They go on smooth to the leather and with a small amount can effectively help your shoes fight off water and stay in tip-top shape.
To use these oils follow these steps:
Apply the oil to a soft cloth
Rub the oil into gently to the leather
Repeat every four weeks with shoes that are used constantly, less if you don’t use them too often
Some things to note about using neatsfoot and mink oil:
Do not over saturate - as good as these oils are for the leather, using too much can cause the particles in the leather to break down, which can lead to discoloration and to a degradation of the material.
Make sure to use a soft cloth - this will prevent you from using too much in any particular area and will also help you apply it evenly.
Clean the shoe first—any dirt or dust on the shoe will prevent the oil from doing its job and will decrease its effectiveness.
Creams are a good option to use when waterproofing leather shoes because they go on thicker and therefore allow for a really deep treatment. The cream we like and that is preferred amongst leather enthusiasts is made from an oil derived from sheep wool and is caused lanolin.
At cooler temperatures lanolin becomes solid, which is why it is referred to as a cream. Here’s how to use it on your shoes:
Place a healthy amount of cream on a soft cloth
Rub cream all over the shoe
Use the soft cloth to work the cream into the leather and make sure it is applied evenly across all surfaces.
Wait until the shoes are dry so you know the cream has been entirely absorbed.
There is no set rule for how often you should reapply the cream, but every few weeks is recommended especially if you subject your boots to frequent use. It’s a good idea to get into a regular maintenance routine so you can be sure you don’t expose your boots to the elements without proper preparation.
The most effective wax you will find out there for conditioning is beeswax. This natural substance does wonders on protecting your leather shoes and to helping them stay resistant against water and other damaging elements. Beeswax usually comes in a solid block, like a bar of soap, and requires an extra step or two when applying it. Here’s how:
Warm the wax and the shoes. Don’t let them get extremely hot, but place them next to a heater or wood stove to help soften the wax and increase the pliability of the leather.
Rub the wax over all the surfaces of the shoe - try to go in a backward and forward motion and use your fingers to get into the small, difficult to reach spots.
Leave the shoes to cool and cure for at least one day.
One thing to point out is that the shoes may discolor slightly once the wax dries. This is normal and shouldn’t be too severe, but keep that in mind if it is something that is important to you.
One less thing to worry about
After looking at how to waterproof your boots, you should have a good idea of how to maintain them and protect them so that when you head out into the wilderness you will have one less thing to worry about. What do you think? What’s your preferred method of waterproofing boots? Let us know what your favorite is and why.