Boots are big investment in your outdoor comfort. When snow and rain leak through unsealed fabric and seams, your feet get cold and miserable and your expensive boots fall apart prematurely. Water is fabric killer and whether you want to stay warm and dry while working outdoors, or just want to keep your new footwear looking its best for years to come; waterproofing is the essential can’t-miss step.
How are waterproof and water-resistant boots different?
Water-resistant boots have water repelling qualities, but are not waterproof. If you walk through any amount of standing snow or water, your feet will get wet. Boots can be labelled water-resistant if the material they’re made of has natural water repellency, if a semipermeable membrane is built into the shoe, or if the exterior is treated with chemical water repellant.
Waterproof boots can be worn in any moisture condition and should remain completely dry inside. This can be due to the use of nonporous material like rubber and plastic or integrated waterproof barrier membranes.
The Science of Waterproof Boots
On a molecular level, nonporous material like rubber has no gaps that allow water to pass through. This is certainly effective waterproofing, but also prevents sweat from evaporating and creates an environment for your feet that is nearly as unfriendly as non-waterproof boots that get soaking wet inside.
This led boot makers to develop membranes that allow moisture vapor to escape from the inside, trapping it between the membrane and the outer layer of the boot, while keeping water out. Theoretically, this should result in completely waterproof boots, but the truth is that given enough water, time and pressure, anything material short of rubber will leak eventually. Manufacturers do testing to ensure their products meet stated claims, but each defines waterproofness differently.
In general, waterproof barriers are described with two numbers. The first reflects how waterproof the fabric is under variable amounts of pressure as measured in millimeters. The higher the number, the more waterproof it is.
The second number reflects breathability and refers to how many grams of water vapor escape through the barrier in twenty-four hours. The higher the number, the more breathable it is.
These test ratings are the most objective way to evaluate how waterproof boots are. Water-resistant boots must repel moisture at 200 millimeters of pressure. Waterproof boots must keep water out at a minimum of 1000 mm. At greater than minimum levels, expect some variability between brands as makers ride a fine line between features.
Why is waterproofing important?
Waterproof boot barriers keep feet dry, they do not protect the exterior of the boot from water damage unless the entire boot is constructed of waterproof material. Moisture is the enemy of even the toughest boot fabric. Repeated exposure to snow, rain and sleet alters the shape of fibers of both natural and synthetic porous fabrics, weakening them over time.
Weak material results in loss of insulation value, uncomfortable creases, fragile seams and permanent stains. Water-resistant membranes can lose their integrity and compromise both water repellency and breathability.
Boots that have been exposed to excessive moisture may also harbor foot fungus and potentially harmful bacteria. As the interior components degrade, insoles and liners can wrinkle, leading to painful blisters.
Regular exterior waterproofing fills in natural pores in boot fabric and not only keeps water from penetrating boots, it keeps it from staining the top layers of fabric and creates a surface that makes boots easier to clean. Products with additional UV protection also prevent fading and dryness that can lead to cracking.
Waterproofing Spray versus Wax
Waterproofing spray is made of silicone or alternative water repellant chemicals. In aerosol spray cans, it may also come with propellant gases including environmentally-harmful fluorocarbons. Regular spray bottles do not have these ingredients.
Wax is nature’s water repellant. It’s nonsoluble in water and keeps moisture out of boots while imparting a lustrous finish to natural materials like leather. Over time, however, excess wax can build up, giving boots a gummy feel and it’s not usable on many synthetic fabrics at all. If you’re favorite boots need to be resoled, it can interfere with the new adhesive.
Sprays are safe for use on all fabrics, but most are not recommended for synthetic boots made with Gore-Tex® due or athletic style shoes for which any water repellant would compromise breathability. It’s especially suited to nubuck leather that has a suede-like texture that can’t be waxed.
Wax is a great choice for finished leather and also imparts a shiny finish that sprays can’t.
Let’s look at what ten top products have to offer to make your buying decision easier.
Ten Best Boot Waterproofing Sprays And Wax Reviews
Bickmore’s Gard-More Water & Stain Repellent is a classic that’s specially formulated to add a protective, yet breathable waterproof layer to your boots, preventing water stains and scuffing. It’s silicone-free so it can be used on other fabrics without compromising their flexibility.
Made in the USA, this non-aerosol spray is environmentally-friendly and provides quick, complete coverage without worrying about damaging other surfaces by over spraying.
– Silicone-free formula can be used on nubuck or suede.
– Non-aerosol formula can be used indoors.
– Gentle, but doesn’t give leather an optimal sheen.
Kiwi has been protecting boots for a long time with their unique silicone formula that bonds to leather and other fabrics to create a tough, but breathable exterior water barrier. Ideal for shoes at risk of damage from heavy outdoor moisture, boots for both work and play can be protected.
This aerosol spray is lightweight, easy to apply and completely colorless once it’s dry. Kiwi doesn’t recommend using this spray on genuine nubuck or suede, but it’s been used successfully to treat synthetic suede finishes.
– Proven formula is effective for outdoor moisture exposure.
– Dries completely clear and odorless.
– Aerosol spray has a heavy odor until dry and should be used outdoors.
– Overspray onto adjoining surfaces is a risk with aerosols sprays.
Kiwi Camp Dry offers some of the toughest silicone protection on the market today for outdoor boots and a wide range of outdoor gear. It creates a tough water barrier on boots as well as tents, tarps, hunting apparel, backpacks and more.
Two coats are recommended for optimal efficacy and users report getting multiple applications for large items like tents out of a single can.
– Provides economical coverage.
– Multi-use across most outdoor gear
– Best used outdoors for adequate ventilation.
Forcefield is a multi-use aerosol product that unlike other waterproofing spray, can be used on athletic shoes without affecting breathability. It’s safe enough to use on other fabrics like clothing and it offers both UV and stain protection to keep your clothing clean and fade-free.
– Dries fully in just 23 minutes.
– A single application lasts up to a year.
– Must be tested on whites before use.
– Aerosol spray is not environmentally-friendly.
Simple Shine is the first product specifically formulated for luxury leather goods. It’s gentle enough to use routinely, but tough enough to offer complete waterproofing and stain resistance, even on delicately-colored fabrics.
Safe for all finished leather, Simple Shine is dye–free, applies neatly and is safe to use, even indoors. Made in the USA by a small, family-owned business, Simple Shine back this product with a 100% unconditional guarantee.
– Made with sustainable, cruelty-free ingredients.
– No questions asked product guarantee is unbeatable.
– Dries residue-free.
– Has not been tested for use on fabrics other than leather.
Sno-Seal Original Beeswax protects leather from rain, sun, snow, and salt without the oils and greases found in competitors’ formulas. The pure beeswax formula dries fast and forms a hard, long-lasting finish that’s also perfect for waxed cotton fabrics and and tent seams.
Sno-Seal is even safe to use for added protection on Gore-Tex® boots without compromising breathability.
– Natural wax without unwanted additives
– Traditional formula both cleans and protects.
– Safe for indoor use
– Shoe polish cannot be used over Sno-Seal to touch up future scuffs.
This Kenetrek Boot Wax stands apart from the rest of the field with a few distinct features. First, it’s made of pure, natural oils and proprietary secret ingredients that both condition and waterproof leather.
If you love your boots and plan on having them resoled instead of retired when they wear out, Kenetrek wax won’t interfere with sole adhesive like other brands can. The makers do advise that this product will darken leather boots, but for hunters, its light scent won’t repel large game.
– Quick, indoor application process
– Light, hunter-friendly scent
– Not recommended for Gore-Tex® boots
– Ingredient list isn’t specific.
If shoe grease doesn’t sound appealing, take a minute to check out the reputation of this product. Founded personally by Mr. Huberd, The Huberd’s Shoe Grease Company was formed in the USA in 1921 with a beeswax waterproofing formula tough enough to keep leather loggers’ boots dry.
It’s only been improved since and every incarnation has stood the test of time.
– Proven, conditioning formula contains no animal fats.
– Product has a stellar reputation and a very loyal following.
– Takes a while to soak into boots
– Can’t be used on unfinished leather.
Sof Sole Mink Oil is a dress boot’s best friend. Its all-in-one formula cleans, waterproof, protects and restores suppleness to delicate dress boot finishes that have dried over time.
What sets it apart is its usefulness as a crease remover. Just apply it liberally and allow the rich formula to absorb fully before buffing and watch light creases virtually disappear.
– Gentle scent
– Improves the depth of leather color.
– Darkens leather immediately after use, but it lightens in time.
– Not recommended for unfinished leather
Granger’s calls this product the ultimate waterproofing wax for good reason. Made in England since 1937, it’s a soft wax that provides both water-repellency and nourishment to leather boots.
Free of fluorocarbon and VOCs, it’s recommended by the world’ leading boot manufacturers for the care of their products and is backed with a full money-back guarantee.
– Clear, neutral color
– Non-toxic and environmentally-friendly
– Occasional users complain that the finish it leaves is so shiny it shows dirt and lint.
How to Waterproof Boots
Since every product is different, always follow the manufacturer’s guidelines for use, but most of the procedure is the same regardless of what type of waterproofing spray or wax you choose. Just follow these steps:
1. Remove the laces to keep them clean.
2. Clean your boots with a soft-bristled brush to remove loose dirt. Pay special attention to seams and crevices.
3. Prepare a safe work area by laying down newspaper to catch spills.
4. To use a spray, work outdoors if recommended. Cover sensitive items to prevent damage from over spraying. Waxes can be used indoors.
5. Apply sprays liberally and allow drying between each recommended coat.
6. Apply waxes as directed using a circular motion and buff well after drying.
Wet weather is on the way. Protect your investment with a high-quality waterproofing product before you take on the elements. Your feet, your boots and your checkbook will thank you for it!