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Care instructions: waterproofing your outdoor shoes


This shoe was clearly proofed properly - Image: Granger's
This shoe was clearly proofed properly – Image: Granger’s

Heavy rains, sludge, snow – we outdoorsy folk are all too familiar with wetness and all of its various shapes and forms. We might act like it’s a drag having to deal with it, but let’s be honest here: who doesn’t enjoy stomping around in the muddy trails on a rainy day? After all, if we stayed indoors every time it rained, we wouldn’t be true outdoorsmen, now would we? I dare say we’d be something more akin to indoorsmen, and where’s the fun in that? As fun as tramping the muddy fields may be, we can’t allow ourselves to be soaking wet the entire time. Thus, in order to prevent the rain from putting a damper on our outdoor pursuits, we not only need weatherproof clothing but also shoes that are capable of withstanding the elements. This is where water-repellent treatments come in. In the following, we’re going to discuss everything from properly proofing your footwear and the different methods of doing so to the mistakes you can make and how all this affects environment.

What is waterproofing exactly?

Before and after applying Nikwax - TX-Direct Spray
Before and after applying Nikwax – TX-Direct Spray

Obviously, a die-hard outdoorsy person would know what a waterproof treatment is, but a little refresher couldn’t hurt, right? Basically, waterproofing describes the application of a treatment to an article of clothing to prevent penetration by water. In other words, it is a liquid or viscid protective coating applied to a garment. This serves to prevent both water and dirt from penetrating the fabric.

Of course, “fabric” here refers to our shoe. For footwear, waterproofing is a form of absolutely essential basic protection! Not only does it provide waterproof protection and lend dirt-repellent properties to the shoe, but it also serves to increase the lifespan of your shoes! Leather shoes in particular benefit from waterproof treatments. If leather is not cared for on a regular basis, it can become brittle and cracked. A quality waterproofing wax will keep it nice and smooth for an extended period of time.

What kind of shoes should be waterproofed and how?

Toko - Eco Proof & Care Shoe - Spray-on treatment
Toko – Eco Proof & Care Shoe – Spray-on treatment

Regardless of whether they’re mountaineering boots, walking boots or trainers, any pair of shoes that you wear outside should be treated. Full stop. True, there are plenty of shoes that come pre-treated from the manufacturer, but there is also a large number that doesn’t. And even if they are waterproof to begin with, it doesn’t mean that they’ll stay that way. After all, even the best waterproof protection will wear off eventually. Thus, before wearing your shoes for the first time, you should apply a waterproof treatment. You can use a variety of products to do so.

For example, you could use a classic waterproofing spray. This is best for rough leather, shoes with membranes or those made of synthetics. In addition, there is also plant-based or beeswax-based shoe wax. This is perfectly suited for smooth leather shoes, as it not only protects the leather from water but also provides it with nutrients.

What about all those household remedies such as hairspray, petroleum jelly or candle wax? Well, if you’re looking for professional waterproof protection, I’d steer clear of them. Not only will such experiments fail to provide the reliable protection you need, but they could also damage your expensive shoes. In other words, if durable waterproof protection is what you want, you should look into buying a reliable treatment from a reputable manufacturer.

Waterproofing your shoes properly

FJÄLLRÄVEN-Greenland Wax Travel Pack – Waterproofing wax

Since good outdoor shoes tend to be quite costly and we’d all prefer not to ruin them before putting them on, here are a few simple rules to follow before waterproofing your shoes. First, it is incredibly important to make sure that your shoes are clean before applying any treatment. To do so, all you need is a dry rag and a brush. There are professional cleaning products as well, but some warm water will do the trick too. Let the proofing begin!

Waterproofing your shoes with a spray is incredibly easy. The only thing you need to worry about is where you choose to apply the spray. Be sure to do it in either a well-ventilated area or outside. The latter is certainly the best option. And be careful not to breathe it in! Hold the can approximately 30cm away from your shoes and spray. Oh, and less is more in this case, as several thin coats will provide much better resistance than one thick one. So, spray on one coat and allow it to dry for about 15 minutes, repeating the process up to 3 times and that’s it!

Now onto wax treatments. Using shoe wax is quite similar to applying a spray. Using a clean rag and applying little pressure, rub the wax in evenly across the surface of the clean upper material (don’t forget the seams!). After 20 minutes, remove any excess wax using a dry rag or brush. If necessary, you can repeat the process one more time. If you really want to make sure your shoes are absolutely watertight, you can apply both a wax and a waterproofing treatment. However, one will usually suffice.

Regardless of whether you choose a wax or spray, you should wait 24 hours for the treatment to set before wearing the shoes outside. Leather shoes are usually proofed when wet because the liquid causes the pores to open. When the leather pores are open, they can absorb the waterproofing agent much better. As a result, the shoes will not only have better waterproof protection, but they will also retain the leather’s breathable properties. FYI: you should never put your leather shoes in the oven before waterproofing, no matter how often you read that you should. This will damage the leather and the adhesives. Don’t say we didn’t warn you!

How often do shoes need to be waterproofed and what about the environment?

There are all sorts of differing opinions on how often you should waterproof your shoes. Some do it every two weeks whilst others just do it only after purchase. The best solution is somewhere in between. Obviously, no treatment lasts forever, and shoes that you wear on a regular basis should be reproofed every one to two months. If you get caught in heavy rains, you should definitely retreat your shoes when you get back home.

In terms of environmental protection, the waterproofing sprays in particular get a pretty bad rap – and unjustifiably so! Well-known manufacturers such as Toko or Nikwax use ingredients that are considered to be completely harmless not only to the environment but also to our health. There are also waterproofing sprays and waxes that are completely free of chemicals.

As you can see, good waterproof protection is not only absolutely crucial for us outdoorsy folk but also quick and easy to apply and reapply. Plus, they will keep those expensive walking boots, mountaineering boots or outdoor shoes protected and cared for. And most important of all: your feet won’t be completely soaked and shrivelled up on your next trip!

Buy waterproof shoes here >>

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2 Comments on the Article

  1. Jen 15. Mai 2021 09:08 Uhr

    I have some leather Lowa boots with fabric at the back around the ankle. I have so far used Nikwax for reproofing and Granger's G-Wax (beeswax) for extra waterproofing, but water still gets in. I am wondering if Lowa's own 'Water Stop pro' will be any better? It's a lot more expensive and I can't find the ingredients. I want an environmentally benign proofer. Any advice?

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