How to Waterproof Winter Boots

Knowing how to waterproof your winter boots is a sensible strategy to combat the toughest weather challenges of the year – snow, slush puddles, wind, rain and cold. Wherever your day takes you, those forces will combine to try to make you as uncomfortable as possible. And if they find their way through your boots, you'll be cold and miserable. In fact, the coldest my feet have ever been was when water soaked my boots after I stepped in a slush puddle in New York City on a 30-degree day – and this is coming from someone who regularly backcountry skis in 15 below temperatures.

So how do you protect your feet from winter's chill? The answer is waterproofing your boots. Most high quality leather boots can be waterproofed. “But I already have a pair of waterproof boots,” you may say. However, like any “waterproof” product (beyond sealed rubber and non-breathable textiles), you need to reapply waterproofing regularly to be sure winter's nasty forces of wet and cold are kept outside. You can re-proof your waterproof boots in a few short minutes of actual work, and be all set for the season to come. Take a look below.

How Do I Waterproof My Boots?

Waterproofing leather boots is a pretty simple process involving three steps – cleaning, drying and applying a waterproofing agent. Here are a few tricks to each step that will help you get the best waterproof seal on your leather boots for winter:

Step 1: Cleaning Your Leather Boots

Full grain leather naturally repels water, but seams in your boots can allow water to penetrate. Boots that are left dirty can wear more quickly, so it's a good idea to clean your leather boots regularly, and specifically before applying waterproofing. I use an old toothbrush and a small bowl of water to loosen dirt, sap and anything else my boots have picked up. Pay extra attention to the seams and where the upper meets the midsole. Then wipe down the leather boots with a damp rag and let them dry.

Step 2: Drying Leather Boots

You have to be patient when letting your boots dry. Overheating your boots will dry the leather too quickly, causing hardening and cracking. A good method to dry your boots is to apply light heat from a hair dryer; this will also warm up the leather, allowing the dubbing wax to soak in more easily in the next step. Again, just be careful not to overheat the leather.

Step 3: Apply the Waterproofing

Dubbing wax is the most common form of conditioning and waterproofing for leather boots. However, it cannot be applied to nubuck or suede, so stick to using it on full grain leather boots. Dubbing also keeps your leather boots soft and looking great, so get in the habit of applying it regularly.

Follow the specific directions for your brand of dubbing wax, but each should be similar to the following:

  • Remove laces (this makes it easier and less likely to get dubbing buildup on the laces).
  • Apply a small amount of dubbing to a rag or chamois.
  • Starting with the lower and working upwards, work the dubbing into the leather in small circles.
  • Spend extra time working the dubbing into seams.
  • Reapply to any areas that require it.
  • Let dry for an hour.
  • Buff off any residue with a second clean cloth or chamois.

Finally, if you want to give your newly waterproofed boots a little extra shine, you can apply some polish.

A well cared for pair of leather boots will keep your feet comfortable all year round and keep winter's forces at bay when you need warm and dry feet the most. Take the time to clean and apply dubbing once and you'll see just how easy it is to maintain a great pair of leather boots.

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