Wednesday, December 29, 2010

My Equipment Part II: Conditioning and Waterproofing Your Hiking Boots!

I grew up in a military family. My Dad was in the Army for thirty-six years. That being the case, there was always an abundance of boots kicking around the house (no pun intended). When I was pretty young, my Dad was more than willing to teach me how to treat and maintain boots. Let's just say from that point on, I did my fair share of polishing and conditioning his combat boots. For some strange reason, I thought it was a lot of fun at the time. Whether it was his standard issue combat boots, work boots or hunting boots, he pretty much taught me to treat them all with the same care. Today, I still apply his boot conditioning lessons to my everyday work boots and after ten years, they still look like they are brand new. Now that I've taken up hiking, I think it only makes sense to condition my hiking boots (which are my Asolo TPS 520 GV's that I purchased this past June) in the same manner. I thought it would be nice to share with you, how I go about this!

What you will need!!!

Before I begin, I should probably mention that this will only work on leather boots. The sealer I use, which is primarily beeswax, will not work on synthetic materials. Also, I should mention that it will discolor a boot to some degree. It will certainly not hurt any leathers, but any lighter colored leather (or suede for that matter) will not look the same when you are done...but it will waterproof and condition regardless of the discoloring!

Notice the abuse the White Mountains have put my little boots through this season!!!

To start out, make sure you have all the essential tools. You'll need a soft buffing brush to clean the boots. To apply your sealer, you'll need a clean cotton rag. What I feel works best is an old undershirt. You'll definitely need a heating element of some kind to open the pores of the leather. I like to use Jill's hairdryer because it has a lot of different settings which allows you to control how hot the leather gets. Finally, you'll need your boots and the beeswax sealer of choice. Oh, I almost forgot...you should also have a good brew, preferably served in an old mason jar to quench your thirst during this task. Today, I've chosen Blue Moon Ale, since it is what is left over from our Christmas Eve gathering!

First, remove your shoelaces and make sure your boot's leather is somewhat clean and free of foreign debris. Take the brush and use it to buff off all dirt and grime. Dirt and dust typically builds up in the crevices between the tongue and the boot lip. If there is a dirt and grime in there, make sure you get it all out.

Shoelaces removed and dirt buffed off!

Once the leather is adequately cleaned, use the hairdryer on setting "hot", but with a "low" fan, to heat up small sections of the leather. Make sure not to leave the hairdryer concentrated in one spot too long. You want to move it around quickly (back-and-forth or in circular motion) as to not overheat the leather. Once it's warm to the touch (not too hot!!!), apply the beeswax with the clean rag in a circular motion. Right away, you should be able to see the beeswax melt and absorb into the leather. This is good! You'll want to continue applying the beeswax until it is no longer being absorbed. Once you feel there is a good amount of beeswax at that section, continue onto the next small section of the boot until the entire leather surface has been covered. Please note that sections of the leather that are more worn (such as the toe) will accept more beeswax than sections that are not as worn (such as the ankle).

Visual Comparison: the boot on the left is untouched, the boot on the right is conditioned

When working your way around the boot's leather surfaces, be sure to pay extra attention to the stitching and seams of the boot, as well as where the sole is joined to the leather uppers. You will want to use a liberal amount of beeswax in these areas and make sure it is rubbed in well. These are typically your first failure points, especially during full foot submersion in water. So, be sure to use plenty of beeswax reduce the risk of leaking.

Use a generous amount of beeswax in the stitching and seams

Make sure to get a generous amount of beeswax in the sole-to-leather joint

Once you've finished applying the beeswax, the boot will most likely be a bit darker, will have a shiny appearance and the surface will be a bit tacky. This tackiness will wear off quickly after the first or second use. When I'm done waxing, I like to put my boots next to the furnace register overnight to try to dry any excess beeswax. I'm not sure if this really does any good or not. The first time you use the boots after conditioning, you may observe some white cracking on the bend points of the leather due to your foot's motion. This is totally fine. It is just the dried beeswax on the surface of the leather cracking. It's okay because this isn't what is protecting your boot. The beeswax that was absorbed into the leather is what is protecting your boot!

Both Asolo hiking boots, fully conditioned with beeswax

The beeswax I use is an Atsko product called Sno-Seal™. I'm sure there are other beeswax products on the market that probably work just as well, but I use Sno-Seal™ because that is what my father always used and I have adopted it from him. I try to apply Sno-Seal™ once a year and it typically seems to fall around this time of year (first snow fall) because that is when I'm most concerned about waterproofing and keeping my feet dry. From what I have read, beeswax is an ideal product for Gor-Tex® lined boots because it is organic and will not react negatively with the Gor-Tex® membrane. Also, it will not clog the natural pores of the boot, allowing the Gor-Tex® to vent properly, keeping your feet free of sweat!

My finished Asolo hiking boots next to the furnace register

Please understand that I am not a boot expert and how I condition my boots, may not be the best practice for yours. Please do your research before applying anything to your footwear to ensure that you are not harming them, but are instead maintaining and protecting them for whatever activities they are used for. I hope sharing my boot maintenance tips with you was helpful and most of all, I hope it helps extend your boot's life and keeps your feet dry :) !



  1. Karl,

    Great post. If I had leather boots, I would definitely apply these techniques. I know all about the military and shoe shines etc. I was in the Navy for a couple of years.

    As for your choice of brew, I approve. Blue Moon is probably my favorite brew. No bitter aftertaste.

  2. Hi Tim,

    Yeah, like I said, I use to love to shine my Dad's boots. No idea why. Seems like such a chore now. I never used a lighter, but I certainly have did the spit shining on his dress days.

    As far as Belgian Ales go, Blue Moon is my favorite, but certainly not my favorite brew over non-Belgian Ales. Do you guys have Long Trail Ale down there? It's a Vermont beer, and is my favorite...not because it has to do with hiking...it is just really good beer. For NH brews, Tuckerman Brewery or Moat Mountain Brewery makes some top notch beer!

  3. very detailed post on boot care!It is definitely a good idea to do this before day hiking in the snow!

  4. I keep meaning to do this but I never get past the pouring a beer part...

  5. Hi Dave,

    The beer pouring is the most important part...at least you do get that far!


  6. Appreciate the post. I just purchased my first cross country boots, and I think I will try your technique. I'll need to purchase the beeswax, but I already have plenty of Blue Moon in my fridge.

  7. Hi Susan,

    Good luck and let me know how the boots come out! I hope it works great for them!


  8. Very familiar with sno seal but beer? Really? Why not! :-)

  9. I have read your article post. thank's for sharing. thank;s for tips. Its always great to find good honest practical content. Thank you so much.