How to Waterproof Hiking Boots and Keep Your Feet Dry

Although your leather hiking boots likely had some waterproofing when you purchased them, over time, the waterproof finish can wear out, and you’ll need to restore it.

If you don’t, you risk decreasing the lifespan of your boots or getting wet feet during winter or hikes in the rain. 

I’ve tried many methods to reapply the waterproofing to my boots over the years, from wax-based products to creams and sprays. I’ve learned that the product you choose greatly depends on your boots’ material. 

If you’re wondering how to waterproof hiking boots, keep reading. This guide tells you the best boot waterproofing methods to keep water out and your feet comfortable and dry. 

Quick Summary 

  • When learning how to waterproof hiking boots, consider the material of your boot to choose the best product. 
  • Your hiking boots will need to be waterproofed periodically (even gore-tex boots and fabric boots) when you notice that wet weather causes water to enter into the boot. 
  • After waterproofing boots, make sure that you also complete the drying process before wearing them on your next hike. This step helps the waterproofing product to set on the hiking boot. 

How To Correctly Waterproof Your Boots For Hiking (Step-by-Step)

Whenever I notice water stops beading up on the outside of my boots, I know it’s time for them to be re-waterproofed. Here’s the process I follow to waterproof hiking boots and keep my boots in their best shape. 

1. Consider the Boot Material 

The material of your boot greatly determines the product and method you will use to waterproof them. Common materials for hiking boots include full-grain leather, fabric, suede, and nubuck. Each of these requires a different waterproofing product. 

Full-grain leather boots work well with a wax-based product or cream. Suede or nubuck boots also work well with many wax products. 

You’ll want to use a waterproofing spray for synthetic and nylon boots (including boots with a gore-tex membrane). Although some creams work with these synthetic materials also, they’re more challenging to apply. 

2. Properly Clean Your Boots Before Starting 

cleaning my leather hiking boots with a toothbrush

Now that you’ve chosen the right waterproofing product for the material of your boot, you’ll need to thoroughly clean the boots before you start applying the solution. 

If you’re like me and keep your boots clean after hikes to maximize their lifespan, you should have already completed the cleaning process after your last hike.

You can move to the next step.

However, if your boots are dirty, you’ll need to clean them first to ensure the product works. Use a cleaning solution, like Nikwax footwear cleaning gel, or wash them with soap and water.  

3. Rinse Your Hiking boots 

After cleaning, or if your hiking boots are already clean, you’ll want to rinse them off. Rinsing removes any residue left on the boot from the cleaner you used and gets them wet enough to apply the waterproofing product.

You do not want to waterproof boots when they’re completely dry. However, you don’t want soaking wet boots, either. A good rule of thumb is to leave them a bit damp before you start the treatment.  

4. Apply The Waterproofing Treatment

applying wax treatment to my leather hiking boots

Follow the instructions for the selected product to apply the waterproofing solution to the hiking boots. 

For Smooth and Leather Boots 

Use a wax or cream product on the entire boot. The instructions for products made with wax may recommend warming the wax with a hairdryer before applying it to soften it and allow for a more even application.

I’ve skipped this step before, and it makes the whole process a bit more complicated.

For Nubuck and Suede Boots  

A wax spray, like Nikwax Fabric and Leather Proof, works well for these materials, as sprays are easier to apply than traditional wax. It also helps the material to maintain its breathability better. 

For Nylon and Synthetic Boots 

You will need to use a spray for these materials. Look for one made specifically for fabric that keeps the material breathable.  

If you’re working with a spray, hold it a few inches from your boots as you apply it. Most waterproofing sprays will require more than one coat to maximize the waterproofing. Make sure you get in all the seams and around other areas where water could get into the boot. 

5. Buff Your Boots With A Clean Cloth 

buffing my boots with a clean cloth

After you’ve completed the process to waterproof your hiking boots, wipe or buff your boots with a clean, dry cloth.

This step removes any extra cream or wax on the boot’s surface and helps them to shine, especially leather boots. 

You’re almost done with the entire process of waterproof hiking boots. All you have left to do is complete the drying process. 

6. Dry Your Boots 

The best way to dry hiking boots is to let them air dry. Find a cool, dry place with low humidity and either hang them or set them there.

Make sure to keep your boots away from any heat source, such as a radiator, and don’t leave them out to dry in the sun.

Heat can ruin your boots, especially leather boots, and will make them deteriorate faster. It’s ok to use a special boot dryer or a cool fan to help speed up the drying time.  

Tips And Recommendations 

If you’re just learning how to waterproof hiking boots, don’t worry. Soon, you’ll realize that it’s easy, and you’ll incorporate it into part of your regular maintenance routine. Here are a few other tips I’ve learned along the way. 

  • If working with leather, you may also want to condition them occasionally. It keeps the leather from cracking and keeps them supple, adding to their longevity. 
  • Some waterproof hiking boots come with a waterproofing warranty. Ask to see if that applies to your brand of boots before purchasing. 
  • Merrel and Salomon make some of the best waterproof hiking boots on the market and have both men’s and women’s styles. 


Can I Use Wd 40 to Waterproof My Boots?

Waterproofing hiking boots with WD 40 works if you don’t have another specific product readily available and need to waterproof your boots. However, it’s not the best waterproofing option, as many other great options exist on the market. 

How Often Should You Waterproof Hiking Boots?

You need to waterproof your hiking boots when you notice that they don’t keep your feet dry or that the water no longer beads like it should on the surface of the boot. These things indicate that the waterproof membrane is no longer doing its job correctly. 

How Do You Keep Hiking Boots Waterproof?

Keeping your hiking free from dirt and grime and periodically applying waterproofing products when needed will help maintain your boot’s waterproof finish and keep your feet dry for many upcoming hikes. 

How to Correctly Waterproof Leather Boots?

To correctly waterproof leather boots, start by cleaning them thoroughly. Next, apply a waterproofing spray or boot waterproofing treatment specifically designed for leather boots. Follow the product instructions for optimal coverage and ensure the boots are dry before use.

Jennifer Strom

Jennifer Strom

Jennifer Strom has been a writer for over 20 years and an outdoor and hiking enthusiast for most of her life. After spending much of her career in the corporate world, she decided to freelance to spend more time with her family and explore new places. You will find her always looking forward to her next weekend adventure and writing guides that help others make the most of their own hikes and time outdoors.

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