When you’ve finally found a pair of boots that treats your feet well, you should take as good care of them as they do of you.
Cleaning and waterproofing your boots will extend their life and extend your hunting enjoyment.
Nah, I’m good — my boots are waterproof
It’s hard to find a pair of boots that’s not “waterproof” these days. Unfortunately, that waterproof rating comes with a big asterisk.
Gore-Tex or whatever other brand of waterproofing is fabric lining the inside of your boots, it has small pores that allow water vapor from your hot foot to pass through outward while blocking liquid water from entering. It’s like a sock that is glued to the inside of your boot.
The trouble is that if the pores in the fabric are blocked, then they can’t let your sweat pass through, which makes your foot wet with sweat. When your boots are wet on the outside it blocks your boot from breathing. This is called getting “wetted out,” and it happens to jackets, too.
That’s why the leather on your boots was treated when you first got them and water just beaded up and ran off. That allowed the Gore-Tex to transpire and let some of the sweat off your feet.
Dry feet are warm feet
It’s too bad that the waterproofing on the leather and nylon outside your boot wears off so quickly. This is the waterproofing that you need to renew to keep your feet dry.
I like to buy boots that don’t have Gore-Tex. I prefer leather boots that I can keep waterproofed myself. Leather is a semi-permeable membrane and does a great job of keeping feet dry when it’s cared for.
I also don’t buy insulated boots because I’m usually hiking in them and my feet are perspiring. As long as your boots can breathe and your feet are staying dry, then your feet stay warm.
Clean your boots
The first step in sprucing up your boots is to clean them. A nylon brush is helpful for getting dust and old seeds out of the crevices. If you need to, use a damp rag to clean off mud or white salt stains. If they’re really soiled, you might even need to use saddle soap. Remember to pivot the lace loops and scrub under there, too.
This might be a good time to sprinkle a little baking soda inside your boots to help with any odors.
Take off the laces and wash them in a bowl with warm soapy water. Do it over again until the water stays clean. Set them out to dry while you work on the leather.
There are many good leather treatments out there. I’ve used Sno-Seal and all kinds of Nikwax. Right now I prefer Obenauf’s LP (leather preservative). It’s long-lasting and made in Idaho. I’d stay away from that old classic mink oil just because it softens the leather — boots are meant to be stiff.
If you have Kenetrek boots, I’ve heard that they require you to use their brand of waterproofing wax or it voids the warranty.
Using your fingers or a rag, apply the wax and rub it into the leather. Pay especial attention to the seams.
If your boots are suede, wax treatments will make them look like smooth leather instead. Suede will also take up a lot more wax on the first treatment, but it’ll be a strong armor for your feet.
With a little heat, the wax will saturate into the leather. You could put your boots in a warm window sill or use a hairdryer, but the oven is a sure-fire way to get the wax melted in.
Turn your oven on to warm or the lowest temperature — something like 170 degrees or less — and let it warm for ten minutes or so. Then turn off the oven and put your boots on the rack. Note that if you have the oven too hot, it could melt the glue that holds the soles on.
If you put on too much wax, you may want to put a paper bag under the boots to catch any drips.
Leave your boots in the oven for a while. Maybe an hour. The important thing is to remove them before you turn on the oven to cook a roast.
Lace ‘em and use ‘em
Your boots will now look and smell like new. They’ll repel water and keep you toasty for your winter hunts. Keep your leather healthy and your boots will last you a lot longer, which will leave you some extra cash for more tags.
Sitting on the porch on an early Fall evening, applying wax to your boots makes it feel like hunting season is about to start. Good luck this fall!