No time like now to get our equipment dialed for hunting season. One of the most important, yet often most neglected pieces of gear are our hunting boots. Dry, brittle, maybe even cracked leather boots are our worst enemy. The performance of our boots is a direct result of how well we take care of them. Last fall I took it upon myself to care for my boots properly in an attempt to never come home with wet feet knowing it was my fault. By season’s end, my boot care routine had become ritual.
When the water no longer “beads” off of my boots, I know it’s time to do some maintenance. The typical hiking/hunting boot has a membrane that allows moisture to move away from your feet to the outside of the boot, keeping the inside dry. Once the leather is saturated with water it renders the waterproof/breathable membrane inside your boot useless. I’ve hiked back to the truck, wearing $300 boots, with socks so wet you could wring an 8oz. glass of water from them. At the time, I cussed my expensive boots. Now I know I should have been cussing myself.
If my boots are looking dry and crusty, I know I’m asking for it. When the leather in our boots dries out to the point of being hard, having lost its supple feel, it’s starving for moisture. So when you go walking through a meadow of tall grass covered in dew, the leather is literally sucking the moisture in versus repelling it. The leather has to be conditioned with a wax-cream type product and then waterproofed with a separate product. I think of it this way, the conditioner maintains the leather, keeps it happy, while the waterproofing agent keeps the water rolling off. In my opinion, conditioning the leather is equally important as waterproofing it. The experts all agree to use the conditioner judiciously, as too much could over-soften the leather causing loss of support.
This is similar to taking a brand new rain jacket out into a downpour and watching the beads of water roll off the garment. The Gore-Tex in the jacket is not what makes the water roll off the jacket, it’s the Durable Water Repellent or DWR that is applied to the outer nylon. So having your leather properly treated is the DWR for your boots.
The one tip that has helped me the most in keeping my boots in tip top shape is this, apply the conditioner or water proofing product when the leather is thoroughly soaked! When the leather is wet, its pores are open and can better accept the product. If you are applying any product to dry leather, the result is superficial. Once I began following this simple rule I noticed that my boots would make it through multiple wet hunts without soaking through at all.
When I have boots that are starting to show wet leather, as in the picture below (notice the wet spots around the lower lace hooks), I give them a quick rinse with the hose and maybe a few swipes with a brush to loosen any mud and dirt. Then, in my mud room, after hanging wet outer wear, I take two minutes to apply the leather conditioner or waterproofing while the leather is still wet. I leave the boots overnight and by morning they are ready to go. Remember never to dry your boots next to a direct heat source! During the hunting season, almost weekly, I’ll make an extra couple steps, and pull my shoelaces from the boots, clean the boots especially well with a brush and apply both a conditioner and waterproofing wax.
My Lowa Sheep Hunter boots during a very wet snow storm last fall. Notice how the areas around the lower lace hooks and the toe box are getting wet but the rest of the boot is still beading water. These are areas that see the most moisture, thus getting wet and drying repeatedly causing the leather to lose its oils and dry out sooner than the rest of the boot. I tend to care for these areas more than the upper parts of the boots. After this particular hunt, I came home and applied wax only to the areas that were holding moisture. This only took a minute, and I was ready for the morning hunt. I typically use products from Nikwax, but I hear good things about Granger’s.
It takes a few rounds to fall into the boot care rhythm, but your boots will repay you with happy, dry feet and longer life. Love your boots for top end performance.