Waterproofing Suede and Nubuck Hiking Boots

From the factory most hiking boots are treated with a Durable Water Repellant Finish. Most of us are familiar with treating regular leather, but suede and nubuck need to be treated differently.

Out of the box you probably won’t have to treat hiking boots, but after a few months in the field you’ll likely have to retreat them with a waterproofing spray.

When Should You Treat Suede/Nubuck Hiking Boots?

New boots rarely require treatment out of the box, but a few months later you’ll have to treat your boots. You’ll know when you need to retreat your boots.

When properly treated, water should bead up and roll off the outer layer of your boots. Once water starts to absorb into the outer layer of your boots it’s time to reapply DWR.

Choosing A Waterproofing Product

Waterproofing products are either designed for full-grain leather or Suede/Nubuck. Waterproofing sprays designed for regular leather will destroy suede.

There are a lot of great products on the market, but I personally prefer the Nikwax Nubuck & Sued Waterproofing Spray. It’s affordable, sprays on evenly and works really well. Just make sure you don’t accidentally buy the regular Nikwax, because it will destroy your boots.

Never Use Wax Based Products

Wax based waterproofing products work really well on regular full grain leather, but it will ruin Suede and Nubuck. You’ll be left with a waxy hairy mess. Here are a few of my favorite suede waterproofing sprays.

Best Suede/Nubuck Waterproofing Sprays
  1. Nikwax Nubuck & Suede Waterproofing Spray
  2. Kiwi Rain & Stain Protector
  3. Bickmore Gard-More

Preparing Your Boots

Only use waterproofing products on clean damp boots. You have to get off all that dirt and grime so the product sprays on evenly. Don’t compromise coverage and penetration by not fully cleaning your boots.

Cleaning Your Boots

  1. Remove your shoelaces prior to cleaning. This is the perfect time to replace those old ratty laces. You don’t want to have old grungy laces on your clean boots.
  2. Use a soft cleaning brush specifically designed for Suede and Nubuck.(this is the brush I use) The soft bristles gently remove dust and dirt without damaging the finish.
  3. Further clean the boots by using a suede and boot cleaner (here’s a kit with everything you need). Brush off the dirt with a damp cloth trying not to fully soak your boots.
A Few Things To Consider
  • Before applying waterproofing sprays your boots need to be wet. Use a wet cloth to saturate your boots without fully soaking them. Some people recommend soaking them in the sink or running them under water.
  • Every waterproofing spray is different so make sure your product is specifically designed for suede.
  • Never use wax based products on Suede and Nubuck.

How to Apply Waterproofing Spray to Suede and Nubuck

  1. Make sure your hiking boots are completely clean before applying your waterproofing treatment. Brush off the dirt with a suede brush or damp cloth.
  2. Bring your boots outside into a well ventilated area.
  3. Shake your waterproofing spray before use.
  4. Spray on your treatment from 6-12 inches away. Apply generously making sure you get even coverage.
  5. After a couple minutes wipe off the excess product and allow your boots to fully dry before use.
Drying Your Boots After Application

After you finish applying your waterproofing treatment make sure your boots are completely dry. You shouldn’t have to use a heat source to dry your boots.

Just let them sit out in the open for a few days to speed up the process. You can use a fan or boot dryer (like this one) to speed up the drying process. I use my boot dryer constantly to prevent odor caused by moisture after my hikes.

Waterproofing Sprays Stain Your Boots

I’ve tried loads of different waterproofing sprays throughout my life and they all slightly change the color of your boots. Most of the products will make your boots slightly darker after applying your spray.

If you apply the product evenly you shouldn’t be able to notice much of a difference.

What About GoreTex?

Most modern hiking boots use some type of Gore-Tex (or other waterproof material) in their boots. These materials are all designed to be completely waterproof so it doesn’t really matter. Apply your spray in the same exact manner.

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