Leather boots are built to handle any conditions. Whether you are building a coffee table in your woodshed, constructing a smoker from scratch in your backyard, hiking the Appalachian Trail, heading out to dinner with your partner or commuting to work in the snow, they can handle just about anything — but only if you care for them properly. To find out the best practice for maintaining your prized full-grain leather boots this winter, we spoke with Greg Lamont, a cobbler at Bend, Oregon’s Gear Fix, a shop that specializes in servicing and repairing outdoor gear.
The Tools of the Trade
1Consider what you will use the boots for. Before you even set out to do anything to your boots, consider what you will be using them for. Leather boots aren’t waterproof on their own, so if you are going to be trekking through deep slush and puddles, your standard leather Redwing might not be the best option. “There are watertight types of construction, particularly with leather shoes and boots, but only a waterproof liner built into a shoe (think Gore-Tex, but there are plenty of others) can guarantee waterproof performance,” Lamont says. “That being said, a waterproof boot doesn’t breathe as well. So while your foot will stay dry outside, it may get moist from perspiration during activity.”
2Clean your boots. “Cleaning is important to keep the leather from getting clogged up, dried out, and cracked due to dirt, mud and other clogging contaminants,” Lamont says. “Leather is skin, so the pores need to be kept unclogged in order for it to retain a supple quality.” To clean your boots, use a brush and a leather cleaner. Remove the laces for the best access to the entire boot. Scrub until you are confident that the pores are cleaned. Use another brush or rag to remove any excess leather cleaner.
3Moisturize the leather. After cleaning, it is important to moisturize and condition the leather. Failing to do so will leave the leather prone to clogging and will shorten the life of your boot. “The other component is re-moisturizing, since the leather will become dry over time no matter what,” Lamont says. “I really like a beeswax solution like Obenauf’s or Montana Pitch Blend.” Lamont recommends a wax over an oil because “boot oil gives the boot a moist-looking finish, but it actually clogs the pores of the leather and decreases the life of the material.”
4Consider a seal or waterproofing wax. “There are different waterproofing solutions like Sno Seal out there that claim to waterproof the boot by treating the outside,” Lamont says. “These have varying degrees of effectiveness and depend on how well they have been applied by the user. Not a bad way to go for a bargain fix, but nothing can give you a waterproof guarantee that isn’t already built into the boot.” If you are confident in your abilities to thoroughly cover the boot — and have enough patience to apply multiple coats — break out the Sno Seal or Nikwax’s Waterproofing Wax for Leather. Remember though, if you are looking for a completely waterproof solution, search out a boot with a waterproof bootie sewn in.
5Repeat. Throughout the winter, depending on how often you use your boots and what you subject them to, they may need to be cleaned and moisturized again. “It’s important to remember that winter can be a very dry time in terms of humidity,” Lamont says. These conditions can lead to cracking, so be sure to maintain your boots throughout the winter season.