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How to Winterize Your Footwear

With little work, you can make your boots and shoes last past fall.

Chandler Bondurant

Winter is on its way, bringing with it an onslaught of sleet to soak through your shoes and to your feet. It’s bad enough having to trudge through a frozen landscape trying to keep your human status from devolving into meat popsicle. Add to that an ever-depleting bank account riddled with receipts for winter gear. The world is indeed cruel and cold.

But you don’t have to drop dough on a new pair of boots just to make it to spring. You can work with your existing shoe collection and some readily-available shoe-care products to save some closet space and some cash, all while keeping those lil’ piggies dry and warm.

What to Do Before the Storm

Get ahead of the inclement weather and do some shoe prep to get your footwear ready for the worst — you want to take care of things before the forecast turns torrential. If it’s too late and you’re reading this with sopping socks, skip down to the Maintenance section and then come back here once you’re done.

Waterproof Your Uppers

Water can soak through the uppers of your boots or shoes, even if you’re sporting a pair with full-grain leather. Counterintuitively, water can dry out leather and strip it of its natural oils which are essential for keeping leather pliable and preventing it from cracking. Conditioning and prepping your shoes’ uppers is key for defense against the elements.

Make sure your leather shoes have been cleaned and conditioned so that they get the nutrients they need. Then, add layers of protection with oils and waxes which are hydrophobic. Be sure to condition your leather shoes before adding wax because, though it protects the leather from water — wax can also dry out leather. Make sure to get the wax or oil products fully incorporated into the welt, where the shoes are particularly prone to water.

You can also protect your canvas sneakers, too. They’re certainly not as water-resistant as your boots are, but, just like a waxed canvas jacket, waxing your Chucks can add a touch of rain-resistance. You could also opt for weather protecting sprays that are better suited for suede and synthetic textiles which you’re more likely to find on more technical sneakers.

Smooth-Finished Leather Product Care Kit
Red Wing Red Wing
Repel Shoe Protectant Spray
Jason Markk Nordstrom

Add Rubber Soles

Before the weather gets too messy, you also want to take your shoes to a cobbler to protect the soles. Products like Saphir’s oil-based Sole Guard are great for protecting leather soles, but are a much less effective longterm option opposed to adding rubber soles to your shoes. You can have your local cobbler simply add rubber soles on top of your existing leather soles, or have them resole your shoes with a new rubber sole like Dainite or one of the many options from Vibram.

Be wary, though, since changing the sole will modify the overall aesthetic of your shoes. That may be a good thing for some people who want to switch it up, but not so good for others who like their shoes just the way they are.

#132 Montagna Sole (Several Sizes)
Vibram Amazon

Sole Guard
Saphir Amazon

Get Galoshes or Overshoes

If you don’t mind giving your shoes a facelift in the name of dry feet, then you might consider galoshes or overshoes. Galoshes are waterproof rubber coverings that slip over your shoes. Think of them like a rubber raincoat for your boots. They provide a waterproof covering a few inches up the shoes while also adding traction since they cover the soles as well. The downside is, most galoshes will only cover a portion of your shoes. So if you find yourself knee-deep in snow or in a sideways bout of rain, galoshes won’t be enough.

For extra protection, waterproof overshoes are the way to go. Overshoes cover your entire shoe and look standalone shoes themselves.

Since the overshoes and galoshes provide an extra barrier between your shoes and the weather, they also help insulate your feet. Toss on some wool socks and your feet should be better toasted than your morning bagel.

Swims Zappos

Gore-Tex Gorewear

Add Boot Liners

If you have room in your boots, you could keep your feet warm with boot liners. Boot liners are inserted into the boot and come in a variety of insulating materials to keep your feet warm and dry. The benefit of this is that, rather than buying several pairs of winter socks, you can use your existing socks and simply buy one pair of boot liners and swap them from boot to boot. The downside is that they might not fit every shoe you have.

Snow Boot Liners
L.L. Bean L.L. Bean

Shearling Insoles
L.L. Bean L.L. Bean

How to Maintain Them Through Winter

Once you’ve done the prep work to winterize your shoes, don’t forget to maintain them throughout the winter. All that preparation would be for naught if you neglected your shoes anyway. Think of your shoes like a car: clean them up, replace the oil, get new tires. Shoes are the same.

Clean the Salt Off

If you live in a place like New York City, the roads are dusted with salt (which, I presume is the excess that falls off of God-awful salt bagels). It lowers the freezing point of water, keeping roads from forming into dangerously slick patches of ice. It also destroys your shoes. Not only will salty-slush cause visible stains, but road salt can also suck the moisture from your leather shoes. If you let it sit for too long, the damage could be permanent. Brush off any visible salt crystals and use a 50/50 mixture of water and vinegar to draw out salt from the leather.

Let Them Dry

Don’t forget to let your shoes rest. It’s important to rotate your shoes to let them dry out fully to prevent damage and mold, especially in winter. Stuff your shoes with newspaper, and wait until your shoes are fully dry, often that will mean a whole day in many climates. Do not force your shoes to dry over a heater or you could run the risk of overdrying them — boot-dryers, like Peets, are gentle enough for daily use, though.

The Original 2-Shoe Dryer
Peet Amazon

Shoe Trees
Woodlore Woodlore

Condition Them

Once you’ve cleaned the salt and let your shoes dry properly, prep them with leather conditioner and oil or wax before taking them out again. Winter’s tough. With a little research and preparation, you can walk through it unscathed and with all your toes.

All-Purpose Leather Shoe Conditioner
Saphir Amazon

Rain & Stain Water Repellent
Apple Brand Amazon
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