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Winterproofing Boots and Shoes

How do we keep our feet warm and dry this winter season? One of the first rules to remember is: Dry feet = Warm feet. If you can keep the toes and feet dry, you can usually prevent cold feet.

One of the first steps to keeping dry is to use a good boot. It goes without saying that a boot that absorbs water (is not waterproof) is going to get your feet wet, too. Happily, there are many, many types of boots on the market today and many may have various types of waterproofing already on them.

The most popular type of waterproofing will be found in Gore-Tex and similar type fabrics that are specifically designed to prevent outside moisture from entering through the shell of the boot. Leather boots, when properly treated with a water proofing treatment, also work very well in keeping moisture from penetrating the outer shell of the boot. And finally, there are boot types that have leather uppers (which are fully waterproof when treated) and rubber lowers. The rubber lowers allows the person wearing the boot to wander through water and mud at will - as the water completely sheds off the shell of the boot.

Let's make a distinction here about boots. Usually people refer to winter boots or snow boots interchangeably, but really there is a bit of a difference, and understanding that distinction first might be helpful.

A snow boot is a boot designed for use in the snow, as the name suggests. However, a snow boot is also designed to be used in wet conditions, too. And by wet, we aren't talking about a few puddles or an inch of snow. We are talking about deep, yucky mud. Or deep piles of slushy, wet, dirty snow. Or heaps of fresh, new powder that fell the night before and now must be removed from your driveway.

The reason snow boots excel in these conditions is due to their design. A good pair of snow boots generally has a rubber bottom - providing 100% waterproof protection. Additionally, the rubber bottom makes cleaning up the boot afterwards a breeze - just wash them down. The upper part of a snow boot will be either made of leather or a mix of leather and nylon. The upper part of a snow boot will frequently extend well above the ankle. The reason for this is that snow boots generally have a built-in snow gator of some kind. The snow gator closes the space between your lower leg and the opening of the boot - thus preventing snow from falling down inside the boot when you happen to be wandering through deep snow.

Thus, a snow boot is a specialist boot. It is designed to provide warmth and protection of the foot in really nasty weather. However, this does come at a price!! This is not going to be cheap. Snow boots tend to be bulkier and heavier than a normal winter boot. Moreover, if the proper sock combination is not worn on a snow boot, the foot itself can become rather wet due to the inability of the foot perspiration to escape the lower rubber shell of the boot. Snow boots are really meant for people who spend lots of time outdoors during the winter. People who work on road construction projects in the mud, sleet and snow will find snow boots an ideal boot. As will farmers and ranchers to have to trudge through a wide variety of conditions during the course of a year. Even people who live in and around the cities will find uses for snow boots, such as using them for hunting or camping trips during the spring and fall. Snow boots are also ideal for skiers, too.

A winter boot is more of a "general use" item. A winter boot will, like a snow boot, have good insulation built inside of it to keep the foot warm during cold weather. Additionally, most good winter boots will be waterproof or, at a minimum, water repellant. However, winter boots lack the ability to keep snow from tumbling inside the boot between the boot opening and lower leg. Thus, to wear a normal winter boot in deep snow, a snow gator must be worn.

Additionally, winter boots - even fully waterproof ones - can't compare to the waterproofing ability of a good snow boot. Taking a waterproof winter boot into deep mud is a great recipe to have literally pounds of mud "caked on" to the boot. And sooner or later the water in the mud will begin to find a way to seep through the outer shell - and ending up on your foot eventually. Moreover, at the end of the day, removing all that mud from a normal winter boot is often less than easy.

Instead, a winter boot is best used for normal daily activities that most people do in the winter. This includes such things as shoveling the drive or the sidewalk, commuting, walking to work, walking downtown, driving, shopping, etcâ"¦A winter boot will accomplish these things in fine style while at the same time being lighter and more comfortable than a heavier and bulkier snow boot.

All in all, what type of boot you get (a winter boot or a snow boot), really comes down to what you will be using the boot for. For uses in wet conditions, deep snow and mud, a snow boot is pretty much mandatory as a normal winter boot will break down or be ruined in these conditions. One great snow boot is the Sorel Boots.

For general winter weather conditions, there is a staggering amount of choices to choose from. One of the most popular, and warmest, boots around are the newer Ugg Boots. These boots are very comfortable, look great and are incredibly warm due to their all wool insulation.

Now, that you have some decisions made about the type of boot it is time to understand the water -proofing products.

UGG Boot

Even if you have purchased a pair of "waterproof boots," most experts will still recommend that you waterproof them yourself before wearing.

Each time you clean the boots, you should reapply a waterproof seal.

For those who leave the store without learning about waterproofing, you can still find out what you need for this process via other sources. First of all, call the boot manufacturer to find out what they recommend regarding how to waterproof boots. A toll-free customer service number should be included somewhere in the packaging.

A number of varying recommendations can be found regarding waterproofing boots/shoesâ"”depending on the fabric, material, and/or type of leather used.

For example, some experts feel waxes can clog a leather boot, while others recommend bee's wax. Some may say oil waterproofs are best for leather boots, but still others feel that oil will soften the leather too much. This is why it is important to get a manufacturer's recommendation for what will work best for your particular boots. There are gels, sprays, and waxes of all different types and combinations. Sprays may be the most common kind of waterproofing; they are found in a variety of discount and shoe stores. However, some experts feel that sprays wear off too quickly and chemicals used in them can harm the integrity of the leather or nylon.

For the most effective waterproofing, be sure to get ample product into the seam area where the sole meets the boot/shoe. Use a toothbrush, q-tip, or soft scrub brush to work the product into the seam. Do not use a rough device, because you want to keep the stitching/glue intact.

Products include:

*Nikwax Nubuck and Suede waterproofing

*Allen Edmunds Mens' Agua Care

*Lanolin -a natural non-toxic product found in sheep's wool.

*G-Tec Fabric and Leather Protector


*Kiwi productsâ"”silicone sprays, mink oil rubs, etc.

*Sno-Seal by Atsko

There is an old recipe for waterproofing sturdy leather shoes/boots using bees wax and petroleum jelly melted together in equal parts and rubbed vigorously into a warmed shoe or boot (it softens the hands at the same time). You will need to dry and heat shoes and boots on the open door of an oven, heated to about 200 degrees. You can also use plain beeswax as outlined below.

Step One: Purchase beeswax at your neighborhood craft store, Walmart or other discount store. A great brand of beeswax for waterproofing is Kiwi Camp Dry Beeswax Waterproofer.

Step Two: Remove any debris or clumps of dirt from your boots with a dry towel. Then, using a circular motion, rub the beeswax into your boots with clean, soft cloth. A white cotton T-shirt works well.

Step Three: Apply a thick coat of the wax and be sure the boots are covered completely, paying special attention to the toe and heel.

Step Four: Set the boots in a dry location overnight to allow the beeswax to penetrate the leather completely. In the morning, remove any excess wax with a cloth. The beeswax creates a protective coating that should last approximately a year.

Step five: Strip the waterproof coat off each year using leather soap and a slightly damp cloth. Then reapply a fresh coat of beeswax to keep your footwear in the best condition.

The long-term value of any waterproofing treatment is reduced by mechanical strains during walking as well as by climate/water/mud effects. Therefore, depending on the frequency of wear and strain, leather should be retreated with a waterproofing product regularly. Upper materials and leather soles alike should be treated regularly.

For your leather shoes that may have been worn through the salty brine of winter, mix a few drops of liquid dish detergent and a couple of teaspoons of vinegar mixed into a couple of cups of warm water. Using a soft clean rag wet with the rag and dab onto the showâ"”lightly rub, then follow with a clean wet rag. Let dry. Polish and waterproof with a shoe/boot polish to recondition the leather.


American Scouting digest

For more information, go to USU Extension/Weber County, Family and Consumer Education Division. Call (801) 399-8200 or online at

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