Should You Waterproof Gore-Tex Boots?
Yes, but the do’s and don’ts of waterproofing breathable Gore-Tex boots and footwear might surprise you. I learned a thing or two I didn’t know while researching this article.
Gore-Tex boots and shoes have a waterproof/breathable liner that vents water vapor into the leather or fabric exterior of your boots and shoes, where it can evaporate. But this process breaks down when the exterior of your boots becomes saturated from walking in the rain or fording a stream and the water vapor inside your boots has nowhere to go.
When you buy a hiking boot with a waterproof/breathable Gore-Tex liner, the outside of the boot has a DWR chemical coating that repels water and prevents the outer material from getting saturated. This coating wears off with use. You can tell this is happening because water will pool on the surface of the boot or soak into the leather and saturate it instead of beading up and rolling off the surface.
You can restore that DWR coating by applying a product like Nikwax Fabric and Leather Proof Waterproofing to boots made with smooth leather or a combination of leather and fabric, or Nikwax Nubuck and Suede Proof for nubuck and suede footwear. All of Nikwax’s products are water-based, so they will soak into the exterior of your boots, but the water will dry and leave behind the DWR chemical that restores their ability to vent the moisture that gets passed by the internal Gore-Tex liner.
When should you reapply a DWR Coating to your Boots?
You should only do it once the factory DWR coating begins to wear off. Don’t do it right after you purchase them. When water stops beading on the outside of the boots or the leather gets saturated, that’s when you should reproof the DWR on your boots and footwear.
What about a waterproofing wax product like Sno-Seal?
Sno-seal is a combination of beeswax and mineral oil. When it’s applied to a leather boot, the oil draws the wax into the pores of the leather and creates an impermeable shell that prevents rain or other water sources from saturating it. But the oil and the wax fill the leather’s pores and prevent moisture from inside the boot from evaporating through it.
If you go to the Sno-Seal Website, they write “Sno-Seal will help you feel more comfortable in Gore-Tex fabric lined boots because it allows the Gore-Tex absorbed perspiration to escape out of the leather.” This is very misleading. If you call up their customer support people, they’ll tell you that the moisture can only evaporate through the opening that you put your foot in, after you take them off. It can’t evaporate through the exterior surface of the leather, while you’re wearing the boots, which is what you would expect from a Gore-Tex boot.
Oil-based boot and shoe waterproofing products work similarly except they impregnate the leather with oil instead of oil and wax.
What about a wax waterproofing product like NikWax Waterproofing Wax for Leather?
It turns out that NikWax Waterproofing Wax for Leather isn’t a wax at all. It is currently a water-based DWR formulation, like Nikwax Fabric and Leather Proof Waterproofing, for use on smooth leather boots and footwear. They really should re-name it. I’ve used it on two pairs of leather boots this winter and it works great.
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