Nikwax Liquid Conditioner
Nikwax Liquid Conditioner (courtesy, REI)

Did I ruin my hiking boots by waterproofing them?

I recently treated my leather hiking boots with the non-aqueous Nikwax. Will the leather ever be breathable again? Patrick Melbourne, Australia

Nikwax Liquid Conditioner

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I’m not exactly sure what you used on the boot—Nikwax Waterproof Wax in a tube? If so, then it’s true that you probably reduced the boots’ breathability a little. The same could be said if you had used the classic boot waterproofer, Sno-Seal ($5 a can, and the product that has been available at REI longer than anything else—it dates back to the 1930s).

Nikwax Liquid Conditioner

Nikwax Liquid Conditioner Nikwax Liquid Conditioner

But has any real harm been done? No. The mineral wax in Nikwax Waterproof, derived from petroleum, doesn’t soak too deeply into leather (unlike greases such as mink oil, which should never be used on modern leather boots because they soften the leather). In fact, it pretty much sits on the surface and will wear off moderately quickly. That’s pretty much true of any wax-based waterproofer, which includes Nikwax products and Sno-Seal (which uses beeswax). Silicon waterproofers also rub off after several wearings of the boot, depending on where you’re hiking.

So, no worries. In a few months, the Nikwax will be gone. The general drill on good boot care is as follows: Clean dirty boots with water and a soft brush (which helps remove grit from around stitching). Rinse the inside of the boot to remove salty sweat, which is corrosive. Towel the boots off, then let them air dry for a day or two (don’t bake them in hot sun or next to a dryer; room temperature is best). If the boots are old and the leather is a little dry, you can use a leather conditioner such as Nikwax Liquid Conditioner ($8;, which also adds some waterproofing. Or you can go straight to the waterproof step, using the Nikwax Waterproof Wax, Nikwax Aqueous ($8), or a silicon-based waterproofer such as Tectron Extreme ($6;

You’ve seen our picks for 2006 Gear of the Year, and now the entire 2006 Outside Buyer’s Guide is online. Check out this year’s more than 400 must-have gear items, including hiking boots.

From Outside Magazine, April/May 2021
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Lead Photo: courtesy, REI