How to care for and waterproof your boots
Seeing how I work as a full time ranch hand, I spend a lot of time walking through snow, mud, and muck. I have to be out in all kinds of weather from 110 degrees in the summer to 3 plus feet of snow in the winter. As such, I depend heavily on having a good pair of warm, water resistant boots.
What to look for in a boot: Caring for your boots starts with picking out the best boots for you. When I first embarked on my career as a ranch hand I wore big rubber muck boots. These worked well for keeping my feet dry. However, they would only last me a couple months before wearing out. They also weren’t too practical when it came to outdoor activities such as long hikes, backpacking, and fishing trips. Because of this, I started looking into leather work boots that were multi-functional, waterproof, and would last a long time.
My first bit of advice is to get slightly larger boots for the winter and smaller boots for the summer. The reason being that I (as do most people) wear big wool socks in the winter. As such, I need a slightly larger boot to accommodate them. If not, the boot with wear out much faster.
On a side note, I figured out a great trick when it comes to winter socks. I personally love wool socks. However, they don’t give you great traction inside the boot (your foot kind of slips around). So, I wear a thin pair of cotton sock inside a pair of thick wool socks.
Boot leather: There are two sides to leather; it has both a smooth side and a rough side. Typically boots will have the smooth side facing out, and the rough side facing in. This is the preferred way and here’s why: During WW2 the U.S. thought it would be a great idea to break with tradition and have the soldiers’ boots with the rough side of the leather facing out. Their thinking was that the rough side of the leather would absorb the water proofing grease better than the smooth side. Turns out they were right…. However, it also absorbed water better. This meant that the poor souls fighting at the battle of the bulge in the winter had to contend with cold wet feet.
The German troops who put the smooth side of the leather out had significantly dryer and warmer feet. They have actually done test with both types of boots and have found that the German boots were significantly warmer and the only major difference was the fact that they had the smooth side of the leather facing out…. I don’t want to give anything away or spoil all of the good History Channel documentaries there are about WW2, but let’s just say wet cold feet didn’t prevent the Americans from marching into Germany.
Cleaning your boots: This might sound obvious, but the first thing you want to do is remove your boot laces. Most dirt and debris tend to concentrate in the leather folds on either side of the boot “Tungue.” I like to start the process by rubbing the boot down with a wet washcloth and some warm water. Do NOT use soap. Soap will dry out the leather. There are some leather soaps on the market, but I don’t fuss with them.
After I dry my boots I use a brush to get rid of all the fine particles and dust.
Huberd’s Shoe Grease: Once this is done I rub the boot down with Huberd’s Shoe Grease. It’s a great product that both conditions the leather and waterproofs it. I use it once every few weeks and I have never had a problem with wet feet. The most important thing is to make sure that you rub it into the seams and stitching. These are the places that are most prone to having water seep in.
After you have applied the grease to your boots, set them near a heater. You don’t want to put them too close, just enough to dry the grease and allow it to soak into the stitching.
The one down side to Huberd’s Shoe grease is that it will change the color of some leather. My grandfather likes using Kiwi Wax or Snow Seal. Both are great products, however my favorite is Huberds. I have used it for years. It works great; it both waterproofs and conditions leather, and I don’t like change.