Should You Waterproof Gore-Tex Boots?

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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25 comments

  1. I made the mistake of using Sno-Seal on my Lowa Gore-Tex boots. Should I just let it wear itself out and then go back with a Nikwax DWR treatment or just suck it up and continue treating with Sno-Seal? These boots generally only get use during the late fall through early spring, when it’s cold and/or wet, as I wear Salomon X Ultra non-GTX shoes for the rest of the year.

  2. There is a reason why your site is the gold standard. Comprehensive, concise and relevant. When I began hiking in earnest a little over a decade ago I ended up with such a pair of leather hiking boots with the goretex liner and a quart of Snoseal. To date, this combination has worked extremely well for me along coastal routes where it is always wet and in the alpine in winter/spring. While goretex may indeed “breathe some” in my experience i use it as a backup to keep water out versus let moisture out. Hence, your longstanding support of not utilizing goretex in summer. Of recent I’ve come to the conclusion that my feet perspire and that an anti-perspirant is a viable option and as for me, I still have a decades worth of snoseal in the can.

  3. Good to know.

  4. Many lighter-weight GTX-lined boots are a combination of nubuck suede and mesh. I’ve used sno-seal on the leather parts and it does a nice job of making the leather on older boots more supple as well as restoring water repellency. While the leather parts may get sealed up by the sno-seal, wouldn’t the boots still be able to breathe, i.e. release moisture, through the mesh parts that weren’t slathered with sno-seal?

    • Certainly. But they will start to absorb water when their factory DWR rubs off. Then you’re going to have to use a water-based DWR restoration product like Nikwax. It’s probably better just to use it than mix the two on the same boots, but probably too late now.

      • Hi Philip, this is the info I’ve been looking for!
        I live in Vancouver BC. ALOT of rain.
        My Hoka Sky Kaha boots (gtx) are getting saturated after a w3t hike.

        Is Nikwax you’ve mentioned the only brand? Does it hav3 to be sprayed on?
        I have some, liquid Nikwax Fabric and Leather Outdoor.
        Thanks for your help.

  5. wish to hell I had realized that water proof boots
    we’re not made for summer time hiking- duh on me
    I guess -bummer.

  6. Is there anybody in the world who actually trried a waterproofing Nikwax product? As soon as that brand is mentioned I know I’m dealing with marketing/sponsored content b*llsh*r. It doesn’t work at all. I have never seen a DWR-coating on Gore-Tex schoes. Your Gore-Tex shoes work perfectly without. Breatthing starts after the rain. When humidity drops under 100 percent.

    • We weren’t paid to promote Nikwax. I’ve been using their DWR coatings for years with good results. DWR is a water repellent and wears off. All boots with a gore-tex inner liner have a factory DWR coating applied to them. You can tell that it’s worn off when the outer material is saturated by water. When that occurs the Gore-tex will continue to be waterproof but breathability will stop because the pores in the fabric are filled with liquid. The same process occurs with Gore-tex jackets. When the outer fabric is soaked breathability stops.

  7. Great article – thanks. I’ve been told that a wax product like Grangers G-Wax should be used on my new Gore-Tex lined leather boot to ‘care for the leather’. Should this be done in addition to replacing the DWR? Or does Nikwax Fabric and Leather Proof also care for the leather? I’m worried the wax will impact breathability… and would rather not use wax unless necessary. It also seems harder to assess DWR efficacy if wax is also getting used… but I don’t want my leather to deteriorate due to no wax. Help!

    • You don’t want to use wax on leather gore Tex boots. They’ll stop being breathable. Just DWR. Combining leather and gore-tex is a design flaw driven by fashion more than function. You’re better off getting a synthetic boot with a waterproof liner or a pair of leather boots without one.

      • This.
        I’ve been wondering for a long time now: why are all the boot companies putting gore-tex liners inside their full-leather boots? What is the point?
        Nice to see someone come straight out and say it: it’s a fashion trend.

        • It’s perceived as a customer requirement even though it’s pointless. For example, why do most backpack companies put hydration reservoirs in backpacks, even when the people who use their packs don’t use hydration systems.

      • Philip, (1) can you explain why you say “combining leather and gore-tex is a design flaw driven by fashion more than function”. What’s wrong with having leather boots with a Gore-Tex lining? I like leather footwear (versus fabric or synthetic) precisely because it breathes and prevents my feet from getting sweaty and clammy. I like Gore-Tex because when walking in places where there’s unavoidable puddles or wet fields, it prevents my feet from getting wet, whereas if the boots were just leather with no Gore-Tex, the water soaks through and my feet get wet. (2) And why do you recommend not using Gore-Tex in the summertime, or do you just mean in DRY summer conditions? That I can understand. (3) If I’m on a very tight budget and can’t afford Nikwax (which I’ve used on Far West Gore-Tex jackets in the past), can I substitute a silicone-based spray like Moneysworth Pro-Tex Camp Water & Stain Repellant? I believe you said the active ingredientn in Nikwax is also silicone, and won’t adversely affect the Gore-Tex or it’s functioning? Thank you.

  8. It’s not just about the waterproofing with leather. I have loved zamberlan boots for many years. The many pairs I have had are gore-tex with silicone treated leather. The manufacturer sells and recommends the silicone (they call it hydrobloc) to provide “Appropriate proofing and conditioning” stating that ‘its main function is to feed the leather with the correct degree of support and suppleness, as well as to maximize its water resistance.” The siilicone treatement is very effective for waterproofing and keeping the leather supple. It may not work on boots that have been oil treated. Frankly, gore-tex boots don’t breathe that well no matter how you manage the leather. I use the leather boots in the spring, fall, and winter. Tend to use trail runners in summer unless I need to protect my ankles for some reason.

  9. Jonathan Reynolds

    I learned yesterday that boots without a liner are available in continental Europe from mfrs like (for example) Scarpa. In the UK consumers believe they will die without GTX in their boots, so retailers won’t stock the alternative.

    I was also told yesterday that old-fashioned dubbin is a bad idea ‘because it rots the stitching’. Funny that, I have used it without harm through most of my adult life, and still have boots from the 1970s that show no signs of damage to stitching or leather. (Actually, I make my own dubbin from hard animal fat, a dash of pine tar as a preservative, and a small amount of beeswax to firm the mixture up.) Instead, I was told I should use Grainger’s boot wax, which as you have stated makes no sense at all in a GTX boot. AltBerg’s website has some interesting thoughts about modern leather tanning processes and their care.

    Another bad idea, in my opinion, is the padding that all mfrs now incorporate into hiking boots. Adds to comfort, for sure, but holds water and makes the boots very slow to dry. I believe this causes premature decay of leather that could otherwise last for a decade or more.

    • Patrick Haenebalcke

      shoerepairer Patrick,
      Here i share some of my experiences whilst repairing shoes and liners.
      interesting to know,
      when water comes in between the upper leather and the liner , Gore/ sympatex and others, they bring along particules of sand who in the end will grind the linner on certain places.
      So wax your shoes and keep the dirt out in the firts place.
      Water standing in your shoe between a good liner and the leather will make your leather rot from inside out.
      Older shoes where the liner comes loose of it glue has the possibility to mover around.
      More so when the shoe is too big.
      This will damage the linner and wil make a hole.
      Too nails , mostly the ones from the big toe will scrath a hole in the liner.
      Very commen are holes at the heels where the ancle is somewhat particulaty shaped.
      A big cause of problems are the shoe constructuctions with leather patch upon leather patch on the bending part of the nose.
      For me only a one piece leather nose will do.
      See the Zamberlan and gronell double stiched series. Absolute masterpeices in hiking shoe making
      Most of these problems can be fixed if you can get the linner out of the schoe.
      Liners can be repaired but in some cases it would be better installing a new membrane sock if the would be available but none of my suppliers know about them.
      I wear Hanwag tatra 11 WITHOUT liner but only leather.
      If have water penetration its only because Ive been to leazy or waited to long to apply Ouraline wax.
      this could give the opportunity to pre reinforce the new sock taking in account the problems of the worn out one .
      I know of to many easely repaireble shoes giong in to the dust bin.
      Be it crumbeling PU mid soles and dispersing microplastic into nature

  10. Hi! this article helped a lot.
    i just wonder, can you apply the NIKIWAX on the fabric part of a trekking shoe ( like the salomons quest element shoes ) or do you need a special water DWR spray for that?

    thank you!

  11. I put Nikwax Fabric & Leather Proof on my Lowa backpacking boots as directed the night before a trip. After 6 hours of snowshoeing, the leather was soaked completely through and moisture was working its way into my socks. Totally unacceptable results.

    • Do your boots have a waterproof/breathable membrane in them? If so, it sounds like it’s leaking, because even if the DWR coating failed, your boots should have been able to keep your feet dry (unless its perspiration). In any case, you really don’t want to use regular backpacking boots for snowshoeing. The risk of frostbite is really too great. I really recommend you use winter boots that have insulation and a waterproof liner.

  12. Has anybody compared Danner’s Waterproofing Gel with Nikwax’s Waterproofing Wax? They both seem to be a breathable DWR coating. They may in fact be the same stuff for all I know. The Nikwax stuff is much easier to come by, but if somebody says the Danner’s works better I will go ahead and order it direct from Danner.

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