I like leather boots. And when I find a pair that fits, I want to keep it going as long as possible. Farwell has some work boots that have been resoled five (or is it six?) times. But they’re old-style boots, made back in the day, when every small city boasted at least one cobbler and it was no big deal to get a pair of boots resoled. Those days are long gone, of course. Ours is now a use-it-once-and-toss-it-away economy. True, most modern hiking boots are good for more than a single outing. But just try getting a worn pair resoled…
Still, there are a few things you can do to get the most out of your investment in footwear. You can treat the leather with a preservative from time to time, for instance. I use Atsko Sno-Seal. It claims to be the “original beeswax waterproofing,” and for all I know, it is. That’s not why I use it, though. I use it because it works. It keeps my boots supple without making them soft, and it also does a pretty good job of keeping water on the right side of the leather and out of my socks. (Will Sno-Seal transform your leather hiking boots into wellies? No way. But it will help you keep your feet dry on wet trails.)
Anyway, here’s what Sno-Seal looks like:
It has the appearance and consistency of peanut butter—a rather soft, etiolated peanut butter. (It doesn’t smell anything like peanut butter, though. And I don’t think I’ll ever be tempted to put it on a bagel.) The Sno-Seal of my youth was made of sterner stuff. It often had to be heated just to make it daubable. Try this with modern Sno-Seal, however, and the goop only gets runny. Not that I’m complaining, you understand. Convenience trumps ritual (almost) every time. Today’s Sno-Seal is ready for use as is, right off the shelf and out of the jar, and that’s a very good thing.
Which isn’t to say that Sno-Sealing boots doesn’t involve a bit of ritual. And what follows is the Order of Service.
First, brush all the soil off your boots. (This is easier to do if you let the mud dry, first.) Then remove the laces.
Notice the number of seams in the uppers. Unless you’re a member in good standing of the Price Is No Object Club, you’ll be hard-pressed to find boots made from a single piece of cowhide at a price you can afford. No matter. The pieced-together uppers on my boots should last as long as the soles, and that’s the most I can hope for. But each and every seam will need special attention when Sno-Sealing. And so will these badly scuffed toes:
The next step is easy: Put your boots someplace warm. I set mine down on a patch of sun-warmed gravel, right up against a south-facing wall. Fifteen minutes in this sun trap did the trick. The leather was warm to the touch. At this point I gloved up. (Sno-Seal is tenacious stuff. It’s not easy to wash off, and while that’s a good thing in a dubbin, I didn’t fancy Sno-Seal as a garnish with my dinner.) Now it was just a matter of scooping out a teaspoon-sized blob of the stuff from the jar and rubbing it onto the uppers, including the little leather tags on the boot’s tongue and collar. I also gave the all-too-numerous seams special attention. When I finished with one boot, I put it back in its place in the sun and immediately turned my attention to its mate.
The job took only a few minutes. Then, after the second boot had a chance to soak up some more sun—and the Sno-Seal a chance to soak into the leather’s pores—I subjected both boots to a close inspection, searching for places that still seemed a bit dry. I found a few, too. So I treated them to a second dressing of Sno-Seal.
And that was that. I usually use a little too much Sno-Seal on the first go-round. Which means I have to wipe the excess off with a cloth. But this time I got the amount almost exactly right.
I did the whole thing outside, by the way. This wasn’t necessary. Sno-Seal is pretty innocuous stuff. I could have done the job in the kitchen, if I’d wanted to. But it was a pleasant day, and I took full advantage of the warm sun and cloudless sky. All that remained for me to do now was lace my boots up. And walk down to the trailhead.
How about it? Could your boots use a little TLC? If it’s been a while since you last treated them to a dab or two of Sno-Seal (or whatever leather dressing you prefer), they probably could. So here’s the Order of Service again, this time in summary form:
- Brush off any clinging dirt.
- Remove laces.
- Warm boots. Don’t cook them! They should be pleasantly warm to the touch. Just that and no more.
- Scoop up a gob of Sno-Seal.
- Spread it around and rub it in, giving seams and scuffed areas a little extra.
- Let the Sno-Seal soak in. Treat any remaining dry spots. And wipe off any blobby excess.
- Lace up.
Now go for a walk in the woods.
This article is a reprint of one originally published on November 11, 2012.
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