As a keen youngster I would diligently re-proof my boots after every couple of outings, as instructed by the man in the shop, whether they really needed it or not. More than 30 years later, I can still recall the smell of the wax you had to rub in by hand.
Footwear has come on in strides since then of course, with waterproof/breathable linings, new materials and construction techniques, and even whole new categories of shoes and boots. But some fundamentals have not changed: what you wear on your feet is your point of contact with the ground, and therefore one of the most important bits of kit/clothing. Boots and shoes still cost a lot; and they tend to last longer, perform better, and keep your feet happier if properly looked after. This means keeping them clean, and in the case of boots, re-proofing when necessary (note to teenage self: not after every other walk).
Nikwax products have become a lot more numerous and specialised too, and since 2010 none of them have come in those old tins. There are cleaning products dedicated to waterproofs, others to down, and yet others to footwear; Nikwax also have you covered for revitalising the DWR on your shell, conditioning the leather of your boots, and even boosting UV protection on equipment such as tents and packs. While similar aftercare products are available from other manufacturers, Nikwax's range is impressive. I've always found their cleaners and treatments to be highly effective, and for me their ethos makes them a brand particularly worth supporting.
If I'm using cleaning and waterproofing treatments, I want to be sure they're not going to harm me, other people, or the environment. Nikwax's environmental stance is one of the most thoroughgoing in the outdoor industry, and predates a lot of the efforts others have latterly been making. In deciding which substances to use in their products, they adopt a precautionary approach that is stricter than the relevant legislation. Nikwax aftercare products contain no PFCs, phthalates, heavy metals, harmful solvents and a whole load of other gubbins I've not heard of - for the full list of excluded substances see here.
Footwear Care Kit - £17.99
For this review Nikwax sent us a Footwear Care Kit. This contains:
- Footwear Cleaning Gel 300ml
- Fabric & Leather Proof 300ml
- Waterproofing Wax for Leather 100ml
- Soft footwear brush
- 10-litre dry bag with a shoulder strap (I'm not sure this really makes sense with the rest, but drybags are always useful and this is a decent robust one with a clear window, said to be worth £9.99 on its own).
Regular cleaning and re-proofing should extend the serviceable life of footwear, so investing in a few key treatment products will easily pay for itself. If you bought all the items in the above kit separately it'd come to £29.99, while buying all three cleaning products alone (minus dry bag and brush) would set you back £18.23. So at £17.99 the kit is really good value, and it's worth having all of this stuff if you own both suede/fabric and full grain leather footwear.
It's a happy perk/sad fact of being a gear reviewer that gear maintenance comes a long way down the list of priorities. In our unusual position it's easy to neglect cleaning and reproofing stuff we already have, but people who aren't always being sent new gear are going to want to take better care of what they have.
My full grain leather boots get occasional re-proofing, but most other footwear is treated with less respect. I do still have my favourites though, and my current go-to non-winter boots seemed the perfect guinea pig for some Nikwax treatment. Prior to treatment they were a bit dirty and dusty-looking, but with plenty of life left.
First a scrub under a tap with a soft brush, as supplied in the Nikwax kit (any shoe brush will do)...
Footwear Cleaning Gel - 300ml
In the kit this comes in a large 300ml spray bottle (sold separately for £5.99), and it's also available in smaller 125ml bottles with a sponge applicator (£3.75).
You simply splurge it generously onto the wet boots, give them a scrub, and rinse. It looks like lathering soap (and does in fact contain soap), and visibly lifts off more dirt than water and brush alone. Particularly for suede/fabric boots that hold ingrained dirt more than full grain leather, it seems well worth having.
However, be warned - this stuff stinks. Think rotten fish, with a back note of something chemical. From the smell alone it's hard to believe it is environmentally safe, and the perfume they use with it (something called d-Limonene) is clearly environmentally friendly too, in the sense that it doesn't seem to do much to mask the overall effect.
Nikwax rightly make a virtue of their environmental credentials, but my one question with these spray-on products - and it applies to the proofers as well as the cleaners - concerns the plastic pump-spray bottle. While the bottles are recyclable, the spray heads are made of a combination of plastic material types, primarily LLDPE and HDPE, and at present these are not recyclable. Wouldn't it be better if refill bags were sold, so that we could re-use our spray bottles? Some household cleaners are now available in refill, so Nikwax products of all things probably should be too.
Thoroughly cleaning your footwear should help revitalise the factory-applied DWR treatment, but if this isn't enough then it's time to think about re-proofing:
Fabric & Leather proof - 300ml
The water repellent finish applied in the factory to footwear like this will inevitably wear off over time, and once this happens then only re-treating will restore it. While the waterproof lining of this particular pair of boots is still totally fine, they've lost their box-fresh surface beading, and the upper now routinely wets out after prolonged wear in wet grass and bogs.
As they're a classic suede/fabric combo, Fabric & Leather Proof is the product to revitalise these boots.
As supplied in the footwear care pack this is another spray-on (sold separately for £8.25), and again it's also available in smaller 125ml bottles (£4.49 with a sponge-on applicator or £5.25 as a spray).
Going direct onto the clean, wet boot, you simply spray it on - there's no rubbing involved. This is a lot easier and quicker to apply than old school rub-on wax, and the spray gives a nice even coverage. You just have to wipe off any excess, leave the boots to dry, and you're good to go. You don't need much, so the 300ml bottle should last for ages.
In the interest of the review I treated only the right boot, leaving the left boot clean but untreated. Once dry, the boots looked the same, so the product didn't affect the leather colour.
How did it perform?
I took the half-treated pair of boots for a wet walk in the Lomond Hills (my best option in the current local Covid restrictions), making a point of walking in the long grass, bogs and burns:
After a couple of kilometres on soggy ground, the untreated left boot was clearly beginning to wet out, while the right boot - sprayed with Fabric & Leather Proof - was still repelling visibly more:
Does it matter? Well a wetted-out boot is liable to be a less breathable boot, since the surface water prevents the moisture escaping from inside, thus compromising the performance of any lining membrane. For that reason alone, reproofing is an effort worth making in order to preserve performance. I guess a soggy boot might feel colder and marginally heavier too.
Having now worn the treated boots on a couple of wet days, the refreshed DWR is still beading well (I've subsequently treated the left boot too). It'll need to be redone periodically, but clearly not after every other wet walk.
Waterproofing Wax for Leather - 100ml
This is the modern replacement for the old fashioned wax in a tin that readers who weren't born this century are likely to recall - but now a more user-friendly waxy liquid rather than the thick dubbin of yesteryear. Bought on its own it costs £3.99 (also available as a 60ml tube, £2.99).
For full grain 'shiny' leather, this is the stuff you want (it's not great on nubuck or suede as it makes it dark and waxy). The product helps maintain leather, boosting the DWR and replacing tanning agents that leech out in the wet, thus helping to prolong the life of your footwear.
It goes on wet or dry leather, and can either be applied with the sponge head that comes with the tube, or by hand. I've found that using the fingers is better, particularly when working it between lace eyelets and into all the seams (vital they get good coverage). An old well-scuffed pair of full grain leather boots of my wife's needed two applications to come out looking done, but it only takes a couple of minutes per boot, requiring less time and elbow grease than I remember needing to rub in the old school wax. A little goes a long way, so you should get lots of use out of a 100ml tube.
Again, it's water-based and free from chemical nasties, and as an added bonus it barely smells (though takes lots of hot water, soap and scrubbing to get off your hands). The finish is smooth and shiny, but not particularly waxy or tacky once dry. Again, it wears off over time, but it does seem to last pretty well so you're not going to have to reapply it every couple of outings.
Though a dedicated Nikwax glove proofing product is available, I've found this Waterproofing Wax works fine on leather mountain gloves as well as boots - just treat the leather bits of the glove, not any fabric patches.
Footwear aftercare products are a staple essential if you want to get the best performance and lifespan from your boots or shoes. These Nikwax products work well, with the added bonus of a minimized environmental impact (though it seems high time Nikwax considered refill bags). If you own several pairs of boots of different types, or live in a household full of footwear, then the pack reviewed here will be really good value for money.
Nikwax Footwear Care Kit
Nikwax's footwear kit is perfect for cleaning and re-waterproofing all your hiking/walking boots. Plus, it comes in a handy 10L dry bag (21x47cm), great for keeping your valuables dry whilst you are out and about, enjoying the great outdoors.
Footwear Cleaning Gel 300ml
Your waterproof footwear could be soaking up water just because it is dirty. Dirt attracts water which masks the effect of any Durable Water Repellent (DWR) coating, leading to footwear 'wetting out' in wet or damp conditions.
Cleaning waterproof footwear with Nikwax Footwear Cleaning Gel will not only remove contaminants, such as dirt, but also revitalise the durable water repellency (DWR), keeping your feet dry.
Fabric & Leather Proof 300ml
Nikwax Fabric & Leather Proof is easy and quick to apply, just spray on to wet boots and it will leave a flexible water repellent treatment on the individual fibres of the fabric and leather. Nikwax Fabric & Leather Proof provides highly Durable Water Repellency (DWR) which develops on air drying. It also allows moisture vapour to pass through, maintaining breathability and keeping your feet dry.
Nikwax Fabric & Leather Proof has been specifically designed and optimised for fabric and leather combination footwear.
Waterproofing Wax for Leather 100ml
Nikwax Waterproofing Wax for Leather provides instant Durable Water Repellency (DWR), maintains breathability and replenishes tanning agents in leather. The water-based formulation is easy to use and can be used on wet or dry leather.
Nikwax Waterproofing Wax for Leather has been specifically designed and optimised for smooth leather footwear. It can also be used on leather gloves and is popular with motorbike riders and outdoor enthusiasts.
- For more info on these and other Nikwax products see nikwax.com