Neatsfoot Oil, Mink Oil, Dubbin or Wax for you Hiking Boots?

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Which product should you use to condition, maintain, soften, and waterproof your leather boots? This is a question that I hear very often, and many people will recommend a certain product over another, out of personal preference. If you have bought a new pair of boots, there will be a care guide normally included inside the box, or more often on the company website. If for example Meindl may advise you to use their own "sport wax" on your new pair, but this doesn't mean that Granger's G-Wax won't work just as well if you can't find their sport wax for sale. Most retailers will stock a range, so start as you mean to go on, and buy a tin with you new boots.

If you have purchased a used pair from ebay, an army-surplus store or from a friend, then you may not know what to use. My first recommendation would be to remove the laces and insoles. This will give you the chance to examine them and decide if they need to be replaced. New laces are cheap, and less likely to break than an old worn pair. Once you have taken these out, clean them along with the insoles with a mild soap solution (Nikwax Techwash, Woolite, Stardrops or Pure soap flakes) or replace them. Now it is time to focus on the boot itself. Rinse as much mud, dust and dirt off the boot under clean running water. You can use a brush to get into the welt area. Wait for the boots to fully dry naturally. Never force dry leather by putting them next to a radiator or other sources of direct heat. This will significantly reduce the life of your boot by causing splits and cracks in the leather. Once clean and dry you can survey the condition of the leather. It is has started to become dry to very dry, you will want to condition the leather to restore a soft supple feeling. You may be wondering what to use? I would recommend to generally avoid Neatsfoot oil or Mink Oil. These do tend to over soften the leather, and reduce the structural integrity of the leather fibres. Modern leather tanning is not the same as it was years ago! If you want to restore softness, I would recommend a soft beeswax conditioning cream or similar. An excellent choice would be Carr Day and Martin Ko-Cho-Line, Huberd's Shoe Grease, Renapur leather balsam, Chelsea leather food, Delara intensive leather care, Lexol leather conditioner or Fiebing's all purpose leather conditioner. They all work very well indeed, so pick one based on availability and budget. You should let your chosen product soak into the leather over night and then use a cloth to remove and surplus the following day, repeating until the leather is supple again, and refusing to soak up any further product. Now you will want to protect the leather from water, salt, dirt and mud with a protective wax coating, Generally I would recommend Dubbin, Grangers G-Wax, Sno-seal, Nikwax waterproofing wax for leather or Meindl sport wax (G-wax is my favourite). Some people will say that Dubbin rots stitching. It won't and it doesn't. This is a myth. Stitching is made from synthetic man made fibres and does not rot. Dubbin will make your boots slightly tacky/sticky, and dirt it likely to stick to it. It is thought that abrasion is likely to put addition stress on the stitching. However it is not the Dubbin itself that causes rotting. Keeping your boots clean after each use will prevent this.

Some people may say to you that heavy wax coatings will reduce the ability of goretex lined leather boots to breathe. You can rest assured that the goretex lining has probably already been worn and will be compromised. Leather boots will never be very breathable anyway, but they will always be much drier than boots that suffer water ingress from rain and snow. Some manufacturers even say that Kiwi shoe polish performs as highly or products costing several times more, and I am inclined to agree with this statement. If a shine on your boots is important to you, then Kiwi or Saphir is the way to go. Keep your boots clean, dry and stored in a cool dry place when not in use, and they will last you many years. I have boots that are over 20 years old. The leather should and will outlast the sole if you look after them. Look after your boots, and your boots will look after you. 



 
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