Sno-Seal in containers (courtesy Atsko).
Some walkers like shoes with a leather trim, and some cross-country skiers prefer leather boots to plastic. Some people even wear leather shoes at home and to work. But no matter what the shoes and how the leather was tanned, if it gets wet again and again, it can suffer. The original leather treatment can get washed out, leaving the leather to go hard and shrink when it dries out. Once dry, it's also likely to crack on flexing. Of course, wet leather is much heavier too.
You can use a range of treatments on leather, but many of them have problems or don't work very well. In my experience, silicone treatment fails after a few hours: it just rubs off. Boot polish is better, but it is hard to get enough on the leather to really make a difference. Oils and greases go too far into the leather, get messy, and wash out easily. Fats let the leather rot over time and can go rancid. Beeswax, as used in Sno-Seal, apparently stays mainly near the surface of the leather, but seems to have the desired effect (lubrication of the leather) right through it. According to Atsko, once the solvent in Sno-Seal has evaporated, the beeswax stays a soft solid inside the pores of the leather up to 63 C (146 F): it does not leak out to get on socks etc.
Atsko claims that leather treated with Sno-Seal will still pass moisture, so you can treat the leather on shoes with a Gore-Tex membrane, and the membrane will still work. I don't have much experience of this, but then my feet are rarely dry inside a membrane shoe anyhow.
My wife's Salomon shoes after six weeks in Switzerland. Inset is the small pot of Sno-Seal we packed with us.
Atsko's claims are not fanciful waffle either. The picture here shoes my wife's Salomon joggers after six weeks walking in Switzerland in the summer of 2009, going over Alpine passes (a pass a day keeps boredom at bay...). The leather exterior on the joggers is still supple and in good condition, because I took some Sno-Seal in the little plastic pot shown and applied it with a bit of rag every couple days when the shoes were wet. The total weight for the pot of Sno-Seal and rag was a bit over 40 grams (1.4 oz), but I didn't use the full pot by any means. I would have used more if the weather had been wetter. As to weight added, I would guess I used between 5 and 10 grams for the pair of shoes each time. Some of this would have worn off after a while.
Contrast that with what happened in 2007 in the French Alps when I didn't look after her shoes this way. The leather exterior got soaked through for weeks on end, which stripped any tanning out of the material. When the weather cleared, the leather dried out, shrank, and cracked. My wife was nearly crippled by the reduced volume of the shoes: her feet were badly injured with internal bleeding, which started to leak through to the soles of her feet. Fortunately we caught the problem early enough that the damage to her feet was not permanent. I took the footbeds out of her shoes to make more room in them, and she managed to hobble to the next town - which very fortunately had a shoe shop. It was a worrying experience way up in the mountains at the time though (which is why we took the Sno-Seal in 2009).
My XC Nordic ski boots.
In 1991 my wife and I took up Nordic cross-country ski-touring, with light leather three-pin boots. My original pair of Scarpa Nortour boots are shown here, still in excellent condition in 2009. Actually, I had to repair some of the stitching at the toe early on, but the leather has been treated with Sno-Seal before every trip, and the boots are like new. A pity I outgrew the boots (size EU 42) recently!
Finally, I regularly use the Sno-Seal on yellow (pig-skin) riggers gloves for working around the farm. If I don't do this, the gloves might last a year before cracking and breaking up; with the Sno-Seal treatment, the gloves seem to last up to five years easily. Since they are not cheap, it's nice to get more bang for the buck with a little preventative maintenance.
|Beeswax and solvent|
|1 qt can, 8 fl oz jar, 4 fl oz tube, 1/2 flo oz sachet|
|US$7.30 for 8 oz jar|
- It works as advertised
- Environmentally friendly
- Preserves leather
- Allows persiration through (a bit)
- Multiple uses
What's Not So Good
- Can't think of anything