Sno-Seal Original Beeswax Waterproofing for Leather

Treat your leather nicely, THEN abuse the ever-loving daylights out of it.

Recommended

Overall Rating: Recommended

If you have leather trim on your shoes, you need to look after it when wet, and Atsko Sno-Seal Original Beeswax Waterproofing is the stuff of choice for experienced walkers. It comes in sachets, tubes, and jars at a very reasonable price. Based on many, many years of use and experience, this stuff works.

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by Roger Caffin |

Sno-Seal Original Beeswax Waterproofing for Leather Review - 1
Sno-Seal in containers (courtesy Atsko).

Overview

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.

Field Experiences

Sno-Seal Original Beeswax Waterproofing for Leather Review - 2
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).

Sno-Seal Original Beeswax Waterproofing for Leather Review - 3
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.

Specifications

  Manufacturer

Atsko

  Year/Model

1933-2009

  Manufacture

USA

  Material

Beeswax and solvent

  Capacity

1 qt can, 8 fl oz jar, 4 fl oz tube, 1/2 flo oz sachet

  MSRP

US$7.30 for 8 oz jar

What's Good

  • It works as advertised
  • Inexpensive
  • Environmentally friendly
  • Preserves leather
  • Allows persiration through (a bit)
  • Multiple uses

What's Not So Good

  • Can't think of anything


Citation

"Sno-Seal Original Beeswax Waterproofing for Leather," by Roger Caffin. BackpackingLight.com (ISSN 1537-0364).
http://backpackinglight.com/cgi-bin/backpackinglight/snoseal_review.html, 2009-10-27 00:00:00-06.

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Forum Index » Editor's Roundtable » Sno-Seal Original Beeswax Waterproofing for Leather


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Addie Bedford
(addiebedford) - MLife

Locale: Montana
Sno-Seal Original Beeswax Waterproofing for Leather on 10/27/2009 14:58:37 MDT Print View

Companion forum thread to:

Sno-Seal Original Beeswax Waterproofing for Leather

Joe Clement
(skinewmexico) - MLife

Locale: Southwest
Sno-Seal Original Beeswax Waterproofing for Leather on 10/27/2009 15:15:55 MDT Print View

Great stuff. The hiking boots I bought in the early 70s are still usable, probably due to a lifetime of Snoseal. I was unaware that it was OK to use on boots with a Gore-tex liner, so I have a couple of pairs of hunting boots I need to put it on now. I usually put it on thick, and then heat it with a hair dryer until it melts in. Had to keep my hair dryer from the 70s around just to do that (stayin' alive, stayin' alive!).

Edited by skinewmexico on 10/27/2009 15:18:13 MDT.

Mary D
(hikinggranny) - MLife

Locale: Gateway to Columbia River Gorge
Sno-Seal Original Beeswax Waterproofing for Leather on 10/27/2009 15:52:09 MDT Print View

I've used this stuff on leather for almost 30 years now. It's nice to know that others agree with me that it's THE way to go!

Rick Dreher
(halfturbo) - MLife

Locale: Northernish California
Re: Sno-Seal Original Beeswax Waterproofing for Leather on 10/27/2009 16:13:06 MDT Print View

Wonderful blast from the past, Roger.

As it happens, both Ryan and I knew Sno-Seal's inventor--Ome Daiber--who was a renowned Northwest mountaineer and adventurer. His technique for applying the stuff was to heat it into your boots using a warm oven.

My mother was none too pleased, but it worked fine with the boots of the era (which didn't rely on synthetics or adhesives). I would *cautiously* try the trick again today, with the right pair of footwear.

Thanks for triggering a flood of memories.

Cheers,

Rick

scott Nelson
(nlsscott) - MLife

Locale: So. Calif.
Caution with the oven-Boots will Burn! on 10/27/2009 18:06:15 MDT Print View

My hiking buddy was making late night preparations before a winter trip and put his boots in the oven to melt the sno-Seal into the leather. He got distracted and came back to find that the heat had activated the glue holding his sole on. The sole came right off!

Hikin' Jim
(hikin_jim) - MLife

Locale: Los Angeles, CA, USA
Re: Caution with the oven-Boots will Burn! on 10/27/2009 18:19:15 MDT Print View

I think the hair dryer or even putting them in a sunny window is the way to go.

Rick Dreher
(halfturbo) - MLife

Locale: Northernish California
Re: Caution with the oven-Boots will Burn! on 10/27/2009 18:45:35 MDT Print View

Yup, the key is "warm." Not all ovens have a low enough setting to make this viable. FWIW my car trunk gets hotter in summer than I'd need to apply the goop, although that's a cheap alternative :-)

Cheers,

Rick

Roger Caffin
(rcaffin) - BPL Staff - MLife

Locale: Wollemi & Kosciusko NPs, Europe
Re: Caution with the oven-Boots will Burn! on 10/27/2009 18:55:47 MDT Print View

Hi all

Yep, good stuff.
Mind you, I don't think I would be game to try the oven trick. Australian sunshine seems very adequate to me.

Cheers

cameron eibl
(cjeibl) - F

Locale: San Diego
Sno-Seal Original Beeswax Waterproofing for Leather on 10/27/2009 19:31:39 MDT Print View

I agree with all the positive comments in the article. However, I have also had great success using sno-seal on gloves and mittens. I have found that it provides the longest lasting waterproofing for leather subject to abrasion of any product and has the added benefit of making the gloves stickier. My preferred method of application is to use a hair dryer to heat the leather before applying the product.

nanook ofthenorth
(nanookofthenorth) - MLife
Sno-Seal Original Beeswax Waterproofing for Leather on 10/27/2009 21:05:48 MDT Print View

I once tried to microwave a tube of the stuff to warm it up before applying it to my boots - turns out there is a layer of silver foil in the tube.
I would not recommend that method.
:S

F. Thomas Matica
(ftm1776) - F

Locale: Vancouver, WA
Sno-Seal Original Beeswax Waterproofing for Leather on 10/27/2009 21:52:40 MDT Print View

I make an "oven" from a large cardboard box and heat gun. A kitchen thermometer to monitor the heat. 120 degrees according to the man a Atsto; then glob the Sno-Seal on; let the leather absorb as much as it can. Back in the oven for a re-heat. Wipe off the excess.
Seems to work ok. This winter will tell the tale on keeping my feet dry....or drier as the case may be.

Edited by ftm1776 on 10/27/2009 21:53:18 MDT.

John Davis
(Bukidnon) - F
What's Not So Good on 10/28/2009 06:14:08 MDT Print View

At Aukland airport the drug dog went bananas over my rucksack. The handler thought I was trying to sneak food into the country because of the dog's behaviour. I was taken aside and asked if I wanted a lawyer. Even for someone as innocent as me, that's a worrying question. The customs official blatantly lost interest when the first thing he took from my rucksack was a packet of used NZ maps. By the time he got to the Sno Seal he was looking for anything to explain the dog's behaviour and he was probably right.

Although that inspection meant I didn't have to queue at the window where they check if your tent needs fumigation (at your expense), I still missed my connection to Wellington.

Miguel Arboleda
(butuki) - MLife

Locale: Kanto Plain, Japan
Re: Sno-Seal Original Beeswax Waterproofing for Leather on 10/28/2009 07:28:51 MDT Print View

For years and years I wore leather boots and did my best to take very good care of them. I tried all sorts of oils and silicone treatment, mink oil, bees wax, Sno-Seal, you name it I tried it. I found that I didn't like Sno-Seal very much because too much of it stayed on the surface and cracked when cold. Most of what I tried just didn't work well. Then I found Limmer Boot Grease from Limmer Boots, the custom boot maker in the States. I once ordered a pair of off-the-shelf Limmer Boots (as opposed to their custom boots, which at the time was a three-year wait) and ordered some of their boot grease along with them. The boots didn't fit well and I sent them back, but I fell in love with the grease. It worked well into the leather just by the warmth of your fingers, it protected well and lasted a long time, it never cracked or settled on the surface, and it kept the boots very water resistant while at the same time keeping the leather reasonably supple. I've not found anything better.

Though I rarely wear boots anymore I miss them. I like the durability they have and the maintainable nature of a product meant to last for many years. Until I got into UL and started going through ridiculous numbers of trail running shoes I had one pair of boots that I still own today... a pair of Merrell Wilderness boots that I bought in 1988. I've resoled them twice, but the uppers are still perfectly fine. I've thrown away lots of shoes, but these I will keep for as long as I can, in spite of their weight.

Ross Bleakney
(rossbleakney) - MLife

Locale: Cascades
Re: Re: Caution with the oven-Boots will Burn! on 10/28/2009 10:38:36 MDT Print View

Like Jim said, a blow drier works great for warming the boots. I should write a book called "101 Uses for a Blow Drier (that don't involve your hair)".

Rick Dreher
(halfturbo) - MLife

Locale: Northernish California
Re: Sno-Seal Original Beeswax Waterproofing for Leather on 10/28/2009 12:19:12 MDT Print View

Miguel's post reminds me that back "in the day" when dinosaurs roamed the backcountry and all hiking footware was leather boots, a good deal of thought went into matching the leather treatment to the leather, based on how it was tanned and whether it was rough-out or smooth-out. No single product, including Sno-Seal, was universally applicable to all types, and proper outdoor shops could tell you what treatment went with which boots.

I can also recall applying seam-sealer to the welts in addition to treating the leather itself.

Today I wonder how long the goretex will hold off the moisture *this* time.

Cheers,

Rick

John Coyle
(Bigsac)

Locale: NorCal
Sno-Seal Original Beeswax Waterproofing for Leather on 10/28/2009 13:23:56 MDT Print View

In the 70's I worked on the Death Canyon Trail Crew for the National Park service. We all had big heavy all leather, non Gore-Tex boots made by Vasque or a similar company. We called them Frankenstein boots. I distinctly remember standing in Death Canyon Creek working on a bridge for 30 minutes in my Sno-seal treated boots without any water leaking through. Back then Sno-Seal was considered the "Bee's Knees". Just a slang expression meaning a high quality product, but apparently even more appropriate in this case. Have'nt used it in years since I switched to running shoes and leather Gore-Tex boots, but nice to know it is still around and thriving.

John Coyle
(Bigsac)

Locale: NorCal
Sno-Seal Original Beeswax Waterproofing for Leather on 10/28/2009 13:28:10 MDT Print View

Sorry, I forgot to mention that Death Canyon is in Grand Teton Park just south of Yellowstone Park.

David Chenault
(DaveC) - BPL Staff - F

Locale: Crown of the Continent
ovens on 10/28/2009 17:18:39 MDT Print View

I generally put the oven on 250 or so, let it get hot, then open the door and rest my tele boots on it. Let the leather get warm, apply goop, put 'em back and let warm until the leather soaks up the goop.

This is most effective with clean, new leather. It should soak up several coats.

Eric Blumensaadt
(Danepacker) - MLife

Locale: Mojave Desert
Wierd Sno-Seal apps on 10/28/2009 17:27:56 MDT Print View

Well, like many other '70s backpackers I always Sno-Sealed my Danner hiking boots. No Gore-Tex then.

The summer Nixon resigned (remember that?!)I was canoeing in Quebec's Kipiwa Game preserve using Viet Nam jungle boots that had been snowsealed ALL over, including the canvas. (Now I merely paint the canvas on my new jungle boots with Thompson's Water Seal) I still use jungle boots for hikes like the Paria River, where you know you'll be wading a lot. They work great. Lugged "river" sandals W/ neoprene booties work well too.

Also I had a green wool "crusher" hat to which I had applied Sno-Seal no fewer than 5 times, using a hair drier each time to get it to soak into the wool. In all day Canadian Shield rains I NEVER got my head wet. That hat shed water like a duck.

In those days there was a dearth of synthetic outdoor clothing so I wore U.S. & Swedish army surplus all wool pants and shirts. Worked great and dried fast. (No Sno-Seal on them!)

**Howsomever I quit using Sno-Seal about 10 years ago and have ever since used Nikwax boot wax from a tube. Seems to work at least as well as Sno- Seal.

Eric

Philip Werner
(earlylite) - F

Locale: New England
Sno-Seal Woes on 11/01/2009 08:39:27 MST Print View

I too have been using sno-seal for over 30 years on my boots. I love the stuff and recommend it to everyone I know.

But this season, I've been having some problems with keeping the leather of my boots from saturating, despite several applications of sno-seal.

The problems started soon after a 6 day hike in the 100 mile wilderness during which my boots got very saturated in numerous stream crossings and very high rain fail which turned the AT into a river. After I got home, it took my boots over a week to dry out.

Since then, new coats of snow seal don't prevent the leather from getting wet. Any ideas why?