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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Roger Caffin
(rcaffin) - BPL Staff - MLife

Locale: Wollemi & Kosciusko NPs, Europe
Re: Sno-Seal Woes on 11/01/2009 13:24:55 MST Print View

> new coats of snow seal don't prevent the leather from getting wet. Any ideas why?
Not enough detail about your boots.

For instance, if you are wearing heavy multi-layer leather boots (why, one wonders?), then the Sno-Seal won't do anything for the inner layers of leather. If there is padding inside the boot, Sno-Seal won't help that layer either. once the inner layers lose their water-resistance ... trouble. And water will always get inside when it is raining.

Cheers

Tom Kirchner
(ouzel) - MLife

Locale: Pacific Northwest/Sierra
Re: Re: Sno-Seal Woes on 11/01/2009 18:01:22 MST Print View

"> new coats of snow seal don't prevent the leather from getting wet. Any ideas why?"

Possible entry via seams and then spreading by osmosis through leather, sideways and up to surface?

Miguel Arboleda
(butuki) - MLife

Locale: Kanto Plain, Japan
Re: Sno-Seal Woes on 11/01/2009 19:06:00 MST Print View

Leather has natural oils within it that keeps it subtle and the fibres strong. When these oils are depleted the leather loses its integrity and the fibres, as they dry, begin to separate. Curing is intended to preserve this integrity, but once the protection is compromised the leather will break down. Even if you apply external agents to try to arrest this breakdown, the damage has been done. That is why it is important never to let the leather dry out. Repeatedly immersing the leather in water and letting the water evaporate will definitely hasten the drying out of the leather and the weakening of the fibres. Sno-Seal or any other application will have no effect.

Remember, leather is skin. It handles heat and cold, moisture and dryness the same way as our own skin does. Just think what happens when our own skin dries out. It's the same thing.

Samuel C. Farrington
(scfhome) - M

Locale: Chocorua NH, USA
leather treatments on 11/04/2009 23:59:41 MST Print View

About the boots that wouldn't seal:
In the old days, everyone got top grain leather boots, because the water resistance is in the top grain. Now, your see split leather everywhere, and some of it is so poor, there is no treatment that will work. Don't mind it on my Nevados, because I use them only for day hikes and walks in dry weather, and they are so comfortable and so cheap.

Sounds as if most have forgotten the old issue of Backpacker where they tested all the boot treatments and created quite a stir, a furor actually if you consider the letter they got from Nikwax.

While Tectron has its uses, mine is another vote for Limmer boot grease, limmercustomboot.com, because they know leather best, and it is designed to both preserve the leather and keep the water out.
Sam Farrington, Chocorua NH

Hartley F
(backpackerchick) - MLife

Locale: Planet Earth
"Joggers"? on 11/05/2009 12:04:56 MST Print View

Roger, when you talk about "joggers" in other posts, I assume you mean trail runners. I would consider the salomons in the photo to be a leather walking shoe with a fairly stiff sole. Almost a mid cut boot. As opposed to some of the mesh trail runners that you can easily bend in two with your hands.

As for water getting in,really need to make sure they are completely clean before putting the stuff on. Dirt probably provides a conduit of sorts.

As for cons, it's a big mess. And the organic solvent can't be good to come intact with -- the airways and the skin.

Edited by backpackerchick on 11/05/2009 12:11:40 MST.

Roger Caffin
(rcaffin) - BPL Staff - MLife

Locale: Wollemi & Kosciusko NPs, Europe
Re: "Joggers"? on 11/05/2009 14:18:16 MST Print View

Hi Hartley

> when you talk about "joggers" in other posts, I assume you mean trail runners.
Jargon, just jargon. What am I doing when trail running - jogging along?

> I would consider the salomons in the photo to be a leather walking shoe with a fairly stiff
> sole. Almost a mid cut boot. As opposed to some of the mesh trail runners that you can
> easily bend in two with your hands.
I am fairly sure they are Salomon Exit Peak shoes or the model preceding that. They are cut fairly low, but they are not mesh shoes by any means. But then, we were handling a bit of mud and snow with them.

But they are certainly NOT a mid-cut boot by any means. The top edge of the shoe comes below the ankle bone, which doesn't happen with mid-cuts (imho). And mid-cuts are heavier.

That said, I know what you mean by 'bendable trail runners'. Something like our classic KT-26s:
Used KT26s
These are definitely in that class! They are wonderful here in Oz, but they couldn't handle the mud and snow in Europe. They were just too bendable.

> the organic solvent can't be good to come intact with
I don't think there is any organic solvent on Sno-Seal. I believe it is mainly a beeswax/water micro-fine emulsion. Certainly, I cannot smell any solvent, and neither can my wife (she is a bit sensitive).

Cheers

F. Thomas Matica
(ftm1776) - F

Locale: Vancouver, WA
Back to Limmer on 11/07/2009 09:37:04 MST Print View

Interesting that Limmer recommends AGAINST USING HEAT when applying their company boot grease.

Roger Caffin
(rcaffin) - BPL Staff - MLife

Locale: Wollemi & Kosciusko NPs, Europe
Re: Back to Limmer on 11/07/2009 13:43:37 MST Print View

> Limmer recommends AGAINST USING HEAT when applying their company boot grease.
Maybe they don't trust their customers to not melt the soles of the boots? Figures - liability issues.

Cheers

Mark Behringer
(StovieRay) - F
Wish I'd used this way back when on 11/05/2011 11:36:14 MDT Print View

I was on a hike along the AT in the Smokies in 1974 when the weather turned wet. It was one of those moments we all have during a break where we were sitting in the sun, enjoying the late afternoon breeze and idly watching clouds in the valley below. They must have noticed us, because they swarmed up side of the mountain and enveloped us in cold water, wind and lightning.

We threw on our ponchos and got to a shelter which was already full of people including a couple of 'Winnebago Warriors' who'd hiked up to the trail from a campground and then got caught in the storm.

My well-worn trusty leather boots were soaked. They were just ankle-high work boots but they had a great sole and they were broken in like slippers. I built a small backpacker-type fire in the fireplace and put the boots near it to dry them. Some other people hung stuff to dry as well.

While I was otherwise occupied at the other end of the hut, making food and swapping trail stories with other hikers, the WW and his son trudged out and returned with some huge chunk of a tree and stuffed one end of it into the fireplace. The blaze intensified.

All at one we noticed the cheery crackling BIG fire. I also noticed my boots steaming and shriveling almost under the flames. I got them out of harm's way but the damage was done. The leather shrank to the point where I had to cut the back open on one so I could get my foot into it.

Someone asked the guy how he'd gotten the blaze to get going so quickly. He said he'd used some wood that was there next to the fireplace. Right about then a couple of people started to ask where their walking sticks were. This was back when you would find a nice length of branch and hike with it. Fortunately, mine was on the rack next to my pack.

Nevertheless, we obeyed the code of the trail and fed them and made sure they lived through the night. There were some in the shelter who were in favor of smearing them with peanut butter and honey and pushing them out to meet the bears, but they were voted down. I think it was because peanut butter was a pretty valuable commodity for the through-hikers.

Luckily I had enough line with me to make a "Frankenboot" lacing. We were off the trail the next day, so it ended up OK except for the loss of the boots. If I'd used Sno-Seal or something like it to better waterproof the boots, they may have lasted for several more years. Oh well.

Eric Blumensaadt
(Danepacker) - MLife

Locale: Mojave Desert
REALLY? on 06/24/2012 13:28:53 MDT Print View

You mean to say that NikWax shoe treatment is not as good as Sno-Seal?

I used Sno-Seal for three decades before switching to the more effective (IMHO) Nik Wax treatment.

With either product I use a hair drier set on medium to melt the stuff into the elather.