Waterproofing the New Year

Waterproofing the New Year

It’s that time of year again to ponder resolutions for the new year.  You could lose that last stubborn 50 pounds, cut back on buying hunting and fishing toys, or you could do something really meaningful and make a pledge to keep your feet dry and your hunting boots looking great.  While losing a few pounds and buying fewer toys might sound more responsible, you have a much better chance of sticking to a resolution of keeping your feet dry and your hunting boots looking great.

While most of the boots I buy are advertised as waterproof – due to a GORE-TEX liner, I always treat the leather. Occasionally, the manufacturer will recommend a very specific type of leather treatment.  For example, L.L.Bean recommends a beeswax treatment (SnoSeal™) for the leather uppers of its famous Maine Hunting Shoe.

The original tin (now empty) of Bear Grease

Growing up we used Bear Grease exclusively to treat and waterproof our leather boots.  In fact, when my younger brother first came home from the hospital, my dad put a coat of Bear Grease on him to keep him soft and supple.  Mom was a bit upset at first, but the waterproofing hardly changed little brother’s appearance at all.  He was, however, a bit more difficult to hold on to in the bath.

Interestingly, nowhere does it say that Bear Grease is, in fact, that, Bear Grease.  It is the trade name, but I wonder if there was any bear grease in the product?  It was manufactured in Detroit, Michigan and it did look like grease…of the mechanical kind.  Was this a Motown by-product and not the byproduct of Ursus Americanus?  Who knows.  We had this tin (first photo) in our house for years.  Whenever we got new leather boots, we knew to Bear Grease them.  We didn’t even know there were other waterproofing treatments available at the time.

BearGuard, wild beeswax and bear fat (grease sounds better)

In my search to find whether Bear Grease was (still) available as a leather treatment, I came across Foggy Mountain BearGuard (www.bootgrease.com).  The name implies that the product guards bears, perhaps even waterproofing them.  However, the product, a combination of beeswax and bear fat, is used to treat leather.  For the record, I think “grease” sounds loads better than “fat.”

We had a nice wind storm around the holidays and lost power for several hours.  Once I fired up the wood stove I thought it would be a good time to test out BearGuard.  I warmed my boots, warmed the BearGuard, applied the BearGuard, then wiped off any excess.  I waterproofed my Irish Setter Wingshooter boots first.  Those came out pretty well, so I started on my Cabela’s deer hunting boots (below).  Bear Guard does darken the leather on lighter colored boots, but it cleans them up nice.

Boots before and after BearGuard

My daughter said that the BearGuard cleans them up too well and they lose their tough-looking patina.  OK, she didn’t use the word “patina,” but I knew that was what she meant.

What waterproofing/leather treatment do you use on your leather products?  I read that animal oils and fats can rot boots.  However, further reading indicates that poor leather care, not natural oils rots the leather.  There are similar myths about beeswax allowing leather to breath more than animal oils/grease/fat.  The bottom line is no leather waterproofer allows leather to breath…otherwise it wouldn’t work as a waterproofer.  I’d appreciate your thoughts and comments.  (Even if you choose to leave a comment anonymously, which is the most convenient for most people, please sign off on your comment with your first name so I know to whom I’m replying.)

Happy days afield and best of luck with your New Year’s resolutions, whatever they may be.

One thought on “Waterproofing the New Year

  1. I just finished a tin of the original bear grease in the same kind of can that you have at the top. Treated a holster with it. I happened to be looking to see if it was actually made from bear fat and if they still make it. I never noticed that it was made here in Detroit. According to the bottom of the tin, the "product has won several international prizes for being the best leather dressing for preserving and waterproofing leather". I never doubted that but come to think of it who gives out prizes for boot waterproofing? Regardless, the product has served me well and I will be looking around to see if it is still made. Rob

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