Do you look forward to leather jacket season every year? There are few looks as timeless or versatile as a leather bomber in black, brown, or even a funkier color (we see you, oxblood). And the best way to really nail the look is to pair it with some equally iconic leather shoe or boot.
The only thing to worry about is the weather. Many people find themselves wondering “can you wear leather boots in the rain or snow?” While leather is undoubtedly rugged, there’s a lot of uncertainty about whether to wear it in wet weather conditions. But don’t worry! In this guide, we’ll cover everything you need to know about leather and waterproofing, including:
Whether or not (and to what extent) leather is waterproof
How to protect your leather boots and gear from water
By the end, you’ll be well prepared to keep and maintain your waterproof leather work boot safe this season—and beyond.
An Age-Old Question: Is Leather Waterproof?
According to the leather gurus Moore & Giles, leather’s history as a rugged, durable textile stretches back thousands of years. Its earliest known usages include not only sandals and saddles, but also vessels for dry and wet goods alike. In recent years, researchers have found cave paintings dating back to 5000 BCE that depict leather being used for buckets and bottles.
This begs the question: if leather was tough enough for military gear and drinkware in the earliest civilizations, why is there uncertainty about whether you should wear it in the rain?
The answer is complicated. Leather isn’t water-proof, per se. But it does have some natural resistance to water, which can be optimized with the right treatments. Before getting into how that works, let’s take a close look at the extent to which leather is weather-proof (and why).
Waterproof vs. Water Repellent vs. Water Resistant
The word “waterproof” gets thrown around a lot, but it often refers to different things, depending on the context. When phones and other electronic devices are deemed “waterproof,” it has to do with the extent to which they can be submerged in water without being damaged. For clothes, however, the rating has more to do with permeability.
Per waterproofing scientists at Triple F.A.T. Goose, there are three levels of water resistance:
Water resistant – Garments that are able to withstand light contact with water, such as light rain or snowfall. Under pressure, water will permeate and soak the garment.
Water repellant – Garments that are sealed, naturally or by treatment, so that water cannot permeate into and soak them. They remain dry even in steadier storms.
Waterproof – Garments whose seals are so hermetically tight that almost no water at all can permeate the surface, even under pressure—water “rolls off”.
Leather naturally has some water resistance, which can be augmented with treatment. But it is animal skin, and porous, so naturally waterproof leather can't exist because it is permeable. To the extent that a leather garment can be waterproofed, that has more to do with applied substances than the leather itself.
Different Leathers, Different Degrees of Waterproofing
One of the most satisfying things about leather is how unique each individual garment is. Leather develops a natural patina over time, so each jacket or pair of boots can be compared to a fine wine that gets better with age. However, there are several distinct categories or types of leather.