How to Waterproof Your Travel Gear — From Shoes to Bags
Travel can be full of unexpected hazards, and weather will likely account for at least half of them. You can’t change the forecast, but you can take steps to avoid getting delayed by soggy feet or a soaked bag of clothes while you should be out exploring.
One of those steps is waterproofing your gear before your trip. A quick spray or rubdown can prepare you for surprise thunderstorms and make sure that you don’t accidentally sacrifice your favorite pair of shoes.
The vice president of marketing at popular waterproofing supply brand Nikwax, Heidi Allen, advises travelers prep anything they might possibly be wearing or carrying in the rain or near water. “I’ll waterproof my travel pants and even my jeans before a trip, to make sure even if I do get wet, things will dry as quickly as possible,” she said.
Every waterproofing product will have different requirements and instructions, but the basic prep steps should remain the same. First, make sure whatever you’re prepping is clean. Sealing water out will also mean sealing in whatever’s on there when you start, and dirt or factory chemicals may interfere with how well the treatment bonds to the material. Some of your rain gear may come with DWR, which stands for Durable Water Repellent, built in and should be able to regain its water-blocking abilities with a cleaning. Allen recommends testing it by spraying the item with water. If the water beads up, the DWR is intact; if it soaks in, the DWR has worn off and needs to be reapplied.
After the cleaning, you may need to leave your item slightly damp or even wet to apply the product — check the instructions. You should also make sure you do a spot check somewhere unobtrusive to see how the color and texture of the item react. Now, find a well-ventilated spot and get to work.
To Waterproof Your Jacket: Gear Aid Seam Grip
To Waterproof Your Jacket: Nikwax TX.Direct Wash-in
Your raincoat is likely already treated with DWR, but that can fade with time and repeated wear. Refresh it or treat something that may not have gotten it in the first go-round with Nikwax TX.Direct Wash-in. It will keep the fabric breathable and is a great option for those who don’t want to deal with a spray.
To buy: amazon.com, $16
To Waterproof Your Outdoor Gear: Scotchgard Outdoor Water Shield
To Waterproof Your Shoes: Otter Wax Leather Salve and Boot Wax
There are two main strategies for waterproofing shoes. Your first option is a wax product. According to REI’s experts, this method has been decreasing in popularity and using wax may impede your ability to resole your shoes later. If it’s still your choice, Otter Wax Leather Salve is a gentle, natural option that will condition and moisturize your leather while also adding a layer of water protection. If you don’t want the added conditioning, the Otter Wax Boot Wax uses beeswax and lanolin to create a heavier waterproofing coating.
To Waterproof Your Shoes: Atsko Silicone Water-Guard
Option two is a waterproofing or water-resistant spray. These are not the same thing. Waterproofing will fully seal the material of your shoes, which doesn’t allow them to breathe and may not be the best choice for leather; it doesn’t allow you to polish or condition the leather later, according to InStyle. But if you want serious protection for both shoes and the rest of your stuff, the Atsko Silicone Water-Guard spray is highly rated on Amazon.
To buy: amazon.com, $10
To Waterproof Your Shoes: Nikwax Fabric and Leather Proof
Water resistance isn’t as intense with this pick (so don’t go jumping into rivers) but should be enough to protect your shoes from an unexpected rainstorm and keep your feet dry. Nikwax Fabric and Leather Proof is also water-based and biodegradable, reflecting the company’s commitment to sustainability.
To buy: amazon.com, $14
To Waterproof Leather or Suede: Cadillac Select Premium Water Repellent & Stain Protector
The Cadillac Select Premium Water Repellent & Stain Protector is another popular non-aerosol option that's safe for use on leathers and suedes.
To buy: amazon.com, $15
To Waterproof Leather or Suede: Collonil Waterstop
To Waterproof Pretty Much Everything: Kiwi Camp Dry Heavy Duty Water Repellent
To Keep Your Backpack Dry: Osprey Ultralight Raincover
If you don’t want to spray down your bag or just want an extra layer of protection, many backpack companies sell rain sleeves for their products. If you can, get one from the company that made your bag as it will likely fit their styling the best. If you can’t, the Osprey Ultralight Raincover is an outdoor blogger favorite from a company known for making high-quality products. It packs down into its own case for easy stroage when skies are clear.
To buy: amazon.com, from $29
To Keep Small Items Dry: LokSak
To Keep Larger Items Dry: Sea to Summit Dry Bag
Some things just can’t be fully waterproofed, as much as you’d like them to be (we’re looking at you, iPhones). For when you need to be absolutely certain that something stays dry, use a roll-top dry bag. The brand Sea to Summit is a gear nerd favorite, and its Big River Dry Bag is a top pick from the extensive testers at The Wirecutter.
To buy: amazon.com, from $18
To Bring in Case of Rain: Ziploc Freezer Bags
If it’s something a little more casual, you can opt for a kitchen classic and just use a Ziploc bag. They’re sealed well enough to protect the contents of your purse from a sudden shower, easy to find, available in a variety of sizes, and cheap enough that if you need to replace them, it’s not the end of your budget. America’s Test Kitchen likes the double-zip freezer bags for the best seal, but you can use whatever might be in your pantry. And if the weather stays dry, you can always store your snacks or any leaky toiletries in them instead.
To buy: amazon.com, $15