Most of us in Wisconsin’s Northwoods are happy to have a wet spring. The extended winter and regular rain means we are no longer are under drought conditions and the risk of forest fires is minimized. We don’t want a little rain to keep us off the bike all spring, so I took some time today to make a video of me applying another coating of my homemade waterproof dressing to my made-in-Wisconsin Thorogood work boots. I pretty much wear nothing but these boots no matter what I am doing, including riding bikes on the trails and gravel.
I used to wear different clipless shoes for road riding and mountain biking. Then when I got heavily into bikepacking, I switched to flats so I didn’t need to bring an extra pair of shoes to wear hiking on slippery waterfalls or to get comfy in camp. I tried different bike-specific shoes designed for flats and never found anything as comfortable as my Thorogood work boots. Then when I saw that Alexandera Houchin could set records on the Tour Divide and Arizona Trail wearing the same boots, I decided to try riding in mine. Ever since I’ve never looked back (or down).
The comfort, support, and relatively stiff but grippy soles make ideal boots for mountain biking, gravel riding and bikepacking. Add my no-longer secret sauce, and they are super waterproof as well. Besides, I stop by the Thorogood factory outlet store at the Weinbrenner Shoe Company factory in Merrill every time I pass by and scoop up a pair of boots for around $70 compared to the $200+ I would have to pay at a shoe store or farm and fleet supply.
Thorogood makes lots of different boots, but my favorites are the 6″ or 8″ American Heritage Tobacco moc-toe boots. These are simple, unlined leather work boots without a safety toe. I find them comfortable right off the shelf, but even more soft and supple after I waterproof them.
I have tried lots of commercial waterproofing, from Sno-Seal to Mink Oil and even Brooks Proofide. I think my simple 1:1 or 1:2 mixture of beeswax and natural oil like Almond or Sunflower works as well or better. It is super easy to make, simply put an equal amount of beeswax and natural oil in a mason jar and melt in a microwave, in the oven or over a double boiler. Then I add a couple drops of scented Cedar oil, mix and let cool. For a softer cream that is easier to apply with a cloth, add more oil and/or an equal part soft fat, like Shea or Cocoa Butter.
The trick to make this a really good waterproofing that lasts is to remove the laces and insoles, then heat the boots in the oven set to 170 °Fahrenheit for 10-20 minutes so the leather is warm. Also heat the dressing so it is a liquid and apply it with a brush. Then put the boots back in the oven for another 10 minutes or so to let the leather absorb all the dressing. When you take them out, the boots should look dry, but the leather will be very supple.
Then wipe off any extra that did not soak in. Just lace them back up, insert the insoles and you will have a more comfortable and very waterproof boot. Note this will darken your leather a little, so be prepared for that. In the video below I demonstrate the process and discuss different Thorogood boots.
Depending on use and weather, I find this treatment lasts 2-3 months. If your boots stop being waterproof, just reapply. This also works for leather work gloves.
I have even ridden through streams and puddles over my boots. The tall boots laced snug don’t let much water past the top inch or so of sock and my feet stay dry. This system also means I can ride in the rain without wet feet at the end of the day and I don’t have to bring extra camp shoes.
Now these boots won’t make me as fast or bad ass as Alexandera Houchin, but if they work for her, how can I go wrong following in her bootsteps?
TimJune 7, 2022 at 11:32 am
Dave, good article and photos (of course). How are these boots for mtn biking during very hot, sunny days?
David SchlabowskeJune 8, 2022 at 9:29 am
Hey Tim, the leather breathes well, not as well as a mesh cycling shoe of course, but they also keep the gravel out of my shoes, and I can cross streams with them on.
Nathan PieperNovember 29, 2022 at 2:08 pm
I have a pair of these boots, maybe I got a bad pair as they are easily the most uncomfortable boots I own. There is a seam at the pinkeye toe that destroys my toe whenever attempting to wear. I even took into a cobbler to have them stretched with no luck. I’m in WI too but never thought of going to the factory, maybe I should bring them by and see what’s up or try a different pair if they do so well for others.
David SchlabowskeNovember 30, 2022 at 8:11 am
I would definitely go try on another pair to see how they feel. They also sell them at Farm & Fleet, but are WAY less expensive at the outlet. I have been wearing Thorogood work boots for at least two decades, so that is a lot of pairs of boots and never had that problem in the toe box. Everybody’s feet are a bit different though, so I guess it could be possible that Thorogoood boots and your feet just are not meant to be together.