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Field Tested: Nikwax Cleaners and Waterproof Treatments

For nearly four decades, Nikwax has been the go-to purveyor of waterproofing products for everything from boots to tents. Founder Nick Brown first developed his unique wax formula to defend against the wet environments of the Scottish Highlands and in the years since, the Nikwax range of products has expanded to include cleaners, conditioners, and waterproofing solutions for an increasing number of applications.

As an avid outdoor enthusiast, my gear is frequently in need of upkeep and at the bottom of my gear closet sits a box full of Nikwax products. Every season begins the same with a day dedicated to various clean-up and waterproofing preparations. If you don’t do the same, I bet your gear isn’t performing as well as it should.

I’m always amazed to hear just how many people spring for expensive waterproof items, but don’t understand how they work. GoreTex and other waterproof/breathable membranes are the most enigmatic technologies and reports of leaky layers abound. It’s not often the garment’s fault, so guess who gets to shoulder the blame for being soaking wet?

Laminated membrane jackets and boots rely on an internal layer like GoreTex, eVent, or a myriad of other similar technologies to repel water while still remaining breathable. That high-tech layer resembles plastic film and contains millions of tiny pores small enough to keep big droplets out, but large enough to permit body vapor to escape. That thin film is so delicate it has to be bonded to a heavier layer and then placed inside a boot, jacket, or other technical piece. Think of it as waterproof underwear.

When your boots and garments are new, the exterior is treated with a DWR, or Durable Water Repellant coating. This is what causes water to bead when it hits the product’s surface. Eventually that DWR coating degrades over time and when it’s gone, or excessively dirty, the outer layer of your boot or jacket will “wet out.” This means the outer layer becomes saturated with water. That in turn clogs the pores in the membrane rendering it unable to allow internal vapor to escape. When that happens, you get wet from within.

Before and after: My GoreTex riding layers get hammered because I’m not a fair weather rider. Eventually, the fabric loses the protective DWR coating and the outer parent fabric wets-out (pictured left). That in turn causes the accumulation of moisture inside the layers as the breathable membrane’s pores become clogged. After a quick wash with Nikwax TX Direct wash-in, those layers bead water like a duck’s butt.

I don’t know what’s worse than wet feet, other than consecutive days of wet feet. Even when I plunk down for high-performance boots worth hundreds of dollars, I know I will only get the most out of them if they’re properly treated with Nikwax.  It also helps them last longer as it makes them easier to clean.

I’m often skeptical of treatments for visors and windscreens but Nikwax’s new Visor Proof is a must-have for me. It’s tough to photograph the water beading on the visor because it practically bounces off on contact. At speed the water rolls off the visor instantly, and the inevitable bug-splat that happens on mile one is noticeably smaller and easier to clean with the Nikwax applied.

Because the Nikwax formula is so effective, it has been modified to serve a wide range of waterproofing applications from the aforementioned apparel and boots, to climbing ropes, tents, and much more. Applying the coating is easy and depending on the specific product, can be sprayed, brushed, or washed-in.

One of the newer formulas in the Nikwax lineup is Down Wash Direct. Down is the unrivaled king of backcountry insulators and the latest crop of hydrophobic (water repellant) down fills have revolutionized the industry. Unchanged is the need to wash down jackets and sleeping bags after prolonged use. Down Wash Direct is a wash-in formula that cleans outer fabrics of body oils and dirt while treating that fabric and the down fibers for increased water resistance. Years ago I bought my wife a white down jacket––a terrible idea. It has been my test subject for the effectiveness of Down Wash Direct, and I must say my wife is pleased with the results. After a few ski or camping outings her ivory-white down jacket is perhaps a little less so. A quick scrub down with Down Wash Direct and it’s not only clean, the water repellency is restored.

There are a lot of other products on the market which claim to clean and bolster the performance of technical apparel and equipment, but Nikwax has been such a part of my backcountry travels I can’t bring myself to use anything else. Just the smell of Nikwax evokes memories of my youth. The other compelling reason why I use Nikwax is the fact it is an environmentally safe water-based formula free of fluorocarbons and other harmful ingredients, nor is it packaged with aerosols. I can’t enjoy the great outdoors if I don’t do my part to protect it.

If you get outside as much as we do, I bet your gear closet could use a quick cleanup and refresh before the spring adventuring season gets underway. If that closet lacks a box of Nikwax goodies, you’re in for a wet year ahead.





Christophe Noel is a journalist from Prescott, Arizona. Born into a family of backcountry enthusiasts, Christophe grew up backpacking the mountains and deserts of the American West. An avid cyclist and bikepacker, he also has a passion for motorcycles, travel, food and overlanding.