Treating canoe pack leather

Some portion of the straps of my traditional canoe packs and thwart bag are always in the bilge water, hardening them over time.

How do people keep their pack leather in good conditon? Some horse tack site explained that you can use saddle soap for cleaning, a leather conditioner after cleaning, and maybe mink oil or leather grease for true water proofosity as needed (for shoes, for example), although that would clog the pores of the leather and deteriote it over time, unless you cleaned it after.

I’ve occasionally been using the conditioner (Fiebing’s 4 Way Care), but it tends to soften the nice lively straps into soft limp dead straps. I try to not overuse the product, only every few outings…

Any recommendations?

I use saddle soap. Unfortunately, the straps are prone to mildew, but another application of saddle soap takes it off.

Try Kiwi Conditioning Oil.
Note: It is actually a paste, and should be readily available.
Have had good luck with it on pistol holsters, and leather shoes/boots.
Work it into the leather, and buff it with a soft cloth after it dries.
I’m still using the same can I bought 4 or 5 years ago.


I think any of your ideas or those posted by Pete and Bob would be a huge improvement over doing nothing. Thanks for reminding me that I should do something about this too!

I’ve used various protective materials on leather boots, where I think the overall process and goal would be the same. Red Wing shoe oil seems to be quite good, but it costs a small fortune (I’ve seen it go for as much as $40 a bottle) and I don’t know if it’s even available anymore. The main treatment that I’ve used on shoe-packs and leather snowshoe bindings is “Sno Seal”, a brand that’s probably been around longer than any other that you can currently buy, and it’s a very good material for keeping water from soaking into the leather. I’ve read that it’s more of a surface-sealing treatment than a “soak-in” treatment, which supposedly (if you can believe what various online discussions suggest) is good for long-term life of the leather, and it leaves open the option to also use other conditioners in-between applications. I agree that you probably don’t want to soften the bearing portion of the straps very much, so I’d think a surface treatment makes the most sense.

For straps, I use sno-seal. Oil-based can soften and stretch the leather.

I used mink oil once. It definitely softens the leather.
Water proofosity , a new addition to the Urban dictionary?

@pblanc said:
I use saddle soap. Unfortunately, the straps are prone to mildew, but another application of saddle soap takes it off.

Is saddle soap good to use?
I have been using this on all my leather for about 25 years and it works good. My boots go through wet/dry cycles almost every week and this stuff seems to stop them from getting stiff and brittle when drying out. I like the leather warm to apply, so I put stuff in the sun. If its cold outside I will apply and rub it in thoroughly with my warm hands and them warm it a little with a hair dryer. It makes my boots last a long time in rough service. My 40 year old Duluth Packs like it, too.