While hiking boots are designed for heavy-duty use and handle rough and muddy trails in stride, learning how to take care of your hiking boots is still important, since proper care can lengthen their lifespan. If you clean them regularly, you can get several years out of them and reduce the need to replace them after just a single season or two.
How Dirty Boots Break Down
Failing to clean your boots can break them down in a couple of ways:
Each time the boot flexes, particles of sand, grit, and dirt can creep down deeper into the fabric and leather, wearing it away like sandpaper.
As it dries, mud can also suck the moisture from leather, which will leave the leather less pliable. This will speed up the aging process.
To clean your boots, you’ll need:
- An old toothbrush or boot brush
- Saddle soap or boot cleaner
Cleaning the Uppers
To clean the uppers, begin by removing the laces. Use a brush to remove any dirt and dust. For a deep clean, use running water and a boot cleaner.
Most types of footwear cleaners can be used on a variety of materials; however, you should still double-check and ensure the cleaner you’re going to buy can be used on boots. Avoid using detergents and bar soap since both can contain additives that may be harmful to waterproof membranes and leather.
To get rid of mold, you’ll need to use a mixture of twenty percent vinegar and eighty percent water.
After cleaning your boots, make sure you rinse them thoroughly in clean water.
Avoid placing your boots in a washing machine since this can severely damage them.
If you want to waterproof your boots, you should do so while they’re still wet. Most hiking boots are waterproof in the beginning, so you won’t have to waterproof them until you begin to notice that water no longer beads on the surface.
Mud that’s caked-on won’t damage hiking boots but removing it can restore their traction. Having clean outsoles can also prevent you from bringing invasive species from one hiking spot to another.
To clean the outsoles, first brush them to dislodge any pebbles. For caked-on mud, you’ll need to soak the outsoles and then take a hose to power-wash them.
Drying and Storing Hiking Boots
To dry your boots, remove the insoles and allow them to dry separately.
Avoid using a heat source to dry them, such as a heater or wood stove. High heat can prematurely age the leather and can also weaken adhesives.
You can use a fan to dry the boots faster.
Another option is stuffing newspaper into the boots, changing the paper out often.
The boots should be stored in a place where the temperature is normal and stable. Avoid storing the boots in a space that’s not well-ventilated, or places that are too hot or damp.
How to Condition Hiking Boots
You can use a conditioner when the full grain leather appears cracked or dried out. Certain types of leather, such as nubuck or suede, will not require conditioning. A conditioner can be used if full-grain leather boots that are new need to be quickly broken in.
The conditioner should be used judiciously. Leather that’s healthy will be at its best when it’s moisturized. Adding too much conditioner can make the boots too soft, which will minimize their support.
Avoid using oil such as mink oil, which is designed for industrial boots because it will over-soften hiking boot leather, which is dry-tanned.
How to Make Your Hiking Boots Last Longer
If you want to get the most out of your hiking boots, make sure you:
- Waterproof them when needed
- Properly break them in
- Maintain and clean them regularly
- Re-sole them when needed
Breaking in Hiking Boots
Boots need to be broken in to make them comfortable and soft. Your feet will be comfortable when the boots are flexible where the ankles and feet bend. You can break your boots in by walking in them.
Walking around the neighborhood or wearing the boots when you run errands can help speed up the breaking in process, so you won’t have to deal with blisters when you hike. Even if your boots don’t require much of a break-in period, wearing them will allow your feet to become accustomed to them.
Wear them for a short period of time. Walk in your boots around the house, use them when you’re working in the yard, or wear them on your way to work. You can also take short hikes in them before you plan out a long hiking trip.
When the boots are properly broken in, they’ll feel comfortable during a hike.
Waterproofing Hiking Boots
Most types of hiking boots come equipped with some type of waterproof coating when you purchase them, however, you may still need to increase their waterproof capabilities. Different types of materials will require different levels of waterproofing. Leather will need a waterproof product that’s wax-based. Certain types of fabrics, such as nylon, can require a spray that’s silicone based.
Most boots are made out of a fabric and leather blend. If the boots you have are a blend of fabrics, you can use different types of waterproofing products, just be careful with silicone sprays since it can damage the glue that’s used to seal the boot seams on hiking boots.
With a silicone spray, you’ll want to start by spraying it on the fabric portion of the boot and use something to cover and protect the leather. Next, you can apply the waterproof product that’s wax-based on the seams and the leather portions of the boot.
If your boots are made out of full-grain leather, then you can use a waterproofing shoe polish or wax-based waterproof coat. Shoe polish will work great on the seams. You can apply a thicker layer of polish, working it into the stitching and seams.
Before you wear the boots and after a hike, make sure you clean the boots off. During your hike, when you take a break, check your boots and wipe away any excess dirt or mud. If you want to clean your boots while camping or hiking, bang them together or kick them against a rock. Use a stick to scrape them if they’re really dirty.
As I mentioned earlier, when mud dries on leather it will dry out the material and can also negatively impact the leather’s waterproofing ability. Mud is also bad for nylon.
When you get home, use a damp cloth to wipe down the boots, making sure you wipe all the dirt off, so nothing will prevent the waterproof coating from working.
If the seams begin to unravel, make sure you cut off any loose threads. If the threads catch on something, this can pull the seams apart. Depending on how much your boots costs and how much damage there is, you may need to take them to a boot shop for repairs. Adding extra shoe polish can help to hold the loose ends together and maintain the seam’s waterproof integrity.
Between hikes, using a shoe tree can help the boots to retain their shape, which will keep them comfortable for your next hike.
Resoling Hiking Boots
Resoling hiking boots can cost $50 to $80. If your boots need to be re-soled, make sure you find an experienced boot shop. This type of shop will guarantee their work. Because you’ll have new soles on the boots, this will mean they need to be broken in again.
Worn Out Hiking Boots
There are many parts on hiking boots that can wear out. The parts that wear out the fastest include the sole tread, the ankle padding around the top of the boot, and the soft portion of the sole’s lining. Additionally, the seams between the leather and fabric and the seams on the uppers can also wear out.
To determine whether or not you need to replace your boots, look for the following:
- Check the foam padding. If the padding is worn down, this allows pebbles, small sticks, and rocks to get inside your boots.
- Take a look at the sole tread to make sure the knobs are still able to provide traction. When the knobs are worn away you can easily fall or slip.
- The soft portion of the lining called the sole lining, can wear out quickly. This will cause your feet to hurt during a hike and can lead to blisters.
- Seams that are worn out can cause friction and will make the fabric weaker.
While some of these issues are fixable, many of these places tend to wear out around the same time. If you’re dealing with more than one of these issues at the same time, replace your boots,
Learning how to take care of your hiking boots will make each hike more enjoyable and will keep your feet comfortable and dry. The first step to proper boot care is breaking them in. After they’re broken in, regularly clean and waterproof them as needed. Caring for your boots will ensure you take good care of your feet during your next camping or hiking adventure.