Hiking boots are built to take muddy, gritty trails in stride. But that doesn’t mean it’s a great idea to toss your mucky companions in the closet and forget about them. Clean them faithfully, and you’ll enjoy many years on the trail together and reduce the need to replace them prematurely. If you’re too tired immediately after a hike, then clean ’em the following day.
To get the most out of your footwear and protect its life cycle, it is important to take a little time and effort to keep them in good condition. Here are our top tips for maintaining the life of your footwear.
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Have you just returned from an amazing mountain hike or a trek? Are your walking shoes covered in mud and dirt? Whether you need to do some regular maintenance or want to treat your shoes before you store them for a while, here is some advice on how to clean your hiking boots properly.
Time: about 10 minutes
Equipment: a water faucet, preferably outside, a sink or a tub, and a soft brush. Also, a disinfectant to kill odors if needed.
The most effective way to clean and protect your shoes is to use products made specifically for this purpose, like NST Wash (a cleaning product for shoes made of Gore-Tex, fabric, suede, nubuck, or leather) and a re-waterproofing product like NST Proof that works on shoes made from Gore-Tex or leather.
After every walk or ramble, it is recommended to give your footwear a clean. Try and dislodge most of the dirt by walking through wet grass or a puddle on your way home. Then rinse the shoes or boots with clear water. Avoid submerging your footwear in water, as it can alter the overall performance.
Remove laces and footbeds to get into the tight spaces and brush off mud and grime with a soft brush and bowl of water.
Never force dry your footwear with heat. This will result in the deterioration or hardening of the outer layer. Natural drying is best. Try stuffing dry newspaper inside your footwear to soak up the moisture, frequently changing the wet newspaper for dry.
Once dry, it is important to apply conditioning and waterproof treatments. Leather footwear needs conditioning to prevent splitting (please see How to Apply Dubbing to Boots or Shoes for more information). In contrast, all waterproof footwear requires you to reapply waterproofing agents. Application of proofer to the outer reduces the ability of moisture to penetrate the upper materials, especially those with mesh panels, for improved breathability.
Depending on the frequency of use, it is also a good idea to give the inside of your boots an occasional clean. Salty, sweaty deposits can damage leather and block the waterproof membranes, reducing your footwear’s overall breathability. To clean the inside of your leather boots or shoes filled with lukewarm water, leave them overnight before tipping water away and leaving to dry naturally.
Ignoring cleaning breaks down your boots in a couple of ways:
What you’ll need for cleaning your hiking boots:
Remove laces before cleaning. Use a brush to remove dust and dirt gently. For more thorough cleaning, add running water and whatever boot cleaner you have chosen.
Some additional boot cleaning tips:
Though caked-on mud won’t damage your boots, removing them will restore them to full traction. Also, having clean outsoles prevents you from transporting invasive species from one hiking area to another.
Brush the outsoles vigorously and dislodge stuck pebbles. For stubbornly caked-on dirt, soak just the outsoles and then use a hose to power-wash the gunk away.
Use a conditioner when your boots’ full-grain leather (leather that looks smooth rather than rough on the outside) appears dry or cracked. Other types of leather—suede and nubuck—don’t require conditioning. Conditioner can also be used if your new full-grain leather boots need to be broken in quickly.
Use a conditioner judiciously. Healthy leather functions best when moisturized. Too much conditioner, though, makes boots too soft, reducing the support they provide.
Do not use Mink Oil or similar oils designed for industrial boots; it over-softens the type of dry-tanned leather used in hiking footwear.
Please don’t wash your shoes in the washing machine because it might damage them.
Between each hike, store your shoes in the open air (not in a bag) in a dry place that is not exposed to the sun.
After each hike:
After a hike on muddy trails or as soon as your shoes look dirty:
As soon as foot odor or moisture persists, use a spray disinfectant on the inside and let your shoes dry completely.
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