How to Care for Your Walking Boots

Your walking boots take a lot of abuse, whether you use them for adventuring and mountaineering, or walking the dog and working around the homestead. Think of just what you put your boots through on a daily basis. Whether you have leather or synthetic boots, regular care and maintenance ensure you’ll get many years of service from your faithful footwear. If you don’t bother to care for your hiking boots, you’ll quickly find yourself having to purchase new ones, so not only is it good practice, but properly maintaining your boots helps you save money, too. This guide to walking boot care teaches you the right way to treat your trusty boots.

how to care for walking boots

Source: Flickr user Andrew Bowden 

What Happens if You Don’t Maintain Your Walking Boots?

As you walk, your feet, and therefore your boots, flex. With each flex, dirt, grit, sand, and other debris grinds against your boots and some particles work their way deeper into the material, abrading it mercilessly. If left uncleaned, these particles act like sandpaper, wearing away your boots.

Although hiking boots are designed to withstand mud while you’re trekking, over the long term, that same mud pulls moisture from and prematurely ages the leather. Even if you’ve got synthetic fabric boots, mud essentially performs n the same way.

Depending on where you’re walking, your boots will most likely come into contact with a range of substances. Road chemicals, for example, if left on your boots, are lethal. They dry out, crack, and corrode leather and synthetic fabrics, and many substances weaken or dissolve adhesives. Salt residue from sea water or brackish water is also distinctly detrimental to your boots.

1 – An Everyday Clean

Get in the habit of keeping a semi-stiff bristle brush wherever you take off your boots. Then, every time you come home, take a minute to brush off all the dirt and debris. It’s even easier if you do it with a little warm water.

how to clean your walking boots

Source: Flickr user David Blaikie

2 – A More Thorough Clean

Every week or two, give your walking boots some real love and attention.Remove the laces and insoles and set aside. Take a medium-soft bristle brush and, using lightly warm water, give them a thorough scrub. Remove all traces of mud, grit, chemicals, and debris, paying particular attention to seams and crevices.

If you use your boots frequently, it’s a good idea to wash out the insides, too. This helps to stop the waterproof lining failing due to wear from ingrained sand and grit.

3 – Dry Walking Boots Naturally

Drying walking boots properly is crucial. Damp boots make walking seriously unpleasant and uncomfortable. Additionally, damp boots encourage fungal infestations, infections, and bacteria buildup, along with painful blisters and hotspots.

Unfortunately, they need to dry naturally. You can’t use a heat source of any kind, not even a hair dryer, as you’ll dry and crack leather, weaken adhesives, and weaken or melt synthetic fabrics.

Instead, if they are particularly wet inside, stuff them with newspaper and change it whenever it gets particularly damp. Set them in a dry, well-ventilated area, or even outdoors on a nice day, to dry and, if you need to speed up the drying process, point a cold-air fan at them.

how to clean your walking boots

Source: Flickr user – Jakub Solovsky

4 – Conditioning Leather Walking Boots

If your boots are synthetic, you can skip this step, but if they contain full-grain leather, stay with me. Full-grain leather gets dry and can crack, just like your own skin, particularly with regular exposure to tough conditions. So get yourself a high-quality leather conditioner and moisturize your walking boots on a regular basis, or at least whenever they start to look dry and worn.

When conditioning your hiking boots, make sure you don’t over-do it. Avoid mink oil and similar intense substances, as these will over-soften the leather and reduce the support they provide. Use conditioner regularly but sparingly to avoid over-saturation.

5 – Proofing Your Hiking Boots

Whatever material your boots are made from, they’ll need reproofing occasionally if you want to keep your feet dry. If you notice that water seems to be soaking in rather than beading off, or you start to get that dreaded wet spot on your sock, it’s time to reproof your boots. Let’s be clear here: The boots absolutely must be clean. If you try to apply proofer to dirty boots, you’ll just force debris particles further into the material and end up causing irreparable damage.

Leather walking boots take on proofer best when wet, so it makes sense to reproof right after cleaning. Apply the proofer, like the ever-popular Nikwax reproofing products, liberally. Use a toothbrush and a soft cloth to work it into every seam, welt, and crevice. Leave for at least two minutes, then, with a fresh cloth, remove any excess proofer and let the boots dry naturally.

Walking Boot Care Tips:

  • Do not use dish soap, abrasive cleaners, bar soaps, or any cleaners other than saddle soap (and only if absolutely necessary). Many artificial detergents and cleaners contain substances harmful to adhesives and leather.
  • Don’t put walking boots in the washing machine as they will suffer serious damage.
  • Moldy boots? Scrub the afflicted area with a mixture of 75% water and 25% vinegar. Then rinse with fresh warm water.
  • Check your walking boot soles for signs of wear regularly. If you notice holes or cracks, it’s time to get the soles replaced. It’s cheaper than replacing the whole boot.

If you do need to get yourself a new pair of walking boots, check out our complete walking boot buying guide.

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