Wednesday, March 26, 2014

How to Care for Hiking Boots.

Caring for your hiking boots is quite simple.  If you've made a substantial investment, you'll want to get the most from it.  Here are some things you should DO...and NOT DO when enjoying your boots.  Get the answers you need for your boot care questions.  What's the best way to clean my boots after using them?  When should I waterproof my boots? How do I take care of leather boots?  Remember whatever you do, keep your boots away from high heat like that from a campfire, a hair dryer, and even direct sunlight when they're not in use.  We adapted the following guidelines from our Caring for Lowa Boots page which relies on some great manufacturer's tips and graphics from Lowa. 

What's the best way to clean my dusty or muddy leather boots? Lowa Boot Care 

Air your boots and dry them out after every use.  Remove the laces and insoles. Gently rinse your boots under lukewarm water for normal levels of dirtiness. Soap suds can be used instead of specialty cleaning products for light- to medium- soiled boots but beware soap and other detergents will "open" the leather's pores so if you go this route you'll need to waterproof your boots again after they dry.  For this reason I usually just use light pressure from a garden hose and a circular finger rub to get even heavier mud off.  Clean the insoles and laces with a small amount of soil suds.  Your insoles will also benefit from a product like McNett's Rank Away an enzyme based odor control agent.  Those specialized cleaning products are best used on extremely dirty boots or after a long period of neglect.

After cleaning my hiking boots, how do I waterproof them? Lowa Boot Care Lowa Boot Care                                              

Thoroughly dry your boots.  Be patient.  It is tempting to apply heat to speed this up...but you risk damaging your boots.  Using a wax-cream, gently rub or polish (with a brush) into the wax. The proprietary blend made by your boot's manufacturer works best as it should exactly match the treatment applied to the leather when you boots were crafted.  (If your manufacturer doesn't have their own product you might ask yourself if they've made the boots to last.)  This keeps the leather moisturized and prevents it from dryness, cracking, and hardening.   If you do use a hair-dryer to accelerate drying only use it on low, and NEVER leave your boots on a radiator, close to an oven, or in a car trunk. If your boots dry too quickly or are exposed to extremely dry air it can permanently damage the leather and there is no going back.

Waterproofing will take 24 hours after application to achieve its full effect. After a month of use, you'll start to see the waterproofing lose some of it's effect.  If you are planning a trip or need to be sure they are waterproof treat your boots just before your departure.  For simplicity sake consider a treatment at the beginning of each season of use.  You can decide how often the treat your boots, but generally more is better.

My boots have a Gore-Tex lining so why do I need to waterproof my boots at all?

True, Gore-Tex will keep your feet dry.  But regular conditioning of your boots will help them last longer and look better.  The wax or waterproofing layer helps to prevent sharp stones or rock faces from damaging the leather.  Dried out leather is more easily scuffed and wears faster. 

Are animal fats and oils good for my leather boots?

Before specialized creams were developed, animal fats and oils were used to treat and waterproof leather boots. Unfortunately they can also fill in the leather pores entirely making your boots less breathable. Not such a bad thing if you're mountaineering in cold climates, but exactly the opposite of why you paid extra for that Gore-Tex lining.  If you do use a fat or oil,  rub the leather with a soft brush afterwards.  Also know,  fat/oil has a greater tendency to darken the color of the boot. 

How can I keep my boots looking good? Lowa Boot Care 

Regular use of waterproof conditioning cream on your leather boots, rubbed in with a soft rag is the key.  It's especially hard to keep Nubuk or Suede looking new once it has become smoother, more shiny, and darker.  One trick is to use a wire suede brush to lift the pile again. A gentle brushing will freshen up Nubuk and Suede that has been clogged by wax. But don't use a stiff bristled brush on smooth leather!

How can I tell if I've properly waterproofed my boots? Lowa Boot Care Dribble a bit of water onto your treated and dried boots. If the water forms droplets, you've done everything properly! If the water doesn't form droplets, dry off and apply another layer.

How should I store my boots? Lowa Boot Care   

Store leather boots a dry, well-aired place.  Basements, garages, car trunks spell MOLD!  Boot trees can help them maintain their shape. If your boots are still damp, we recommend you stuff some newspaper into the toe box. The newspaper will absorb them moisture and also helps keep the shape. The newspaper should then be changed every day until the boots have dried out.


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  2. These are very useful hiking footwear tips. I do usually air and thoroughly dry my boots after every trip. However, I have not found the need of waterproofing them, since they are remarkably waterproofed by the manufacturer. Read more on hiking boots here: