How to Care For Hiking Boots and Shoes

I’d like to cover a couple tips for maintenance
on hiking and backpacking footwear for leather, non-leather and combination materials like
what we have here which is made of fabric and leather. Most shoes when they are purchased,
out of the box are ready to go. Most of them come with a water treatment that’s applied
to the outside that’s going to repel water and keep the materials in the upper of the
boot from absorbing moisture. There are a couple of things you can do to prolong the
life of your footwear as well as make the waterproof side of things work a little bit
better. So, the first question is how often should you be maintaining your footwear? This
isn’t something you need to do every day and a lot of it depends on how active you
are with your footwear as well as what kind of conditions you are using it in. So, here
we have a boot that’s been worn quite a few times, no maintenance has been done to
it yet. You can see some dirt on the outsole but the upper of the boot is fairly clean.
When you come back from a hike or backpacking trip the first thing you’ll want to do is
make sure there isn’t a lot of sand, grit or dirt collected into the seams and cracks.
I like to use a toothbrush to brush off the outside of the boot and clean out some of
those seams. All the sand, grit and dirt that get stuck in there will slow abrade away at
the materials while you wear it, over the life of the shoe. So the better a job you
can do at removing that dirt, hopefully will increase the life of the upper in your boot.
As I mentioned earlier; how often should you be doing this? If you go out on a hike and
when you come back your boot looks a clean as this boot does right now there really isn’t
any need to do anything to it. I’d make sure it’s dry and probably remove the insoles
and clan any debris out and then set them aside until the next time I wore them. If
you spend a lot of time outside in very wet, muddy weather then you’ll want to take a
bit more of an active roll in maintaining your boot to make sure that boot and it’s
upper are going to last longer and we’ll come back to that a little bit later. So let’s
talk about ways to maintain the upper on your boot, whether it be leather or a combination
of fabric and leather. There are a variety of products on the market that are meant to
restore leather or restore the water repellency that is living on the outside of the boot.
You won’t need much to do this sort of a project, as you can see I’ve got a toothbrush,
and old rag I found under the sink and I’ve got some leather conditioner and this one
is a water repellency product here. So what you’ll do is the same thing we covered in
the first steps where you clean the outside of the boot with the toothbrush and scrub
the seams clean and remove excess dirt. If there’s anything bulky there you might want
to just take the rag and wipe it down. The main thing to remember here is whatever footwear
conditioner you’ve purchased, you want to follow the directions on the back of the bottle
or tube. Not all directions are the same so it’s always a good idea to check those first.
Sometimes the directions request that you dampen the boot before you apply the conditioner.
In that case you can use a wet rag and soak the outside of the boot a bit. It doesn’t
need to be sopping wet but you’ll want to see some coloration change where the upper
is actually damp. This one has a bit of a foam top here and you’re going to take it
and start working it into the leather. You squeeze this bottle a little bit to get it
to come out. You can see that it’s a white liquid that looks a lot like milk, ah, this
is a wax based coating hence the white waxy look. You’ll want to work this into the
seams and right around the edge where the outsole meets the upper and make sure you’ve
got all those places covered. If I was going to do this entire boot I would continue to
work that into all of the leather on the footwear. Then I might wait a couple of minutes and
let it set into the material and then use this rag to buff it in. Work the wax coating
into the leather and seams and make sure everything has a good coating. This would be all you
need to do to condition this boot. Now you’re just waiting for it to dry, which probably
won’t be more than an overnight, and you’ll be ready to go out the next day. A leather
conditioner of this sort of reviving the leather itself and leather is very susceptible to
temperature changes and what’s more, drying and being wet. When leather gets wet it expands
and when it dries it shrinks. For this reason you never ever want to dry your boots by any
sort of a direct heat source. Examples of direct heat sources would be woodstoves, campfires,
radiator heaters, blow dryers; anything that seems like a really good idea or a quick way
to dry your boots is probably not good for a leather boot at all. That kind of drying
process shrinks the leather over a short period of time which results in cracking. On this
boot, which isn’t too badly worn, you can see some flex lines where the toe of this
boot gets worked the most. This is the sort of place where your boot is most susceptible
because the leather is weakened here and you want to make sure you get these places well
covered with conditioned and avoid high heat sources that will encourage it to crack out
and dry fast. So that was a leather conditioner which is designed to help keep the leather
alive; keep it from cracking and drying. Another thing to be concerned with, as far as maintenance
goes, is the waterproof barrier that came applied to the shoe. This will wear off at
some point and a good way to know if this is happening is if the outside of your boot
is becoming water logged. You might even think your boot is leaking. The fabrics will starts
absorbing water and be wet and heavy and quickly soak while wearing them in wet conditions.
Those are all good signs that the water repellency on the outside of the boot needs to be updated
or improved upon or replaced. You use another product for this process and what we have
here happens to be a leather conditioner and water repellant in one piece, which is kind
of nice. Folks that are using footwear and it does get wet a lot and they have a good
DWR, that’s a durable water repellency, that still beading up water and repelling
it but they want to keep the leather in good shape, at that point they might use the leather
conditioner by itself. Something like this, whether it’s a gel or a liquid, uses a similar
application process. Make certain to follow the directions on the back of the bottle and
work it into all the cracks, let the leather absorb it and wipe the excess away, let it
dry completely and you should be ready to go on your next hike. A couple of other things
to avoid when cleaning footwear is never washing your boots in a washing machine and try not
to store them in any location that is overly hot. For example, the trunk of your car in
the summer or a hot stuffy closet; exposure to high temperatures of that sort will start
to melt some of the glues used in the soles and creates the potential for delaminating
outsoles. You also wouldn’t want to store your footwear in any place that’s overly
damp or wet because this will lead to mildew or rot. We’ve talked about how to condition
leather on your boots. There are also boots made from fabric and leather or synthetic
leathers. This type of footwear is maintainable in the same way through a variety of products
that are designed to work specifically with fabric and leather or synthetic leather footwear.


  • Thanks, I have that exact same boot…. Never would have thought to treat it since it's has a gortex liner, but I will now….. to keep the outside in good shape.

  • Great! Thanks for watching!

  • Thanks for the maintenance tips. Just purchased some Keens and wanted to take care of them as they are a higher end boot.

  • Thanks for the great, video.

  • Had a pair of Vasque Sundowners (all leather) and took immaculate care of them for a long time (with the Nikwax as shown in the video.) Hiked all over the place in Oregon and SW Wash. Then for awhile, not so much. Then I started taking better care of them again. Then they fell apart (sole separation.) Took them to a shoe repair shop and they were literally fixed good as new. Except that I think they were too far gone by that point. Even though I treated them well, they still fell apart again. Moral of the story: Treat your boots well and they will treat you well. I bought those boots sometime in like '98 or '99 and they're getting their proper burial now in 2014. Good boots are built to last.

    A comment about her jacket: It looks like it's probably synthetic, though that doesn't really matter. I have a Solomon insulation-layer jacket that I absolutely love. I have a three-layer system when it comes to outerwear: Hard shell Gortex outer layer (something that's light and water-proof, with a hood. I have a North Face jacket) Insulation-layer jacket (non-hooded, something that is insulated, hence the name and will keep you warm under any conditions. Relatively water-repellent so when it's cold and sprinkling, you don't get wet) and a soft shell – basically a North Face fleece that keeps you warm, but not too hot when it's cool, but not cold out. The three jackets together weigh less than 3 lbs in their stuff sack. My point is layering is important…

  • This shoe looks almost new already.

  • This video should be made shorter

  • what about the inside of the boots?
    i left my boots dry but they smell like river water.
    they were fully submerged underwater a couple of times
    what can i do to clean them?

  • 2 minute video in 8;30 minutes. Too long.

  • Thank you for a very clear and informative video. One question. What special waterproofing care for the area where the upper joins the sole

  • Is this method of treatment and these products also safe to use on Vasque Ultradry leather?

  • What about cleaning your boots from mud? Mountains where I live are muddy and rainy.

  • I wear these types of hiking boots every day to work, and I've never had an issue with the exterior of the boot needing maintenance or care.  My issue has always been that the boots tend to break down in terms of support and comfort after about a year of wear, or about 1500 miles.  I'm not bitching, though…I just buy another pair.

  • Thank you.

  • Thanks for the instruction.

  • how much does it cost ? hiking boots ? from nepal

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