As with any piece of quality outdoor gear, your hiking boots will last longer and provide greater protection if you look after them.
Here are our tips on how to best care for your hiking boots before, during and after use.
When you first purchase hiking boots, it’s important to wear them around the house with hiking socks until you are absolutely confident they are the right fit. Wearing them at home gives you the opportunity to spend a little time in them in case you need to go up or down a size before you venture outside.
It's also important to break-in your hiking boots by doing some short walks on hiking trails. This will help soften the leather to improve comfort and help avoid friction when you wear your boots for a longer hike. How quickly a boot takes to break in depends on the combination of sole unit and upper. Stiffer uppers and sole units provide greater stability and protection but take longer for your feet to become accustomed to.
Whether your hiking boots are waterproof or not, it’s always a good idea to give new boots a water-repellent treatment before wearing them outside to help prolong the boot’s life and performance.
During your multi-day hike
When you're hiking, it’s important to clean your boots at the end of the day to get rid of dried mud, which can suck the moisture from leather, as well as grit and dirt, which may damage your boots if they get into the seams.
To give your boots a basic clean, first let wet and muddy boots dry naturally. Do not dry them in direct sun or by a fire, for example, as this will cause any leather or suede to shrink and stiffen-up and potentially peel away from the rand (or soul unit), and can also affect the adhesives used in some footwear. Then, brush off the dirt or gently bang the pair together to dust the dirt off. If your boots are really clogged, take out the laces to maximise drying the tongue and inside and to prevent odour.
It’s also a good idea to remove the insoles at the end of the day to let them dry out too, which will help prevent odour-causing bacteria growth. Sunlight is a great deodoriser for insoles.
After a big hiking adventure and when your boots are really dirty, give your boots a thorough clean. Removing the laces first, brush them clean and then use a cleaner to remove any ingrained contaminants, such as dirt and oils. Use a soft brush for the upper boot and a stiff brush for the sole. Again, let your boots dry naturally – away from direct heat source.
You can reduce odour build-up by rinsing the inside of your boot with lukewarm water mixed with a tiny amount of laundry detergent, but avoid soapy suds as this will affect glues and breathability of any waterproof liner in the boot.
It’s a good idea to check the condition of your boots for any sign of wear and tear now, rather than just before your next hike. If you notice the suede or leather becoming scratched or looking dry, use a conditioner to maintain the suppleness of the leather to prevent cracking. Condition sparingly, as over-conditioning can be detrimental to the long-term performance of your boot.
After several wears, you may need to waterproof your boots again if you’ve noticed water starting to sink into the exterior layer rather than quickly beading off. If you frequently wear your boots in wet-weather conditions, you may need to apply a waterproof treatment several times a year.
Finally, store your clean and dry boots in a well-aired and dry environment, away from direct light. Don’t store your boots in a plastic bag for any length of time as this will prevent drying and cause odour issues.