Hiking Boot Care

Hiking boot care - protect your investment, that's what I always say.

The best hiking gear costs money, and you will need to schedule some regular maintenance to extend its life.


Stop reading this if you buy inexpensive hiking footwear.

Read about trail shoes instead.

The following information is for folks who paid quite a chunk of hard earned money for sturdy, well constructed boots with thick tread and weather proofing features.

Still with me? Great!

I'm about to give you some of the best hiking tips you'll need.

So you've found the perfect pair of boots. [If you haven't, read this.]

  • You took the clean, odor free, lovely boots out of the box and now have them on your sock-laden feet.
  • You are sitting there admiring them, and plotting your inaugural hike.

But wait! There's one more thing you should be plotting.

Hiking boot care.

Why should you be thinking about how to care for the boots before they have their first tiny bit of trail dirt on them?

Well, fair is fair.

Their end of the deal is to keep your feet injury free, dry, and stable regardless of terrain and weather conditions.

Your end of the deal?


Hiking boot care: basic maintenance

Begin with water proofing. It's a fundamental principle of hiking boot care.

And it's fun! Here's how it goes:

  • Buy some SnoSeal or comparable product. It is guaranteed to repel water, so expect it to be greasy and goopy. Here's what I use, because it comes in a great storage can and can be tucked away in the gear locker between seasons.

Sno-Seal Beeswax Waterproofing

  • Choose a hot sunny day to spread some used newspapers out on a solid surface (sidewalk, driveway, deck, patio).
  • Take the laces out of your boots.
  • Put on disposable gloves and take a huge glob of SnoSeal in your dominant hand.
  • Insert your other hand into Boot #1. Apply glob and spread it around liberally with your fingertips. Consider it a boot massage!
  • Spend some time thoroughly coating the boot surfaces with this water proofing. Rub it into seams and crevices.
  • Place Boot #1 on the newspaper, allowing the warm sunshine to melt the goop into the leather.

You know what to do with Boot #2!

Allow both boots to sit in direct sun for at least an hour.

Be aware that any metal on the boots may be hot enough to burn you, so use caution when you go through the second round of applying SnoSeal...which you need to do next.

Allow your boots to cool off in the shade, then re-lace.

You're all set for whatever the weather can throw at you!

Who knew hiking boot care could be this easy?

Another, easier route: Use NikWax to waterproof not only your leather boots, but fabrics.  It's water based, and I find that it wears off much faster than SnoSeal, but you don't need a hot sunny day to apply it!

Hiking boot care tips

Sometimes hiking boot care means taking them off!

What should regular hiking boot care look like?

It depends on what you hike through, around, and over.

But one given: Get the grit off. Here's what I've used to clean up my boots, and it works quite well.

If you're in a wet area, you will need to be aware that drying out your boots properly will extend their lifespan.

  • Don't put them near a heat source, because they will dry in weird shapes and you will lose all of the foot-conformity you've programmed into them by hiking in them. Let them air dry at their own pace.

If you're going to cross water above your ankles, consider using water shoes or sandals (see photo above) rather than subjecting your boots to all of that water.

It comes down to safety - can you make it across without losing your footing in sandals?

  • If not, keep your boots on, but take some care in drying them out later.

I can't live without my Teva sandals, and you will find them on my feet both on and off the trail. They're sporty looking, that's for sure! Take a look here:

Teva Sandals

If you hike in a dry, dusty area, just brush off the grit and check the soles for embedded rocks or other debris.

Take a close look at the laces every season. Unless you have the foresight to carry an extra pair, a broken lace can be a real pain.

Check the tread regularly, especially if you're planning to be hanging onto a trail by one boot width. You want good grip regardless of what's under your feet, right?

  • If the tread is worn, find someone who can build a new bottom for you.
  • Or replace the boots.
  • Just don't overlook this safety item. I've been on some pretty dicey footing, and it was my boot tread that gave me peace of mind. I knew I had the tread because of my regular habit of hiking boot care.

Consider inexpensive sole inserts if your boots are beginning to give you tired feet.

It may be that your body weight has maxed out the original boot materials, and they need a bit of help distributing your body weight.

I buy the boot inserts that you have to take a pair of scissors to, trimming them to fit my particular boots. And I don't feel badly when I throw them away at the end of a season (or a particularly wet hiking adventure), because of their low cost.

A few final tips

Don't keep hiking in boots that hurt your feet. Believe me, I know it's painful to throw boots away, but it's also painful to hobble around after a hike.

  • Consider a gear swap, or
  • simply give the boots to someone who wants them. I once gave a $200 pair of boots, worn once, to a student of mine - she was very grateful, and I was relieved!

And before you give up on a pair of boots, play around with your hiking socks. It may be a bad combination that's playing havoc with the well being of your feet.

  • A new sock choice might be the right, and most inexpensive, fix.

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