Your Guide to Hiking Boot Maintenance

Man wearing boots

One of the essential things for any hiker is proper hiking boot maintenance. With some good basic care, you can make a pair of boots not only last longer but also perform better for the entire time you own them.

In this guide, I’ll tell you how you can break in hiking boots before hitting the trails, tie them properly, and even clean them.

First, you’re probably wondering how to break in hiking boots

Nobody wants to take a brand new pair of boots in the wild, only to get rewarded with some blisters at the end of the day. The best way to start is to crush and twist them with your hands lightly. This part is to deal with the softer parts of the boot – you won’t have much luck with the sole right now just using your hands!

The next and most obvious step – start wearing them around. I recommend doing half a day walking around in them and switching to regular shoes after that. This phase should really last at least a couple of weeks. Unfortunately, it’s not a matter of grinding out an uncomfortable day – over a consistent time; the process isn’t that bad.

Don’t forget to take days off if you need to. Walking is the only way to break in the other parts of the shoe. The real secret sauce to this part is wearing cushioned socks. Also, well-fitting thick socks will minimize the discomfort during this phase. Loose ones, on the other hand, will only reward you with pain!

Pair of boots

They’re broken in now, but where do you learn how to tie hiking boots?

There’s a ton of different ways to lace hiking boots – the best one ultimately comes down to your needs and preference. The way I’m going to cover is called The Surgeon’s knot – it is a robust and reliable knot that you’ll find in most different lacings.

It’s dead simple:

  1. Wrap your laces around each other as if you were about to tie off – somewhat loosely.
  2. Move up and wrap them around again – this time tightening them.
  3. At this point, you can continue lacing or finish with a bow

With a surgeon’s knot, your boots are going to say secure for the whole hike. There’s basically no chance of them coming undone!

Woman treating boots with conditioner

Now to learn how to clean them like a pro

As tempting as it can be to tear boots off after a long hike and forget about them, you really shouldn’t. And by cleaning your boots after each hike, you’ll keep them trail-ready for years to come. Otherwise, you may be buying another pair sooner than expected – and you probably know that excellent boots don’t come cheap!

Mud and other particles tend to accelerate the aging process by drying it out or even causing abrasion over time. Sometimes it’s the little stuff that does the most damage. The good news is that it’s straightforward to clean them! Most companies offer a cleaning kit that includes cleaners that won’t harm your shoe – I always recommend this just because it keeps things simple.

If you don’t have that, you can always make a solution of water and dishwashing soap. Just don’t go overboard with it! After you have a cleaner, a brush of some kind will be necessary for the scrubbing part. Soft bristles are the way to go – if you don’t have a brush specifically for this, even an old toothbrush can do the trick.

The process itself for washing

Here’s a basic guide you can follow to wash hiking boots:

For the outside / upper region:

  1. Unlace the boots – no need soaking them too and will give you access to the whole boot. If they’re dirty, you can always stick them in a cleaning solution, as mentioned above.
  2. Knock off the dirt and dust with your brush. Don’t go overboard at this point. It’s just to kick off the cleaning process and make it easier for your solution to work.
  3. Apply your cleaner – if there are specific instructions, make sure you follow them. Otherwise, a gentle scrubbing will do the trick.
  4. Lastly, rinse. Use running water to get the cleaner off. Don’t let it get inside the boot at this point.

Here are some key tips and mistakes beginners make when cleaning their hiking boots:

  • Do NOT heat them to dry them – this does more damage to them than anything. Use a fan instead!
  • If your insoles got soaked, don’t worry about it. Just take them out to dry separately.
  • Mold can be treated with a water and vinegar solution with an 80:20 ratio.
  • Only use mild cleaners. Some will do damage to the leather/waterproofing.

Water beading on leaf

When is it right to apply waterproofing or conditioner to hiking boots?

The same general rules from regular boots apply here: if your leather is starting to look cracked or dry, that’s a sure sign it’s time to apply some conditioner. Just don’t over-apply as it will make your boots too soft to support you well. Also, if they are made of nubuck or suede, you don’t have to worry about conditioner either.

Judging waterproofing is equally simple: if the water is no longer beading on the outside, it’s time. The rate you have to worry about these things is pretty proportional to how often you hike and what kind of conditions you go through.

If you’re an infrequent hiker or don’t go through much mud, you’ll be able to go longer between maintenance sessions.

At this point, you’ve got it.

As you’ve read above, it’s not difficult to get the most out of your boots. Doing routine maintenance will not only make your shoes more comfortable / look better, but it will also make them last longer. Your manufacturer will also have the best practices for your specific boot. I highly recommend sticking to their advice and even products – they know what works best for their stuff!

I recommend checking out my article on the best budget hiking boots now that you know how to take care of them.

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