Caring for Hiking Boots

Hiking boots represent a serious investment in your comfort while on the trail and determine the length and duration of your hikes. Proper care of your boots can extend the life of your shoes, keep you comfortable and protect your feet.


  • Most of today’s hiking boots are waterproof, but some are fabric- or leather-based. If you have waterproof boots, don’t spray with sealant of any kind–this can damage the mesh areas that provide breathability for your feet. However, if your boots don’t have waterproofing material, an application of a sealant like silicone can help keep your feet dry.
    Most boots with leather materials will need to be conditioned to keep the material soft and supple and prevent cracking. Most outfitters, shoe stores and general stores carry leather conditioner. This should be used sparingly, so as not to damage the shoe and should be applied only to the leather portion of the boot–not to waterproofed or mesh areas. Conditioning your boots four times per year–assuming they’re well used through the cooler months–should keep them in great shape.


  • Storing your boots is almost as important as choosing the right pair. By cleaning boots before putting them away and storing them properly, you can keep them comfortable and durable for months longer.
    Boots should be stored in a dry, airy place if they’re not being worn. If you’re storing them (not wearing them at least once a week), take them out for a routine wipe-down and thorough drying at least once every two weeks to prevent mold from growing on the leather.
    Before putting boots away, you should use an old toothbrush and a mild soap with cool water to scrub the soles, taking care to clean out all the crevices and cracks in the rubber. Wipe down the leather and the insides of the shoes with a damp cloth, using a chemical-free or mild soap if necessary. Remove the laces and clean around the tongue of the boot with the cloth; laces can be washed in the washing machine or soaked in soapy water for a few minutes, then rinsed and air-dried.


  • It’s a common misconception to think that when you return from a hiking trip, it’s time to shower, rest and deal with the gear later. It’s important to take care of your gear immediately when you get back home. Boots are no exception; when you’re back from a hike or an overnight trip, make sure to let your boots air out for a few days. Outdoors in partial shade is best for ventilation; some sunlight will help the boots dry out quickly, preventing mold, while not damaging the leather. Some stores carry an antibacterial spray to eliminate germs and other bacteria that build up on the boots. This can be a helpful product, but make sure to read the label carefully and do a spot-test on a non-visible piece of the material before spraying. Some chemicals can cause fading, bleaching or holes in the materials used in your boot.


  • Extending the life of your hiking boots through proper care works very well if you’ve made a reasoned decision when purchasing your shoes. Boots come in all sizes, weights and types, and the type of boots you purchase can determine how well they last and how easy it is to keep them clean and dry. Waterproof hiking boots, for example, are much easier to clean than leather hiking boots and often weigh less than boots made of traditional fabrics. Additionally, the mesh and lightweight waterproofing used in waterproof boots prevent sweat buildup in the shoes, and this can help a lot in taking care of your boots.
    When you go to the store, make sure to pay attention to the features of the shoes you’re purchasing. Answer a few simple questions as you shop: Are the soles heavy and solid or light and patterned? Will they be difficult to clean? Is the fabric leather or waterproof? Do these boots come with cleaning and care instructions? The answers can help determine not only the comfort of your boots but also your ability to keep them clean and in good shape for many seasons.

Expert Insight

  • Caring for hiking boots requires only that you keep the boots dry, clean and free of the dirt and moisture that can cause mold or mildew to grow. Regular cleanings and well-ventilated, dry storage areas will help your boots last through the seasons and prevent the need to purchase a new pair each season or year–you can also realize substantial savings just by taking proper care of your boots. The more you take care of your boots, the longer your boots will take care of your feet on the trail.