TPS 520There’s absolutely no doubt that your boots take the forefront of the beating when you’re out on the trail. If you have any doubt about that just take a look at the blisters on your feet and imagine what they’d look like if you were barefoot. With spring around the corner it’s time to start seriously thinking about gear maintenance. The season is about to start and you’re going to want to make sure that you are prepped and ready to hit the trail. After a long season of hiking in the snow, the waterproofing on most boots can be trashed. That being said, it is important to understand that the breakdown of your boots in inevitable, they’re like tires for a car, the difference comes in how many miles you can get your boots to last, not how many years you have them.

Boot technology has changed quite a bit over the years. With the introduction of synthetic material to the footwear industry, the emphasis on care has significantly decreased, even though the necessity hasn’t. Synthetic boots – as opposed to leather boots – have fibers that are inherently more durable, lighter weight, and in-expensive so the need to care isn’t quite what it used to be. Natural leather boots do carry a number of benefits, however, so there has actually been a strong push for leather/synthetic blended boots. Even with these synthetic/leather blend boots, it’s important to care for them as we would a full-grain leather boot.


boot cleaning
Nikwax boot cleaning and waterproofing supplies

When caring for your boots, there are a couple of steps involved. First is cleaning, then comes conditioning, then comes treating. Cleaning your boots starts the day you put them on. They don’t need to be spotless, but the cleaner you keep them, the better it is. This is not an excuse to walk off trail to skip a mud spot – we don’t want to sacrifice Leave No Trace because you’re afraid to get your boots dirty, but you want to pay attention and maybe just brush them off after a couple of days. When dirt gets into a seam, it rubs and cuts like a tiny piece of sandpaper and can compromise its integrity, causing leaks. When on the trail, try and give your boots a good scrub at the end of a muddy day to prevent any damage from happening, and when you’re at home, use a mild soap to get any stuck on crud out.


Nubuck Leather Boots - have a fabric, suede feel to them
Nubuck Leather Boots – have a fabric, suede feel to them
Full Grain Leather Boots - Note the shine and polish
Full Grain Leather Boots – Note the shine and polish

Once you’ve effectively cleaned your boots off, it’s good to condition the leather. It should be noted that if your boots aren’t leather, they don’t need conditioning. You can just ignore this section and move on to the next one. Leather conditioners can be bought just about anywhere that sells shoes. They’re nothing fancy, and help to increase the how malleable the fabric is which will increase how long they can sit on your shelf. After time, leather dries out (like your skin) and needs moisture to help protect it. Dry leather cracks easily and can cause leaks or general breakdown. When conditioning, understand the difference between full grain leather and nubuck leather (suede) in order to buy the right kind of conditioner. You don’t need to condition your boots all the time. I do mine about once a season (spring, summer, fall) or after a seriously dry trip (desert). Conditioner is not a must, but will definitely help. It takes 5 min and a day to dry.


Biwell Waterproof Wax
Biwell Waterproof Wax

If you condition your boots, it’s always good to re-waterproof them as well. Waterproofing for boots sounds silly to a lot of people, but it’s not. When a boot is manufactured they put a waterproof bootie inside the boot to keep the water out. It is fully encased and protected by the boot so barring any cracks or holes; it will generally work. Waterproofing the outside of the boot actually helps with breathability and will also prevent breakdown. If you think about a waterproof layer in the middle of a sandwich of leather, the waterproof layer will be protected, the inside will be dry, and the outside will be exposed to whatever you feel like throwing at it. A surface based waterproofing like Bi-Well or Nikwax will help protect that outer layer from the elements. It will also help ensure that the boots breathe the same way that they normally do. If you think about it, you can’t breathe underwater, and if the outer layer of your boot is completely saturated with water, it’s like being underwater. Vapor cannot pass through liquid. This is the same principal as to why we re-waterproof a GORE-TEX jacket.

Taking care of your boots will save you time and money in the long run. Always be sure to check them long enough before a trip to replace and break-in a new pair if needed, but, it only takes a couple of cleaning and care sessions per year to extend the lifespan of your boots exponentially. Happy Trails everyone!

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