How to clean trekking boots

Boardwalks on the Great Ocean Walk
Boardwalks on the Great Ocean Walk
After months full of sunshine, endless horizons, red gleaming earth and glistening waterfalls, the trekking season in Australia’s Northern Territory has come to an end. If you’re not planning to head to Tasmania for some summer trekking, it’s probably about time to clean trekking boots and give them a well-deserved wash. After all, cleaning smelly hiking boots is not only an improvement of the room décor, but it will also help your hiking boots survive a few more seasons of outdoor activity. A proper clean will keep the leather from drying out and stop dirt from sinking deeper into the material, which will help prevent the premature ageing process of the leather. It also prevents you from taking invasive species with you from one epic hiking trip to the next. Cleaning and caring for your hiking boots is therefore essential to maintain the quality of your boots. The different parts and materials of your hiking boots call for a different treatment in order to stop smelling or to stay moisturized. So how do you clean your hiking shoes and take care of them properly, you ask? We have got you covered. Here are the key steps and hints on how to clean your trekking shoes:

Give them a quick clean between hikes

Giving your shoes a quick clean in between hikes or right after finishing a trek can really make all the difference when it comes to cleaning your trekking boots more thoroughly at a later date. To do this, walk through wet grass or a puddle on your way home to loosen the mud or prevent it from drying out on your shoe. After your return, you can rinse the boots under running water and remove any small stones stuck under the sole. At this point, do not submerge the shoes in water, as this might damage them unnecessarily.  Dried up dirt can lead to the leather drying out underneath it, so it is always great to clean your trekking boots right after the trek.

Scrub the outsoles

Find an old toothbrush, dishwashing brush or soft shoe brush to brush the of the outside of your hiking boots .The outsoles of your boots are used to harsher treatment, so don´t hold back. To start cleaning your walking boots, brush the outsoles vigorously to get rid of any stones or clumps of mud stuck in the profile of your shoe. For particularly stubborn dirt clinging to your boots, soak just the outsoles and spray them with a hose afterwards, and you’ll find the dirt just washes away.

Brush off the dirt

Now it is time to get off all that grime and dust your trekking boots have carried with them since the start of the last trek. Firstly, remove the laces and footbeds of the shoe. This avoids damaging them unnecessarily and is helpful when cleaning the interior of the shoe as well. Brush the outside of your hiking boots with a little bit of luke-warm water.  Avoid using bar soap or detergent, and double check if you are using the right shoe cleaner for the material your hiking boots are made of. Bar soap and detergent often contain chemicals which would damage the leather or breathable membranes of your hiking boots. You should also refrain from washing your trekking boots in the washing machine– it can will more likely damage the boots rather than clean them properly.

Get rid of any moldy spots

If you find your hiking boots have become moldy over the months, you can remove the mold with a mix of water and vinegar. Just mix 80% of water with 20% of vinegar and use the mixture to remove any affected areas you can find.

Soak the insoles

After hours of sweating and walking through mud, rain and puddles, it can be a good idea to clean the insides of your hiking boots as well. Your sweat can damage the leather or clog waterproof membranes, which not only reduces the breathability of your shoe, but also leads to an environment which supports the development of bad odor. An easy way to do this is simply to take smelly insoles out of your hiking boots and dry them in direct sunlight. If you think your trekking boots might need a more intense treatment, you can fill the inside of your boots with tap water, leave them to soak overnight and tip the water out the next morning.

Dry your trekking boots

When it comes to drying your boots, the key is to not use any external heat sources to speed up the drying process. Leaving them in the sun, next to a fire or heater, will dry out the leather and damage the glue holding the soles in place. A quick way to dry them out quickly, which is not harmful to your trekking boots is removing the insoles and drying them separately in the sunlight. The boots can then be filled with dry newspaper, which soaks up the moisture and should be replaced one it is damp. If you really are in a hurry and another hike is waiting for you a little too soon, using a fan to dry out your trekking boots is a good alternative to using external heat sources.

Condition the material

An essential part of boot care is conditioning your shoes. It will help you keep your hiking boots waterproof and flexible and elongate their lifetime by a few more seasons. It can also help when you need to break in your new leather boots quickly. Leather can be conditioned with either wax or oil. While oil penetrates the leather deeply and moisturizes and softens it, wax creates an extra layer on the surface which withstands moisture. Apply the wax with your hand, rubbing it into the material in a circular motion. Your body heat and the friction will melt the wax and make it easily applicable. Make sure there is no yellow residue on the shoe left by the wax, as over conditioning can be harmful to the long term performance of the shoe as well, making the leather too soft to withstand difficult circumstances in difficult terrain or reduce breathability. A sponge or rag is the easiest way to apply wax which already comes in liquid form. Hiking shoes made up of leather and synthetic blends can be impregnated after waxing or oiling the leather parts of the shoes, to maintain the waterproof features of the shoes. Generally, it is a good idea to reapply a waterproofing agent to the clean fabric of your walking boots every few months, depending on the frequency of use. A good indicator to determine wether or not it is time to impregnate your hiking boots again, is to check if water is still beading up on the surface of the shoe. If it is not, then the hiking boots need to be impregnated to stay waterproof.  When impregnating your boots, make sure to follow the instructions of the producer of the product you are using, as these may vary between different brands. Do this while the shoes are still wet an make sure to cover all the seams  – you will be walking through puddles while keeping your feet dry in no time. Newly bought trekking boots usually have already been impregnated by the producer. If you have trekking boots made from Nubuck or Suede you can use a special impregnation spray to maintain the texture of the material. Even still, to maximize your boot´s lifespan, it is recommended to oil or wax them eventually.

Store your boots correctly until the next trekking season

Storing your hiking boots in a plastic bag, where the leather cannot breathe and the shoes can´t dry out properly is a bad idea. It will not only lead to bad odor and mold, but also to a shorter lifetime of your hiking boots. Trekking boots are best stored in a place with stable temperature (preferably room temperature), which is well aired and dry. The boots should also not be standing in direct sunlight, where the sun can bleach and dry the material. This will help in preserving the leather and letting it breathe during the off-season and in between treks. And here we have it. All the essential boot care steps and hints you need to get your shoes ready for their next journey. Visit our website to browse our trips and start planning your next adventure today.    
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Comment (1)

Mike Cuming

If you have paid big bucks for really good leather boots, then the Vibram soles will wear out before the uppers.
I have had boots sucessfully resoled with Vibram at: Nu-Tred Sports and Casual Shoe Resoling 3/ 12-14 Salisbury Road Hornsby NSW 2077 phone 02 94773944. I am about to have a pair resoled for a second time. Not cheap, but very satisfactory results every time.

7 years ago
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