How to Care for Leather Hiking Boots so They Last

Are your hiking boots covered in mud and sand from a fantastic hiking adventure? Yes, hiking boots are designed to withstand harsh conditions, such as rugged, muddy terrain or rocky trails but don’t interpret this to mean no maintenance. Here’s our advice on how to care for leather hiking boots sot they last a lifetime, from routine maintenance or deep cleaning tips. 

It’s not a good idea to throw them into the closet and expect them to last without proper care and upkeep. In fact, if you properly care for your shoes, you’ll save money because by not replacing them frequently.

Savings you can reserve for gear or for future adventures.  Perhaps Mt. Kilimanjaro or Meru?

How do I take care of my leather hiking boots?
Cleaning muddy hiking boots can take less than 10 minutes

If I don’t clean my hiking boots, what will happen?

Ideally, aim to clean your hiking boots after a day out on the trails. If you’re too exhausted afterward and cleaning isn’t the first thing on your mind (while relaxing on the couch is), don’t stress about it; clean them the next day. Earlier is better than later.

As you stretch and flex your boots, soil and sand embed into their uppers, wearing down the fabric. In fact, the hiking shoes may look as if you tied them to your car and dragged them behind you. Ultimately, your hiking boots age faster if you don’t clean and condition them.  Mud dehydrates leather by absorbing moisture from it, leaving it less supple.

Time to clean: 10-15 minutes

Equipment needed: water, sink or tub (outside is better), boot brush, cleaner, polish applicator brushand a rag. Also, a disinfectant or deodorizer for stinky or moldy shoes.

What can I clean leather boots with?

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  • A special boot brush or a toothbrush (not the one you’re currently using). 
  • Boot scraper. If it’s been a few days since that hike and cleaning them is more of a priority now. Eventually, as soon as you get off the couch.
  • Specialty boot cleaner or saddle soap. But, if your boots are baked in mud and shriveled because you waited too long, we have a DIY boot cleaner solution. If this seems complicated to make, it’s actually relatively easy.  In fact, all you need is 1 tablespoon of dish soap mixed into 2 cups of warm water and a clean rag. 

Clean Them After Hikes:

If your hiking boots are caked in mud, remove as much as possible by submerging them in water or stream. Don’t allow for the soil to harden, or it will be tougher to clean them.

If you can’t make the time to do a proper cleaning, here’s one tip how to care for leather hiking boots. Remove as much soil off the boots as possible. This technique will buy you some time before you clean them.

Another technique is to thump the soles together to force out mud and gravel and repeat until dirt no longer flies off.  

How to Clean Hiking Boots at Home

how to clean hiking boots
  • Before you start, pick an area where you don’t mind dirt and gravel flying from your hiking shoes. Ideally, outside is better.
  • Next, remove the laces and insoles, rinse or wash them off and allow them to dry in an airy place.
  • Then, use running water to loosen any mud from your boots and soles. If needed, use a boot brush and gently remove any remaining caked in dirt and grit left over. But, if your hiking shoes require a deeper cleaning, use a boot brush with boot cleaner to remove any mud left.
  • Finally, apply boot cleaner, saddle soap, or your DIY boot cleaner solution and gently wipe with a rag or apply with a clean polish brush and buff the upper. If you have a Gore-Tex upper and want to re-waterproof them, use a product like Nikwax Fabric & Leather Proof to spray on the material.  Nixwax can be used to waterproof your newly cleaned leather hiking boots and other gear.

5 Easy Steps to Cleaning Combat Boots:

Our reader Stephen gave us these helpful care steps to clean combat boots.

  • Step 1: Leave your boots to dry.
  • Step 2: Eliminate any persisting mud or dirt.
  • Step 3: Coat a layer of conditioner.
  • Step 4: Buff with a chamois/soft cloth.
  • Step 5: Let your boots air-dry

Additional Hiking Shoes Care Tips:

  • Before applying any product on your boots, read the care instruction and directions to ensure you don’t damage or discolor the leather upper. Do a spot test of the solution, under the tongue or less noticeable area. You want to make sure it is safe to use on hiking boots.
  • Also, avoid using bar soap as they contain ingredients that might damage the boot leather.
  • Moldy or stinky hiking shoes? To remove odors or mold, mix 80% distilled water and 20% white vinegar. Then, dip your boot brush or rag into the vinegar solution and lightly scrub the moldy areas.  Afterward, apply a waterproof product.

And never put them in the washing machine. You risk ruining their shape and design.

As a side note, finding waterproof hiking boots that you like can be a challenge.  But, know you have the option to add a water-resistant layer to non-waterproof boots. During the breaking-in period, you can follow these steps to waterproof your shoes.

How to Clean Hiking Boot Outsoles:

Remove mud off soles by brushing

Mud might not harm or damage the soles, but it may restrict traction. Therefore, removing the dirt is essential so your outsoles will have traction. How to care for leather hiking boots lugged soles:

  • First, bang the soles and edges together to dislodge any remaining mud from the lugged soles.
  • For caked in dirt,  soak the outsoles for a few minutes, then hose and brush off the mud.
  • To remove any excess mud, use a boot scraper and brush the outsoles to dislodge stuck sand.

How to Dry Hiking Boots:

Allow your hiking shoes to air dry naturally without trying to speed up this process. Likewise, avoid using heat sources, like radiators, campfires, or heaters. In short, intense heat weakens adhesives and prematurely ages your shoes.

  • Don’t try to speed up the process by placing them near a heater or in the sun.  As a rule, let your hiking shoes dry thoroughly at room temperature in a well-ventilated space. 
  • If you need to dry your boots quickly, stuff the insides with newspaper and place them in front of a fan on its lowest setting.  As soon as the newspaper becomes wet, remove them and fill the shoe insides until this no longer happens. In short, you quicken the drying process.
  • Lastly, make sure your boots are absolutely dry before inserting the insoles and re-lace them. If your shoes are stinky or musty, insert in each 5-10 unused fabric softener sheets.

The dryer sheets keep the odors away and hiking shoes smelling fresh.  In fact, I like to insert softener sheets to all my closed-toe shoes, duffel bag, backpacks, and anything made of material stored in a bag.  This is an easy way to keep away any nasty odors forming in your gear bags.

How Often Should You Clean Hiking Boots:

After every hike:

  • Remove the insoles
  • Air out your shoes in a well-ventilated and dry area
  • After muddy treks or your shoes look filthy
  • Get rid of the mud before it dries
  • Follow the hiking boots cleaning steps above
  • Dry ’em out. 

If you can’t get rid of foot odor or moisture, spray a disinfectant or a shoe deodorant to the insides and let them dry.

Then, if the shoes still smell, the culprit may be the insoles or laces. We have advice on how to choose the best insoles for hiking.

Clear Gear Disinfectant Spray 24 oz. Bottle - Disinfecting and Deodorizing Spray Eliminates The Funk...FunkAway Aerospray, 13.5 oz | Extreme Odor Eliminator | Aerosol | Use on Shoes, Clothes and Gear |...Lock Laces for Boots (2 Pair) Premium Heavy Duty Elastic No Tie Boot Laces for Boots and Shoes
Sof Sole Insoles Women's Plantar Fascia Support Full-Length Gel Shoe Insert, Women’s 5-11Sof Sole Insoles Men's ATHLETE Performance Full-Length Gel Shoe Insert2 pair pack round Tan w/Black proTOUGH Heavy Duty 6mm thick 3/16 Kevlar Reinforced boot laces...

How to Use a Hiking Boot Conditioner:

When using a conditioner on your leather boots, you ensure that the upper remains supple and doesn’t get rough, cracked, or dry. However, different leather types, such as nubuck or suede, do not require conditioning.

In general, how to care for leather hiking boots post-cleaning is to apply a leather conditioner to your hiking boots every few months. After all, well-cared leather hiking boots feel better on and last longer.

Conversely, using excessive conditioners might reduce the leather life and weaken its support. And remember to avoid using oil treatments designed for work and military boots. These oils tend to over-soften and clog the pores of leather hiking boots versus leather conditioners, designed to restore and maintain good flexibility.

How to Store Hiking Boots:

It’s best to keep your hiking boots in a dry and open-air place where temperatures won’t fluctuate. Similarly, avoid keeping them in plastic bags and super hot, damp, or unventilated spaces. In brief, it would not be wise to store them in your closet.

If you are between trips and won’t use your shoes for a few months, remove the insoles before storing them. Make sure they are clean and dry before setting them aside. Add a few dryer sheets or odor to the hiking boots and they’re reading for the next adventure.

Air dry newly cleaned hiking boots for best results

Final advice:

  • Cleaning your hiking shoes is vital if you want them to last longer.
  • Use fresh hiking socks for each day of your hikes. You’ll feel better and your shoes won’t be as smelly.
  • Make sure you only use hiking shoes, hiking sandals, or hiking boots for hiking. Your running shoes or walking sneakers do not have enough support or traction to grip the trails.

Last update on 2021-09-23 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

3 thoughts on “How to Care for Leather Hiking Boots so They Last”

  1. There are 5 steps to clean leather combat boots. Step 1: Leave your boots to dry. Step 2: Eliminate any persisting mud or dirt. Step 3: Coat a layer of conditioner. Step 4: Buff with a chamois/soft cloth. Step 5: Let your boots air-dry


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