Hiking Boots
January 15, 2024

Maintaining Hiking Boots to Look Good and Stay Protective

Hiking Boots

No matter how many pairs of shoes you happen to own, your hiking boots are probably one of the toughest. They’re built to take you through mile after mile of rough terrain, while keeping your feet comfortable and healthy. Given how hard they work to make each hike a great one, it only makes sense to show them a little TLC in return. When you regularly take care of your hiking boots, they’ll reward you with greater longevity, a more pristine appearance, and better overall performance.

Why it’s so important to keep your hiking boots clean

It’s easy to think that hiking boots can just handle a constant state of dustiness, muddiness, or moisture. After all, if they’re built to carry you through some pretty brutal outdoor trails, what’s the big deal if they get tossed into the closet with a bit of caked-on mud?

Well, the truth is that any type of environmental contaminant can be harmful to your hiking boots if it’s left on long enough. With each movement, small particles of sand, grit, or dirt work their way through the outer materials, which will eventually wear down the boots’ ability to protect your feet from the elements.

What supplies will you need to clean your hiking boots?

Fortunately, the list is simple – in fact, you may already have the essentials at home.

  • A brush – this could be a boot brush, or a toothbrush or vegetable brush. If it’s either of the last two, just make sure they’re only used for cleaning boots in the future!
  • A cleaning solution – this could be a specialized cleaner that’s designed for the materials that your hiking boots are made from, or a mild mix of water and dish soap.

How to clean hiking boot uppers

Start by taking out the laces; these can easily be replaced, so it isn’t as important to maintain them. If the boots are covered in dirt and dust, take a dry brush and work it over the surface with short, strong strokes. If you want a deeper clean, or if you’re removing caked-on mud, you should use a boot cleaner and running water in addition to the brush. 

  • Even if you’re buying a cleaner that’s specifically for footwear, it’s recommended to double-check that you can use it on your hiking boots.
  • Don’t use detergents or bar soap; these often contain ingredients that will damage waterproof membranes.
  • If you’re cleaning mold, use a solution of 1 part vinegar to 4 parts water.
  • Never rely on a washing machine to clean your hiking boots; this may work in the short term, but it will cause damage after just a few cleaning cycles.
  • Most hiking boots come with a waterproof coating, but this can wear down over time. If you want to refresh this coating, make sure you do it before the boots dry out after being cleaned.

How to clean hiking boot outsoles

Even though the outsoles can easily hold their own against mud, embedded pebbles, and whatever else gets stuck to them, it’s still smart to clean them regularly. This ensures that you have consistently good traction, and you won’t accidentally transport invasive species from one spot to another.

The process is simple: just vigorously scrub the outsoles with a brush (ideally something bigger than a toothbrush) until all of the debris has been removed. If accumulated mud is giving you a hard time, just wet the outsoles down, let them sit for a few minutes, and finish the job with a garden hose.

Storage and drying tips

  • Always keep your hiking boots stored in moderate, stable conditions – a shoe closet would work perfectly. Avoid areas like car trunks, garages, attics, or any other space that gets hot and lacks ventilation.
  • After washing the boots, remove the insoles and let them air-dry on the side. This will not only speed up the drying process, but it will also reduce the likelihood of mold.
  • Another way to speed up the drying process is to place the hiking boots and insoles in front of a fan.
  • Never use any kind of heat source to dry your hiking boots, whether it’s a space heater, a radiator, a woodstove, a campfire, etc. Elevated temperatures weaken adhesives.
  • At the end of every day’s trek, remove the insoles, and stuff some newspaper into the hiking boots. This removes moisture quickly, and helps maintain the flexibility and support of the insoles.

Factors that influence the longevity of your hiking boots

Everybody wants to buy the perfect pair of hiking boots that will last for years and years, but is that a realistic expectation? That depends on the following factors.

  • The terrain you travel. Someone who sticks to beginner trails will be able to use the same pair of boots for much longer than someone who prefers craggy, rough trails.
  • The boots’ construction. The better design a pair of hiking boots has, the longer it’ll last.
  • Frequency of maintenance. When hiking boots are regularly cleaned, they’ll last longer compared to a pair that’s permanently covered in dried mud.
  • Storage conditions. If your hiking boots are protected from extreme temperatures and external elements, they’ll avoid a considerable amount of wear and tear.