How to care for hiking boots: Top tips to help your walking gear last longer

Brush up on hiking boot care with this handy guide

hiking boots
(Image credit: Simon Migaj on Unsplash)

Invest in a pair of the best hiking boots, and they'll last for years – repelling mud, water and debris while aiding your stability on the trickiest of trails, whether it's a trek to Everest basecamp or a jaunt along the Jurassic Coast. However, it's important to remember to show your footwear a little love – even the most rugged boots are prone to wear and tear, and products such as protective treatments and specialist fabric cleaners can all seriously extend the lifespan of your boots. 

Knowing which product to use when can be tricky, especially with boots featuring several different types of material. This is precisely why we've come to the rescue with the ultimate guide for anyone keen to learn more about how to care for hiking boots.

How can I make hiking boots waterproof?

Although almost all hiking boots on sale today are waterproof, there are various reasons why you might want to apply a waterproof finish to your boots. The most obvious one is wear and tear – factory-applied waterproofing treatments will only last so long, and if you've had your boots for over 10 years, there's a good chance their ability to repel water will be compromised. Leather boots are most likely to need a helping hand when it comes to waterproofing, due to the absence of a waterproof membrane. 

To waterproof leather boots, start by cleaning them, then simply apply a product such as Nikwax Waterproofing Wax Liquid for Leather before allowing the product to absorb for a minute or two. Afterwards, wipe away the excess product and allow your boots to dry. It's important to remember that boots made from nubuck leather need a different type of product – wax is more likely to stain this type of leather. For this reason, opt for a nubuck-specific waterproofing treatment for hiking boots, such as Nikwax Nubuck and Suede Leather Waterproofer

hiking boots: Inov-8 Roclite G 345 GTX

(Image credit: Inov-8)

Unlike leather hiking boots, synthetic hiking boots are more likely to rely on a waterproof membrane, as well as an additional DWR (durable water repellent) treatment applied to the outer materials. Because synthetic boots made from materials such as Goretex are more likely to have extra seams, it's incredibly important to give boots a thorough clean prior to applying any treatments, to ensure you've removed any debris. After you've done this, simply spray on a waterproofing treatment such as Gear Aid ReviveX Nubuck Suede and Fabric Waterproofing, leave for five minutes, wipe off any excess and allow to dry.

Can you put hiking boots in the washing machine?

Putting hiking boots in the washing machine is a recipe for disaster. While sturdier styles might survive the wash, there's no guarantee you won't cause lasting damage. And if your boots do emerge unscathed, that doesn't mean your washing machine will. Even if you put your boots in a pillow case, you'll still be subjecting the inner drum to a pummeling that is likely to result in a hefty repair bill.

How to clean hiking boots

The good news is that you simply don't need to machine wash hiking boots – you just need a nail brush and a mild soap such as saddle soap or a dedicated hiking boot cleaner (avoid washing-up liquid or soaps which packed with chemicals, as these are likely to damage waterproof membranes). Fill a sink with warm water and gently rub the soap into the exterior of the boots. 

If there are patches of mould, treat these separately once the boots have dried, using a solution made from 80 percent water and 20 percent vinegar – simply rub the solution onto the problem areas, leave for five to 10 minutes then rinse off. Dry your boots in a room with a normal temperature and low humidity. If the room's too cold, they will take longer to dry, but exposing them to high temperatures – for example, if you place them by a fire – could weaken any adhesives and prematurely age leather.

hiking boots

(Image credit: Simon Migaj on Unsplash)

How can I stop hiking boots smelling?

Ah, that age old question: how to get the odour out of hiking boots. It's important to consider what has caused unwanted smells in the first place. If your boots are damp, always dry them thoroughly, ideally in the open-air, but most importantly somewhere dry and warm. Of course, you want to invest in a pair of the best hiking socks, which will trap some of the sweat before it makes it to your boot. 

Spray your boots with a deodorising spray after every use, whether they smell or not – preventing boot odour is all about tackling the issue at an early stage. Storm's Deodoriser spray is designed especially for outdoor gear (you can use it on helmets as well as boots) and works by tackling the bacteria which can flourish inside damp, sweaty boots. Simply spray it onto the inside of your boots and allow to dry.

Finally, remember that there are a few simple ways to increase the longevity of your boots. Avoid cleaning them too regularly, as this can break down finishing treatments and weaken seams. Instead, spot-treat any stains and use finishing treatments to keep them clean, rather than regularly washing. them after every use. Resist the temptation to leave boots in warm areas, such as airing cupboards, when not in use – you can dry them in other ways, and excessive heat will simply make the material less flexible. Take the time to give your boots a once over after every use. Remove any debris such as grit and mud, and keep an eye out for any signs of wear and tear – minor damage can often be easily repaired if spotted early.


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Inov-8's Roclite G 345 GTX is our top hiking boot right now (and the winner of the T3 Award 2020). Here are the best deals on the men's and women's versions.

Tamara Hinson

Tamara Hinson is a freelance travel and tech writer who writes for a range of publications, including T3, Wanderlust, the Times, the Metro and the Independent. Favourite destinations include Peru, India, Zambia and anywhere in South East Asia, although as a former snowboard instructor she’s happiest in the mountains. Her favourite trips include a visit to North Korea and the time she joined a postman for his 250-mile mail run around the remote cattle ranches surrounding Coober Pedy, an Australian outback opal mining town where everyone lives underground.