If you’ve invested money into a high-quality pair of leather hiking boots, you will want to ensure that you take proper care of them to extend their life.
I’ve noticed that my leather boots tend to be more susceptible to cracks and scrapes than the ones I own made of synthetic materials. They also can dry out if not regularly conditioned.
Our hiking experts often get asked how to care for leather hiking boots, and we know that it’s something many people want to do correctly. Here I’ve compiled everything you need to know about leather boot care.
Why Care For Leather Hiking Boots?
You want to care for your leather hiking boots to keep them in good condition to extend the boot’s life. Unlike hiking boots made from gore-text and other synthetic materials, leather boots tend to dry out and crack, and caked-on mud also affects its suppleness.
If you don’t regularly condition and clean your hiking boots, it prematurely ages them. I know that after a long day on the trails, the last thing that I want to do is spend time washing my dirty boots.
However, I’ve gotten the process down so that it only takes me about 10-15 minutes to complete, and it makes a big difference in how long my boots last.
How To Care For And Maintain Your Leather Boots For Hiking (Step-By-Step)
Now that you know it only takes a few minutes to take proper care of your hiking boots, you should feel confident in completing the steps after every hiking adventure. Here’s the process that I follow with my leather hiking shoes.
Carefully Clean The Leather Boots
My cleaning process begins before I leave the trail area and get into the car to drive back home.
I remove my boots and take a few minutes to bang their soles together to loosen any mud or dirt before it has a chance to settle into the leather.
At home, I start the complete cleaning process by removing the insoles and laces from the boots.
I take a few minutes to rinse these off thoroughly and then place them where they can air dry. Now, it’s time to move on to the body of the boot.
Using running water from the hose outdoors, I rinse the boots off until I’ve removed all of the dirt and grit.
Using a boot brush during this step helps, making any dried mud come off much easier. If you don’t have a proper shoebrush, you can also use an old toothbrush, which also works to gently remove dust.
After removing the mud and grime, I use a soft cloth to apply a specially formulated boot cleaner, which removes any remaining dirt from the uppers.
It’s important to note that the cleaner you use for leather will vary depending on if your boots are full-grain leather, suede, or nubuck. Make sure you purchase the right product for the leather of your hiking boots, as using the wrong product could damage the boots.
I always avoid using regular bar soap or dish soap on the leather upper. Although these products may work for other materials, they aren’t the best for leather. However, you can use them when scrubbing the boots’ outsoles. Use a soft brush to perform this step.
Check our guide if you want to learn more about how to clean hiking boots like a pro.
Apply A Leather Conditioner or Re-Waterproof The Boots
Once you’ve cleaned your boots, you want to condition or reapply a waterproofing treatment for the next time that you use them, as protecting leather boots is very important. These products also differ depending on your hiking boot’s type of leather your hiking boots.
For full-grain leather boots, you will use a conditioner. This product not only conditions the leather but also renews the boot’s water-repellant properties, which restores the waterproofing.
For suede, nubuck, or other types of leather, you will need to perform this re-waterproofing treatment using a specialized product like Nikwax Nubuck & Suede Proof.
Although many more accessible products exist on the market, some people still like to perform this step using wax.
I have used waterproofing wax before on my full-grain leather boots because it waterproofs them well and takes care of the conditioning.
But, although it will effectively waterproof your boots, the wax residue will tend to get into the hiking boot outsoles and can affect resoling the boots in the future, if needed.
Buff The Boots
After cleaning and waterproofing, take some time to buff the boots with a clean cloth. This process removes any remaining residue from the boots and helps to restore their shine.
It also helps remove any extra moisture outside of the boot, which can help when you get to the drying process.
Properly Dry And Store The Boots
I always make sure to tell people that properly drying their boots is a crucial step of the boot care process.
In my experience, taking shortcuts in this area will cause unnecessary wear and tear on the boots.
I can’t stress enough how important it is to let the boots air dry naturally, even if it takes longer for them to dry completely.
Find a cool, dry spot and place them there (hanging them if possible). Depending on how wet they are, they could take a few days to dry fully.
Never try to dry boots using any heat sources. These include things like a radiator, direct sunlight, heater, or hair dryer. Intense heat will permanently damage your shoes in some way. For leather hiking shoes, this damage can include causing them to shrink or warp.
After they are completely dry, you should replace the insoles and laces and remember always to store boots in a cool, dry location.
Tips And Recommendations
I recommend investing in a boot brush to help remove all of the mud from the uppers. It cuts down on this step a lot and helps speed up cleaning.
Check our article if you’re looking for some quality waterproof hiking boots that hold up well to multiple cleanings.
Prolong the life of your boot leather by adequately cleaning and applying a leather conditioner after every hike, especially if your boots get particularly muddy while out on the hiking trails.
Yes, you should always ensure your boots are waterproofed to avoid getting your feet wet during hikes and to prevent the leather from breaking down.
Apply a leather conditioner to your leather footwear every time you perform a full cleaning. This step will prevent the leather from drying out and also prevent it from cracking.
You can make a leather conditioner at home by combining beeswax with cocoa butter and sweet almond oil to create a thick balm that you can gently rub into the leather.
When caring for suede leather hiking boots, special considerations apply. Use a dedicated suede leather cleaner to gently remove dirt and stains. Avoid excessive water and scrubbing, as they may damage the delicate suede material.