How to care for leather hiking boots and other leather shoes

To me as a hiker, my boots are one of the most important pieces of gear. Imagine losing your boots somewhere on a high altitude and having to hike and climb back down bare feet. I'd rather lose my pants. Though I admit that losing my pants wouldn't be comfortable as well, I carry a second pair during most longer overnight hikes  and when I don't, I'm probably no further than a day-hike away from civilization. Though entering a village without your pants on may be a little awkward to some, it's still better than crawling in with bruised and scraped feet. Long story short, your boots are important!

I have a pair of Meindl Kansas GTX that are very precious to me. I try my best to take good care of them to be sure that I can rely on them when I'm out hiking. To do so, I have this 5-step plan that I follow every time I return from a trip, before a new trip and once in a while in-between trips. In this post, I will share my 5 step 'how to' plan to help you to take good care of your precious boots. I wrote this post focussing on hiking boots, but the general steps are the same for all sorts of leather shoes. Whenever I say 'boot', you can just fill in 'shoe' for yourself.

Step 1: Prepare

Remove all loose objects such as laces and insoles (those can be cleaned separately). Then, remove all remaining sediments from your boots using a soft brush or a cloth. Make sure that you don't damage the leather, so no hard brushes, scourers or chemicals. Don’t forget that hard to reach places need cleaning too.

Step 2: Clean

Clean your boots with lukewarm water to remove more persistent dirt (don't use hot water). For most boots, you can also clean the inside with warm water after you have removed the insoles in the previous step. However, before cleaning your boots, check whether the insides can indeed be cleaned with water just to be sure.

Step 3: Dry

Dry your boots after cleaning. Never dry your boots in the sun or in front of a heater, just remember what happens when you yourself lie in the sun for too long with a wet skin. That's right, sunburn! Drying in the sun or in front of a heater will do the same to your boots, as it will dry out the leather and drastically minimize the durability of your shoe. So to properly dry your boot, pick a cool or normal (preferably non-heated) room to dry your boots. If you wish to waterproof your boots, go to step 4 when your boots are not entirely dry yet.
Drying of the inside can be accelerated by stuffing your boots with newspaper, (dry) cloths or moisture absorbers. Stuff your shoe with the newspaper/cloth right after cleaning and make sure to take them out after a few hours to prevent them from preventing the inside from becoming fully dry. You can use the moisture absorbers to accelerate this last part of the drying. Some of these moisture absorbers also eliminate smell, which may also be useful for frequently used boots (nothing personal).

Step 4: Waterproof

When the leather of your boots is not yet fully dry, it's time to apply a waterproofing spray.  I use Meindl recommended Meindl Wet Proof Spray*, but there are many other great products* out there as well. Spray it on your boot according to the product instructions and don't forget to spray hard to reach places as well. Consider the environment and make sure that the product you use is water based!

Step 5: Wax

Apply wax to your boots after the waterproofing spray has dried. Waxing feeds the leather and will prevent it from drying out and cracking. I use Meindl Sport Wax*, but again, there are many other great products* out there as well. Apply wax using a soft cloth or sponge and slowly massage it in. Apparently some people warm up wax before applying it, don’t do that! Warm wax will penetrate too deep into the leather and will ensure that the leather can no longer breathe.

That's all, easy! You just need to take the time for it once in a while, but I assure you, it's worth it. So gather all the leather boots and shoes in the house, put on an episode of your favourite series, and start waxing!

Planning to give your boots or shoes a good clean, or are you heading out on a hike and want to remember how to care for your boots when you return, pin any of the images below. I'd love to hear how it went, so let me know in the comments section!

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