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Gear Matters: How to Clean Hiking Boots

Resident Guide explains How to Clean Hiking Boots

Every month our resident guide, John Millen, brings you an anecdote, update, or tip on the gear you are likely to use on a walking or cycling holiday. Always from his personal point of view. This month he looks at the best ways to make your walking shoes winter ready as he gives you 7 tips on how to clean hiking boots. Whether you have new shoes or have been using them for years, whether you wear synthetic or leather hiking boots, John knows what to do.


Walking in winter time puts some of our frontline gear – hiking boots particularly – to the test. Especially after hiking in muddy, wet environments you may want to know about the best way to clean your shoes. For best results to keep your walking gear in tip – top condition for their next use, a degree of care is needed.


Cleaning hiking boots or shoes can be a reflective and therapeutic exercise, but it is one many walkers have been neglecting for too long, so see below tips on how to clean hiking boots and start today. 


1.      Cleaning Mud Off Your Shoes

Peaty soils in particular contain acids that can attack stitching and caked mud can affect leather or fabric. After a muddy walk, the best way to clean shoes is to wipe your boots with a wet cloth or sponge and use a soft nylon brush to remove stubborn soils. A hard brush can damage stitching so is not advised. Your walking boots might already be soaked; in that case, it is a good idea to rinse your boots briefly under a tap. I don’t think it is advisable to soak them until they are supersaturated as that will take some time to dry out.

Cleaning Hiking Boots is important for walking holidays

How to Clean Hiking Boots: Maintain the soles of your shoes


2.      Remove Oily Dirt from Your Shoes

To remove oil-based dirt from your hiking boots, for example excess wax and stubborn grime that will not be cleaned by plain water, use something like Nikwax Footwear Cleaning Gel and a nylon brush. Be sure to clean the linings of your boots with a warm damp cloth after each use as well. Salt from perspiration can pass into the lining rapidly destroying the leather of your shoes and making it dry and cracked.


3.      Drying Your Hiking Boots

Once the boots have been cleaned to the best of your ability let them dry out naturally – in an airing cupboard, or a bedroom. Take insoles out, remove the shoe laces etc. Whatever you do, don’t force-dry your footwear with localised heat, such as an open fire, because that can cause the leather to dry and crack.

Cleaning Hiking Boots - England

Clean Hiking Boots in the Italian Dolomites on a walking holiday - Sherpa Expeditions


4.      Walking Shoes Maintenance

If your walking boots or shoes are quite worn, now is a good time to do some shoe maintenance. Check whether the soles of your shoes need gluing. If rands are peeling, use shoe glue or superglue to seal them. Deep cracks in leather or damaged stitching can also be strengthened with a conservative use of superglue.


5.      Maintaining Synthetic Shoes

If your footwear is synthetic, I have other tips on how to clean your hiking boots. You can now apply various products, usually sprays which embed the fabrics of your shoes with waterproofing chemicals which help to bead water droplets. Often these can be applied on wet shoes so that the chemicals are drawn into the fabric or suede leather. I like to use for example Nikwax Sprayon Waterproofing for Nubuck and Suede which is available in the UK via Cotswold Outdoor.


6.      Maintaining Leather Boots

With leather boots if you have worn areas, it might be an idea to use polish to restore the colour. Otherwise now is the time to start to apply the shoe creams and pastes rubbing into the leather to make it suppler and apply water resistance. Grangers and Nikwax make different grades of product for this cleaning purpose. Especially massage into leather that is creasing (usually on the sides or around the ‘hardware’ like the lace eyelets etc.) as the creases can dry out into cracks.


7.      Making Your Hiking Boots Waterproof

Once you have applied lighter creams and pastes to your walking boots and left to dry a bit, it is time to smear on the heavier-duty waterproofing, once referred to as dubbing. This part of the cleaning process you can build up in layers and there is no need to try to remove it the next time you clean the boots. In fact, with several layers the boots become easier to clean at least to a point, when soil and grit becomes ingrained. Pastes and waxes will change the colour appearance of your boot.


Now that you know how to clean hiking boots and of course are done with your own shoes, you can forget about them until your next active adventure holiday!


Like to get more tips on walking and cycling gear from John? Read about all his tips and advice on active adventure holidays in his Gear Matters blog series. If you feel that with your clean hiking boots, you’re ready for a new adventure, have a look at these walking holidays in the UK and Europe for inspiration. 

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