You bought your dream hiking boots and they’re finally broken in, but you’ve just come home from a hike and they’re dirty — real dirty. There’s mud on the midsole and dust on the tongue. Do you leave it or go for a deep clean? What you should do is go for the deep clean because clean boots are happy boots. Here’s all you need to know to clean your hiking boots.
The importance of cleaning your hiking boots
Straight out of the box, your boot is in p-e-r-f-e-c-t condition. Meaning you won’t have to do any sort of treatment to, or cleaning of, your boot, especially if it has the GORE-TEX membrane in it. As long as you properly break in your hiking boots, you’ll be golden. But once you’ve got your first hike in with your boots, and they’re caked with mud, residual creek water, campfire ashes or fall leaves, clean them. Even if they’re not that dirty, it doesn’t matter. Each step on a hike results in dust, sand, or dirt creeping in. Any sort of buildup inside your hiking boot that goes unchecked leads to excess wear and tear on the boot. Extend the life of your boots by cleaning them after each hike. Don’t sweat it if you’re exhausted after a hike. A deep clean can wait a day or two, so long as you follow the proper washing instructions.
How to clean your waterproof hiking boots
Always, always, always check the label for washing instructions. Manufacturers include all you’ll need to know about the range of materials used in your hiking boot and how you should go about washing them. We asked GORE-TEX footwear expert Andy McQuerrey about his advice on how one should go about washing a GORE-TEX boot: “Clean the exterior of your boots with a cloth or brush and lukewarm water. But before you do, shake out any sand, gravel, or dirt left inside from your previous adventure. And if you can, remove the foot bed from your boot before washing,” he said. “I always caution people against using any form of direct heat, as it can dry out the leather on some boots. Drying naturally with moderate temperatures is how I always go about drying my boots at home, but convection-style boot dryers may also work well depending on the material. You can also try using a fan, positioning your boots upside down, or stuffing them with newspaper to absorb moisture,” he continued. “GORE-TEX hiking boots and waterproofing waxes or greases should never mix. Here’s why: they affect the boot’s breathability in a negative way. Simply washing them will get the job done and keep your boot waterproof. If you plan on applying any treatments, polishes, conditioners, and dressings, always consult the care instructions recommended by the manufacturer beforehand,” says McQuerrey.
How to clean when you’re out on the trail
Extended backpacking trips often mean you won’t be near a sink, but that doesn’t always mean you won’t be near water. “Take a brush or cloth out with you to routinely clean off dirt and debris,” McQuerrey said. “You may not have a sink, but you’ll likely have a water source nearby at your disposal. Streams, lakes, and rivers all function as perfect makeshift cleaning stations. Get creative and adapt to the situation. And when you do finally come off the trail, take the time to care for your boots. GORE-TEX footwear is an investment in waterproof, windproof, breathable comfort, and it's important to maintain that investment by washing them after every excursion.”
How to care for your hiking boots
Like McQuerrey mentioned earlier, GORE-TEX boots are an investment. You’re buying a quality boot because you want quality protection outside. Maintain consistent washing and cleaning habits on your boots to ensure optimal waterproofness and breathability, but you should also treat your boots nicely when in use. McQuerrey explains why: “The good news is, your GORE-TEX membrane will not deteriorate over time. The bad news is, it can be damaged if it’s used for an activity outside of its intended use. “If the outer materials are damaged or start to break down over time and use, you risk exposing the membrane to damage from debris like sand and gravel. Some of our products can accommodate a wide variety of end uses while others are designed for specific activities. It really depends on you, what you do, and the choices you make. Being aware of your boots’ intended use will help in extending the lifespan of your boot. “On the flip side, lack of care can often be the cause of shortening a boot’s useful life. Routine cleaning and always following the care instructions ensures a long, happy life for your boot. “Equally important is picking a hiking boot that fits properly. You risk internal abrasion that could wear through the lining and damage the membrane if you purchase boots that aren’t a good, comfortable fit. Keeping your toenails trimmed is also another way to avoid damage from internal abrasion. “As always, use your best judgment. If worn soles, rips, tears, punctures, or abrasions start showing up all over your boot, it’s time to say goodbye and start searching for a new one. Take a look at your boot. If it looks worn out, then it likely is. If your GORE-TEX footwear is properly cared for and used as intended, you can expect it to remain waterproof and breathable for its useful life.”
How to care for your hiking boots recap:
- Do your research and choose a hiking boot that is fit for your intended use or activity
- Find a boot that fits your foot
- Follow all care instructions
- Take steps to avoid unnecessary damage (trim those toenails!)
- Find more washing instructions for products here
Now go out and get your boots dirty
We talked a lot about how to clean hiking boots, but they won’t need cleaning unless you get them dirty! And the only way you’ll get ‘em dirty is if you take them out on a great adventure. Check out the following blogs for hiking inspiration and tips:
- 7 Reasons Why You Should Hike the Appalachian Trail From A Thru-Hiker
- The Road to Mile Zero: Hiking the Arizona Trail
- 10 Do’s and Don’ts of Night Hiking
- Beginner Backpacking Tips: The Ultimate Guide for Your First Trip
- Horton Creek Trail Guide: Hiking In Payson, Arizona