Whether you are wearing a full-grain leather backpacking boot or a nylon mesh trail runner, outdoor footwear lasts longer and provides greater water resistance if it is treated properly. Caring for boots is a three-part process: cleaning, conditioning, and waterproofing. It is very important to match the right treatment with the right boot materials.
To properly clean your boots, take out the laces, scrape off caked-on mud, and remove superficial dirt with cool water and a cloth. Then scrub with a soft brush to remove ground-in dirt. Rinse boots well with cold water to ensure that fine particles are removed. Air-dry wet boots at a moderate temperature. Never dry boots close to a heat source, such as a campfire or wood stove. Wash the boot lining with gentle soap to rinse away accumulated salts, then allow to dry. Leather linings can be treated with conditioner to enhance breathability. You can wash, rinse and dry synthetic Cambrelle linings.
Leather uppers are just like skin - if they are not conditioned, they dry out, stiffen, and crack. Conditioners restore lubricants to leather and keep it supple and, depending upon the conditioner, waterproof. Wear brand new, untreated boots a few times to remove the factory-applied buffing wax. Then treat the seams, and the area where the upper and sole join, with Freesole - a rubber cement that enhances durability and water resistance. Allow at least 24 hours for Freesole to dry before applying a conditioner. One spot that needs attention is the crease in the upper, located above the area where bending toes cause the sole to flex - this area should be conditioned periodically to prevent cracking.
Waterproofing treatments are water-based and non-water based. Both silicon and wax treatments can be water-based. This means they work best when applied to damp boots - the water in the pores of the leather acts as a conduit for waterproofing agents that absorb into the leather as the boots dry. Water-based treatments are popular for full-grain (rough-out) leather, nubuck, and suede leathers, as well as fabric and boots with Gore-Tex lining.
Choosing the Right Walking Shoes
Run The Planet thanks the Mountain Equipment Co-Op website www.mec.ca for the permission to reprint the article "Footwear Care". Mountain Equipment Co-op is Canada's leading supplier of quality outdoor gear and clothing. Cambrelle, Freesole, Gore-Tex are registered trademarks or trademarks of their respective companies. Photography "Shoeshine sign in a southern town" (1936) by Walker Evans.