Let’s face it, hiking shoes are expensive. Not many of us can just throw down upwards of $200 on a pair of shoes that we’re only going to use a few times per month, or even year. However, they are our trusted companions on the trails, and to some a fashion/status statement, so why not keep them as nice as possible for as long as possible?
If you’re new to hiking and don’t know where to begin, please check out my article on how to find the perfect hiking shoes for every trail and season here – How to Find the Perfect Hiking Shoes
If you maintain your hiking shoes properly, you will also help ensure longterm comfort and protection during your many outdoor escapades into the future. So keeping your footwear is both visibly and practically beneficial! I call that a win-win in my book.
So with all of that in mind, read along and check out what you can do to preserve and maintain your hiking shoes with quality proper care and maintenance. I created this comprehensive guide as a treasure trove of tips and advice to help you keep your hiking shoes in top-notch condition for countless adventures and memories you’ll keep for a lifetime.
Cleaning Your Hiking Shoes:
After you’ve purchased a brand new pair of hiking shoes and have gone on an amazing hike, the first, and probably most obvious step to maintain your hiking shoes, is to clean them up.
For some great recommendations on hiking shoes for beginners, check out my post here – Best Hiking Shoes For Beginners.
I personally love to jump in those mud puddles and slide down a sandy hillside, it’s what hiking is all about! You bought them for a reason right?! But once you’ve finished with an awesome trek, you should:
1. Begin a Regular Cleaning Routine (After Every Hike): You might not think that a little dirt here or there will do much damage to your shoes in the long term, but take it from me, it will. Dirt and mud will dry out your shoes and create weak points in the soles and/or flexible areas. So after each hike, take a few minutes to brush off all loose dirt and debris. Use a stiff, yet solid, brush or cloth to prevent abrasion and maintain the shoe’s materials. It doesn’t have to break the bank either. Check out this cheap brush for a quick suggestion.
2. Use Mild Soap or Cleaner (As Needed): One thing that is fairly important is to utilize a mild soap or specialized cleaner to maintain your hiking shoes. Water by itself will simply not do. When I first started out hiking, all I did was run my shoes under a hose and wondered why they still fell apart 6 months later! Oh well, live and learn I guess. Anyways make sure your soap or cleaner is suitable for your shoe’s material(s), especially when dealing with tough stains. You DO NOT want to use something that contains bleach on your brand new pair of Solomons! Just gently scrub the affected areas with a soft brush or sponge until the dirt and grime have cleared and voila! It doesn’t take much so don’t over do it. Check out an eco friendly version here.
3. Always Rinse and Air Dry (After Cleaning): This is another step that some of us might not think about. Once you have finished cleaning your shoes, and have thoroughly rinsed any remaining soap residue off of them, take a towel and pat them down. Now for waterproofed shoes, you should wipe them down with a damp cloth so you don’t create unwanted friction that can damage the waterproofing layer. Once you’re satisfied, put your shoes in an open and dry area so they can dry naturally. Don’t put them next to a direct heat source like a fireplace or a heater. This can also cause some unnoticed, yet real damage.
Waterproofing and Breathability Maintenance:
The next step to maintain your hiking shoes, one that is sometimes overlooked, is to focus on keeping them as waterproofed for as long as possible. I’ll never forget that on one of my hikes in Iceland a few years back, I neglected this step and wound up with two mini lakes in my shoes for an entire day. Not fun! So with that in mind, look into:
4. Reapplying Waterproof Treatment (Every 3-6 Months): This is very shoe dependent so you’re going to need to check out the manufacturer’s guidelines when it comes to your shoes. Review their suggestions and follow their instructions to maintain your hiking shoes. Try and renew the waterproofing treatment a few times per year for best results! Check out this product from Nikwax to get started.
5. Maintain Breathable Membranes (As Needed): Since all shoes are different, and I couldn’t possible go through cleaning instructions for every type of material in existence, it’ll be up to you to see if any of the webbing or mesh on your shoes need specialized cleaners. Sometimes, not always, the breathable membranes need a certain cleaner to retain breathability without compromising their integrity. Don’t overlook this because if you have a pair with a lot of mesh, you might find that those spots are the problem areas and usually breakdown first. Granger’s kit provides a few options.
Insoles, Laces, and Socks:
Next on the list to maintain your hiking shoes are the insoles and laces, you know the parts that come off your shoe with ease! I definitely recommend getting a great pair of insoles if you have any foot issues, especially plantar fasciitis, heel spurs or bunions.
6. Replace Worn-Out Insoles (As Needed): This might be a no brainer but you’d be surprised on how many people, especially us guys, just live with torn up insoles. They get squished, mashed, twisted, soaked and rubbed into a thin pancake of an insole and we just live with it. A new pair of insoles can make an old pair of hiking shoes feel brand new so when your insoles have lost cushioning or support, replace them promptly to keep them comfortable and to retain that foot stability all hiking shoes should have.
7. Clean or Replace Laces (Regularly): You laces are something you shouldn’t neglect. You don’t have to take them out after every hike, but pull them out every once and again so you can clean your laces separately. It’s a lot easier that way. Also you should look to replace any frayed ones for a secure fit. You don’t want your laces breaking in the middle of a strenuous hike, believe me!
8. Clean Your Socks (Regularly): I know what you’re thinking, “Who doesn’t clean their freakin socks!?” Well I’ll give everybody the benefit of the doubt, yet go through this crucial step nonetheless. Of course if you’re only doing a day hike this goes without saying, but If you’re on a multi-day hike, one that covers 10’s of miles or kilometers, consider using quality, moisture-wicking socks that are specialized for hiking and complement your shoes. Not only will your cabin-mates thank you, you might also prevent those ugly little buggers, blisters! Check out my post to prevent, treat and care for hiking blisters for more info on that!
Storage and Long-Term Care:
Now for the last main step to maintain your hiking shoes is how you store them when they aren’t in use. Don’t just throw them in the closet and forget about them. You never know what the cat will drag in am I right?
9. Proper Storage Conditions (Always): You should try and find a place in your house that is out of the way, but within plain sight, for optimal storing conditions. A shelf, shoe rack, under the bed, etc. Make sure it’s a cool, dry place away from direct sunlight. If not, you might wake up to a yellow pair of hiking shoes that use to be blue! Also avoid plastic bags that can actually cause damage if you haven’t completely dried your shoes. Anything to prevent moisture buildup is key.
10. Regular Inspections (Monthly): If you are an avid hiker then this is going to happen naturally but if not you should always try to routinely check for damage such as loose stitching, worn-out soles, or tears every now and again. Make sure to address any of these issues quickly or before your next hike to prevent any further breakdown or deterioration.
Additional Tips to Maintain Your Hiking Shoes:
Lastly, some random tips and tidbits you might use or appreciate to maintain your hiking shoes! (I didn’t know which category to put these in, so I just created one!)
11. Rotate Shoes Regularly (Every Few Weeks): If you’re like me and absolutely LOVE hiking, consider grabbing multiple sets of shoes. Grab a lightweight trail runner, an over the ankle rock solid sturdy pair and maybe a cold weather option. If you really love your pair, just grab another! Alternate between your shoes between hikes. This allows your footwear to dry thoroughly between uses and extending their lifespan even further!
12. Avoid Machine Washing (Always): Never, ever throw your hiking shoes into a washing machine. I know you might be tempted, but in doing so you’ll be cutting their lifespan in half. The machine will absolutely rip apart your shoes. Just take a few extra minutes out of your day and hand clean them. This important step will preserve their structure and adhesives for a nice long while.
13. Break-in Period for New Shoes (Before Intensive Use): This tip was hard for me when I first started hiking. I couldn’t wait to get out there on the trail with my brand new awesome shoes! However tempting, try and take time to break in your new shoes gradually before hitting challenging trails. Not only will this help with flexibility, it’ll also go a long way in preventing discomfort or even the dread B-word, blisters! If you missed it earlier, you can check out my post on how to prevent, treat and care for hiking blisters if you’d like!
14. Use a Shoe Horn (Whenever Wearing): You might think this is overkill, but maybe try it and give yourself a fun little surprise haha. If you really love your shoes and want to be a little extra, try and use a shoe horn when you put on you shoes. This actually helps in preventing damage to the heel collar a little bit at a time, each time. It also might aid in putting them on if you like a really tight fit.
15. Apply Leather Conditioner (For Leather Shoes, Twice a Year): This is very important if you have a really nice pair of leather hiking shoes. Definitely splurge a little and pick up a really nice conditioning agent. Meker Mink Oil is a good option. Treat your leather hiking shoes with a conditioner twice a year to keep that suppleness you love and to also prevent ugly splitting or cracking.
16. Dry Shoes Properly After Wet Hikes (Immediately): If you get a lot of water inside of your shoes then try and stuff them with newspaper to aid in absorbing moisture after hiking in wet conditions. Swap out the paper as needed until completely dry. The last thing you want to have is mold or mildew forming.
17. Tighten Screws and Fastenings (Every Few Months): Some pairs of hiking shoes or boots come with hardware! Usually if you have an issue with a piece of metal on your shoe, you’ll know. It doesn’t take much for a chain reaction to occur and all of a sudden your shoe breaks apart. Spontaneously check and tighten screws or fastenings as needed on your hiking boots. You’ll want to do whatever you can to prevent any parts from coming loose.
Well that’s about it. I hope you enjoyed my article on how you can maintain your hiking shoes. By implementing these easy maintenance practices, you’ll safeguard your hiking shoes against wear and tear, ensuring they remain reliable companions for your outdoor adventures. Always remember to refer to the manufacturer’s care guidelines for specific shoe types. May your hiking shoes lead you to unforgettable trails and breathtaking vistas!
Happy trails and happy hiking!