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December 2007

Make Your Gear Last Forever

Backpacker's Ultimate Fix-It Guide



fix icon Save your leather (Online Bonus)
Caked-on mud works into the pores, drying it out and compromising durability. Warm water and a stiff vegetable brush will remove most dirt.

fix icon Air out insoles (Online Bonus)
Cobbler Dave Page says that sweat-soaked insoles will infect your boots with stink and mildew. When you take off your boots at the end of the day, remove the insoles, too, and let them air dry sticking out of your open, unlaced boots.

fix iconKeep away from heat
Never dry wet boots next to a campfire, stove, or space heater, or use a hair dryer. High heat will crack and shrink the leather and cause the soles to delaminate.

fix iconMinimize plastic bag time
Bagging muddy boots for a few hours is okay. But if you leave them wrapped in plastic for a few days–especially in warm temperatures–they might crawl away on their own. Use a paper or cloth bag for transporting muddy boots to avoid spawning mildew and other eager biotics.

Fact or Myth?
Q: Mink oil is bad for leather boots.
A: Fact! Most hiking boots made in the last 20 years should only be treated with wax or silicone-based waterproofing and leather conditioning products. Dave Page says oil-based treatments (including mink oil) over-soften chromium-tanned leather. Modern, glued-on boot soles can also delaminate when penetrated by certain oils.

fix iconRand splits apart
Repair a peeling, chipped, or cracked rand–the boot’s rubberized front bumper–using McNett Freesole, a beefier version of Seam Grip. Do not substitute a "super glue" product like Liquid Nails that lacks Freesole’s flexing ability.

  • Wipe away dirt with a damp cloth and brush; apply some rubbing alcohol to improve adhesion. Let the boot dry completely before proceeding. (1)
  • Apply Freesole using a brush or squeezing directly from tube. Wipe away excess. (2)
  • Wrap the front of the boot in Tenacious Tape or duct tape, inserting a pencil under the tape to apply direct pressure to the rand. (3) >>Leave the tape in place overnight.

fix iconbootsSole delaminates at the heel
Clean the heel of the boot with a damp cloth before brushing it with rubbing alcohol. Let the boot dry overnight. Peel back the sole and squeeze a quarter-sized dab of Freesole into the split. Press down firmly and wipe away any excess. Place a filled water bottle upright in the boot to keep constant pressure on the re-glued joint; dry overnight.

fix icon Worn-down heel (Online Bonus)
If your stride wears down one side faster than the other, restore a level surface by applying a foundation of Freesole.

  • Smooth the worn section with sandpaper. (1)
  • Buff with a rag dipped in rubbing alcohol. (2)
  • Apply duct tape to make a dam that is at least one-inch tall around the back of heel.
  • Holding the boot upside down and level, fill in the missing heel area with Freesole. (3)
  • Stabilize the upside-down boot and let dry.

fix icon Leaky boots (Online Bonus)
NOLS gear manager McGowan has found even waterproof/breathable boots can be enhanced by after-market sealants that keep rain or snow from saturating the exterior. The drawback: Extra waterproofing may reduce breathability. Products designed for waterproof/breathable boots can also be effective on boots without Gore-Tex or similar membranes. If you know you’ll face deep snow or very wet trails, you may want to seal the exterior seams of your boots with Seam Grip. (See the "Products" sidebar for more options from Grangers, McNett, and Nickwax.)

fix icon Lost sole (Online Bonus)
All boot soles eventually wear out. If the uppers are still in decent condition, give your boots new life by sending them to a repair facility to be re-soled for $60. See "Resources" below.

fix icon Stinky boots
The drier your boots, the less odor they will produce. At home, get rid of moisture by stuffing them with newspaper. For odors that reach WMD status, spray the interior and the removed insoles with Lysol. If the smell persists, apply Mirazyme and place the insoles in the freezer overnight. This will chill-kill whatever biotics remain.

Boots/Make it

fix icon Build a toe cap
Upgrade your boot’s toe protection with a strong, clear polyurethane shield.

  • Clean the rand and wipe it down with rubbing alcohol; let dry. (1)
  • Sand the leather on the toe with extra-fine (600-grit) sandpaper. (2)
  • Apply masking tape across the front of the boot to mark off the area for the cap. (3)
  • Buff the sanded area twice with a rag dipped in rubbing alcohol, air-drying in between.
  • Paint the toe surface completely with Freesole using a 0.5-inch paintbrush. (3)
  • Remove the tape after 45 minutes; let dry overnight. (4)

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