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Boot Buying Guide

More than any other category of gear, boots can make or break your trip. In this guide, gear editor Kristin Hostetter shows you how to pick the right pair for any outing, any feet.
Gear School 09 Boot illo 445x260Gear School 09 Boot illo 445x260

BACKPACKER Tips: Treat your boots right

  • Condition and Waterproof as Needed. Depending on the amount of wear they get, boots can benefit from treating roughly on to three times a year, or whenever the materials starts to lighten in color and look dry and thirsty. What type of treatment should you use? There loads of good ones out there, all tailored to work with different types of leather and materials. Whichever treatment you use, be sure to follow the instructions carefully. Two or three thin coats are better than one thick gloppy one. Also, contrary to popular opinion, you should never warm your boots in the oven prior to treatment—unless you want the toes to curl up like clown shoes and the glue to melt all over the place.
  • Repair Your Soles: If your boot sole starts to delaminate, or peel away from the boot, repair it immediately with Shoo-Goo or a similar product. In the field and goo-less? Just secure the flapping soul with duct tape until you get home. If you wear Norwegian welted boots (the soles are stitched rather than glued to the boot) find a good cobbler to sew them back up.
  • Choose Your Material Carefully: Avoid using mink oil or any other type of oil which will over-soften most backpacking and hiking boots. (Note: If you’re intent is to simply soften stiff, unyielding leather, a dab of mink oil may help.)
  • Dry Right: Never dry wet leather boots near a fire or other direct heat source or you could end up shrinking them by half a size, which will most definitely lead to nasty heel blisters. The best way to dry boots is slowly but surely. Remove the insoles and laces. Open the boots up as much as possible for maximum airflow. Insert newspaper or, if you’re in the field, try chemical heating packs/handwarmers.
  • Avoid Mold and Mildew: When you reach the car after a hike, avoid the temptation to stuff your wet, mucky boots in a plastic bag and forgot about them for a while. If they stay trapped in plastic for too long, they’ll quickly be devoured by mold and mildew.
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