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Rip & Equip: Boots

First: Buy the right boots. Second: Keep them in tip top shape with these tips.

Care Instructions

>> Dried-out leather If your boot’s leather has become stiff and light-colored, rejuvenate it with a silicone-based treatment such as Aquaseal Leather Waterproofing. Don’t use oil, which can oversoften boot leather and inhibit breathability.
>> Flapping sole If the heel or toe delaminates, clean the leather and rand rubber with alcohol (use a prep pad from your first-aid kit). Evenly coat the inside of the sole with an ample amount of McNett Freesole (A), then firmly press the sole and upper together. (You can use Seam Grip in a pinch, but it won’t hold as long.) Smooth the excess glue along the seam to keep out water. Place a heavy object like a water bottle inside the boot, to apply constant, even pressure (B). Let the glue set overnight. For a delaminating toe, wrap duct tape around the boot’s front (C) to add pressure while glue is setting (insert a pen under the tape after applying, to increase pressure).
>> Hole in the upper A tear isn’t a death sentence for your boot. Cobblers can fix holes and broken lacing systems in addition to worn-out soles. Contact local listings or boot-repair expert Dave Page (, 800-252-1229). On trail with a hole in the toebox? Try backing it with duct tape, evenly covering the hole with Seam Grip, and letting it cure thoroughly before hiking again.

Stinky boots? Remove the insoles and clean them with a nondetergent soap, water, and a toothbrush. While insoles are drying, wipe down the interior of your boots with a 3:1 solution of water and white vinegar. (Avoid using soap, which can clog breathable fabric.) Pack uppers with newspaper, prop boots upside-down, and change out the newspaper every few hours until the boots are dry. Outside a mess too? Scrub off dried mud with a vegetable brush.

>> Protect shoes at night. Brush them off and bring them inside your tent so that rodents don’t nibble sweat residue in the liners.
>> Remove the insoles. Footbed materials retain moisture, so pulling them out for storage speeds drying and wards off mold.
>> Banish perma-stink. If your washed boots still smell, put them in the freezer overnight to kill lingering bacteria.
>> Make (or expand) the toecap. If the toes of your leather boots are prone to scuffing, preempt further damage: Line the area you want to protect with tape, slightly scuff the leather with sandpaper, clean with rubbing alcohol, and apply Freesole, spreading it to cover the section. (No need to smooth, it self-adjusts while drying.) Remove the tape after 30 minutes and let glue cure overnight.

Never Do This
>> Overwaterproof. Excessive coats of sealant make repair and cleaning difficult. Aim to apply one layer of a waterproofing product (appropriate for your upper material) each year.
>> Hit the trail with brand-new kicks. Lace them up around the house first, and do at least 10 dayhikes or dog walks first, aiming for 20 hours of pre-trip wear time in the burliest boots.
>> Dry boots by the fire. The leather might crack, the rubber melt, and the size shrink. Instead, unlace them, remove the insoles, and put chemical warming packs or a bottle filled with hot water inside. Lacking those, stash the boots at the bottom of your bag overnight or hang them upside down on trekking poles. At home, stuff them with newspaper; do not use a hair dryer.
>> Use oil-based treatments on leather boots. Oil softens the leather, which defeats the purpose of providing stiff support. Instead, use wax- or silicone-based treatments. Exception: Use mink oil sparingly on all-leather, full-grain boots that resist break-in.

Secret from the Pro
Use these three tricks to squeeze even more comfortable trail miles out of your favorite pair of boots.
>> Pack camp shoes: We like lightweights like Crocs and Timberland’s Radler Trail Camp Moc.
>> Nip blisters in the bud. As soon as hot spots flare, change socks or apply moleskin or medical tape to reduce friction on skin.
>> Relace. Use different patterns to relieve pressure points. See ex-amples at
—Excerpted from BACKPACKER’s Complete Guide to Outdoor Gear Maintenance and Repair

Blister Wars
Don’t get sidelined by painful sores. Visit our blister resource page for step-by-step tips to treating and preventing hotspots, and a grisly reader-photo slideshow.

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