How to Keep Your Feet Dry

Your boots should last years, but only if you know how to keep them properly conditioned.
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Undoubtedly one of the most important pieces of gear in our arsenal, boots have a very direct effect on the comfort and success of any hiking trip. There are two kinds of boots out there: those that are waterproof and those that are not. To be truly waterproof, a boot must have a membrane—like Gore-Tex—sandwiched inside the materials. But even those boots can lose their effectiveness from daily wear and tear and sub-par maintenance.

Campfires, water, dry air, and separating soles can all negatively affect your boots’ ability to keep your feet dry and warm. Still, if you think your waterproof boots are leaking, you’re probably wrong. What’s likely happening is that the boot’s original DWR has worn off, so the face materials get saturated. The inner membrane prevents the water from reaching your foot, but the damage is done: your foot perceives the wetness (read: coldness) outside the membrane, and it tells your brain your foot is wet even though it’s really not. Keep your feet happy by cleaning, conditioning and re-waterproofing your boots as needed.

Follow these tips, from Kristin Hostetter’s “Complete Guide to Outdoor Gear Maintenance and Repair: Step-by-Step Techniques to Maximize Performance and Save Money,” to keep your boots properly stored and operating at its best.

How to Keep Feet Dry

Prevent & Maintain:

  • Keep your boots away from intense heat. It’s tempting to dry them out by a campfire, but you’ll pay the price the next day. Heat can cause your boots to shrink and it can also damage adhesives and cause your boots to delaminate.
  • Dry them properly. Remove insoles, loosen up your laces, and open the tongues of your boots wide to let in maximum airflow. If you’re desperate for dry feet, you can also put your boots in the foot of your sleeping bag at night. They’ll likely still be damp when you wake up, but your body heat will dry them out at least a little bit. 
  • Give your boots a spa day when they’re caked in mud. Remove the laces and toss them in the washing machine or dishwasher, then scrub the boots aggressively with a toothbrush and a mixture of half a gallon of water and some ReviveX Boot Cleaner or mild dish soap.
  • Re-waterproof them on the regular. For heavy users, this could be up to a couple times a season. We like Nikwax’s Footwear DuoPack Fabric & Leather.
  • Keep your boots well-conditioned. Leather is like skin, it needs periodic moisture to keep it from cracking like an old snake. All leather boots should be conditioned with Nikwax Conditioner for Leather whenever they start to look parched.

Fix:

  • Repair separating soles. Gently peel back the toe to clean out any dirt (a screwdriver can help with this), then fill a syringe with Shoe Goo Boots & Gloves and generously apply it to both the shoe and the sole. Carefully marry the sole and upper together so they fit perfectly, then wrap up the toe in duct tape and let it cure for at least 48 hours.
  • Put your cobbler on speed dial. Serious problems like delamination or your inner waterproof bootie separating require expert attention.

How to Waterproof Non-Waterproof Boots

To be truly waterproof, a boot must have a membrane—like Gore-Tex or eVent—sandwiched inside the materials. But a good, thick leather boot can be made (mostly) waterproof as well with Aquaseal for Leather Waterproofing and Conditioner. Aquaseal is a cream, and leather considers it delicious. Apply several thin coats with your finger (letting it dry for one hour in between) to your clean boots and your leather will drink it up.

Alternatively, you can place a plastic bag (a large zip-top bag, a grocery bag, or even a cut-up black garbage bag) over each sock, then lace up your boots. The plastic will keep out the water, but your feet will get hot.

Stay dry in the wettest conditions with Marmot’s EVODry – rainwear reinvented at the molecular level. www.rei.com

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