Caring for Hiking Boots
All boots require some breaking in, especially leather boots, where it may take some time for the leather to flex freely and evenly. If you aren't used to wearing boots, it may also take your feet some time to get used to them. For these reasons, we stron
Many people prefer to wear two pairs of socks and this is certainly a good idea if your boots are new. The best combination is a light liner sock under a heavier sock (two thick socks may be too hot). The heavier sock provides the insulation and shock absorption. The lighter liner sock will help keep the foot dry and prevent blisters, particularly if it is made from a fabric which has good moisture transfer properties. Try a Thermax liner in cool conditions, or a Coolmax liner in warm conditions. A cotton liner sock is another option, though it will not move moisture away from the foot as effectively.
Lace boots firmly (not tightly) to help prevent any movement.
Bear in mind that the thickness of the socks you choose will affect the fit of the boot. So when fitting the boots in the store you should always wear socks similar to those in which you intend to walk.
If your new leather boots do not come with a manufacturer-applied waterproofing treatment (such as Scarpa's HS12), they should be treated with a compound to improve their waterproofness and to keep the leather supple.
The most suitable waterproofing compounds are wax-based products like Sno-seal or Nikwax. Avoid fat-based products, as they may over-soften the leather (D rings may even pull through the leather in the long term) and harbour harmful bacteria. Most compounds will generally darken the leather, permanently affecting the appearance of the boots.
Always refer to the manufacturer's instructions when applying a compound, but in general the procedure is as follows. Remove the laces and use a soft rag to rub a thin layer evenly over the whole boot, paying particular attention to the tongue and all stitch lines. The thinner the layer the more easily the proofing will melt into the pores. There is no benefit in applying half a tin: most of it will sit on the surface and be wiped off.
Next, leave the boots to sit in the sun for a few hours. DO NOT use excessive heat (such as from a heater or hair dryer), as this will permanently damage the leather. Polish off any excess with a soft cloth. You may choose to use a boot polish prior to applying the proofing to colour the boots, however it is not necessary. Only re-apply a compound when boots start to dry out or are leaking: it is possible to over-proof the boots and turn good quality leather to mush and degrade the sole.
Nubuck boots are best treated with a special nubuck treatment or a silicon based spray such as Waterguard. As well as improving water resistance, it will help maintain their appearance. Be aware that silicon sprays will darken the colour of the boot slightly. For maximum protection, Sno-seal or Nikwax may be applied as for leather boots, but both will permanently and significantly darken the colour of the boot.
For synthetic boots, sprays such as Teknix and Waterguard will help to improve water resistance, but will not make the boots completely waterproof. If the boots are to be used regularly in wet conditions, you may consider applying a wax finish to the suede (this will affect the appearance) as constant soaking and drying will lead to cracking of the suede.
In the Field
Gaiters can provide extra protection for your boots from water, mud and grass seeds, as well as protecting your ankles and shins. Never dry wet boots in front of a fire, as you may damage the leather or loosen the cement used to bond the soles to the uppers.
Upon returning from a walk, it is wise to rinse the boots inside and out to remove any mud or dirt as well as any salt and odour inside. Leave the boots to dry in a ventilated area. As in the field, never dry the boots by a fire or intense heat source or you risk baking and permanently damaging the leather, or melting the fabric of synthetic boots. When boots are thoroughly dry, reapply some proofing if needed.
Some leather boots can be resoled. Check whether this is possible with your boots. If you have your boots resoled, do a few short walks to test the strength of the repair, before you embark on more ambitious trips. Nobody wants their soles to fall off on the second day of a five day trip