I’d like to cover a couple tips for maintenance on hiking and backpacking footwear for leather, non-leather and combination materials like what we have here which is made of fabric and leather. Most shoes when they are purchased, out of the box are ready to go. Most of them come with a water treatment that’s applied to the outside that’s going to repel water and keep the materials in the upper of the boot from absorbing moisture. There are a couple of things you can do to prolong the life of your footwear as well as make the waterproof side of things work a little bit better. So, the first question is how often should you be maintaining your footwear? This isn’t something you need to do every day and a lot of it depends on how active you are with your footwear as well as what kind of conditions you are using it in. So, here we have a boot that’s been worn quite a few times, no maintenance has been done to it yet. You can see some dirt on the outsole but the upper of the boot is fairly clean. When you come back from a hike or backpacking trip the first thing you’ll want to do is make sure there isn’t a lot of sand, grit or dirt collected into the seams and cracks. I like to use a toothbrush to brush off the outside of the boot and clean out some of those seams. All the sand, grit and dirt that get stuck in there will slow abrade away at the materials while you wear it, over the life of the shoe. So the better a job you can do at removing that dirt, hopefully will increase the life of the upper in your boot. As I mentioned earlier; how often should you be doing this? If you go out on a hike and when you come back your boot looks a clean as this boot does right now there really isn’t any need to do anything to it. I’d make sure it’s dry and probably remove the insoles and clan any debris out and then set them aside until the next time I wore them. If you spend a lot of time outside in very wet, muddy weather then you’ll want to take a bit more of an active roll in maintaining your boot to make sure that boot and it’s upper are going to last longer and we’ll come back to that a little bit later. So let’s talk about ways to maintain the upper on your boot, whether it be leather or a combination of fabric and leather. There are a variety of products on the market that are meant to restore leather or restore the water repellency that is living on the outside of the boot. You won’t need much to do this sort of a project, as you can see I’ve got a toothbrush, and old rag I found under the sink and I’ve got some leather conditioner and this one is a water repellency product here. So what you’ll do is the same thing we covered in the first steps where you clean the outside of the boot with the toothbrush and scrub the seams clean and remove excess dirt. If there’s anything bulky there you might want to just take the rag and wipe it down. The main thing to remember here is whatever footwear conditioner you’ve purchased, you want to follow the directions on the back of the bottle or tube. Not all directions are the same so it’s always a good idea to check those first. Sometimes the directions request that you dampen the boot before you apply the conditioner. In that case you can use a wet rag and soak the outside of the boot a bit. It doesn’t need to be sopping wet but you’ll want to see some coloration change where the upper is actually damp. This one has a bit of a foam top here and you’re going to take it and start working it into the leather. You squeeze this bottle a little bit to get it to come out. You can see that it’s a white liquid that looks a lot like milk, ah, this is a wax based coating hence the white waxy look. You’ll want to work this into the seams and right around the edge where the outsole meets the upper and make sure you’ve got all those places covered. If I was going to do this entire boot I would continue to work that into all of the leather on the footwear. Then I might wait a couple of minutes and let it set into the material and then use this rag to buff it in. Work the wax coating into the leather and seams and make sure everything has a good coating. This would be all you need to do to condition this boot. Now you’re just waiting for it to dry, which probably won’t be more than an overnight, and you’ll be ready to go out the next day. A leather conditioner of this sort of reviving the leather itself and leather is very susceptible to temperature changes and what’s more, drying and being wet. When leather gets wet it expands and when it dries it shrinks. For this reason you never ever want to dry your boots by any sort of a direct heat source. Examples of direct heat sources would be woodstoves, campfires, radiator heaters, blow dryers; anything that seems like a really good idea or a quick way to dry your boots is probably not good for a leather boot at all. That kind of drying process shrinks the leather over a short period of time which results in cracking. On this boot, which isn’t too badly worn, you can see some flex lines where the toe of this boot gets worked the most. This is the sort of place where your boot is most susceptible because the leather is weakened here and you want to make sure you get these places well covered with conditioned and avoid high heat sources that will encourage it to crack out and dry fast. So that was a leather conditioner which is designed to help keep the leather alive; keep it from cracking and drying. Another thing to be concerned with, as far as maintenance goes, is the waterproof barrier that came applied to the shoe. This will wear off at some point and a good way to know if this is happening is if the outside of your boot is becoming water logged. You might even think your boot is leaking. The fabrics will starts absorbing water and be wet and heavy and quickly soak while wearing them in wet conditions. Those are all good signs that the water repellency on the outside of the boot needs to be updated or improved upon or replaced. You use another product for this process and what we have here happens to be a leather conditioner and water repellant in one piece, which is kind of nice. Folks that are using footwear and it does get wet a lot and they have a good DWR, that’s a durable water repellency, that still beading up water and repelling it but they want to keep the leather in good shape, at that point they might use the leather conditioner by itself. Something like this, whether it’s a gel or a liquid, uses a similar application process. Make certain to follow the directions on the back of the bottle and work it into all the cracks, let the leather absorb it and wipe the excess away, let it dry completely and you should be ready to go on your next hike. A couple of other things to avoid when cleaning footwear is never washing your boots in a washing machine and try not to store them in any location that is overly hot. For example, the trunk of your car in the summer or a hot stuffy closet; exposure to high temperatures of that sort will start to melt some of the glues used in the soles and creates the potential for delaminating outsoles. You also wouldn’t want to store your footwear in any place that’s overly damp or wet because this will lead to mildew or rot. We’ve talked about how to condition leather on your boots. There are also boots made from fabric and leather or synthetic leathers. This type of footwear is maintainable in the same way through a variety of products that are designed to work specifically with fabric and leather or synthetic leather footwear.
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