A Quick Guide on How to Clean Hiking Boots

If your hiking boots are as clean as a whistle, without a scuff or a scratch or a hint of dirt to be seen, then you’re doing it wrong.

Hiking boots should only look pristine when they are brand new and have never once been worn on the trail. After that, every scrape and stain on those boots is a badge of honor. While it’s fine for your hiking boots to look worn, it’s not OK for them to actually be dirty, at least not after each trek has ended. Leaving boots damp, soiled with mud, or caked in dirt can lead to damage over time — the type of damage that goes beyond cosmetics and can impact performance and longevity.

dirty muddy hiking boots
Johner Images/Getty Images

There’s no reason to break out the shoeshine kit. However, you do need to learn how to clean your hiking boots.

Get the Mud Off

If there are globs of mud all over your boots, get them off, man! Use a damp cloth or paper towel and wipe down the boots, taking care to work around and under the laces and to wipe off the eyelets and the hooks on the upper. Go ahead and scrape mud out of the treads with a stiff brush or slender rod. You should remove as much mud, dirt, and bits of leaves and brambles as soon as possible, because the longer that stuff sits there, the longer it will keep the boots damp.

Clean the Insides

The dampness your feet produce, along with any moisture from snow, fog, or rain, can all damage the inside of your boots (salty sweat and salt water are the worst for this). Pull out the insoles, wipe them down or launder them, then use a damp, clean rag to wipe out the inside of your boots. Do this step before any more extensive cleaning of the exterior, because once you get the insides dry, you want them to stay that way.

Dry the Boots

Unless you are in a fabulously damp location, it’s best to let boots dry as naturally as possible. Using the breeze and the sun is perfect, as is setting them a few feet from a fire or heater. Using a hairdryer is not so wise, as it can lead to cracking and damage. You may want to stuff the boots with dry balls of paper, socks, or anything else that’s nice and absorbent. Remove and/or replace the stuffing within an hour or so, because by that time it will have done as much as it can. Getting your boots as dry as possible may take a day or longer.

clean leather boots
Johner Images/Getty Images

Wipe the Rest

At this point, there’s probably still some dirt or mud clinging onto your boots somewhere. Go ahead and slam those boots together repeatedly or whack them over a rock — don’t worry, they can take it. Get off as much of that now-dried dirt as you can with brute force, then switch to a good, stiff brush. An old toothbrush is a good choice here (a current toothbrush is a much worse choice). Now turn to a cloth dampened with only water and wipe away the rest of the dirt and dust.

Use a Boot Cleaner or Detergent

To really get those boots clean, you should next wipe at them using either a dedicated boot (or shoe) cleaning solution or else a blend of water with a few squirts of basic dish detergent. There’s no need to soak your boots in a cleaning solution. Just wipe at them until they look clean because. Next, get those boots nice and dry again, using the approach(s) we discussed above.

If you have boots made primarily out of Fore-tex or some other synthetic material, you’re done. Go have a beer. If they are made from good ol’ leather or suede, you might want to take further steps to waterproof and condition them. Don’t worry, we’ve got an article all about leather and suede care too.

Article originally published April 6, 2017.

Travel

Everything You Need to Know About Van Life (and Some Cool Gear to Take Along for Ride)

Contemplating a modern nomadic lifestyle? We interviewed four van life experts for tips on surviving and thriving on the road.
Food & Drink

Best Kitchen Deals for Prime Day: Expect Great Deals on Appliances and More

While Prime Day may be a great opportunity to score on an Amazon Echo or an Apple Watch, we're more excited about the Prime Day deals on gear for our kitchen.
Living

Hurricane Preparedness Checklist: How to Get Ready for the Next Storm

Even if your area is not in the direct path of a hurricane, you may still experience power outages, flooding, or travel hindrances due to damage from the storm.
Living

Men’s Apartment Essentials to Turn Your Bachelor Pad Into a Home

Whether you're shopping for your first apartment, moving into a new place, or just bored with your current layout, every guy needs these home accessories.
Outdoors

10 Day Hike Essentials to Take Every Time You Hit the Trail

f you are missing anything from this checklist, each item can be purchased for $50 or less.
Outdoors

23 Best Travel Pants for Hiking, Exploring, and Everything in Between

Our favorite, all-around travel pants are suitable for every environment and activity, from finding comfort on the plane to finding adventure outdoors.
Outdoors

A Remote Camping Trip in Arizona’s Canyon de Chelly

The only way onto Canyon de Chelly in Arizona is with a trusted tour company that is partnered with the Navajo Nation, the owners of the land. Here's what you can expect.
Outdoors

We Tested the Recool, Igloo’s New Biodegradable Cooler

Size, ice retention, and durability — here's how a cooler made from biodegradable pulp performs.
Travel

The Best Travel and Adventure Documentaries on Netflix Right Now

If you're reading this, you're staring at a screen. Wouldn't you rather be exploring a different part of the world than the Internet?
Fashion & Style

7 Shirts You Can Wear on the Trail and to the Office

Work shirts can be uncomfortable. They don’t breathe or wick moisture well. They don’t regulate temperature. They stink after a hard day. But does it have to be that way?
Living

Take Your Cooler Back to the ’90s with the Igloo Throwback Collection

Everything from the '90s is new again, but nothing more so than the coveted Igloo Throwback collection.
Outdoors

Learn to Survive in the Mountains with NOLS’ Hardcore Outdoor School

Whether you’re a novice or an experienced outdoorsman, mountaineering is more accessible than you might expect.
Outdoors

The Best Ultralight Backpacking Gear Actually Worth the Price Tag

Ultralight is not always better. All gear lies somewhere on a spectrum of weight. At one end is car camping gear that’s built hardy and durable but weighs a ton. At the other end are the paper-thin jackets and tiny toothbrushes of the…
Outdoors

The Best Waterproof Dry Bags for Your Wet and Wild Outdoor Adventures

When life takes you far, far off-trail, your gear demands a legit dry bag.