These Boots Were Made For Walkin’…

Pretty much every day in work I explain to people how to look after a pair of hiking boots to make sure they get the most amount of wear out of them. With summer just around the corner I figured now would be a good time to give my own boots a quick once-over and write up a short how-to here at the same time.

For those who care, these boots are a pair of Hi-Tec V-lite Fasthike II WP.  They were first produced in 2008 and last sold by Hi-Tec in 2011.

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Wearing the boots as I arrived at Kibo Hut, Kilimajaro, 2010

I got mine in 2010. They were the boots I wore on Kilimanjaro and the first pair of civilian hiking boots I’ve owned. Up until Kilimanjaro all of my hiking was done in army boots.

I bought them based on the following considerations:

  • I could afford them.
  • They weren’t super heavy.
  • They were waterproof.
  • I liked the look of them.

That last one is the last one for a reason. The amount of times I see someone looking at the wrong piece of equipment for what they’re doing because it looks nicer, or dismissing the perfect equipment because “I’m a woman, colours matter more to us; and these won’t go with my jacket” (this, and variations of it have genuinely said to me on numerous occasions) is crazy.

I always say:

  1. Get the gear for the job you’re doing.
  2. Don’t just think about this trip, think about the next trip. What are you going to use your gear for when you get back?
  3. How it looks matters, but it matters the least. If you’ve two pieces of equally good kit and one looks nicer, get the nice one. If you’ve two pieces of kit that aren’t equally good, get the better one.

Would I recommend them? Kinda… it depends. Hi-Tec aren’t the greatest out there, but they are a good entry level into hiking without spending a fortune. If you start playing football you’re probably not going to go out and pick up a pair of Adidas Predators on your first day. You’re going to get a cheap pair of boots, play a couple of games, see if you like the sport and if you’ll stick with it, and upgrade the boots later.

That’s what these boots were. When I get a new pair, I’ll be upgrading to something more serious. But to continue the football analogy, are your old boots still good enough for a weekend kick-about with your mates? Probably. These boots are grand for the light knocking around I’ll be doing over the summer. Which is why I cleaned them up.

“But Senan, why should I bother?”  I hear you ask, you lazy, lazy hiker. I’m not judging, I’m an equally lazy hiker when it comes to this stuff. This is the first time I’ve done this with these boots.

Originally it was because I wanted to preserve the red dust of Africa on them from my Kili trip. It was a nice, romantic idea. That’d be all well and good if I was to never wear the boots again. Then the Irish winter happened and they were my only waterproof shoes, so I ended up wearing them around Dublin and all the romance of them got washed away in the rain. I wasn’t hiking with them though, so I never bothered looking after them. At one stage a lace broke and my paracord-as-a-temporary-shoelace fix just became the new lace. I barely used them, so I didn’t care.

I actually feel a little bad writing that. Sadface.

“Okay… so why should I bother…?

Right. Basically, dirt, grit, and even water can damage your gear. Yes, even water.

If you’ve ever hiked in the Irish mountains, you’ve encountered some boggy, marshy ground that sucks the energy out of your legs and the joy out of your day. Well, that marshy boggy water isn’t just a sign of a “grand soft day”, it’s also acidic; and left unchecked can damage your boots.

So how does one look after their boots?

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All set up and ready to go.

Step 1.

Wash them. The old fashioned way. Instead of throwing them in a washing machine and hoping for the best, get a sponge and some warm water and start scrubbing. Getting all the mud and dirt off them will let you know that you’re getting all of that acidic water off them. I used a nail brush (shown in the picture) to clean any mud and dirt off the sole and visible portion of the midsole.

Step 2.

Take out the insoles. This will let any dirt and grit come out from inside them. If your boots are waterproof it’s not because they’re leather* it’s because they have a waterproof membrane inside them.

These membranes work (on an incredibly basic level) on what I call the Tom and Jerry Principle. Basically, a water droplet can only get so small. The pores in these membranes are very, very small; smaller than a water droplet. So when it rains or you step in a puddle, water can’t get through the pores; but when your foot sweats, that sweat evaporates and can escape through the membrane (assuming you’re wearing good socks that don’t soak up and hold on to sweat. Pro tip: never hike in cotton socks!). Basically, the mouse can get out of the mouse hole, but the cat can’t get in. Tom and Jerry. Very scientific altogether.

But what does this have to do with taking out the insoles from your boots? Well, for a membrane to be waterproof, yet breathable they have to be quite thin. Some grit or a tiny pebble in your boot, rubbing against that membrane, can eventually tear it, making your boots leak. Imagine a grain of sand and a piece of tissue paper; it might take a long time, but eventually the sand will wear a hole through the paper.

Suddenly taking out your insoles and letting that dirt and grit get out makes sense, doesn’t it? Be careful though, if you’re using hard-based insoles for better foot support, make sure you avoid tearing the waterproof membrane in your boots. There’s no point in taking them out to stop dirt tearing the membrane only to have the insole itself do the damage.

Step 3.

This one will sound ridiculous.

With a waterproof boot, you can fill the boot up with water, put your hand over the top to stop water splashing out, and shake the bejesus out of it to remove any dirt you might have missed. You can do it. But I don’t know anybody who does.

Step 4.

Allow your now soaked boots to dry.

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Leaving the boots against the wall to dry.

This is important: Don’t use a tumble dryer or hairdryer to dry your boots; and remember the way Mammy used to stuff your wet shoes with newspaper and put them on the radiator? Don’t do that either.

Doing this can cause any glues used in the manufacture of the boot, as well as the leather on a leather boot, to dry too quickly and crack. Cracks mean holes. Holes mean leaks.

Just let them air dry naturally at room temperature. So, generally I tell people if you’re going put today and again tomorrow, then don’t give them a deep clean because they won’t be dry in time; but if you’re going out today and again next week, do.

Step 5.

When they’re dry, reproof them.

If you’ve got synthetic textile boots, you can get a spray such as Granger’s Footwear Repel (this isn’t the only product that does this, it’as just the one I’m most familiar with. NikWax is another common brand). This spray will allow water to bead off the boot rather than soaking in

Think of it this way: y’know when you get a brand new fancy rain jacket and you can see the drops of water running off it? Then fast forward a while and it doesn’t do that anymore, even though you’re still dry on the inside? That’s because the DWR (durable water repellent) coating is worn away. The jacket is still doing it’s job of keeping you dry, for now, but reapply this coating and it’ll do that job better. The same goes for your boots.

If you have leather boots, you can wax them. At this point I’d like to mention that nubuck and suede are both still leather. To go from a full grain leather to nubuck they basically skim a layer off the top, to go from nubuck to suede they skim another layer off. It’s still leather, it can still be waxed. Don’t argue.

That said, waxing nubuck or suede can get rid of that nice velvet look and make it look… well, waxy.

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The boot on the right has had the first coat of wax applied, the one on the left has not.

If this is an issue for you (and I’m not judging, you paid good money for boots you liked the look of) then you can use the spray I mentioned already instead of wax to reproof them.

If the look of the boot is secondary to its function and you don’t mind altering it, then read on:

Using a dry, clean cloth and something like Granger’s G-Wax or Paste Wax (or similar), apply a thin coat of wax to the boot and allow it to dry. I recommend you remove any excess wax with the cloth. Excess wax won’t do any harm, but when it dries it can look a bit crusty. Do this a couple of times.

Personally, since I didn’t mind altering the look of my boots and it had already turned into a kind of little project, I applied a coat of brown boot polish between coats of wax to see how they’d turn out.

Congratulations. Your boots are now reproofed and ready for you to take to the hills again.

 

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The finished product.

*Trust me on this, please! Also don’t listen to someone who says your boots have to be leather for them to be waterproof. They might genuinely have the best intentions in mind, but they don’t actually know what they’re talking about.

PS. Here is a copy of the info sheet I did on Granger’s products I did for work that I mentioned in this article.

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