Boot Care 101
As much as my Instagram feed (@Estelawilded) and Facebook profile suggest to the contrary, I really am just a simple guy when it comes to outdoor gear. Sure, I have some pretty awesome hard goods and some high-end apparel but when it comes down to it, give me the basics and throw me in the woods. I’m happy just getting outside with a good knife like a KE Bushie and the basic clothes on my back. Since I’m focusing on the basics, I thought it would be worthwhile to explain something frequently overlooked even though it is an incredibly important skill. What I’m referring to of course is boot care. Our boots help us explore the outdoors and they’re the critical link that separates us from the elements. A good pair of boots will keep your feet warm, protect your toes from impact, support your ankles under the weight of a loaded pack and be a source of accomplishment and pride if you maintain them. Since people are sized up and profiled by their watches and shoes, what does the condition of your boots say about you?
Boot care is a continual process and there is no start and finish to it. For the purpose of this blog, we’ll start AFTER they’ve been properly broken in (maybe a topic for future Fiddleback Forge blog posts),used in the field, and have picked up some funk or gunk. Funk or gunk are highly technical terms of course for mud, dirt, sand, goo, spooge or whatever else you want to call it. If you’re in Georgia, home of Fiddleback Forge, perhaps your funk, maybe your gunk, is the red Georgia mud. With a good nylon brush or running water, wash off/brush off any large chunks of funky gunk. When this dirt dries, it can work its way into fabric and leather and micro-abrade the material as it is worn cutting it from the inside out and eventually wearing down the material to the point of failure. It’s important to remove the surface dirt/mud/etc. before applying any leather/fabric treatment. Don’t use a high pressure hose on your leather as it can force and rinse out existing leather treatment and natural oils. Remove the funk and gunk on the leather looking for it in the little nooks and crannies like underneath the eyelets and around the tongue.
Visual inspection is part of boot maintenance. After all that funk and gunk is removed, take a good look at your boots. After a good hike, it’s not uncommon to find the occasional thread pull out and tears in the fabric can happen. Look for damage to the grain of the boot and see if the sole is still cemented to the mid-sole. Look to see your laces are not frayed beyond repair (if you don’t have spare cordage and you break a boot lace it’s just plain annoying). You should visually inspect your boots (and your gear for that matter) whenever it is practical. Use some Shoe-Goo or Barge cement on your boots if a sole is a flap that is delaminating. Take a pair of scissors and trim your pulled threads before using a lighter to burn the synthetic (assuming it is synthetic) thread to a mushroom to prevent further un-threading. Before you can fix a problem, you have to notice it. You can’t notice it if you don’t visually inspect your boots. This process is done at home and countless times on the trail. When you have a second to take a break, look down at your feet and see if your boots are in the right working order.
Appropriate Water Resistance Finish
Suede is not the same as full-grain leather. Full-grain leather is not the same as fabric and leather. You need to know what kind of boots/footwear you have before you can select an appropriate water-resistant boot care product to use. After using my boots in the field and following the steps listed above, I take a little extra time to remove the laces and apply a water resistant boot conditioner like Nixwax. This finish helps prevent the suede in my jungle boots (The Garmont Bifida boots pictured in this blog post) from absorbing excess water and becoming waterlogged. I follow the directions on the bottle applying just enough and not an excess that will pool up or not absorb in. I let the boot dry for at least 24 hours before wearing it again. It’s important to use the correct boot wax, paste, or product for the type of boot you have as suede will react differently than full-grain leather if a heavy boot dressing is used on it. Don’t confuse shoe polish for boot treatment even though some colored boot dressings do both restore the factory color and provide additional water resistance.
If you are uncertain what to use for your boots, just visit a good outdoor retailer and they should be able to direct you to the right stuff. Use the wrong stuff and you’ll likely make your boots uglier than someone who has fallen out of the ugly tree and hit every branch on the way down.
I believe in little victories. I said I’m a simple guy and having a well-maintained pair of boots gives me a sense of satisfaction, a sense of completion. I take care of my boots for the same reason I make my bed. Boot care is a great character development exercise and it is a way I can earn a little sense of accomplishment. It also helps me unwind and relax as I unlace my boots, sit back with a brush and an applicator and make my boots look new again. Not only will boot care maintain the comfort and durability of your footwear, it will ward off any issues and critical failure when it absolutely can’t happen. Just like you shouldn’t wait for your car’s “change oil” or “service engine soon” light comes on, you shouldn’t wait to maintain your boots. If a person doesn’t maintain their boots, can we assume they will take care of their knives, guns, vehicle, family the same way? We are what we repeatedly do and something as simple as brushing off some dirt and rubbing in some polish can build great habits that carry over into other aspects of life. We shouldn’t judge a man until we walk a mile in his shoes but who’s shoes would you rather walk in, someone who takes care of them or someone who doesn’t?