Contents: Fit | Break-in | Care and Maintenance | Brands | Lacing Tips | Drying | Foot Odor

Fit:

1. The toe box is roomy enough to wiggle your toes.
2. The heel has enough room that if you push your foot toward the front of your boot, you can squeeze a finger down the back of the boot.
3. Your heel does not slip up and down as you walk.

Breaking in Your New Boots

Once you purchase a pair of boots, break them in slowly and don't tackle Mt. Everest on your first day out. Leather boots in particular take a while to break in, so take a couple of two- or three-hour hikes before your big trip or wear them around the house or even while mowing your lawn. If you find any sharp pressure points, use boot conditioner or wax to soften the leather.
Source: Choosing Hiking Boots at the Tsukuba Walking & Mountaineering Club

When I started hiking 45 years ago boots were mainly stiff leather and there were break in tips like soaking them in a water alcohol mix and walking in them until they dry. Most modern boots don't require these extremes and alcohol can affect some adhesives in some boots.

Care and Maintenance

Cleaning and waterproofing your boots from time to time is critical. Use waterproofing on leather, and be sure to concentrate on the seams, which can become porous over time. For boots with a Gore-Tex? lining, use a fluoropolymer base waterproofing treatment, not a wax-based treatment. Wax-based treatments keep the leather from "breathing."

Avoid using oil-based treatments like Mink Oil on any leather hiking boots. Oil-based products are intended to soften leathers and make them more supple, which can negatively affect the support of hiking boots.
See:
Fabric and Leather in Protectants
Caring for your Hiking Boots at REI

On the trail, if a blister or hot spot develops, place padding such as moleskin or an adhesive bandage over the area. You can cut a donut in the moleskin to create a buffer around the blister.
See blisters in health.

Repair - Custom Fitting

See:
Foot problems (pronation explained)
Boot Fitting Guide | GreatOutdoors.com

Brands:
Montrail, Merrell, Teva, Keen, Dunham, Lowa, Vasque, North Face, or Timberland

My son is still using my 38 year old Privetta Muir Trails, which I still consider the best hiking boots I ever owned.

"I work at REI in the footwear department, so i get these types of questions a lot. Really, to tell you the truth, in my opinion they are all good companies, out of the ones you have listed, Montrail and Vasque are the most durable, Merrell and Keen are great if you have a wider foot, and Teva, Lowa and Dunham are really comfortable all around."

Tanning:
Animal hides are prepared for commercial leather by a process which includes tanning.

  • Vegetable tanning, which is the oldest of tanning methods, is still important. Extracts are taken from the parts of plants that are rich in tannin. The extracted material is processed into tanning liquors, and the hides are soaked in vats or drums of increasingly strong liquor until they are sufficiently tanned. The various vegetable-tanning procedures can take weeks or months to complete. The end result is a firm, water-resistant leather.
  • Mineral tanning, which uses mineral salts, produces a soft, pliable leather and is the preferred method for producing most light leathers. Use of this method can shorten the tanning period to days or even hours. Chromium salt is the most widely used mineral agent, but salts from aluminum and zirconium are also used. In mineral tanning the hides are soaked in saline baths of increasing strength or in acidic baths in which chemical reactions deposit salts in the skin fibers.
  • Oil tanning is an old method in which fish oil or other oil and fatty substances are stocked, or pounded, into dried hide until they have replaced the natural moisture of the original skin. Oil tanning is used principally to make chamois leather, a soft, porous leather that can be repeatedly wetted and dried without damage.
  • Oak tanning is one of the oldest kind of tannage. The Tannin used in this process can be obtained from Oak tree bark. In countries where there was no Oak bark, urine was used. It produces a firm and durable skin that is suitable for products such as saddles, belts, tack, and some shoes.
Source: Henry Hibbard at Windstream.net
I've never seen a particular kind of tanning recommended, however it can affect the water-proofing or leather conditioner you apply.

Lacing Tips See Boot-Lacing

Drying boots:

Whenever possible, dry your boots completely after each trip. To dry them, simply store them in a dry, warm area. Don't set your boots near a fire (or other heat source) to dry them more quickly, since high temperatures can damage boot materials and the cements used to hold them together. Even drying rooms in some lodges may be too hot. If you need to speed up the drying process, try stuffing dry newspaper inside your boots to absorb water. Replace the newspaper every hour, then let them air dry.

Several people suggested filling boots with rice.

MaxxDry MX00500 Portable AC (120 only)/DC dryer (fan and heat) $35
  Seems to be marketed as DryGuy CirculatorHDT $40 now
  hard to fit in boots.
MaxxDryVT (heat only) $25
DryGuy Portable AC (120-240)/DC dryer (heat only) $28 60W AC, 1 A DC, 110°
DryGuy Circulator (120V) (heat only) $30
PEET Dryer GO! with UV $30 see below.
Other boot dryers..

Odor - Smell:
Boot and Foot odor, known in the medical profession as bromhidrosis, is caused by bacteria that thrive on sluffed off skin and fat and minerals in perspiration and love a dark damp environment.
One forum comment said "The problem is coming from the bacteria n fungus growing in the foam insulation of the boot. It is detereorating, eatting, the foam thus the foul odor, a by product gas."
Some solutions for smelly boots I found on the web. Some I'd avoid.

  • The best way to avoid odor is to keep your boots dry (see drying above) and you feet clean.
  • Put the shoes in a zipper-lock plastic bag and place them in the freezer overnight. The freezing temperatures will kill most odor-causing bacteria. This was the most common suggestion on the hiking forums.
  • Use anything that kills bacteria:
    • Stink Free from 2Toms is a spray that kills odor causing bacteria on contact.
    • Soak them in a diluted (20:1 or 1.5 oz/quart) bleach solution or wipe them with a sponge that has some bleach diluted 50/50 with water.
      Sodium Hypochlorite (laundry bleach) is a very powerful oxidant. It will not do much damage to plastics such as nylon, polypropylene, teflon (Goretex) and the like, but leather, natural rubber and organic dyes used as colorants will take an awful beating.
    • Soak them in Lysol®, Pinesol or anti-bacterial soap for a day and then wash and rinse them with hot water, dry them in the sun, then put them in the freezer overnight.
      Or wipe them with Lysol Mold and Mildew Remover
    • Simple Green has several products: d Pro 3 - Disinfectant/Virucidal/Fungicidal, Concentrated Cleaner/Degreaser/Deodorizer
    • Use Hydrogen Peroxide, then dry them out completely and store with a dessicant.
    • SteriShoe is an insert Using germicidal ultraviolet light (UVC) to kill micororganisms. $130
    • Febreze® Fabric Refresher Antimicrobial™
    • Spray hand sanitizer on your feet and boots. It's 63% alcohol.
      Another person said this didn't work.
  • Prevention:
  • Sodium bicarbonate will create a hostile environment unsuitable for the bacteria responsible for the bad smell. Four pinches of baking soda on each foot everyday are usually enough (two inside the sock and two on the insole of the shoe).
  • Clean the inside of your boots every few months with a mild shampoo. Dampen a washcloth with water and add a squirt or two of shampoo. Massage the washcloth over the inside surfaces of your boots.
  • Put half a dryer sheet in each boot overnight.
  • Presoak and wash with a bit of degreaser (aka white lightning, zep product, pep boys degreaser) added with HOT water. It will break apart the oils that are attached to the fibers in your shoe. These oils and enzymes from your body provide the food for the fungi and bacteria.
    Source: Cure For Stinky Shoes?? - WhiteBlaze - Appalachian Trail
    I'd be hesitant to try this.
  • 4 tablespoons cornstarch, 4 tablespoons baking soda, 20 drops Tea Tree oil, 10 drops lemon oil, and 10 drops lavender oil. To use: Sprinkle the deodorizer lightly into shoes in the evenings or at times when the shoes will not be worn for a few hours. You will not see a "cure" for smelly shoes the first time you use the deodorizer. The magic occurs after regular uses.
  • If all else fails, go to a pet store and purchase an odor remover such as Nature's Miracle that contains enzymes or bacteria. The enzymes and bacteria in these products literally eat away the source of the bad odors.
  • Go! PEET Shoe Dryer - Uses UV light radiation to eliminate contaminates like bacteria, viruses and fungi that cause odor and deteriorate footwear. They break easily according to reviews at Amazon.
  • Aquaseal® Footwear Cleaner deep-cleans and deodorizes.
See:
Discovery Health Home Remedies for Foot Odor"
Foot odor - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Disinfecting  
Links:
How To Choose The Best Hiking Boots - IntenseAngler -YouTube
Caring for your Hiking Boots: Expert Advice from REI
Boot Fitting Guide | GreatOutdoors.com
Ian's Shoelace Site
See Foot Problems in health for information on inserts and Orthotics
last updated 4 nov 2010