When I first started hiking this wasn’t ever something that I considered to be important. How to dry my hiking boots wasn’t even given a second thought until one day when I was changing the insoles of my Salewa hiking boots. I noticed a significant amount of damp had built up underneath the insole, especially around the heel of the boot. I realised that I must be doing something wrong. Further research confirmed that leaving damp inside any type of footwear, not just hiking boots, is going to have adverse effects on its durability and longevity.
Since then, I’ve adopted a bit of a ‘boot care’ routine when I get back from a long hike (or short one). This post is specifically about drying them so I’ll focus on that for now. I know that it’s probably the last thing on your mind when you’re on your way back from a long trek through the wilderness. It’s even less desirable when you get in and smell the roast dinner cooking……
But it is extremely important if you want to preserve and keep your hiking boots in top shape. Here are the steps I take:
1. I give the boots a hose-down on the outside to get rid of most of the dirt or muck that may have accumulated on the hike.
2. I scrub the boots down with a boot scraper (basically a strong, handheld brush) to get any dirt and grit out of the Gore-Tex material. The same applies if you own leather boots. You need to do this because if any bits of dirt are stuck in the material they will, over time, lead to cracking and increased damage.
3. I remove the insoles to dry separately. This prevents any damp building up on the inside of your boots.
4. I leave my boots in a cool room (room temperature or slightly less) to dry for however long it takes. If they are soaking wet then it’s usually a couple of days.
Now, the above procedure is ideal if you’re back from a long hike at the weekend and won’t be heading out again until the following weekend or longer. This, of course, is not always the case.
There are times we are camping out in the wilderness and need our boots to be dry for the next day – panic!
We may be staying in a guesthouse/B&B where there isn’t really a ‘cool room’, only warm rooms – inconvenient.
In situations like the above, we have to be realistic, we need our boots as dry as possible in as little possible time. Before you start panicking and thinking that your boots are going to crumble or fall to pieces on your next hike if you take any drying ‘shortcuts’, they’re definitely not. Doing this when necessary is absolutely fine. If you’re using your boots so much that this becomes normal to you then that is great! You’re doing tons of hiking and that is exactly what the boots are for.
Below I list the key points to drying your hiking boots. Even if you’re rush-drying them, stick to the below guidelines and they’ll be absolutely fine.
Clean The Boots
This should be the first thing you do. If you try to dry your boots which are still covered in mud and dirt then they simply won’t dry as well. Furthermore, dirt stuck in the material leads to further damage with time so it’s essential to get them as clean as possible before drying.
Looking at my steps above, I use a hose. Another thing you should get in the habit of doing is, in the latter stages of your hike, splash your feet in a puddle or under a small waterfall. This gets the majority of the big pieces out and does most of the cleaning for you.
Avoid Direct Heat
The biggest mistake you can make when drying your boots is putting them in front of the fire. This seems like totally reverse logic, right? Surely putting something in front of a fire or radiator dries it quicker.
Well, it does, but it will also do a lot more damage to your boots. It’s bad for the material, leather or Gore-Tex, so avoid doing this if possible. If you’re trying to dry your boots for the next morning and don’t have many options then that’s fine, just make sure that they are a few feet from the fire and not going to get burning hot.
It’s worth mentioning that this also includes heat sources such as a hairdryer, radiator, and direct sunlight. They will all have similar effects on the boots’ material.
Remove The Insoles
This lets air into every corner of the boot, it also allows it to circulate around and not allow any damp to cling to the bottom of the inside. Your insole will also dry quicker if left separately from the boot.
You should do this for drying your boots normally and in emergency situations.
Use A Newspaper
This is especially effective if your boots got completely saturated. Newspaper stuffed deep into your boots will extract any trapped moisture and absorb it. Make sure the paper isn’t scrunched too tight because it needs some air to be at its most effective. There may be a lot more moisture than you actually expected when you remove the paper the next morning.
I don’t tend to do this if I won’t be hiking for a few days but it’s an absolute must if your boots are soaked on the insides and you’re heading off again the next morning. Replace the newspaper every couple of hours for maximum effect.
Remove The Laces
I don’t bother doing this if I’ll be leaving my boots in a cool room to dry naturally for several days. Again though, it’s ideal if you’re camping or doing consecutive days on the trail. It doesn’t make a massive difference but it just allows air to circulate that bit further if the boots are completely loose.
Leather vs Gore-Tex
When Gore-Tex boots started to become the ‘in thing’ it was quite commonly believed that they required less care than leather boots. This is absolutely not true and you should treat them the same way as a leather pair, this also applies to drying.
Gore-Tex is probably slightly more tolerant of drying with heat but I still wouldn’t make it a habit. Treat Gore-Tex as you would leather and vice-versa.
These tips have hopefully given you a better idea on how to dry hiking boots in the safest way possible. Ideally, you need 2 – 3 days to dry a pair of saturated hiking boots in the most natural way possible. Obviously, this isn’t always realistic, especially when we’re out wild camping and hiking for consecutive days.
If you do have to place your boots in front of the fire from time to time for some emergency drying, don’t worry too much about it! It’s just a lot more convenient sometimes, just try not to make it a habit and only when 100% necessary.
Thanks a lot for reading and if you have anything to add or any questions then please write in the comments box below. 🙂