Maintaining Your Waterproof Shoes and Boots

Investing in a good pair of waterproof hiking boots or sneakers is a smart move. After all, your feet are in almost constant contact with the ground and elements while you’re walking or running. Getting them dirty is part of the adventure, a rite of passage even. But, did you realize you should be putting in some routine maintenance to preserve the waterproofness and materials? Mud can degrade leather by removing moisture, and leftover dirt and sand can actually break down shoe materials through constant friction while you walk. Don’t stress, though. A few minutes can go a long way in extending your shoes’ useful lifespan.

Credit: Sarah Quandt
Credit: Sarah Quandt

Cleaning Your Footwear

It’s important to keep your shoes clean and free of mud and debris. If you’re like most hikers, you probably change out of those squishy and smelly boots at the trailhead and stuff them in a plastic bag to be forgotten about in the trunk of your car. As tired as you might be after an epic hike or long run, it’s important to not let them sit for more than a day or two.

What you’ll need: water, a vegetable brush and/or toothbrush, and a mild soap or cleaner, like NIKWAX Footwear Cleaning Gel

How To: Begin by removing the insoles and laces. Next, clap your boots together or against a hard surface outside to remove any caked-on muck and stones or gravel that may be lodged in the treads. If sticky gunk like sap is an issue, throw them in the freezer to harden it, and then pry it off with a dull knife. Next, rinse them thoroughly with water while using a brush to scrub grime out of the tough spots. You can use a bit of soap or cleaning gel, but no harsh detergents that may damage boot materials. For extra-stinky boots, use a 1:2 mixture of vinegar and water. If you encounter dusty or sandy trails, use a vacuum with the hose attachment to remove the fine particles from both the outside and inside of your boot. Lastly, don’t neglect your shoes’ soles. Make sure to thoroughly clear them of trapped debris to ensure optimal traction and to prevent breakdown of the rubber.

Credit: Sarah Quandt
Credit: Sarah Quandt

Conditioning Your Leather Footwear

Full-grain leather, which looks smooth, is the only leather that requires conditioning. In turn, doing so keeps the material soft and pliable, which then prevents cracking.

What you’ll need: cloth and leather conditioner (NO oils like mink) like NIKWAX Leather Conditioner

How To: Leather conditioner is typically applied to dry boots, but check the manufacturer’s instructions first. Apply a generous but sensible amount of conditioner. While the conditioner helps keep the leather soft, too much can reduce the support the boot should provide. Use a damp cloth to remove excess, and buff to polish.

Credit: Sarah Quandt
Credit: Sarah Quandt

Protect and Waterproof Your Footwear

Luckily, you don’t need to re-waterproof your boots or sneakers after every use. You’ll know it’s time when water droplets no longer bead on the surface and, instead, are readily absorbed into the material.

What you’ll need: Waterproof wax or application like NIKWAX Waterproofing wax

How To: Begin with clean, wet boots with water fully soaked into the material. Generally, you’ll apply the waterproof agent, let it sit for a few minutes, and then, wipe away any excess, but be sure to follow the directions on the packaging. Waterproofing agents come in various forms, such as creams that get dabbed and liquids that get sprayed on.

Credit: Sarah Quandt
Credit: Sarah Quandt

Drying and Storing Your Footwear

It’s important to let your boots dry thoroughly to prevent mold from forming and materials from breaking down. A low-humidity environment is key, and you can speed up the process by using a fan or boot dryer or stuffing newspaper in each shoe. However, be sure to steer clear of heat, including fireplaces, which can damage materials and weaken adhesives. Dry the insoles separately, and do not put them back into the boot until both are completely dry. Then, store the boots in a well-ventilated area, and avoid garages and attics, both of which are notoriously damp and hot.

Credit: Sarah Quandt
Credit: Sarah Quandt

When Should I Retire My Footwear?

If you keep up on shoe maintenance, they’ll last forever, right? Not quite. So, how do you know when to toss ‘em? The number of miles a pair boots or sneakers has traveled can be a decent rule of thumb. You can expect hiking boots to get between 500 to 1,000 miles, while running shoes can typically see between 300 to 500 miles. These large ranges account for the many variables that cause wear and tear, such as ground surface and conditions. Visually inspect your shoes every so often for frayed, cracking, or separating materials. Cracking of the sole, compression lines, and worn treads also clearly indicate you’re due for some new kicks. Also, pay attention to your body. If your feet or joints hurt sooner or worse than usual or if you’re starting to get “hot spots,” it’s probably time to retire your boots.

 

Taking a little bit of time to care for and maintain your waterproof footwear ultimately prolongs its use. Following these basic steps will have you and your boots on the trail to happiness for years to come!


8 Reasons to Choose Waterproof Trail Runners

Anybody who’s working through the Northeast’s 4,000-footers should have a pair of waterproof trail runners in their footwear arsenal. Lightweight and blocking out moisture, they’re the perfect shoe for getting to the summit and back quickly on those less-than-perfect spring, summer, and fall days. Don’t believe us? Here are eight reasons they’re the ideal rainy hike footwear.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

1. Light is Right (Even When It’s Raining)

Everybody knows that a pound off your feet equals five pounds off your back. Since that adage holds true even when it’s dumping buckets, wearing these shoes is a great way to avoid a difficult choice between heavier hiking boots and lighter-but-not-waterproof trail runners. Not only will they allow you to maintain the hiking efficiency that you’re used to from regular trail runners, but they also provide almost as much weather protection as boots.

2. The Skinny on Being Heavy

Boots are also stiffer and less responsive, reducing your body’s efficiency. For every pound you put on your feet, you expend five-percent more energy. Five percent might not sound like much, but on a four-hour hike, that’s more than 10 minutes. Think of it as an extra 10 minutes to linger at the summit after the weather breaks.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

3. Flash the Flats

Waterproof trail runners let you move fast and keep your feet dry on soggy spring days or when you encounter unexpected showers. Since they’re designed specifically for running, you can race across that ridge, sprint ahead of that shower, or see just how fast you can cover that flat.

4. Warming Up to the Idea

Although trail runners might not be as warm as boots, especially traditional full-leather hikers, their waterproof liners add just enough coverage to make them suitable for cool spring weather or a little bit of snow lingering high up on the ridge. Even better, they adapt great on those days that start cold but warm up fast.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

5. Find Their Niche

Make the most out of waterproof trail running shoes by using them for the right types of hikes and conditions. Longer trips with lengthy stretches of flat ground and numerous short water crossings, like Bondcliff in New Hampshire’s White Mountains, are the perfect place to ditch the boots so you can cover the flats faster. They’re also ideal for shorter hikes, like Camel’s Hump in Vermont, where the support of boots isn’t needed—especially when you’re traveling through rainy and muddy conditions.

Pro Tip: When water levels are high, getting past a water crossing requires more than the right footwear. Check out this guide on safely crossing backcountry rivers.

6. No Need to Give ‘Em the Boot

Spring conditions—mud, rain, and repeatedly getting wet and drying—shorten the lifespan of both shoes and boots. Ironically, getting wet is what commonly leads to the demise of waterproof liners, as moisture brings minute dirt particles into the space between a boot’s exterior and its inner membrane. Here, the particles then slowly abrade the liner. Because waterproof trail runners are traditionally less expensive than boots, it is less painful to replace them when their time has come.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

7. Quivering for a Pair of Trail Runners

Even though trail runners are typically less expensive than boots, no one wants to be constantly replacing a key piece of gear. One of the great things about them is, they are an essential arrow in your quiver, truly shining during mud season and rainy days. Because of this, it’s not uncommon to get a few years out of a pair.

8. The Right Choice for the Right Day

Maximizing your time in the mountains is all about matching the right gear with the right conditions. Waterproof trail runners are perfect for logging miles in damp spring weather or whenever your trip has a high probability of mud and rain. Although they’re a key piece of gear, a lot of occasions still call for traditional hiking boots, as well as non-waterproof trail runners.

 

We want to know which types of footwear you wear hiking. Let us know in the comments!


Gear Checklist: Sport Climbing

Sport climbing is one of rock climbing’s fastest-growing segments. If you’re an aspiring sport climber looking to spend a day (or week) clipping bolts, this checklist will get you outfitted. So, gear up, climb safely, and start sending—rope gun not included!

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Dynamic Rope

If you plan on visiting a variety of sport-climbing areas, a 70-meter rope is now the way to go. While a 60-meter length will be sufficient for many older routes, 70-meter ropes are rapidly becoming the standard. Thus, having a 70 will ensure that you don’t end up short when it comes time to send that super-long project. Most also aren’t all that more expensive than their 60-meter counterparts.

In addition to getting longer, ropes are also becoming skinnier. For a nice blend of lightweight performance and durability, look at those between 9.6mm and 9.8mm thick. Ropes below 9.6 will likely wear too quickly for first-time outdoor climbers.

On whichever length or diameter you decide, consider getting the dry-treated version. Although it will cost more initially, you’ll save money in the long run. In use, the treatment helps keep the rope dry, reduce abrasion, and prevent dirt, sand, and other particles from getting embedded into the fibers.

For one final point: Before you climb, put a knot in the rope’s free end. That way, your belayer can’t lower you off if your rope ends up being shorter than required.

Rope Bag

To help keep your cord clean, a rope bag with a tarp is a worthwhile investment. Whether it’s clipping bolts out West at Red Rocks or nearer to home at Rumney, stacking the rope on a tarp prevents sand, dirt, and mud from getting inside its strands and causing abrasion, which, over time, weakens and discolors the material. The Black Diamond Super Chute has been a longtime favorite of ours.

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Quickdraws

Climbers use quickdraws—two non-locking ‘biners joined by a “dogbone”—to connect the rope to the bolts. We bring 12 to 18 quickdraws for a day of sport climbing. Because most routes don’t require that many, it is a good practice to carry the same number of draws as your route has bolts, plus one or two more in case you drop one. Counting the number of bolts and checking the guide book are two good ways to figure out how many you should carry.

Depending on your priorities, you can get quickdraws with thin Dyneema runners or fat nylon dogbones. Although thin runners help keep the weight down, quickdraws with thicker ones can be very handy for hauling yourself back up to that crux move. A stiffer dogbone also makes reaching for the clip a little easier.

When we’re climbing with a group of folks who will be following the route on top-rope, we carry two “alpine draws”—a quickdraw made with a shoulder-length Dyneema sling instead of a dogbone—with locking ‘biners to clip to the anchor. It’s an easy, efficient, and safe way to anchor into the bolts at the top. It also prevents wear on the fixed gear.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

Assisted-Braking Belay Device

Even if you already own a belay device, an assisted-braking option like the Petzl Grigri 2 is awesome for sport climbing. They are especially useful if you’re belaying someone working a route, as they involve less effort to hold a person while he or she rests.

Harness

Because sport climbers carry minimal gear and don’t spend as much time hanging in their harnesses compared to trad or aid climbers, specific models tend to have less padding than those intended for all-around use. While these are fantastic if you’re projecting the crag’s hardman route, most of us mortals will be okay with an all-around harness. Look for something that fits well, has enough gear loops, and is comfortable enough to hang in for a few minutes at a time.

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Chalk Bag and Chalk

If you’re like us, just the mere mentioning of climbing, never mind racking up, causes your hands to sweat. So, clip a chalk bag to your harness, tie it around your waist with a cord, or get a belt to make sure sweaty, slick hands don’t keep you from sending.

Cleaning, Rappelling, and Self-Rescue

A cordellette, a prusik, a double-length sling, and a few extra locking ‘biners are great additions to any sport-climbing kit. Combined, they only weigh an extra pound or two and will be really useful if you find yourself rappelling, needing to escape the belay, or building a ground anchor.

Many are also adding a personal anchor system to their kit to ease the the cleaning process. Bring one on your next trip to the crag, and enjoy the adjustability and safety provided.

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Helmet

Visit most popular sport crags, and you’ll likely see more people without helmets than with them. But, just because wearing a helmet here isn’t the norm, that doesn’t mean it’s a bad idea. After all, objective hazards like rockfall or dropped gear still occur. A helmet also protects your head in the event you end up inverted when taking a whipper.

Even better, helmets seem to get lighter and more breathable every season, making them so comfortable it’s easy to forget you’re even wearing one. The Black Diamond Vector offers a good blend of performance and protection at a reasonable price, and has been on our heads for the last few years.

Shoes

Today’s climbers are blessed with an incredibly large and diverse selection of climbing shoes. But, what works well for one person might not for another. It’s been our experience that, more often than not, it’s a climber’s ability to use their feet rather than a particular shoe that lets them make it to the anchors.

If you’re looking to narrow down your choices, however, a Velcro shoe or slipper is easy to get in and out of at the crag. You can slip them off for belaying or giving your feet a break when you’re not climbing, and pull them on quickly when it’s your turn to go again.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

Guide Book

There’s nothing worse than getting to the climbing area, and then wandering around aimlessly looking for a route. So, before you head out, make sure to get the guide book for your destination. It will give you a general lay of the land, get you to routes of interest, and maybe even offer some specific beta. It also makes a great place to record any routes you’ve sent!

Pack

A bag between 35 and 42 liters is perfect for carrying your gear, food, water, and a camera from the car to the cliff. While any pack in this range should suffice, a handful are designed for cragging. These offer easy access to supplies, and often include items like integrated gear loops, tarps, and pockets for holding specialized equipment like chalk and shoes.

The Little Things

  • Even on warm days, a puffy coat can be a valuable addition, as it’s a great way to keep comfortable between burns and belaying.
  • Sticky-soled approach shoes like the 5.10 Guide Tennie can be a nice addition if you climb at popular locations that involve scrambling from crag to crag.
  • Accidents can and do happen, so it’s always a good idea to have a first aid kit. Add a couple of climbing-specific items, like nail clippers, climbing tape, and hand warmers, especially for the spring and fall.
  • A headlamp is light, packable, and always a good idea to have in your bag.
  • If any or all of this feels too involved, a lesson with the EMS Climbing School is a great way to get your systems in place before heading out on your own.

 

This list contains pretty much everything you need for heading out to clip some bolts. But, you can add equipment to make the day more enjoyable or safer. Belay glasses to ease neck strain? An insulated water bottle for keeping cool when the pressure to send rises? Sending biscuits (Oreos) for positivity? In the comments, let us know the one thing you can’t live without at the crag!