How to Take Good Care of your Walking Gear

By Nicky Jacquiery

Walking boots sit outside in the garden to dry after a walk.

I’ve said before that walkers can often be heard discussing walking clothes and gear: the merits of different brands, the latest technological advances and so on, but it’s rare to hear walkers talking about the best way to look after their walking gear. I guess it’s just not interesting enough, and yet it’s important to know how to look after your gear, especially if it’s brand new. Let’s face it, good quality walking gear isn’t that cheap, so you want it to last as long as possible.

In this article, I’m going to outline some of the basics of looking after your walking gear. A lot of information can be found in the manufacturer’s instructions, but some of the advice I’m going to give here is what I’ve learnt through personal experience, and in particular through mistakes I’ve made. Hopefully, unlike me, you won’t have any major mishaps resulting in your walking gear being ruined!

Walking boots

Of all our walking gear, walking boots are probably the one item that we spend the most time choosing, and depending on which type we opt for, they can be one of our most expensive purchases. So, it makes sense to look after them.

Unfortunately (for those of us who are averse to cleaning!) looking after our boots means that we do have to clean them. How many of us have kicked off our boots at the end of a long and tiring walk, promised ourselves we will clean them later, forgotten about them and then before our next walk found them still caked in mud? I’m guilty of doing exactly that!

Even though I know that caring for my boots is a good habit to develop, I still find myself cleaning my boots just prior to a walk, or worse, not cleaning them at all and going out on a walk with my boots still dirty from the time before.

Hiking boots beside bag, ready for cleaning.

Cleaning your boots

So, the message is clear: clean off all the mud and debris from the outside of your boots. Don’t forget to clean the inside; do this as soon as possible after your walk, even though you may not want to! Warm water and a scrubbing brush are all that you need. Avoid using detergents, especially on fabric boots, as these can damage the fabric.

Drying your boots

The next step is to make sure that you thoroughly dry your boots. This is best done naturally by leaving your boots in a warm, dry place. Don’t be tempted to speed up the drying process by putting your boots in front of a fire. I’ve completely ruined a pair of walking boots in the past by leaving them too close to a fire and forgetting about them, only to be reminded by the smell of burning leather!

You can soak up excess water by stuffing your boots with newspaper. Just remember to replace the newspaper frequently.

Never put away your boots wet or even slightly damp for any length of time. If you do, I can guarantee that the next time you come to use your boots they will have mould growing in them. Again, I’ve learnt this the hard way!

Reproofing and preparing for the next walk

Once you’re sure that your boots are clean and thoroughly dry, you then need to reproof them with a specialist conditioner or wax to prevent the leather from drying out and cracking. This will also ensure that your feet stay dry.

Finally, check the soles and vulnerable areas of your boots, such as your laces and eyelets. These are the areas that are likely to wear out first. The last thing you need is for your sole to fall off or your laces to break when you’re out on a walk!

Waterproof clothing

Caring for your waterproof clothing is relatively straightforward, and again it involves cleaning to maintain the life expectancy and water repellency of the fabric.

As with your boots, you need to check your waterproofs regularly, ideally at the end of every walk. Remove any mud and dirt as this will degrade the fabric over time.

Pay particular attention to areas that wear more easily, such as the zips, hems, elbows and shoulders. Although you may not realise it, even carrying a rucksack has an abrasive effect on your jacket and will gradually reduce the fabric’s ability to repel water.

The obvious way to make sure your waterproofs are clean is to wash them in cold or warm water, using a product that is designed for this purpose. There are many products on the market, the most common being those made by Nikwax or Grangers. As with fabric boots, never use a detergent. These are too harsh and will affect the fabric’s performance.

You don’t need to re-proof your waterproofs after every wash, but when you do, again use a specialist re-proofing product. When your waterproofs are new, water will bead up and roll off the fabric, but if water starts to soak in then this is usually an indication that they need to be re-proofed.

Socks and other fabric clothing

Hanging up fabric walking kit to dry, an important part of the cleaning process.

It’s a good idea to regularly check all of your walking clothes, including your socks. Socks that are worn or have holes in them should not be worn for walking, especially if you’re likely to be walking for any length of time as they will likely cause irritation and blisters.

When cleaning your walking clothes, follow the individual manufacturer’s instructions, but as a general rule, avoid using fabric softener with fleece and Polartec material as this affects the performance of the fabric.

Many of you will have a tumble dryer, but always check the instructions before machine-drying any thermal or merino wool clothes, as there is a risk that they will shrink. I’ve had thermal underwear shrink to such an extent that I’ve not been able to wear it again; a very expensive mistake!

Rucksacks and walking poles

As far as your rucksack and poles are concerned, again you need to brush them clean to preserve their life. Grit can find its way into the smallest of recesses of your rucksack, degrading the fabric, and likewise any dirt inside your poles can affect the locking mechanism.

Make sure all food and packaging are removed from your rucksack unless you want a nasty surprise when you next come to use it. Don’t do what I’ve done in the past and forget to take out unfinished sandwiches and banana skins!

Clearly you don’t need to wash your rucksack after every outing, but at the very least I always make sure that I air it before I put it away, especially if the back or straps are damp with sweat.

Straightforward care

Much of the information that I’ve outlined here is basic common sense, but if in doubt always check the individual manufacturer’s instructions.

Although it may be the last thing you feel like doing at the end of a day’s walking, cleaning and checking your gear is a good habit to develop and will stand you in good stead for a lifetime of walking. Not only that, but your bank balance will thank you for it too!

Originally published 24/10/16

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