Look after your leather
We spoke to wilderness and survival expert Ben McNutt on how to look after your leather hiking boots so they provide the best innate water-resistance nature has to offer (and all other leather goods for that matter!).
“Look after your kit, and your kit will look after you”, is a saying that you rarely hear these days, even amongst seasoned outdoors folk, with today’s hi-tech, time poor, synthetic loving, ‘throw-away’ culture. But… at last there appears to be a small resurgence for people who are moving back to a more traditional and sustainable approach to choosing their outdoor kit. Selecting natural materials over synthetics – cotton, wool and leather.
Good quality leather shoes have been around since at least 3,300BC when Ötzi the Iceman wore some to cross the Alps. His were made of very wide, waterproof bearskin soles laced to deer hide vamps and uppers, and grass insulation and lime bark bindings. We have been using unlined leather footwear for a long, long time.
Full-grain leather is naturally waterproof and breathable, especially if it is regularly nourished with natural oils. A well-designed boot with minimal stitching will breath well and shed water naturally and efficiently, but the leather needs to be cared for or it will dry and crack or the stitches will rot.
Traditional full-grain leather outdoor boots have always had a reputation to take a long time to ‘break-in’ and tend to be stiffer and heavier than lined boots, but barefoot minimal boots are much less restrictive and a lot more flexible, allowing you to be more nimble and to move better while wearing them.
I meticulously clean by boots with a stiff brush and tepid water and then let them dry slowly in a warm place. I then heat the boots with a hair dryer to open the pores of the leather and rub in a really good quality natural balsam that nourishes, conditions and restores the hide. The wax only contains natural ingredients like beeswax and jojoba oil, which help to naturally waterproof the leather while still allowing it to breath.