Fifty years ago, I don’t think that writing this article would have been necessary. Everyone wore leather shoes or boots and knew how to take care of them. And come to think of it, there were a lot more leather products in general. Coats, belts, more car seats and furniture were made out of leather.
There were no four-wheelers so people rode horses and they had saddles and reins to oil up. And all reins and saddle bags were made of leather. Nowadays half of the belts are constructed of something other than leather, some reins and headstalls are braided out of nylon rope, and saddle bags are made out of Cordova or some kind of foreign material.
So now a lot of our outdoor/everyday items are made out of something other than leather.
With the above said, how to care for a good pair of leather boots is a foreign concept. Let’s cover that today.
As a kid, I didn’t have any money to spend, much less to blow on a good pair of boots. Plus, it seems a kid outgrows their footwear before they get out of the front door of the store, so why would you spend a couple of hundred dollars on a good pair of boots for a kid? Sure, years ago clothes got passed down but even then, there was no money to blow on expensive footwear.
But the older I get, the more I value a good pair of comfortable boots. If you are really particular, it is easy to spend $300 on up to $400 on a good pair of leather boots! (I only paid $325 for my first car in high school.)
But even if you only pay $150 a pair of boots, then you want to take care of them. If you do, then they will last for years and maybe even decades. I still have five or six pairs of my dad’s cowboy boots and he died in 1990.
So what’s the proper way to care for leather boots? What are the Bozo No No’s? What I’m going to say in this article will apply to your hunting boots as well as your work boots. The first thing to do is to not store them away wet. Let them dry out before storing them in the back of your closet. I’ve never owned one but they make boot dryers that air dry boots. Some people do this nightly on their work boots. It’d be nice to do this on an elk hunt when you’re stomping through snow everyday but not possible when camped in a tent on top of a mountain.
Years and years ago, dad told me that if you switched out wearing your boots every other day that they’d actually last three times longer instead of two times longer. I’ve found this to be true with my work boots. For work, I have a pair of Irish Setter Wingshooter boots and a pair of Cabela’s work boots, both of which are leather. Having two pairs of hunting boots to rotate not only extends the life of your boots but it also gives your feet a rest. Unfortunately, most people can barely afford one good pair boots, much less two.
On your work boots, it is way more comfortable if you wear a good boot pad like the Medi-Dyne Tuli’s Plantar Fasciitis Insoles. I thought it’d work to do the same on my hunting boots since we’re walking on rocks most of the day (hint — “Rocky Mountains”). I guess I only tried it once decades ago with some big sloppy boots, which made my feet slip around inside my boots, so I started wearing good hiking socks for padding when hunting (although I guess I tried this years ago with cheap boot pads, not the Tuli’s).
Now for the biggee. You want to keep your boots oiled up, which will help them last for years. But don’t oil them up when they’re wet or you’ll lock in moisture and the leather can’t absorb the oil.
Years ago, they came out with waterproof sprays. I just don’t think they are good for your leather so I recommend oils or good boot cremes — Like Neatsfoot Oil, Lexol, mink oil, etc. As a kid, we put Neatsfoot Oil on all of our leather products. Baseball gloves, saddles and everything, but no doubt, the oil can get on your Wranglers when riding. Not that many cowboys would care but now I use Lexol on my saddle. You can put Lexol in a bottle and spray it on and then rub it in.
To treat your boots, clean the mud and dirt off. Walking through tall grass will do this. Make sure that they are dry and then apply your oil and rub it in. If you’re a normal hunter, you’ll oil them up after each hunt before storing them. My work boots I oil up every weekend.
If you oil your boots up properly, you’ll start hearing comments like, “Hey, I met you on top of this ridge elk hunting 10 years ago, wow, and aren’t those the same pair of boots you had on then?”
Tom Claycomb lives in Idaho and has outdoors columns in newspapers in Alaska, Idaho, Utah, Nevada, Colorado and Louisiana. He also writes for various outdoors magazines and teaches outdoors seminars at stores like Cabela’s, Sportsman’s Warehouse and Bass Pro Shop. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.