How to Clean Hiking Shoes

An outdoorsman’s favorite tools are a compass, a sturdy rucksack and a good pair of hiking shoes. Usually, hiking entails following trails along the countryside or through forests. Read our article to know more about how to clean hiking shoes.

Depending where you choose to go you may find a well-travelled trail that is flat and smooth or you might come across a rough, untraveled trail that cuts through a forest.

These, lesser travelled paths are often ravaged by the elements and make each trip completely different from the last. Trails can be dry and rocky, or wet, muddy and covered in leaves that have all kinds of thorns and thistles just lying about, just waiting to prick into your feet, of course a good hiking shoe solves that problem.  Here is a rundown of how to clean hiking shoes.

Materials of Hiking Shoes

Most boots and shoes are made of leather, but recently, nylon, synthetic leather and fabric have also been used in the construction of these sturdy shoes. 

Most of the time, you’re going to find that most hiking shoes are made from a mix of leather, nylon or suede. Mesh panels are a common sight on these shoes, since they let the foot breathe, so to speak. Some shoes have a Gore-Tex® lining which provides the same breathability but with the added bonus of being waterproof.

The main material in a hiking shoe is leather, either pleather or animal hide is used. Usually, most common shoe brands use split grain leather, which is sourced from the bottom of the hide, it has a good look and doesn’t cost much, but isn’t very durable.

Full grain leather however, is one of the more expensive types of leather. Sourced from the very top layer of the animal hide, it’s quite durable and weather proof. Goods made from this type of leather are long lasting, but they require a certain degree of maintenance. 

Types of Hiking Shoes:

1. Trail Shoes: These are light shoes that are meant for running and walking on established trails. They’re not meant for rough terrain and rocky paths. Trail shoes are best worn for a day hikes. 

2. Trail Hikers: Hiking shoes such as these have a thick rubber sole and are made of leather. They’re designed to keep your foot safe as you walk over rough terrain. They come with rubber toe caps and have stiff midsoles which work to protect the foot from rocks and roots that may be found on different trails. 

3. Hiking Boots: Boots such as these are for exploring, mountaineering and crossing through extremely rough terrain or lesser known trails. They’re extremely durable and weather proof. Crampons may be attached to them and they are a must for mountaineers and explorers.

Parts of a Hiking Shoe:

1. Upper: The main body of the shoe that is made to fit around the foot and support it. They’re usually made from leather and are waterproof, they also have to have a degree of breathability so the shoe is comfortable. 

2. Soles: Made of thick rubber, the soles provide grip and protect the bottom of the foot from rocks, roots and anything hazardous on the trail. They absorb impact and cushion the foot.

3. Tongues: The flap of material that covers the inlet of the upper is called a tongue, it goes below the laces and keeps water, debris and dirt out of the shoe.

4. Padding and Lining: In order to add comfort, waterproofing and insulation various types of linings are used. Padding, such as a rubber toe cap provide extra impact protection to the feet. 

5. Insoles: A very important part of any shoe, the insole is where the wearer’s foot meets the shoe. It gives support as well as comfort when being worn.

6. Shanks: A shank provides extra rigidity to the structure of the shoe. It is placed in between the insole and the outsole. Longer shanks mean that a shoe is more rigid. 

7. Scree-Collar: A scree-collar protects the Achilles’ tendon from chafing. It is usually a small roll of foam padded leather that is made from a cut at the back of the inlet. 

8. Crampon Connections: Simple tabs that allow for crampons to be attached to the boot for added grip on snow and slippery terrain.

Dos and Don’ts:


  • Clean your boots after every hike.
  • Suede shoes should be scrubbed more gently than pleather or animal leather.
  • Mild soaps and dishwashing detergents should be used when washing hiking shoes. A stronger cleaning agent may damage the leather or waterproofing membranes.
  • Always check if your type of shoe is compatible with any boot or shoe cleaners you’re using.


  • After completing a wash, let your shoes dry naturally. Putting them near any direct heat may prematurely age them or dry out the leather and cause it to crack. Adhesives within the shoe may break down due to the heat.
  • Hiking shoes and boots shouldn’t be left out to dry in the sun as well.
  • Drying shoes shouldn’t be stored in cold, damp places. The drying process will take too long and your shoes may go moldy. 
  • Hiking shoes should always be hand washed, putting them in a washing machine may damage the shoes.

What You Need

On the surface, cleaning hiking shoes are quite simple, just add water and scrub the dirt and grime off. Simple, right? On the surface, yes, it is quite simple. Especially if you’ve just taken a light walk on a relatively travelled, flattened trail. 

What do you do when your shoe is filthy and caked in mud and what not? Well, you bring out several common tools to aid you in your cleaning. Firstly, you’re going to need a screwdriver, then a toothbrush and finally a nail brush or a medium shoe brush.

Washing using water is fine but adding some dishwashing liquid will help in making your shoes just a little cleaner. You can use shoe cleaners but check if they’re compatible with your shoes first.

How to Clean Hiking Shoes?

Now, we get to the main part of cleaning your dirty hiking shoes. Just as you take them off after a hike, tuck in those laces and bang them together to get rid of any loose muck.

With the loose dirt off the shoe, it is now time to get rid of some more dirt, this time with a brush. First we’re going to scrub the shoe while it is still dry to get rid of more dirt and much, this will ensure a quicker and easier wash.

Your main task here is to get into the treads of your sole to remove rocks and hardened mud from between the treads. A screwdriver will be quite handy for removing hard debris from your soles. 

Before we involve water, let us look to the laces of your shoe. They may be covered in the very same dirt and grime your shoes are. Before washing your shoes, remove your laces and soak them in some warm water with washing detergent. They can be dried in the sun or over a radiator before being put back.

Now, when it comes to washing your shoes, the less water you use, the better. Firstly, don’t just dunk your shoes into water because that’s how you ruin a pair of good hiking shoes. 

Now on to washing your hiking shoes. You can use either cold or warm water with or without washing liquid. First, scrub the shoe with water using your nail brush, scrub with a gentle pressure and make sure to get into the seams and creases as dirt will accumulate there.

Give the tongue a good scrub too to clean it as best as possible. If your shoes are particularly dirty, you can soak them in warm water for a few minutes so the dirt softens and can be scrubbed out with ease.

After a good scrub, rinse well before starting the drying process. 

Use a rag or towel to get rid of the excess water. If you can you should remove the insoles and give them a gentle hand wash too. If your shoes have gotten a little too wet during their wash, you should stuff your shoes with paper towels or old newspapers to absorb the moisture.

When doing this, make sure to stuff the papers in deep, so they can absorb as much moisture as possible. 

To completely dry them, leave them in a warm, dry place and not near a fire or radiator. The shoes need to dry out naturally and direct heat will cause the leather to crack. Doing this will ensure that your shoes last long and the internals aren’t damaged or weathered in any manner.


With all the types of terrain a hiker may cross, at the end of the day, keeping their shoes clean is imperative if they wish for their shoes to last. This guide on how to clean hiking shoes should help you in keeping your hiking shoes clean and make them last long.

You can also read: Best High Top Hiking Shoes

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