By: Tom Claycomb III
Sixty years ago, writing this article wouldn’t have been necessary. Everyone wore leather shoes or boots and knew how to take care of them. Of course, there were many more leather products in general. There were no 4-wheelers; people rode horses, so had saddles and reins to oil.
Let’s list some of the items that used to be almost exclusively made from leather, but no longer are:
-Gloves – Only work gloves are leather anymore.
-Reins/headstalls – Many of these are braided out of nylon rope now.
-Saddle bags – A high majority are made from canvas anymore.
-Boots – Only a small minority of the materials in our modern hiking boots are leather anymore.
-Sandals – All of them used to be leather.
-Car seats. I see fewer and fewer leather car seats and furniture nowadays.
Currently, much of our outdoor/everyday items are made from something other than leather. Thus, ways to care for leather boots, holsters, and sheaths is a foreign concept. So, let’s cover leather care 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 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 footwear got worn out, with little money to blow replacements.
The older I get, the more I value a good pair of comfortable boots. If you’re particular, spending $300.00 on up to $400.00 on a good pair of leather boots is easy. (I only paid $325.00 for my first car in high school)!!!
But even if you only pay $150 for a pair of boots, you still want to care for them. If you do, they will last for years, maybe even decades. I still have 5-6 pairs of my dad’s cowboy boots and he died in 1990.
Back to our original question: What’s the proper way to care for leather boots and 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 and other leather products. The first thing NOT to do is to store them when 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 for their work boots. It’d be nice to do this on an elk hunt when you’re stomping through snow every day, but not possible when camped in a tent on top of a mountain.
Years and years ago dad told me that if you have two pairs of boots and switch out wearing them every other day that they’ll last three times longer. While the math did not add up exactly, 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 pairs are leather. Rotating two pairs of work boots not only extends the life of your boots but also gives your feet a rest. Most people, however, can barely afford one good pair of boots, much less two.
Finally, the big takeaway: You want to keep your boots well oiled, which will help them last for years. BUT don’t oil them when they’re wet because you’ll lock in moisture, so the leather won’t absorb the oil.
Years ago, waterproof sprays came out. I just don’t think they’re good for your leather; I recommend oils or good boot cremes. I use Neatsfoot Oil, Lexol, mink oil, etc. As kids, we put Neatsfoot Oil on all our leather products. Baseball gloves, saddles – everything – but know that Neatsfoot Oil will get on your Wranglers when riding, not that many cowboys care, but now I use Lexol on my saddle. I put Lexol in a bottle, spray it on, and rub it in.
To care for your boots, clean off the mud and dirt. Walking through tall grass will clean them up. Make sure that they are dry before you apply your oil and rub it in. If you’re a normal hunter, you’ll oil them after each hunt before storing them. I oil my work boots every weekend.
If you oil your boots 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 back then”?
Bottom line: Oil your leather.