How do I break in my new leather backpacking boots?

I just got a pair of Vasque Summit GTX boots, an all leather, sturdy backpacking boot with smooth leather and a Gore-Tex liner. What’s the best way to break them in? And how can I keep the leather conditioned long-term? Mark Lawrence, Kansas


The Vasque Summit GTX ($200) are nice boots, and you should get many years of use out of them.

Vasque Summit GTX Backpacking Boots

Summit GTX Backpacking Boots

These days, lots of boots like the Summit are pretty comfortable right out of the box. But to break them in carefully, I suggest you start by wearing them while watching TV or something for a few hours. Then go for some walks around the neighborhood. Then try a day hike. If all seems in order, then you’re good to go for a backpacking trip.

The key to ensuring long life for boots is to keep them fairly clean. Grit can abrade the stitching, so if they get grubby, wash them off with some warm water and a soft brush, and then let them air dry. Give the insides an occasional rinse as well—sweat is acidic and can damage the linings.

There are a number of good products to use on the leather. I like Nikwax Paste Wax ($8) because it’s easy to use and is safe for boots with waterproof inner linings. A spray-on version also is $8, but I don’t think it holds up as well. Granger’s G-Wax for smooth leather is similar to Nikwax and works well.

And, that amazing product Sno-Seal (developed in the 1930s and without question the longest-running item in the REI product lineup) works great. It’s a natural beeswax material that won’t soften leather. It does darken it some, however.

That’s about it. I really don’t believe you need to invest a lot in cleaners, conditioners, and the like. A hand brush, some wax waterproofing agent (no oil!), and you’re all set.

The 2008 Winter Outside Buyer’s Guide is now online. From snow sports to trail-running to camping, get reviews of more than 300 new gear must-haves.

Filed To: Hiking Boots
Lead Photo: courtesy, Vasque