One of the most important things that you can get out of a pair of hiking boots is longevity. Unfortunately, that also means that you can establish quite the bond with your well-worn hiking boots and feel sorry to see them go. How long before you have to throw in the towel? How long do hiking boots last?

As in most things, it depends on the quality of the boots and the frequency of use, however, you should be able to get around 600 to 1,000 miles out of a high-quality, premium pair of hiking boots. The odds of a thousand miles improve with preventative maintenance and good care.

Good hiking boots are not a dime a dozen and out of all of the pairs you own, there will probably be a few in there that turn out to be exceptional, rather than just a good, solid pair of hiking boots.

Cheaply made hiking boots will come apart at the seams first, or the sole will start to fall off and these are generally the kind of hiking boots that you want to stay away from. If you pick the right ones and ensure that they are a good fit, they’ll last a long time.

When should you upgrade to a new pair of hiking boots?

Shot while clipped into the slab at the Kominite climbing area. I’m overlooking Sofia, Bulgaria on the Vitosha mountainrange. My guide’s boots were perched just above the anchor and made for this shot. One of the best climbing days of my life.
Photo by Vlad Tchompalov / Unsplash

A quality pair of hiking boots will carry you through many adventures and across many trails before they start to fail you. There are some signs that the time is near and when you start to notice them, it’s time to get online or head to your nearest boot retailer:

  1. Cracked midsole or the sole is coming loose
  2. The level of comfort all but disappears
  3. The stitching is coming undone
  4. The inside is going out
  5. Laces are worn (easily replaceable)

You want your boots to be comfortable while providing you with the kind of traction that you need to scale almost any obstacle in your path or to hold their own when you’re in mud or slick wood. If your boots are no longer capable of handling these things, it may be time to hang them up for good.

1. Cracked midsole or the sole is coming loose

Without the sole, you are basically walking around in moccasins and materials that the manufacturers never intended to contact rough surfaces. Your boots may be leather, but there is a lot of soft leather in there, designed to protect your feet from thorns and other abrasive or cutting materials out there on the trail.

Once your sole begins to come off or cracks in the middle, that leather becomes more and more exposed to impact abrasions that the sole usually handles. Not to mention the fact that a sole coming apart could cause you to trip or outright fall, neither of which you want to do in the middle of a long hike.

If the midsole is cracked or you notice that the sole is starting to separate from the rest of the boot, it’s time to get a new pair, pronto.

2. The level of comfort all but disappears

Boots that were once comfortable are now causing blisters for the first time or pain in your ankle joints where there were none before. The cushioning and the ankle support are the first to go and one of the first symptoms that it is happening will be really sore feet.

Not necessarily blisters yet, although that is probably on the way at some point, but sore feet for sure, especially in the center and around the ankle. Your ankle will get sore just from the subconscious shifting of weight to transfer the impact pressure elsewhere as your feet start to hurt.

It’s quite common to do and those who have ever dealt with significant injuries will tell you that future injuries occurred because of that psychological adjustment of the physical walking process. It’s why shin splints can turn into serious inflammation in the knee.

The same is true here. As comfort levels recede in one spot, you adjust your weight to muscles that aren’t used to carrying the load and are therefore more susceptible to injury.

3. The stitching is coming undone

This is something that is more prevalent in mid-quality or cheaper hiking boots, even though it can happen in premium quality boots as well. The major pressure points in your shoes are on the sides, where the pressure is shifted when you adjust your weight and pivot in your hiking boots.

After hundreds of miles, that delicate stitching just can’t handle it anymore and will tear somewhere along the stitch. As time goes by and you continue to hike with them, the stitching will slowly work its way out until you are dangling stitching behind you without even realizing it.

Once the stitching comes out, that’s pretty much it. That is, unless you are a leatherworker and, in that case, kudos to you because you can really keep those hiking boots going for another hundred miles or so.

4. The inside is going out

You’ll notice this in a hurry since the inside of your hiking boot is where all of the comforts lie. Most of the time, it’s the insole that wears out first since it’s the one that takes the most impact forces all of the time.

It won’t necessarily wear out so much as just completely flatten, followed by slow and steady wear and tear, exposing the outer skin of the boot and the sole eventually.

5. Laces are worn (easily replaceable)

There is some degree of extension possibility here since the eyelets and shoelaces aren’t responsible for the comfort of your feet unless your shoelaces have completely come apart. You can purchase an eyelet repair kit for relatively cheap, as well as some paracord shoelaces.

The paracord will long outlast the remainder of the boot and you can always remove the laces and place them on a new pair.

How to extend the life of your hiking boots

Walking boots
Photo by Annie Spratt / Unsplash

There are really 3 ways to extend the life of your brand new hiking boots:

  1. Use a waterproof protectant
  2. Keep them dry
  3. Regularly clean your boots

Preventative maintenance is everything and two of the biggest hiking boot killers are dirt and moisture. Since we’re talking about hiking boots here, it’s hard to imagine never getting any dirt or moisture on them, unless you do all of your hiking on an Oculus Rift Virtual Reality console. If that’s the case, well, then your boots will last a long time!

1. Use a waterproofing protectant

The main thing that you want to do is use a protectant on your hiking boots and apply it as regularly as the maintenance instructions allow. While the protectant will keep moisture out, it won’t keep the dirt off, however, it will make cleaning the dirt off a much easier prospect.

A good protectant creates a layer of resistance between the boot and the moisture that gets on it and that layer of defense also helps to keep dirt from becoming ingrained into the material of the hiking boot. Thanks to that nice little side effect, cleaning your hiking boots just got easier.

2. Keep them dry

You always want to dry them after long hikes. If you happen to be doing a little primitive camping, set them near the fire after a long day on the trail. Be sure to loosen the laces and lay the tongue as far forward as possible so that the heat of the flame has access.

At home, you can use a boot dryer to get them nice and dry, which is especially helpful if you hit some water along the way or got caught out in the rain. There are plenty of shoe or boot dryers available on the market so take your pick. Just be careful to get one with plenty of positive reviews.

3. Regularly clean your boots

Cleaning your boots should be the most obvious preventative maintenance task on the list. This process will be immensely aided by your use of a protectant and should be done after every outing.

Moisture and dirt will expedite the breakdown of the materials that went into the creation of your boot. The longer you allow your boots to stay dirty, the shorter their overall lifespan. It doesn’t take much to clean them off either, just a few minutes of your time after a long hike.

All you need to do is use a stiff-bristled brush and some warm, clean water with no soap or anything else added. Dip the brush in the water, shake it out, and work it around all of the areas that are encrusted with dirt or caked in mud. If the boots are leather, apply a little leather oil to them and set them aside afterward.

Final thoughts

A good, premium hiking boot will last you a long time, especially if you properly maintain them and keep them in as good a condition as possible throughout the lifespan of the boot. That includes minor repair jobs here and there.

The ultimate survival time of a good boot is 1,000 miles and with proper maintenance and care, there’s a good possibility that your boots will make it that far.