The boots you wear are, in my opinion, the most important piece of gear you can take with you on the trail. Their treads keep you from slipping, their cushioning keeps your feet from over-strain and absorbs shock, and their shape boosts your stability while carrying a full pack. However, boots need some TLC now and then, too, which is why taking good care of them by cleaning them often is important. In Part One of this series, we explored the ways you can take care of your boots after each use and during the period just after you purchase them. Today, we’ll go a step further and discuss the more heavy duty, long-term protection methods you can use when caring for your boots.

One common modification that outdoorsmen make to their boots is waterproofing. Though, you’ll really only want to use a waterproofing treatment when water does not quickly bead and roll off a boot’s surface, allowing water to sink into the exterior layer, which can cause damage. The frequency at which you use waterproof products will depend on how hard and how often you use your boots. Serious hikers will commonly apply waterproofing products several times in a year. Waterproof spray from Nikwax or Tectron are great choices should the need arise.

If you do decide to start waterproofing your boots, be sure to clean them thoroughly before each application. You can do this more efficiently with a specialized cleaner, which you’ll also have good results using any time residue like dust, mud, or grime is visible on the upper. As I’ve said, you always want to clean boots after a hike, and more often than not, a simple brushing off or a rinse will do. But if boots are muddy or really dusty, adding a footwear-specific, residue-free cleaner will provide better results.

When full-grain leather boots start to appear dry or cracked, it may time to use a conditioner. Conditioners can also be used if new boots need to be broken in quickly. Like your skin, leather functions best when it’s moisturized. However, too much conditioner can make boots too soft, which can decrease their support and protection on rougher terrain.

The bottom line is this: boots simply perform better and last longer when clean. They are your protection, support, and comfort while making your way along some of the country’s roughest trails, so why wouldn’t you take measures to prolong their effectiveness? The tips outlined in the series will help ensure that your boots not only stay tough and comfortable, but that they continue to do so for years.