Maintenance and Repairs

How to look after your footwear

Shoe repairs:
I will heel you;
I will save your sole;
I will even dye for you. Unknown; Shoe repair shop

Regular maintenance of bushwalking footwear keeps them in good condition for longer, allowing them to be used on more trips. Unfortunately, like most bushwalking gear, boots or shoes are also subject to a fair bit of wear and tear out on a bushwalk from weather conditions, terrain and vegetation. Walkers that take good care of their footwear with some basic maintenance checks and repairs before, during and after the walk, can use them more reliably and for longer.

Before the walk
Here are some general maintenance footwear checks to do before heading into the bush.

  • Overall Condition
    Check for cracks or rips; loose soles or insoles; stitching.
  • Laces
    Replace any frayed or worn laces.
  • Eyelets/D-rings
    Check if loose or cracked.
  • Breaking boots in
    Leather shoes need considerable time for the leather to mould to the foot.
  • Waterproofing
    If needed, use the appropriate product to waterproof the boot or shoe fabric. For synthetic materials, it’s usually a silicone-based product, and for leather it’s oil-based.

During the walk

  • Remove any debris or dirt picked up along the way (both exterior and internal).
  • Make any short-term field repairs as necessary such as replacing broken laces.
  • On multi-day trips, dry footwear out overnight. Be wary of drying out footwear close to a campfire or heater: footwear materials easily melt with direct heat and leather boots also crack in direct sunlight. Also, be wary of leaving boots outside in cold conditions as they can freeze and crack. The following morning, shake out boots before putting them on in case anything has crawled in overnight.

Back home:

  • Give footwear an initial clean using a brush to remove dirt, then add running water and mild soap (check manufacturer’s recommendations). Clean the inside of the boot to remove mud and sweat.
  • Thoroughly dry out footwear, but not in direct heat or sunlight.
  • Re-waterproof boots if necessary. Leather boots need to have a leather conditioner regularly applied to stop the boots drying out.
  • Perform a general maintenance and make any repairs in time for the next bushwalking trip.
  • Store in a cool, dry place. Avoid humid areas. Also, don’t put them in a plastic bag as this prevents footwear from airing. Take the boots off before storing them.

Biosecurity How to walk without spreading harmful biological materials

Pathogens are anything that causes a disease, and can have devastating effects on native wildlife. Infected populations often suffer excessive losses due to lack of immunity, and are swamped by other species, both exotic and native. In extreme cases, disease can lead to the local extinction of a species.

Pathogens can disperse by a few methods including water and wind, but also by using a carrier, that is, by attaching seeds or spores to living creatures. Hitching a free ride can be a highly effective way of dispersing, and invasive species spreading this way can have dramatic consequences for the local ecosystem and ecology. Once a weed is established, it is extremely challenging to remove it: better to stop weeds entering native areas in the first place. Phytophthora, a soil-borne water mould, has had devastating effects on plant communities in the Sydney region. Spread via water, soil and human activity, it has effectively dispersed into many native vegetation patches around Sydney, and local management authorities and community groups are working hard to combat the spread.

Bushwalkers are perfect carriers not only for pathogen spread but invasive weeds too because they often go between urban and predominantly native areas, and generally travel considerable distances. National park trail heads quite often have cleaning stations where visitors are asked to clean their boots to ensure they don’t bring anything into the park. Being particularly good at spreading weeds and pathogens, it’s vital that bushwalkers do as much as possible to prevent it.

Set good examples to the group and other bushwalkers. Here are some tips to prevent the spread of pathogens and seeds.

  1. Check park guidelines: some areas have specific problems and management strategies that all park visitors must follow.
  2. Make sure that clothes and footwear are clean of all organic matter including mud, seeds, spores and burrs before heading into the bush. Check upon return too.
  3. Never discard fruit and vegetable in the bush: they can germinate into non-native plants. Also, take care when eating not to drop any material or leave food behind at lunch and rest stops.
  4. If walking through farmland or areas with lots of weedy species, avoid wearing materials on the lower half that make it easy for seeds and spores to stick to. Cobbler’s pegs (Bidens pilosa) is a nightmare weed in Australia, with numerous peg-like seeds sticking easily to woolly socks and thermal materials.
  5. If seeds are caught on gear or clothing, remove seeds, place in a plastic bag and carry them out.
  6. It’s helpful to know some basic botany: get to know some common weed species. Join a local bushcare community group or community action day to look after local areas.