Hiking Tips: How to Clean & Re-Waterproof Your Hiking Gear

How to Clean & Waterproof Hiking Gear

This blog is published in partnership with REI and Oboz Footwear and includes affiliate links

Are you giving your hiking gear the care it deserves?

You're going to be using your hiking boots, shoes and other hiking gear a lot during the 52 Hike Challenge – with a full year of weekly hikes (52 to be exact), your gear will be getting a lot of love!

This means your hiking gear will naturally wear and start to lose its waterproofing. But this doesn’t mean it’s time for new gear — it simply indicates it’s time for you to give it a glow up.

When you regularly clean and re-waterproof your gear, you extend its life expectancy so you can use it on many more hiking adventures to come.

Not only will this save you the money of buying all new gear (we know how quickly it adds up), but it will also help you recreate in a sustainable way.

So, how can you keep your gear clean and maintain its optimal water repellency? 

In this new hiking blog, you will discover:

  • The importance of cleaning water repellent gear 
  • Tips and tricks for extending the life of your waterproof hiking gear 
  • What DWR is and how it works on your technical gear
  • How and when to reapply DWR to your gear
  • How to use technical cleaning & waterproofing products

And more! 

When it’s wet outside, it’s important for your gear to keep you comfortable and dry so you can continue hiking on. This information will be especially valuable to you during the rainy season of your 52 Hike Challenge.

Are you ready to give your gear an overhaul of TLC for the Spring season?

Let’s get started.

Cleaning Your Water Repellent Hiking Gear

Outdoor Gear Cleaning Products

Why You Should Regularly Clean Water-Repellent Outdoor Gear 

Did you know dirt and mud can cause your gear to wear faster?

When your hiking shoes or boots are caked in mud, the residue abrades materials, which puts you at risk of losing the tread on your soles. It also pulls moisture out of leather, which causes areas of your boots to dry out and crack.

Because of this, it’s so beneficial to keep your boots clean through regular maintenance.

While a few muddy adventures won’t necessarily ruin your boots for good, continual neglect will cause them to degrade faster than expected.

Similarly to dirt and mud, natural oils from your body can also affect the waterproofness of your gear.

Over time, you might notice less “beading” on your rain jacket, which means oils are preventing it from repelling water. A quick clean can make the difference between a soggy and an effective rain shell. 

If you notice that your gear doesn’t seem to be waterproof anymore, always try cleaning it and applying a new coat of waterproofing before you do anything else. Sometimes this is all you need to restore its (DWR) water repellent quality. Don't know how to do this? Don’t worry, we’ll teach you how! 

But first, let’s quickly cover how to clean your hiking gear.

How to Clean Your Waterproof Hiking Boots & Shoes in 6 Simple Steps

How to Clean Water Repellent Hiking Shoes

As you now know, consistent neglect can lead to gear downfall and failure. Here’s how to clean your hiking boots and shoes so they stay in optimal condition:

  1. Remove laces so you can clean the tongue (extra points if you clean your laces separately).
  2. Rinse off any caked-on mud. Use a brush to access areas where dirt may have gotten lodged. 
  3. Once you’ve removed excess mud and dirt, use a technical cleaning gel with a scrubber.
  4. After desired results are achieved, rinse the cleaning gel off.
  5. Let your boots air dry. Avoid applying heat to speed up the drying process, as this can further damage your shoes.
  6. Once dry, apply waterproofing products to your boots or shoes.

We use Nikwax Footwear Cleaning Gel in the green top to clean our hiking shoes and boots. As you can see from the photo above, a quick clean can made my Oboz Footwear hiking shoes look like new even after lots of miles in the mud of Costa Rica. You can find your Nikwax cleaning gel online or at your local REI.

Tips for Cleaning Your Rain Jacket

Hiking Tips for Cleaning Your Rain Jacket

Now it’s time to learn tips for cleaning your rain jacket and pants to maintain its effectiveness in all kinds of weather. Here’s how in 4 super simple steps:

  1. Check your rain jacket’s / pant’s care label for washing instructions. For example, Gore-Tex® can be dried with heat while eVent® cannot.
  2. Check pockets to make sure nothing’s in there. This might sound obvious, but chapstick is often a culprit for grease stains on hiking gear.
  3. Instead of normal laundry detergent, run a load with your washable rain gear using Nikwax Tech Wash.
  4. Run a second load using Nikwax TX.Direct Wash-In Waterproofer.

Nikwax Tech Wash & TX.Direct come in a cost-effective bundle at REI.

More Cleaning Tips & Products for Your Outdoor Gear

Each piece of hiking gear requires different care. Below you’ll find a few tips for specific items and materials.

  • For cleaning down-filled sleeping bags and jackets, be sure to use a front-loading washing machine. Try using Down Wash.Direct, which is designed to boost water repellency in down products. 
  • Tents and backpacks receive a lot of sun exposure, which impacts fabric strength. To combat sun damage, you’ll want to clean these items with a technical product that adds UV protection to prevent product degradation. We recommend Nikwax Tent & Gear SolarProof™.

Now that your gear is clean, it’s time to learn how to reapply DWR.

Re-Waterproofing: Making Your Rain Gear Last for More Hikes

Waterproof Rain Gear

Waterproofing Basics: What is DWR and How Does it Work?

Do you know what DWR is and why it’s an important aspect of your rain gear?

DWR stands for Durable Water Repellent, and it’s the primary component that makes your gear – hiking boots, shoes, jackets, pants, raincovers, and more — water repellent. This is what makes water bead and roll off surface materials. It exists as a surface barrier on rain jackets, hiking shoes and boots, tents, sleeping bags and more.

DWR is a rain gear feature that not only waterproofs your gear, but it also helps with breathability. It prevents water from absorbing on the surface fabric and keeps you dry from the inside out.

Without DWR, your rain gear wouldn’t work to protect you from the elements, and your sweat would stick to your jacket, pants and boots, making you uncomfortable during your hikes. 

For these reasons, DWR is a game changer in keeping you dry so you can go the extra mile.

When to Reapply DWR to Rain Gear

Keep in mind, durable does not mean permanent. Like most aspects of hiking gear, DWR can wear with time.

As you learned earlier in this blog, body oil, dirt and mud are all contaminants that attract water onto surface fabric. They create a barrier so that your sweat can’t get out, resulting in a loss of breathability over time.

When this starts happening, it doesn’t mean your gear is doomed. It might just mean the DWR wore off, and now you need to re-waterproof your gear.

By re-waterproofing you are…

  • Supporting the planet by extending the life of your gear and making it “greener” for longer.
  • Saving money by reviving old gear instead of buying new stuff – we all know how expensive brand-new hiking gear can be.

How to Reapply DWR to Rain Gear

Nikwax Waterproofing Products for Outdoor Gear

Luckily, the process of re-waterproofing your hiking boots, shoes, rain jacket and more is pretty simple. First, follow the steps to clean your gear (outlined above). Then, you’ll want to use a technical waterproofing product to reapply DWR.

Here at 52, we always use Nikwax products for waterproofing purposes. You can browse their full line of waterproofing products here.

Learn More About Rain Gear & Get Gear Recommendations

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