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Care instructions: How to dry your outdoor shoes properly


Properly caring for your outdoor clothing and gear is absolutely essential for its proper use on tour. In addition to proper washes, repairs, storage, transport as well as your overall treatment of the product and the proper care thereof, how you dry your product plays a significant role in its longevity. Some our tips and tricks will help you to dry your shoes appropriately so that your precious kicks will keep on kicking!

Why dry shoes “actively”?

A love for the outdoors often entails the challenge of facing Mother Nature’s wrath. But, let’s be honest here: an outdoor adventure with all sunshine and no wind wouldn’t be much of an adventure, now would it? It’d be like mountain biking on a cycle path. A confrontation with Mother Nature’s mood swings quite frankly comes with the territory of being outdoors.

Person wandering through the forest along a stream.
Outdoor gear and the confrontation with Mother Nature’s mood swings

Let’s face it: your gear is bound to get wet, assuming that you spend time outdoors in seasons other than summer. Even then. However, there are some pieces that need to be properly dried in order to preserve their functionality. Don’t underestimate the importance of drying your gear properly, for it is just as crucial as washing. It may be fine to just line dry your synthetic running shirts and fleece trousers, but you need to keep other aspects in mind when it comes to garments made of raw materials such as wool, down and leather, or gear such as tents, rucksacks and shoes.

Let’s call the intentional drying of a product “active drying”. Even though we’re not necessarily blow-drying the garment until it is bone dry, we’re not just line drying it, either. Rather, it is a matter of using methods for drying by actively influencing the conditions that lead to the product drying more quickly and safely without any damage.

So, how should you dry your shoes?

How to go about drying your shoes depends entirely on the type of shoes you have. There is, however, one rule that applies to all shoe types: only in emergency situations (like when you’re on a multi-day hillwalking tour) should you ever dry your shoes on a radiator at a high temperature or in direct sunlight!

Drying them in the sun

Shoes can heat up very quickly when placed in direct sunlight, but also if placed in the boot of your car, away from the sun. Leather and other natural materials become porous more quickly and cause deformations. EVA or rubber elements are just as susceptible. They too can become porous, causing cracks that then drastically reduce durability. It is better to find a shady place for the shoes where they can dry slowly in the fresh air.

Drying with hot air: oven or hairdryer

Drying with hot air, for example in the oven or with a hairdryer, is similar. The air is usually particularly dry and allows the leather to dry out more than necessary. The rapid heating can deform the materials on the shoe, making them brittle and porous. There are exceptions with shoes that have a fabric or mesh upper. Here you can try using a hair dryer – but please be careful.

Can the shoes be dried in the dryer?

The classic question! And the answer is: no! Leather shoes are basically done if you put them in the dryer. The dryer takes too long and is too hot. The leather will warp and becomes porous. Normal sports shoes that are used for running, trail running or easy hikes are also not suitable for the dryer. The cushioning EVA midsole in particular has its problems with the heat, but the rubber of the outsole doesn’t like it very much either. The only exceptions are hut slippers, but more on that later.

Tips for drying different types of shoes

Slippers and sandals

Keen - Women's Clearwater CNX Leather - Sandals
Keen – Women’s Clearwater CNX Leather – Sandals

So, now let’s move on to shoe types and how to dry them. The simplest way to dry slippers and sandals (as well as aqua and hybrid shoes) is to place then near a radiator or another heat source and let them dry slowly. Depending on the instructions on the tag, certain slipper socks with down or synthetic insulation can be tumble dried at a low temperature or placed on the radiator (but keep it on low!) to dry. Slippers made of milled wool should not be line dried but laid down to dry. For the best results, always put several layers of newspaper under the shoes so that moisture is absorbed from underneath. Alternatively, you can lean the shoes on something so that air can reach the sole. The insides of closed slippers can also be filled with regular newspaper (not coated paper from magazines) or even better with toilet paper or paper towels (both of which are softer and more absorbent).

Not too warm, nor too dry

Leather sandals should be dried at room temperature away from any heat sources or in a very dry place, since leather always needs a certain amount of moisture so that it won’t become porous and split. After drying your leather shoes, you should also apply a coat of the appropriate leather wax (especially for smooth leather), if necessary.

If you need to dry your slippers or sandals quickly, you can go ahead and use a hair dryer, heater or oven. But, it’s always better to dry them longer at a low temperature. Hold the hair dryer far away from the shoe and keep it at a low temperature. The same goes for the heater. It’s also a good idea to put a couple layers of newspaper between the shoe and the heat source. Leather shoes should only be dried using a direct heat source in extreme emergencies! Aqua shoes and synthetic sandals without special cushioning can be washed. All other shoes (cushioned, with leather or specific instructions to this effect) should not be washed in the washing machine!

How to dry running and cycling shoes?

Tenaya - Ra - Climbing shoes
Tenaya – Ra – Climbing shoes

The same goes for special athletic shoes such as running or cycling shoes. Since cycling and running shoes usually have very cushiony outer fabrics, they can be stuffed to your heart’s content. But, after washing, you need to give the shoes a break of at least a day on top of the time it takes for them to dry so that the cushioning can “recover”. Running and cycling shoes have particularly cushioned or stiff soles and should not be machine washed!

How to dry climbing shoes?

As a general rule, avoid drying climbing shoes with a heat source, since most models have at least some leather. With the exception of a few synthetic and machine washable models, climbing shoes should be cleaned using a brush, neutral soap and lukewarm water. Then let them air dry. Usually, we don’t climb in heavy rains, so climbing shoes don’t really get all that wet.

How to dry multisport and casual shoes?

Both multisport and casual shoes are usually cleaned superficially. If they get rained on, just let them dry at room temperature. If you have shoes with removable insoles, it is recommended that you remove these when the shoes are drying and wash them every once in a while for hygienic reasons. That way, both the insoles themselves as well as the shoe’s interior can dry more quickly. To wash the insoles, simply use some soap or washing-up liquid and lukewarm water. Then let them air dry or place them on the radiator (on low). This makes for a pleasant environment for your feet and helps to prevent strong odours, especially in running and cycling shoes.

How to dry walking boots, trekking boots, mountaineering boots and leather boots?

Salewa – Women’s MTN Trainer Mid GTX- Walking boots

The more stable shoes, such as approach shoes, walking boots, trekking boots, mountaineering boots and winter boots, should never be machine washed! These usually have some percentage of leather or a combination of leather and synthetic fabric. Thus, as mentioned above, only in emergencies should you use a direct source of heat to dry them. It is better to use newspaper and re-wax them. If you’re outdoors and you haven’t got any paper on you, an absorbent microfibre cloth will help to absorb the moisture.

Even though being close to the campfire will certainly warm your heart, it shouldn’t be used for drying your walking boots! The more air that is exposed to the shoe, the better. Thus, to dry them, unlace the shoes and flip the tongue out over the toe box. This will allow more air to circulate. If there are rooms with different temperatures in the hut or at home, always bear in mind: the warmer the indoor air, the better. When it comes to leather, the room shouldn’t be too dry; for shoes with synthetic fabrics, on the other hand, dry air can really speed up the drying time. When outdoors, wind can also be useful, as it reduces the drying time. In smaller spaces, such as a tent, you shouldn’t dry too many things at once, as the air can become saturated with moisture, which prolongs the drying process and worsens the air quality in the tent.

Some general advice

Shoes should always be completely dry before using them again. Of course, aqua shoes and wellies are the exceptions to the rule, or if you’re on a trip and can’t really go barefoot. To prevent blisters on your feet, apply a thin coat of lotion to your feet before beginning your adventure and wear soft wool socks (virgin wool!). This reduces friction, which allows you to walk in damp shoes with less problems.

Of course, even the thickest of membrane boots are pointless if you’re wearing them in the rain with shorts on. Drying the material is the lesser evil when compared to water in your boots. Wear either long waterproof trousers or gaiters! If you’re on a trekking tour and your boots aren’t completely dry, put on a different pair (you should always have a second pair of boots or at least trekking sandals for longer tours not only for this purpose but also to prevent straining your foot on one side with the one shoe) and clip your wet pair to your pack. They’ll just dangle there and be dry in no time.

Last but not least: always air out your shoes after wearing them! Refrain from putting them in your wardrobe or in a shoe sack immediately after using them. Not only the visibly wet face fabric but also water vapour accumulates in the fabric and has to be able to dry!

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