How to Clean Hiking Boots

Ice Age Trail: Loew Lake


So, this could have been called “A Tale of Two Boots” or even “How do I clean my hiking boots when one has been completely submerged in mud?” Because yep, that’s what happened.

Jump to How to Clean Hiking Boots

It was the first day of spring and we finally got the whole family out for a hike…with the promise of Chick-Fil-A. Bribing kids to hike is just fine in my book! The sun was out and the blue sky was a much needed color scheme.  I was hoping to see green too, but hiking in Wisconsin on the first day of spring does not typically bring the spring color palette. In fact, the first day of spring is in the middle of Mud Season, that’s right Mud Season. It’s the time between March and May when the ground is still freezing and thawing. The spring rain has nowhere to go in the waterlogged ground. (Source

The Loew Lake segment of the Ice Age Trail starts off in a prairie and today it was a wind tunnel!  The ground was a bit squishy and we definitely had to keep our eyes on the trail. There were a lot of muddy patches and they seemed to sneak up on us. A part that didn’t seem that bad would prove to be a slick spot. Overall, it was manageable as we strategically placed our footing in the muddier areas. I love this segment because of the mix of forest, prairie and hills. It’s part of Kettle Moraine Forest…so lots of geographical features made by glaciers. So cool to think how long ago all of this was created. We chose a turn around point at a bench where we had an awesome view of Holy Hill in the distance. 

So, I bet you are wondering about my boots. I made it through 95% of the trail when this happened! We decided to take a spur trail to check out the lake. It was much muddier than the Ice Age Trail. But I kept my footing and stayed focused. I stepped directly on what I thought was a patch of grass…that sank about 8-10 inches down.  I literally had to pull my left foot out of the ground with my hands…a very strange feeling. Thank goodness I always bring extra shoes and socks!

I literally thought my boot was ruined. I mean, the whole thing was submerged in mud. I did a bit of researching and had hopes that I could salvage my boot. 

How to Clean Hiking Boots in 8 Easy Steps

Recommended Tool: PlayCleanGo Brush

These are currently on sale for $3.00, so get a few! They have a stiff brush to brush off the dirt and a metal V shaped that dig into the crevasse. 

Step 1: At the trail or parking lot, take off as much mud as possible. Taking mud off at the trail helps stop the spread of invasive species that take over the plant life native to the area. Use your PlayCleanGo tool or a stick.

Step 2: Switch into your extra pair of shoes and socks (Wait…you didn’t bring any??! Well, next time, bring an extra pair!)

Step 3: Let your boots dry overnight, but do not put them in the sun or other heat source (which could ruin the boot).  If the inside is wet, put crumpled newspaper inside to help soak up the water.  After my boots dried, they didn’t look half as bad as I originally thought. 

Step 4: Take your laces out. If they need to be washed, use a mixture of mild detergent and water then let them air dry. 

Step 5: Take your insoles out. You can see if they also need a light cleaning with the water and detergent mix. If yes, let them air dry too. If not, at least you aren’t going to brush more dirt on them. 

Step 6: Brush your boots. Yes, you could use an old toothbrush, but I swear the stiffness of the PlayCleanGo brush really helps get all the tiny specks off. 

Step 7: Take a cloth and wipe the outside of the boot and inside tongue. Use the mild detergent and water mix, then wipe with water to rinse the soap. 

Step 8: Once everything is dried, reassemble and you are ready to hit the trail again.  

If you are backpacking or camping, first get the huge clumps off.  Then, let your boots dry overnight and give a good brushing in the morning. You can always follow more of the steps when you get home. 

We are right in the middle of Mud Season here in Wisconsin. I’m hoping my next hikes don’t end up in a totally mud submerged boot. BUT, if it happens at least now I know my boots will survive and be ready to hit the trail soon!

And that my friends is today’s Tail from the Trail. 



Hike Details:

Out and back hike 


Emerald Lot 

Bathroom facilities: Porta Potty


PlayCleanGo is an outreach campaign with a goal to protect natural resources while also encouraging people to love the outdoors. Check out their website for more information on how you can help stop the spread on invasive species. 

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