Bruce Chandler, who spends his winters at Brays Island Plantation in South Carolina, stopped by the Russell Moccasin booth during one of our many outdoor exhibitions to show us his 25-year-old pair of Russell Imperials. Bruce told us he has worn the boots every year while quail hunting in South Carolina. After the season, Bruce Cleans them up, polishes them and installs wooden shoe trees. His boots, after 25 years in the field looked nearly brand new. Thanks for sharing your story with us, Bruce!
(or...the care and feeding of a great pair of boots)
By: Richard Sanders
Russell Moccasin Company Director of Marketing and Senior Pro-Staff Member
While leather boots require a bit more care than boots made from artificial fabric, the rewards in way of comfort and performance are worth the effort. Leather... unlike rubber or synthetic fabrics... used to be alive. The oils necessary to keep leather soft, pliable and breathable were once supplied by the animal it covered. Now that those oils are no longer being supplied automatically, WE need to restore the natural oils on occasion to preserve and condition the leather.
Water itself is not harmful to leather... however, constant soakings in water, snow or wet grass, floats the oils out of the leather through the pores, causing leather to become stiff when dry if not treated. That is why it is necessary to occasionally restore the oils to the leather.
The main culprits... dry weather... heat... and caked on mud are the primary causes of premature leather breakdown. If caked on dirt and mud is not removed from the leather surfaces, it will literally draw the oils out of the leather’s pores... leaving the leather dry and brittle. When left dirty and untreated, dry leather not only shrinks, but the dirt and sand acts like sandpaper on the leather surface. Continued flexing of dirty, brittle leather causes the fibers to break down prematurely and the leather to crack. It doesn’t have to be that way.
With a little preventative maintenance, a good pair of leather boots can easily last 15 to 20 years... or even longer. I am still wearing several pairs of bird hunting boots and mountain boots that are 20-plus years old... that I have walked many a mile in wet grass, brush, snow, ice, mud, rocks, woods, shale and mountains. While they have been resoled several times... the leather is still soft and supple because I have taken care of them over the years.
Our repair department sees boots that have been terribly abused... such as this pair of High Country Hunters. The owner of these boots... a very good friend of mine actually... wore these boots for several years... never reconditioning the leather. When he sent them in for resoling, we were shocked to see the poor condition of the leather. After our repair department resoled them, we used Fiebing’s Glycerine Saddle Soap to clean them up.
Then we made two applications of Obenauf’s Heavy Duty Leather Preservative.
After the first application, we put them into a black plastic bag and allowed them to sit in the hot sun for a day as the Obenauf’s soaked into the leather.
After a second application of Obenauf’s, we used a hair dryer on high heat to work the leather dressing into the leather. The end result can be seen below.
With just a little effort we were able to bring this pair of boots... that had been badly abused and neglected for years... back to their original soft, supple condition. Luckily, we caught the problem before the leather was ruined.
The frequency at which you need to clean and dress your boots and shoes depends on the amount of use and the conditions in which you wear them. If the leather appears dry or scuffed and soaks up moisture...you’re past due for giving your boots a little tender loving care. First clean the leather with saddle soap and warm water to clean the pores and seams. Give them a good shower to remove all of the dirt.
We work with leather every day. Leather is a skin...with fibers and pores...just like our own skin...that needs lubrication in order to breath. We buy leather boots, shoes, jackets and gloves because leather breaths....it is comfortable...and it protects us from the elements.
Even leather boots made with Gore Tex need periodic care to maintain the health of the leather. Treat Gore Tex boots only with a non-solvent based product.
Attempting to “seal off” leather defeats the purpose of an all leather boot. Like your skin, leather must be able to breath. Using the proper leather preservative and waterproofing products, insures your fine leather boots will remain soft, breathable, waterproof and continue to perform admirably for you for years to come.
The key to preserving leather is the gradual restoration of natural oils. More is NOT better in this case. Gradual lubrication of leather fibers prevents leather from becoming dry and brittle. It is better to apply leather preservative and waterproofing products two or three times rather than making one heavy application as leather can only absorb so much product at a time.
No matter what brand of boots you buy... it is always advisable to apply leather preservative and water proofing dressings to them before you even wear them afield. “Dressed” boots won’t absorb moisture on that first hunt... won’t begin to wear prematurely. Grass and brush will slide off the surfaces of the treated leather rather than digging in and cutting.
Avoid using commercially available “so called leather conditioners” or waterproofing products containing chemicals, mink oil, or petroleum based products like Snow Seal. And never use caustic household cleaners that contain alcohol, turpentine or mineral spirits. These products can actually cause damage, burning the leather and deteriorating the stitching.
At Russell Moccasin, we recommend a number of professional boot and shoe dressings to our customers that will preserve and protect leathers, waterproof them... and help them live up to their full potential.
We highly recommend Obenauf’s Heavy Duty Leather Preservative for use on many of our leathers. Obenauf’s is not only one of the finest leather dressings available... restoring natural oils to the leather... but it is also an excellent waterproofing agent that stands up nicely in wet hunting conditions. We have found that Obenauf’s unique suspension formula lasts longer... continually... but gradually... releases natural oils into the leather. Obenauf’s is made from all natural ingredients including bees wax or bee propolis... the anti-bacterial resin collected by honey bees to waterproof and disinfect their hives. Because Obenauf’s is 100% natural it has no odors or chemical smells that the sensitive noses of White Tail Deer, Elk and bears will find alarming. When properly applied and worked into the leather, Obenauf’s is ideal for use on boots made from WeatherTuff leather, oil tanned, German Elk, French Veal, Bullhide, Navigator, Driftwood and Cape Buffalo leathers.
For sueded or brushed leathers like WeatherBuck or Laramie we recommend cleaning the surfaces with a brass shoe brush or cleaning with plain water and then treating the leather with a product such as Kelly’s Suede Leather Water & Stain Protector, or spray on silicone. Kelly’s is ideal as it leaves an invisible water protection that will not darken light colored leathers.
To keep brushed hippo looking fresh and clean, a light brushing and an application of Scotchguard and/or silicone does a nice job. Kelly’s Suede Leather Water & Stain Protector is another option.
For Chamois leathers, widely used in our Safari “PH” line and many of our casual shoes, using a brass brush to clean the surfaces and freshen the look of the leather works fine. To provide some water resistance and to protect the leather you can also use Kelly’s Suede Leather Water & Stain Protector.
To soften and preserve chamois leathers, we offer a specially formulated Chamois Oil that softens, preserves and protects chamois leather. Use of Chamois Oil will, however, temporarily darken the leather.
Another product we recommend for certain leathers, such as chrome tanned, Navigator, Driftwood, American Bison and Spanish Shrunken Shoulder leathers is Venetian Shoe Cream. It cleans, waxes and restores natural oils. While it cleans the leather and helps prevent scuffs, it is not as waterproof as Obenauf’s but is usually applied to casual shoes that are not subjected to heavy field use. After it dries it can be buffed to a nice shine.
For delicate leathers such as ostrich, there is probably no better product than the new Pecard Leather Care Lotion for keeping ostrich soft and supple. Simple to use. Just apply in a thin coat, allow to dry and buff out with a soft cloth or shoe brush. Leather Care Lotion is wax free and will not darken leathers, even light colored ostrich or white leather. It leaves a protective water-resistant finish on the leather.
As a first step, we recommend cleaning all non-sueded and Chamois leather surfaces occasionally with a bar of Fiebing’s glycerine saddle soap. A bar of this professional soap will last most people many years as it doesn’t take much to get the job done. It is a good stand alone product to use on elephant and cape buffalo leathers. Once applied and allowed to dry, a light buffing will bring out a nice shine on the surface of the leather.
Cleaning your boots is easy. Use a soft bristle brush or a rag to scrub the dirt away with saddle soap and warm water. And don’t be afraid to clean the insides of your all leather boots too... use a damp cloth with saddle soap or a solution of baking soda and water to neutralize body acids and salt. After cleaning, allow your boots to dry slowly and naturally before reconditioning them with leather conditioner.
Here’s a tip for those of you business professionals who wear high end loafers and oxfords with your daily business uniform. When you put that “business shine” on the tops of your business uniform shoes... don’t forget to oil or dress the leather soles. A little TLC applied to the soles... will ensure your shoe’s “soul” will last a lot longer. Remember, dry leather deteriorates faster than oiled leather. Oiled leather will not absorb caustic salts as readily either.
If your boots become soaked for any reason... be it wading into water over the tops or just perspriation-soaked from strenuous hunting... you should carefully dry your leather boots to maintain their integrity.
First... and most importantly... NEVER... NEVER dry leather boots next to a fire or any intense heat source. Let them dry naturally and slowly. If you have access to electricity in camp... a Peet boot dryer works great.
For best results, pull the laces out of your wet or sweaty boots... remove the footbeds or orthotics if you wear them... open them up and allow the air to circulate.
If your boots are completely soaked... for whatever reason... lightly stuff them with newspaper or paper towels immediately upon taking them off. Allow the paper to draw moisture out of the leather for half an hour or so...then repeat stuffing them with paper. After you have drawn out the initial moisture with paper towels or newspaper, open your boots up as wide as possible and allow the air to circulate. If the weather is warm and dry, set them outside. If you have access to a fan to circulate the air indoors, do so. Remember, don’t get in a hurry. Drying boots naturally takes time.
On physically demanding remote hunts that require a lot of walking and physical exertion... your feet are bound to perspire, making your boots damp inside. Try the paper towel or newspaper routine to quickly draw out moisture when returning to camp. You will be amazed at how much moisture newspaper or paper towels will draw out of the leather. By the time you are ready to go the next morning, your boots will be nice and dry.
When it comes to taking care of your boots and shoes... just remember what an older gentleman told me once... “Even if all you’ve got in life is a tweety bird...you still have to take care of it.” Great advice, especially when it comes to taking care of your boots and shoes.
Before and After
Just because you have worn out the soles of your Russell boots... it doesn’t automatically mean your boots are ready for the trash. While not very many brands of hunting boots can be repaired, Russell boots can. Due to the unique construction of Russell boots and shoes, replacing a worn sole is easy. The old sole is simply stripped off the rubber midsole and a new sole is cemented in place. Turnaround time is less than three weeks normally.
In extreme cases such as this pair... our repair department can literally rebuild a pair of boots. This pair of Sheep Hunters required a new molded sole, new mid sole, new toe pieces and soles. This pair of “Old friends” were returned to the customer and will provide many more miles of comfort and enjoyment to their owner.
While we would be only too happy to sell you a brand new pair... your old Russells can be repaired and refurbished for a nominal cost in most instances.
Some boots are not repairable... such as South African Professional Hunter, Paul Stone’s old Safari Boots. Paul told us he wore these boots every day for more than three years... 1,100 days in the bush... worn hard and not properly care for. Had he returned them for repairs a bit earlier we could have saved them.