Hiking Shoes


Smelly hiking shoes were, for a while, the bane of my outdoor existence. They made my shoe cupboard smell, so I put them on the porch, but then they made the front of my house smell. The situation came to a head when my wife had eventually had enough. I had to deal with the smell or throw the shoes out, and I wasn’t about to waste good money by throwing them away.


Essentially, the smell in the shoe is the waste from sweat-eating bacteria. When you take your shoes off and throw them in the back of the car, or a carrier bag, or wherever you store your dirty hiking clothes, the bacteria in your shoes start chowing down on your tasty foot sweat (it must be an acquired taste).


There are ways to stop your shoes stinking before it starts. The first is by keeping your feet clean. Don’t go hiking with dirty feet. Although, when you are five days into a two-week thru-hike in summer, this is easier said than done. Try and give your feet a rinse before you put your shoes on, wash off any dead skin, and thoroughly dry them. You want to create conditions which aren’t breeding grounds for bacteria. This means dry feet.

To help keep your feet dry, wear woollen socks. The wool wicks sweat away and doesn’t let it sit and stagnate in the shoe. If you can’t wear wool, coating your feet in corn-starch or baking soda can also keep your feet dry.


When you finish hiking, let your shoes air out and dry. This should be in a dark, dry, cool environment. Don’t leave them in a bag all night and forget about them, or they will just fester and smell even more. This, coupled with heat, will create a bacteria orgy and the tiny organisms will breed like rabbits, causing even more of a stink.


After every long hike, take your insoles out and wash them with some detergent. Let them dry before you put them back in your shoes. You can also fill your boots or shoes with water. Use mild detergent, but be sure to wash all the suds off before you let them dry. Stuff the shoes or boots with newspaper to help them dry thoroughly.


If the smell persists, use some hydrogen peroxide spray (you can buy it from most chemists or pharmacies). It won’t damage the shoe like bleach and should help with the smell. You can also use tea tree oil or lavender oil. These are great for getting rid of fungal infections and can also remove unwanted smells from your shoes.

A rigorous foot hygiene regime involving cleaning before you walk, airing your shoes out afterwards, and disinfecting them if they smell, should ensure you keep any stinking bacteria at bay. Don’t make your shoes a comfortable home for unwanted bacteria, and you’ll notice they quickly stop giving off a stink.


Do you have any suggestions for keeping your feet from stinking? Spread the news to us all.

Oli Ward

Oli has camped and hiked his way around Australia and most of Europe. He also loves writing about his experiences and sharing his knowledge.