For procrastinators like me, fall hunting season feels like a long ways off right now. The truth, however, is that I’ll wake up tomorrow and it’ll be August. One thing you absolutely can not drag your heels on any longer: If you’re in need of a new pair of mountain boots, get them now. If your current boots are good to go for at least another season, get them out and make sure they’re well conditioned. It’s no secret how important it is to break in a new pair of stiff boots well in advance of your hunt, but taking care of them is equally important.

A quality high-country hunting boot is one of the mountain hunter’s most valuable pieces of equipment. It needs to be comfortable whether wet or dry, and it must be rugged with plenty of ankle support for hauling a lot of weight across steep terrain. To get all this in a boot will set you back between $300 and $400, but if you take care of them properly, they will serve you for years of hard hunting.

No one boot is perfect for everyone, and you’ll probably need to try on several before buying. My best fit is the Lowa Tibet. I’ve used them for the past four years and have zero complaints. I retired my first pair to light duty after three years, which included three sheep hunts and two goat hunts—the longest any pair of boots has lasted me. They would have lasted longer if I had taken better care of them. The tread is still in great shape and very useable, but no pair of leather boots can last if they are neglected.

I made the mistake of only treating my boots before each sheep or goat hunt, and as you can see from the photo (the boot on the left is from my first pair), the leather dried and shrank because I neglected them the rest of the year. I learned my lesson, though, and now treat my boots regularly. My preferred treatment is Sno-Seal, a wax paste that soaks into the leather when heated and protects and preserves it.

Thoroughly clean and treat your boots after major outings or if you are planning on storing them for an extended period of time. Don’t put them away wet or with dirt and mud caked on them. The leather will dry and it won’t be as supple and durable the next time you treat it. A buddy of mine who does a lot of mountaineering has kept the same pair of boots for nearly 18 years, only because he treats them religiously. I now do the same, and I’m counting on wearing these boots for years to come.