Most people don’t use shoe trees. These wooden accessories are usually seen as a niche product for the style-obsessed: a not-very-versatile tool that doesn’t provide enough immediate benefit for the vast majority of us to make the investment in. But if that’s how you feel about them – you’re wrong. There are several good reasons to invest some shoe and boot trees, and even exact travel-specific ones. Here’s why we think you should.

What Do Shoe Trees Do?

Shoe trees help preserve your shoes in two ways. The first is by helping maintain your leather dress shoes’ shape and form; preventing the toes from collapsing and from forming creases and wrinkles over time, on the toes and midway up the shoe, where your foot bends when walking.

This may not seem particularly important for cheaper shoes. But if you’re spending money on a good pair of Allen-Edmonds or Red Wings – preserving that lifespan is a necessity. Even the highest-quality leather needs some support to keep its shape over the long run, and a shoe tree will provide just enough stretch and shape to do that. If you don’t provide them with that support, your beautiful shoes will eventually end up looking pretty shabby.

Using Shoe Trees to Absorb Moisture

The second way that shoe trees help preserve shoes is by absorbing any moisture inside the shoe – or in the leather itself. This moisture could be from rain or the environment, but generally, it’s from your feet; you sweat when you walk – even if you don’t notice it – and that sweat works its way through your socks into the shoe leather and lining.

Eventually, the lining inside the shoe degrades, turns extra smelly, and begins to fall apart. After heavy usage, the leather will crack and rot, too.

By sticking a porous material in the shoes – a wooden shoe tree – you can absorb more of the moisture, preserving the material’s integrity and longevity. Cedar is usually the wood of choice; it smells incredible, contains  natural oils that are naturally anti-microbial and rot-resistant. It’s also relatively cheap for high-quality wood.

What About Boot Trees?

Boot trees work and look like regular shoe trees, but have thicker, vertically-oriented ankle/shaft sections designed to fill the boot shaft and help it maintain its shape and integrity over time.

Boots are usually made of thicker and more substantial leather than dress shoes are, so they might not need quite as much help (especially if they have steel toes or shanks). But the shafts on many leather boots – especially on dress or work boots – will slowly lose their shape over time, just like shoes, if not supported. Boot trees help avoid that.

What About Shoe Trees For Hiking Boots?

We highly recommend using boot trees in your hiking boots in-between outdoor adventures. They’ll absorb all that excess moisture form your sweaty feet, helping keep your boots dry and in tip-top shape for much longer. And while modern, synthetic boots often have the frame and build to maintain their shape without help, the extra support shoe trees offer can’t hurt.

If we’re talking about leather hiking boots, however, shoe trees are a necessity; they provide all the same benefits as they do for leather dress shoes.

Why Travel Shoe Trees?

Cedar shoe trees are great accessories; fine quality and functional. But when you’re traveling, you may not want the heavy weight and bulk that wooden trees create.

If that’s the case, plastic travel shoe trees get the job done at a fraction of the weight of wood.

Plastic shoe trees usually have a durable plastic toe and heel knob, as well as spring mechanism for getting the right, tight fit in any shoe – just like with wooden trees. They’re easy to use and weigh just a couple ounces a piece.

The only downside to plastic trees is that they don’t absorb moisture, as wood does. For traveling, we don’t consider this a problem. If you plan on using them for long-term storage, we suggest wrapping the plastic toe in newspaper or paper towel to absorb moisture and help maintain the shoe’s integrity.

These Are Our Favorite Plastic Shoe Trees

FootFitter’s Travel Shoe Trees aren’t fancy, but they are the highest-quality pair of plastic shoe trees we’ve come across. They even have a stainless steel spring section, which is strong, yet responsive and springy. They’ll work in regular dress shoes, everyday casual leather shoes, and even your boots in a pinch. They’re also significantly lighter and cheaper than cedar shoe trees. In other words, they’re prime for traveling. They also make a good choice for using with hiking boots, if you can’t justify using a nice pair of cedar trees on a pair of sweaty, dirty boots.

The Best Boot Trees? Try Red Wing Heritage

When it comes to boots, nobody does it better than Red Wing – so it’s no surprise that they make a solid pair of cedar boot trees. The Red Wing Heritage Boot Tree is designed specifically for Red Wing’s many beautiful leather work boots, but will work for virtually any style boot; our only wish was that they were cheaper.

A Cool Trick

Can’t afford any shoe trees right now? Get some cedar wood chips (or whatever wood chips you can find) and stuff them into (thoroughly cleaned) old socks, or make a pouch out of a towel or rag. Stuff those into the shoe or boot, and you have some Poor Man’s Shoe Trees.