How to Break In Hiking Boots

Ryan the authorResearch by Duncan
Updated: August 11, 2019

There is nothing quite like getting a new pair of hiking boots. It fills you with a new excitement and vigor to get out on the trail and test out your new gear. Many wonder though, what is the best way to break in hiking boots? Even the finest fitting boots need time to conform to your feet. Is there a good strategy? Are there any quick fixes or “life hacks” that can get you out there sooner? Here is a list of best practices for breaking in new hiking boots.

Identify What Kind Of Boots You Have

The answer of how long it takes to break in some new hiking boots can vary a lot based on what type of shoe or boot you are using. The lighter more breathable hikers will sometimes be ready to go out of the box. These light boots are made of thinner material and will almost definitely not require as much time to break in as their more burly cousins. The boots with thick, rugged leather, rubber, and high tops will require the most amount of time to break in. Many boots will be on the spectrum in between. The best answer that can be given is the boot is ready when it feels comfortable to you. Do not push them too hard or you could end up in a painful position.

What NOT To Do

As a general rule, there are no “life hacks” to breaking in your hiking boots. People are always trying to try out new quick fixes to get on the trail. While the goal is understandable, it can lead to damaging either your foot or the boot itself.

Do not immediately go out on long hikes

Some people think the best way is to go right out for a long hike with new boots and “rip the band-aid off” so to speak. This is a bad idea. It can cause a lot of unnecessary soreness and pain in your feet, sometimes even leading to bleeding and blisters.

Do not soak your boots in water overnight

I have heard this before as a quick fix because it “loosens the material” or something. This will simply not help as much as you think and if you have the wrong type of boot, can actually damage the material rather than help it.

What TO Do

Everybody may have their own “sure-fire” way to break in a boot, but there is a list of tried and true best practices to make sure the boot is fitting as well as it should. These will work no matter the style or manufacturer.

Wear boots around the house

Once you get home with your new boots, put in any insoles you might want in them and put on your most likely hiking socks. Then, go about your day as normal. As you do your daily routine your boots are slowly getting worked in and conforming to your feet.  Find any reason to get up and move. Walk the dog, mow the lawn, test your spouse's patients on the new floors. This also offers the benefit of allowing to switch into normal shoes if you notice any pinches or pains with your boots.

Wear boots around town

Once you feel more comfortable with the boots around the house, go out shopping, to work, or to your favorite restaurant. It is important to give your boots sometime on pavement so you can feel how they adapt to a stiffer environment. Slowly ramping up your activity in the boot is going to be really important as you get used to them.

You may start to notice blisters forming. This may not immediately be a bad sign unless they are recurring. Make sure to take breaks from the boots and try a moisture wicking sock.

Take a short hike

After you have worn your boots around the house and around town for a few days, it is finally time to hit the trail. Start slow, a shorter day hike, to ensure that you do not run into any unforeseen pains or pinches in the boot. Beginning with a much longer hike with no boot preparation may leave you stuck in a painful situation. If you are not sure where to go, use the AllTrails app to help you plan the ideal route near you. If you are planning on going on very long hikes in the future, try to bring a weighted pack with you to get your boots used to the feeling. Slowly add more weight until you get to how your pack will feel on your longest trek. It may take 2-3 short hikes to get your most rugged boots fully broken in.

Assuming all of these steps go well (no pun intended), you have officially broken in your new boots! Feel free to take them out on any of your hiking adventures.

Store Your Boots Well

When you are not wearing your boots, still treat them with care. They may be durable, but to make them truly last longer and be the most comfortable, they need a little love. Don't just throw them in a corner or cram them in your bag. Keep them clean and stored away nicely.

My Feet Still Hurt

How To Break In Hiking Boots - My Feet Still Hurt

If your feet hurt in any or all of the above steps, it is important to address those issues. Small problems become big ones on the trail and the last thing you want is to be stranded in a painful situation.

Change the lacing technique

There are a few different ways to lace your boot that will help relieve strain on your foot. If you are feeling pain, whatever one you are using may not be the right one for you. Certain styles of lacing can relieve heel pain, toe pinches, and top of foot pressure.

Stretch the boots

Sometimes, the boots can be stretched slightly to help alleviate any points of pressure. They are just stretched ever so slightly so as to not damage it, but to give your feet a little more room where you need it most. Look for a local outfitter to do the stretching for you on a special machine.

Buy new boots

If you have tried changing the lacing technique and you have taken the boots to a stretcher, it may be time to put yourself back on the market. While it will be annoying to try and look again for boots, it will be better for you in the long run. The last thing you want is to hike for years in boots that are not comfortable for your feet. With the right care and love, boots can last several years. Make sure you have the right one for your foot so you can enjoy hiking as often as possible.

Keep In Mind

There is no amount of breaking in, lacing techniques, or stretching that will fix a boot that is poorly fitted. Make sure to put in the research and time shopping for the right one for you. There are A LOT of options out there. It is up to you to decide what kind of hiking boot or shoe is best for you.

Go to outfitters and try them on, a lot of places will even give you a money back guarantee. Take advantage of all of these opportunities and get the best fitting boot for you. It may seem like a lot of work just for some boots, but it can make your hiking experience a lot better in the long run. Nothing beats a high quality, comfortable, and long lasting hiking boot.

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