How to Break In Hiking Boots

Wondering how to break in hiking boots with as little fuss and hassle as possible? Our straight-talking, BS-free guide will have you ready to hit the trail in your new footgear in no time!

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How To Break In Hiking Shoes and Boots

Looking to break in your hiking boots?

You’re in the right place! In this guide, we will be covering the following:

    • How long does it take to break in hiking boots?
    • Tips on how to break in hiking boots fast
    • Additional tips on breaking in hiking shoes and breaking in hiking boots 
    • How to break in new hiking boots with different materials

Hiking boot manufacturers are not immune to a bit of exaggeration when it comes to touting their products’ benefits. Their almost uniform “out-of-box comfort” claim, moreover, could leave many of us believing that the days of breaking in stiff, nippy new trail clogs is a thing of the past.

Anyone who has purchased hiking footwear since this tag started appearing around ten years ago, however, probably knows that (in most cases) such claims are, well, a load of hooey.

Why Break In Your New Boots?

In short, the relationship between your hiking footwear and your feet is like any relationship—in order for it to work, you need to get to know each other and adapt to each other’s idiosyncrasies.

hiker lacing hiking boots

Should you dismiss this step as unnecessary foreplay and try to break them in on the hoof (during a hike, that is), you run the risk of a number of afflictions. These include foot cramp, blisters, and painful pinches where the material hasn’t yet “given” to the form of your feet.

Different models take different lengths of time to wear in. A lightweight synthetic boot may indeed feel almost sneaker-like straight from the box and wear in during your first outing, whereas a pair of stiffer leather boots or 3/4-season models may require weeks, or longer. 

That’s the problem. Below, we’ll take you through the steps you need to take to solve

How To Break In Hiking Boots: 3 Steps

1. Start Off On The Right Foot: Buy The Right Boots

As the old adage tells us, there’s no point in flogging a dead horse…

While breaking in a new pair of boots is a necessary process and will help to make well-fitted ones more comfortable, it won’t magically turn an ill-fitting boot into a soundly fitting pair of hiking boots.

hiking boots closeup

As such, the most important step you can take towards breaking a hiking shoe in successfully is choosing the right one at the point of purchase. 

To do so, we recommend getting yourself into a store to test them out already armed with an awareness of your feet’s quirks and characteristics—if they are particularly wide or narrow, flat, have a high instep, bunions, and so on—and find a pair that fit your own particular foot shape.

At this stage, diagnosis of potentially painful footwear is tricky, but there are a few tell-tale signs that a boot might not be a good fit for your feet or will take longer to break in. These include rubbing around the forefoot, tight or painful spots in the toes and heel, or lack of flexibility in the fabric or materials.

Pro-tip: Take some of your usual trail socks with you to the shop and spend some time walking around in them.

2. Take An Incremental Approach

However comfortable your footwear may feel in the store, the best policy is to break them in gently, bit by bit.

Wear them around the house with the same socks and insoles you’ll be using out on the trail for at least a few evenings. At this point, don’t rush back to the store if they don’t feel slipper-like just yet—factory stiffness takes a little time to ease off and leather, in particular, can take an age to soften and become more supple.

Even the best-fitting leather footwear will feel stiff at first, cause a little bit of foot pain, or rub against the skin. However, unless you feel fiesty hot spots developing, don’t take these as a sign that you’ll be better off with another model.   

Next, try venturing further afield by wearing your brand new footgear on a gentle walk or two around town or the park. The more you do so, the sooner they’ll be ready to hit the trails.

hiking boots and socks drying

Before you head to the hills/mountains/wilds, a useful final step of the breaking-in process is to load up a backpack with around the same weight you carry on a hike and take them for a trial run around the local park or on a city walk that covers a few miles and takes in a few sizeable staircases. This will help to prevent blisters caused by the added pressure the weight of your pack places on your feet.

Finally, get out and hit the trails. Even this final step, however, should be done by degrees—it would be unwise, for example, to set off on a 3-month thru-hike in your new clogs before you’ve treated them to a few lengthy day hikes or weekenders.

3. Put In The Time

There’s no quick way to break in boots.

While some self-proclaimed authorities on the subject advise wearing them in the shower, giving them a daily rubdown with wax, leaving them near a heat source, and/or giving them a good soaking before heading out on a hike, each of these supposed remedies is only likely to result in damage to the materials—or to your feet.

The only solution to stiff, nip-prone, or pinching footgear is to accept there is no solution other than getting them on as often as possible until those discomforts ease off as the boot material gradually conforms to the shape of your feet.

Kieran James Cunningham is a climber, mountaineer, and author who divides his time between the Italian Alps, the US, and his native Scotland.

He has climbed a handful of 6000ers in the Himalayas, 4000ers in the Alps, 14ers in the US, and loves nothing more than a good long-distance wander in the wilderness. He climbs when he should be writing, writes when he should be sleeping, has fun always.

Kieran has taught mountaineering, ice climbing, and single-pitch and multi-pitch rock climbing in a variety of contexts over the years and has led trekking and mountaineering expeditions in the Alps, Rockies, and UK. He is currently working towards qualifying as a Mountaineering and Climbing Instructor and International Mountain Leader.

Kieran’s book Climbing the Walls—an exploration of the mental health benefits of climbing, mountaineering, and the great outdoors—is scheduled for release by Simon & Schuster in April 2021.

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