How to Break In Hiking Boots

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How to Break In Hiking Boots

Before rushing to try out your new boots on the trail, you should really consider how to break in your hiking boots at home…we break down how.

Kieran James Cunningham
Kieran James Cunningham
Last Updated: August 17, 2020

How to break in boots before a hiking or backpacking trip

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

    • What to look for in a good pair of shoes
    • Tips to wear in your new boots in the house quicker
    • How to improve the comfort of your feet on the trail

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 hiking boots is a thing of the past.

Anyone who has purchased a pair of boots since this inevitable 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 boots 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.

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

How to Break in Hiking Boots: 3 Steps

1. Buy the right boots

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

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

As such, the most important step you can take towards breaking hiking shoes in successfully is choosing the right pair at the point of purchase. To do so, we recommend getting yourself into a store to try them on 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 and ensure there are not tight or painful spots.

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

2. Take an incremental approach

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

Start by wearing your boots around the house with the same socks and insoles you’ll be using out on the trail. 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.

Next, try venturing further afield by wearing your hiking shoes 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.

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 takes in a few sizeable staircases.

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 boots 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 boots—or to your feet.  

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

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