Breaking in hiking boots is the first step to make a fresh pair of boots trail ready. Comfort is a key selling point in nearly every hiking boot out there, however, a new pair of hiking boots needs a little preparation before they are ready to tackle your favorite trail. The time you put into preparing your boots beforehand makes the first steps on the trail more enjoyable.
Every pair of hiking boots are different and no two pairs of hiking boots are the same. Tough leather boots require more time to break in and a pair of hiking boots made with synthetic material take less time. In order to guarantee that your first hike is smooth and pain free, it’s important to give your boots a little TLC.
How to break in hiking boots
After you have chosen the perfect pair of boots or your feet, the next step is breaking them in. Here are 9 simple steps to break in your hiking boots to ensure that your hiking boots are as comfortable as possible.
1. Find the right fit
Don’t go for a pair of boots because of a fancy brand name or the best appearance, the most important aspect of a pair of new boots is a comfortable fit. Not all shoe sizes are the same and it’s super important to try on your pair of boots and make sure they fit your feet comfortably. A loose fitting pair of boots can lead to blisters and a tight fit makes your feet hurt in all the wrong places.
2. Give them time
When breaking in your hiking boots it’s important to take your time with each and every step. Be sure to give yourself at least a month to break in your boots before heading out on the trail. This gives you plenty of time to work through the process at home and guarantees that your first hike is awesome.
3. Understand what your feet need
Everyone’s feet are a little different and the best pair of boots for me is not always the best boot for you. You want to start by analyzing your feet and asking yourself a few questions.
- Do I have wide or narrow feet?
- Do I have high arches?
- Are bunions an issue?
- Are both of my feet the same size?
- Do I have flat feet?
- Are there any prior issues I’ve had breaking in new boots?
Once you have answered these questions, you’ll know exactly what questions to ask when looking for a new pair of boots.
4. Try them on with your hiking socks
Hiking socks add cushioning and padding to a pair of hiking boots. However, the extra padding and comfort that they bring to the table also take up more space than a standard pair of socks. It’s a good idea to try on the boots with the socks that you plan on hiking in, this way you’ll know how they actually fit.
5. Wear them around the house
This is an old-school trick to break in boots and for a good reason, it works. Even if the company guarantees that their boots fit comfortably out of the box, this isn’t always the case. Wearing them around the house is a great way to identify any points of discomfort that your feet experience.
Wearing them at the shop often gives you a false sense of comfort, you have the pressure of the salesperson and it’s only for a short distance on a flat surface. Take them all over the house, take them on a walk around the neighborhood, and up and down some stairs. This gives you a feel for the boots and the ability to change your mind before your 5 miles into a hike.
6. Identify pain points
As you’re walking around the house and getting a feel for your new boots, pay close attention to the places that your boots cause discomfort. If the new boots are causing you constant pain, it’s probably time to return them and find a new pair.
A few common points of discomfort are:
- Heels are rubbing
- Toes are bunched together unnaturally
- Pressure on top of your feet
- Your toes touch the front of the boot when you take a step
- Cramps in the arch of your foot
7. Introduce them to the outdoors
Now that you spent some time walking around the house and identified any potential pain points it’s time to take them on a test drive outdoors. Take them on a stroll for a short walk around the neighborhood, to the grocery store, or even a light jog. This is going to begin breaking in the boots and you can further test how they feel in real world conditions.
8. Break them in by hand
Once you start to see where the natural bends in the boot begin to form you can take some extra measures at home to expedite the process. Bend the boots at the creases that have naturally formed using your hands each day for a few minutes at a time. This is going to make the soles more flexible while giving your feet more room to move.
9. Take a hike!
Now that you’ve found the perfect pair of boots and spent a few weeks breaking them in, it’s time to take them on the trail. Keep in mind, even if you’ve taken all the steps necessary to do everything you can to break in the boots there’s always going to be growing pains. Expect to feel a small level of discomfort and be sure to bring a blister kit.
Other tips and tricks to break in your hiking boots
Here are a few other tips and tricks to make your boots more comfortable:
- If your boots feel tight after the first few hikes you can use a boot stretcher to add a little room to your boots. If you don’t want to invest in a boot stretcher for a single use, head to a local outdoor store and they will happily do it for you (hopefully).
- Use a boot dryer to keep your boots warm, this will pre-soften the leather or synthetic material. There are boot dryers that you can rest your boots on all the time, they don’t use a fan, and you’ll always have a warm pair of boots to put on.
- Use rubbing alcohol to soften tough spots on the leather. Take a rag or cotton balls and rub them on areas where the boot feels tight to expand the affected area.
- If you have an orthotic insert or high arches be sure to use the proper insert with your hiking boots.
Now that you have taken the steps to guarantee that your boots are fully broken in, it’s time to get out there and hike. There may be times when you still feel a little pain on the trail and this is expected. Take your new boots, a good attitude, and your closest friends and head out to your favorite trail.
Keep calm and hike on.