How to Break in Hiking Boots

May 6, 2021

The road to successful hiking is often paved with many innocent mistakes. Unfortunately, there is one mistake in particular that can be a painful lesson in footwear for new hikers. We are, of course, talking about not knowing how to break in hiking boots.

Put simply, breaking in new hiking boots is important because it can save you from excruciating blisters, cramped toes, hot spots and a slew of other unpleasant problems. By breaking in your boots, you can help mold the shoe to your feet, making it much more comfortable for long hikes.

Want to make your feet ultra-happy on your next hike? Read on for a few tips on how to break in hiking boots.

P.S. – If you’re hiking with kids, don’t forget to have them break in their new hiking boots as well!

How Long Does It Take to Break in Hiking Boots?

The length of time it takes to break in new hiking boots depends on the type of shoe. For example, if you have a nice pair of leather hiking boots, you’re going to have a harder time breaking them in compared to a pair of lightweight fabric boots. Leather hiking boots typically take a few weeks to break in properly, whereas fabric hiking boots need minimal breaking in.

The same goes for “rugged” hiking footwear such as mountaineering boots. Since mountaineering boots are designed to withstand long distances and tough terrain, they’ll take longer to mold to your feet.

How to Break in Hiking Boots the Right Way

There is a right way and a wrong way to break in hiking boots. If you don’t want your hike to end in painful blisters and hot spots, here’s what you SHOULD do:

  • Get the Size Right – Choose a well-fitting hiking boot from the get-go. It’s normal for new hiking boots to be a little stiff, but they shouldn’t be uncomfortable when you’re simply walking around in them..
  • Start Small – Don’t go on a three-mile hike with your boots right off the bat. Start small by wearing them around the house, going to grab the mail and running errands around town. Small but frequent trips are key for breaking in new hiking boots.

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  • Go for an Easy Hike – Now, it’s time to hit the trail. Go for a small hike and take it slow. The goal is to get your shoes and your feet accustomed to walking over rough terrain, like rocks and roots. Consider carrying moleskin with you on your hike. If you feel any pain or hot spots, you can apply it to the area to prevent blisters.
  • Work Up to Your Normal Conditions – If you normally go backpacking over the weekend and typically carry 30 pounds, work your way up to those conditions. Start by backpacking for half a day and then a full day while gradually increasing the weight you carry.

How NOT to Break in Hiking Boots

If you’ve been browsing hiking forums lately, you may have come across a few suggestions that mention soaking your new hiking boots in water. However, this may not be the best idea, particularly for leather hiking boots.

Here’s the thing: You’re not only breaking in your boots to fit your feet, but you’re also breaking in your feet to fit the boot. You need to spend time in your (preferably dry) hiking boots so they can learn to move and flex with your feet.

Another reason to skip the water soaking method? It’s not that great for leather hiking boots. Soaking your boots in water is especially bad for leather hiking boots because it can strip the natural oils that keep your leather boots in good condition. And sure, you can (and should) use conditioning products to keep them in top shape, but experts don’t recommend using those products until your boots are fully broken in.

Bottom line? Put in the work to break in your boots. You and your feet will be glad you did.

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Happy Feet, Happy Hike

Like an insulated sleeping bag or a long-lasting LED headlamp, a quality pair of hiking boots is something that you will never regret buying. But before you hit the trail in your new kicks, make sure that you break in your hiking boots and train your feet. And keep a blister kit handy, just in case!

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