Congrats fellow adventurer! You are the proud owner of brand spanking new hiking kicks. We bet you're eager to hit the trails… but stop right there, you need to break those babies in so they don’t murder your feet. So without further ado, here’s exactly how to break in those hiking boots…
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Let’s Talk About Breaking In Your Boots
You might be wondering how long it takes to break in leather boots? Well, the answer is quite a while, with plenty of test runs. Despite what you might have seen on Reddit, there isn’t a way to break in hiking boots fast , but there is a right way. We can personally attest that quick fixes like soaking your boots in water and walking ten miles is not an adventure hack, unless your goal is to give yourself trench foot.
Additionally, every boot will require a slightly different approach. For example, some lightweight Gore-Tex fabric boots are made to be worn on the trails right after you take them out of the box, while hefty leather and plastic boots need a little bit more TLC to be broken in.
Once you have purchased the best pair for your needs, on top of breaking in your boots, you must also condition your feet to fit the boots. Surprise! And no, we don’t mean your feet are going to change shape or you are going to lob off a toe to achieve that perfect fit. All we mean is that you should utilize insoles, socks, and blister pads to equip your feet and make them especially comfortable during this preliminary phase.
- Related: The 6 Best Waterproof Hiking Boots For Women
- Related: The 6 Best Hiking Boots for the Appalachian Trail
- Related: The 6 Best Men’s Winter Hiking Boots
Take Them For a Test Drive
Starting out, you can fill a spray bottle with half rubbing alcohol and half water. Lightly spritz the inside of the boots, as it helps soften the leather. Although, this little trick only works for leather boots, so if your shoes are made of another kind of fabric they’ll just end up weirdly soggy.
Second order of business: wear your boots around the house and if you can accomplish that without excruciating pain, then walk around your town, ascend stairs, climb up onto park benches etc, all the while focusing on any problem spots— like lace tightness, the feel and fit of the insole and so on.
We know it might look weird to passersbys, but strap a hiking backpack on with the same weight as your typical hiking load and walk around some more, because this extra weight can make your feet swell and flatten depending on the weight of your pack.
Put a few domestic miles on those boots and if that goes well, test them out on a short hike (emphasis on short, like an hour or hour and a half) because sometimes hiking boots are tricky little jerks that fare just fine on pavement, then strangulate your feet when you hit the dirt. After half a dozen short jaunts, your boots are probably ready for a bonafide backpacking trip.
Dress to Avoid Duress
If you do notice slight discomfort throughout this trial period, here are your options: swap out the boot’s included insoles for higher quality ones, put moleskin, tape (or duct tape for our fellow frugal hikers) around toes and heels that are rubbing the shoes wrong. If your boots feel stiff, that is perfectly permissible, but in the end if the boot is pinching, rubbing or causing you pain, return it and start from scratch with another kind of boot.
Try a few different sock combos like moisture wicking liners plus merino wool socks, as transferring friction should occur between these two layers of sock, instead of between your feet and the shoe.
Also, you can get the original retailer or a cobbler to use a stretching apparatus to alter snug sections of the shoe. The overall goal is to minimize friction that can cause painful, hike-ending blisters.
If you want to know how to tape your feet to compensate for hotspots check out this crash course on blisters, moleskin application and foot taping:
In the video she tapes her back heel while on the trail and offers these tips: place the moleskin's soft side on the hotspot or blister, keep the tape flat and crease free during application, and round the corners and press it firmly to your skin.
The Final Word
Our final word of advice is to take the time to break in your trekking shoes so your feet don’t get all blistered and nerve-shot and you get to spend more time admiring sweeping vistas instead of cursing the masochistic manufacturer who made your hiking boots. Make sure to stock up on blister pads, tape and as always, bring an extra pair of cushy socks. And if your boots aren't waterproof, use our guide to waterproof them on your own.
So get to it friends, break in those boots or they’ll end up breaking you!