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How to Break in Hiking Boots: 3 Essential Steps

Learn how to break in your new hiking boots in three easy steps and enjoy blister-free adventures on any terrain.

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Walking with hiking boots on wood walkway

Breaking in new hiking boots is crucial to ensure your outdoor adventures are comfortable and enjoyable. When you first purchase your boots, they may be stiff and unyielding, leading to blisters and discomfort on the trail.

Key Takeaways

  • Properly breaking in hiking boots is vital for comfort and prevents blisters.
  • Material and fit influence break-in time; leather takes longer than synthetic.
  • The process involves wearing the boots in gradual steps, beginning at home.
  • New boots must fit comfortably at the store before you purchase them. No amount of breaking in a poorly fitting new boot will significantly improve their comfort. 

Step 1 – Wear Around the House

AI Photo: Daniel Borkert/Canva Magic Media™

#1 Tip: Make sure your new boots fit comfortably at the store before you purchase them. 

  • Choose the right size. Your boots should feel secure but not too tight.
  • Select the right socks and insoles. These can significantly affect the fit of your boots, so wear the same ones you plan to hike in.
  • Walk around your house. Wear your boots for short periods while going about your daily activities.
  • Adjust the lacing. Find a snugness that’s comfortable for your feet. Tighten or loosen as needed to know your boots’ true feel.

Why indoors first? Your boots will stretch and mold to your feet indoors without being subjected to dirt and rough outdoor conditions. Any initial discomfort can be quickly addressed, and you can take them off without hassle.

Avoid quick fixes like soaking or heating your boots, as these can cause irreversible damage to the soles and materials. 

Also, consider waterproofing your boots if they’re not already while they’re still clean. 

Step 2 – Walk Around the Neighborhood

AI Photo: Daniel Borkert/Canva Magic Media™

Before scaling peaks or trekking rugged trails, walk around a week on pavement or other flat terrain. Start with a walk around the block, gradually extend the distance each day, and enjoy the benefits of being outside

Here’s a possible schedule to help you out: 

  • Day 1: Begin with a 10-minute tour around your block.
  • Day 2: Stretch it to 20 minutes – maybe wear them on town errands.
  • Day 3 & Beyond: Increase incrementally; listen to your feet.

Synthetic or classic leather boots need time to mold to your unique foot contours. Don’t rush it. Your aim is not just breaking in the materials but also ensuring the fitting’s just right for maximal comfort.

While enjoying these urban excursions, be aware of how your feet feel:

  • Hot Spots and Pain Points: If you feel a rub or pinch, it’s a sign a hot spot or blister might develop.
  • Boot Lacing: Try adjusting your lacing to alleviate pressure

Also, consider slinging a light backpack over your shoulders. Adding a bit of weight, such as including your hiking essentials, can significantly dial in the realistic feel of the trail without overdoing it.

Step 3 – Wear on a Short Hike

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Take it Easy: Start with an easy trail. Give your boots and feet a chance to get to know each other under actual conditions. Try a short day hike, covering a few miles. Keep the terrain simple; avoid steep or overly rocky paths.

Watch the Pack Weight: Carry a lighter pack first with your day hiking essentials. Gradually add weight over a week or two to simulate the conditions of a more strenuous hike. This incremental approach helps your boots stretch and flex where needed without overdoing it.

Build Your Endurance: Just as your boots adjust, your feet are too. 

Assess the Fit & Comfort: Pay attention to fit. A good fit means snug but not tight, with room to wiggle your toes. If any discomfort arises, take note—these could be the spots that need more time to break in. 

Sometimes, an uncomfortable boot never fits quite right, and you might need to exchange it for a different model. 

Prepare for Wet Conditions: If possible, include some walking in moist conditions. It’s good to know how your boots handle water and how to dry them correctly—this is crucial for maintaining their lifespan and your comfort. Also, consider waterproofing your boots if they’re not already. 

Throughout this process, you aim for a well-fitted boot to walk comfortably over various terrains and distances. 

After taking short hikes without significant pain points or hot spots, your boots should be broken in and ready for longer hikes or a backpacking trip. Don’t forget to bring your hiking essentials, including a good customized first aid kit.

FAQs

How long does it take to break in hiking boots?

Breaking in hiking boots varies; expect 2-3 weeks for synthetic, nubuck, or suede materials. Leather boots can take 4-8 weeks. Take several short hikes to break them in gradually.

The break-in period for hiking boots varies depending on the boot’s construction and material. Leather hiking boots, for example, tend to require a more extended break-in period than synthetic ones. The fit of your boots also plays a significant role; a well-fitting pair will naturally break in more quickly and comfortably, as it aligns better with the contours of your feet from the start. Having patience during this period is critical. 

How do I know if my hiking boots are too tight or loose?

Your boots should fit snugly but not constrict. You should be able to wiggle your toes but not have so much space that your heel slips. Ensure there are no pinching or pressure points. Your socks and insoles will affect the fit, so wear them when trying on your boots.

How do I prevent blisters when breaking in hiking boots?

To fend off blisters, wear your boots frequently for short periods and gradually increase usage. Wear proper socks, and ensure your boots are snug but not tight. Pay attention to hotspots; apply moleskin or bandaids to the hotspots early to prevent blisters.

How do I care for my hiking boots after breaking them in?

Keep your boots clean and dry. Brush off dirt and rinse if needed. Air dry them always but avoid direct heat. Treat them with a conditioner or waterproofing agent appropriate for the material of your boots. Store them in a cool, dry place to maintain their shape and function.

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AUTHOR
Daniel Borkert is the founder and editor-in-chief of Outdoor Footprints, a website that tells you everything you need to know about camping and hiking. He is an avid outdoorsman with almost four decades of experience in hiking, camping, caving, and fishing. Daniel loves to involve his wife and kids in his outdoor pursuits and inspire other families to do the same. He lives in Seattle, Washington with his family and an energetic Boston Terrier named Zion.

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