When I first started hiking many years ago, I didn’t realize that you needed to “break in” brand-new hiking boots before wearing them out on the trail.
Unfortunately, I learned the hard way when I eagerly took them out of the box and right onto the trail, hiking for many miles. By the end of the hike, my feet ached, and I felt so uncomfortable that I knew I had made a big mistake.
These days, I know that whenever I get some new hiking shoes or mountaineering boots, I must first complete the break-in process before wearing them out on the trails to prevent blisters or any other issues.
Here’s everything I’ve learned along the way about how to break in hiking boots so you won’t make the same mistake.
Do You Need To Break In Hiking Boots?
Yes, anytime you buy a new pair of hiking boots or shoes, you need to begin breaking them in immediately and should complete the entire process before you wear them on your next hiking trip.
If you wear your boots before breaking them in, you could risk discomfort and foot pain, including blisters and hot spots.
In my experience, even if I purchase a shoe that’s the right fit and feels perfect in the store, once I’m out on the trail, it makes a big difference if I’ve broken them in first. I view this step as the final part of ensuring that my boots fit properly.
As I complete this process, I listen to what my feet tell me regarding pain points or minor issues. I know that if I don’t address these things while breaking in the boots, I’m in for more extensive problems down the road.
How Long Does It Take To Break In Hiking Boots?
You can break in most modern pairs of hiking boots within one to four weeks. Following the right steps will have you wearing them out on the trails in no time.
Generally, the stiffness of the hiking boot will dictate how long it takes to have them ready for a hike.
Since leather is stiffer than some synthetic materials out on the market, it may take longer to break them in initially.
However, once you do, the leather will mold wonderfully to your foot, and they will prove more comfortable in the long term.
I’d rather spend a whole month breaking in a good pair of leather boots than have a pair of synthetic boots.
How To Break In Hiking Boots —Step-By-Step
You’ll likely hear of many different methods for breaking in a new pair of hiking boots, including everything from soaking them in warm water to putting them in the freezer. Don’t be fooled by trying many of these gimmicks that don’t work well.
I tried a few of these methods before and once I turned new hiking shoes into unusable shoes, so my favorite method and what I believe is the best way to break in hiking boots is by following the next three steps.
Step 1— Start By Wearing Your Boots Around The House
I like to wear my new hiking boots around the house for a few days as I do my normal routine.
To facilitate the process, I add the insoles to the boots, wear my thick socks, and tie the laces of my boots as tight as I would if wearing them outdoors.
As I walk around or in the house, my feet get used to the feel of the boots and slowly start to soften the leather.
In my experience, if I wear them for at least six to eight hours a day, they soon start to feel comfortable.
Just as a tip, you should use the same socks as you wear when going on the trail.
Step 2— Wear Your Boots For Walks Around The Neighborhood
After a few days around my home, the footwear has already started to shape my foot. It’s at this time that I venture outdoors and take a walk around the block.
At this point, I’m still sticking to short walks and not trying to clock too many miles.
As hiking boots get more comfortable and stretch a bit, I wear them while I do my daily errands, always slightly increasing the distance I walk in them.
I also try to work on some inclines and go up and down a few small hills at a nearby park. If I can’t find any good hills, I’ll walk up and down some concrete stairs with them so that my feet get used to making those movements in the new boots.
Step 3— Take Some Short Hikes In Your Boots
Finally, once I feel like my hiking boots seem comfortable during my walks around town and to the grocery store, I venture out on some easy trails and practice more on uneven terrain.
I’m still not doing mountain hikes or multi-day hikes yet. Instead, I stick to short day hikes that take only a few hours in the morning or afternoon.
As long as my feet continue to feel great and I’m not getting any blisters or serious aches, I start to gradually increase the mileage that I’m hiking.
During these slightly longer walks, I’ll start to discover if the boots are ready for more serious terrain. If I feel any hot spots when I start to walk these longer distances, I know I need to keep breaking them in a bit more.
If they feel right and I’m not getting blisters or going through tons of moleskin bandages, I’ll know I’m ready to wear them trekking on my next big hike.
Why You Shouldn’t Break Into Hiking Boots Fast
Although it can seem tempting to try to break into your boots faster, you should not break into a brand new pair of boots too quickly or start by heading straight to the trail.
If you do these things, you risk the chance that they will start to feel uncomfortable during your walk and rub against your feet, causing issues.
Additionally, if you try some of the shortcuts you find on the Internet or hear from other hikers, you risk causing damage to your new boots themselves, and no one wants to ruin a pair of brand-new leather hiking boots.
Like many things, the best result comes from patience and following the complete process. Your feet will end up thanking you.
Get The Right Boots That Don’t Require Breaking In
Suppose you’re looking for footwear that doesn’t require much breaking in before wearing them.
In that case, you’ll want to stick with light hikers (which often feel great right out of the box) or very flexible materials like gore-tex that let your feet breathe and facilitate movement better than leather or other types of synthetic boots.
Often, you can hit the longer trails in these types of boots in about a week or less.
However, remember that these boots may not last as long as a good leather pair. I prefer to buy shoes from the best hiking boot brands and spend the time and effort to protect my feet by thoroughly breaking them in.
You do not want to try shortcuts when breaking into your hiking boots. If you try to break your boots in faster, you risk damaging your feet and your footwear.
You cannot break in hiking boots overnight. To adequately break in your shoes for your next adventure, you must have patience, and wear them around your home and on short hikes first.
Breaking in hiking boots requires a three-step procedure that can take up to four weeks to complete, depending on the footwear and material of the boot. You first need to wear them around the house, in the neighborhood, and then on very short hikes.
We do not advise wearing hiking boots on a long hike without going through the break-in process. Instead, start with short walks and gradually increase the duration. Consider wearing thicker socks for added cushioning during a day hike.
While we don’t recommend a day hike in wet conditions during the boot break-in period, if you must, consider wearing thicker socks and take precautions. However, be mindful that wet conditions can increase the likelihood of discomfort and foot pain.