New hiking boots, time to hit the trails? Well, you can, but I would definitely recommend against it unless you really enjoy blisters and foot pain!
The problem is that even boots that are exactly the right size for your feet need to be molded to your feet.
This process of molding the boot to your foot is what breaking in is all about, and if you take the time to break in your new boots, your feet will love you for it!
how long should you break in hiking boots?
For most hiking boots the process will take between two and four weeks, however, the amount of time to break in your boots will come down to a few factors.
The Type of Hiking Boot
If you have lightweight, low-cut shoes or trail runners, then you will probably not have to spend much time getting your boots broken in. However, if you have bought a pair of heavy-duty mountaineering boots, they can take quite a bit of breaking in.
The Materials in your Boots
Most boots have leather uppers, which are tough and mold to your foot over time. Modern treatments have also made them both breathable and waterproof and even more useful.
However, more and more synthetics are being employed and some boots feature no animal products whatsoever.
These synthetics have their list of pros and cons compared to leather, but they do not mold themselves to your feet in the way leather does.
This generally means that you will only need to wear in the insole, which can make the process faster than for leather equivalents.
You may find that as you wear your boots in you need to make a few adjustments too, but as long as the basic fit is good you should be able to get it right
The Steps to Break In Your Hiking Boots
I have heard all manner of suggestions for breaking boots in quickly, from soaking them in water to pouring vinegar on them...!
However, if you do not want to have painful feet and blisters, there is no fast way, but there is a right way.
The right way is to do it gradually. Start with just wearing them around the house and increase the mileage little-by-little.
Sometimes you find boots are pretty good right out of the box, others take more work. Take it one step at a time and see how the boots feel before deciding to push on to the next step.
If you rush the process, there is a good chance that you’ll end up in pain and unable to go to the next step until your blisters recover. A few of these and you will find yourself hating your boots.
Start Slow - Wear Them Around The House
You need to start slow and get progressively more ambitious. So start by just wearing the boots around the house.
Wear the socks you plan to wear with your boots. Make sure the tongue and gusset material are lined up, then fold them nice and flat and Lace them up fully. The creases that form on your tongue and gusset material will become indelible after a while, so best to get them right at the outset.
All you now have to do is to wear them around the house and the neighborhood as you would your regular shoes.
Take your dog for a walk, do some gardening or get the groceries, just move a bit. As you do those activities, slowly but surely the sole of your hiking boot is forming to your foot. It’s probably going to feel stiff at first, but that’s okay.
Try to walk up and down the stairs and on inclines a fair amount as this will simulate real trails better.
After a week or so, your boots should feel a bit stiff, but basically comfortable. You should only be worried if you’re feeling any pinching, rubbing, or slight pain. If that is happening you will probably need to return them and look for a pair that fits your foot better.
Build Up The Mileage
Boots feel OK on your feet? Then it is time for the first true test of your boots on the trail.
Do not get too carried away, you only want to take a 2-3 mile hike through fairly unchallenging terrain. The last thing you want to do is find yourself a long way from home and your boots give you trouble!
Once out on the trail, blisters may come into play. We have covered blisters in another article, which you can read here >>
Gradually build these hikes up in terms of distance and difficulty. So start with a few flat miles, then add some distance and some climbs. Add in some other challenges like water and skree.
This is also the time when you can start to test out your boot's claims - how breathable are they, do your feet feel sweaty? Take a walk through a stream to test their waterproofing, etc.
It will not be long before you really feel at home in your boots. Once you get that feeling, it is time to give them a proper test
It is time to put your boots to a true test with a day hike. Start with one where you are not too far away from civilization and then ramp it up from there. You should now be completely comfortable in your boots.
Looking After Your Boots
Now you have spent all that time and money getting your boots just the way you want them, you need to look after them.
Do not be tempted to just kick them off and leave them in the trunk of your car, make sure you clean them and upright in your house so they are not exposed to heat and cold.
We go into more detail on boot care elsewhere on the site
Modern hiking boots are easier to wear out of the box than in the good old days, but they still require careful breaking in if you do not want to risk some nasty blisters or sore feet.
Just like you would train for a marathon by starting with a jog around the park, you should do the same with your boots - take it easy to start with and build up gradually.
Only when they feel like an extension of your foot should you start to take them on more challenging hikes.
If you follow these steps, by the time you need your boots, they should be beautifully broken in!