Every hiking enthusiast will tell you that learning how to break in hiking boots is an essential step in ensuring comfort on the trail. While most modern brands advertise excellent fit right out of the box, it’s almost impossible to break into your boots and achieve a perfect fit immediately. The reason? First, hiking boots come in different materials, which take different times to stretch and fit comfortably. Leather boots, for instance, take longer to break in compared to lighter materials that take the shape of your feet quickly.
Not to mention, we all have different feet. What may feel comfortable to you may not be someone else’s cup of tea. Therefore, despite what the manufacturer claims, it may be a good idea to learn how to break in hiking boots. It will save you a lot of hassle, and your feet will surely thank you for it!
Before Breaking in Your Hiking Boots
Breaking in new hiking boots is an excellent way to stretch them and improve their comfort, but it won’t fix a poor fit.
Before you learn how to break in hiking boots, your priority should be to find the perfect fit.
Know your feet
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Before you start shopping for hiking boots, it’s crucial to understand your feet. Do you have wide or narrow feet? Are your feet flat? Is your instep high or low? Do you have bunions? Any trouble breaking into shoes?
Once you’ve understood your feet, it will be easier for you to select the right shoes. It doesn’t make sense to get narrow shoes if you have bunions or big feet. So don’t skip this step!
There’s more to fit than the shoe size
Just because a pair of hiking boots come in your size doesn’t mean they’re the right fit. There are certain things you need to consider to make sure you have the best shoes.
For starters, you need to choose a decent length to prevent pebbles and debris from getting in your shoes while hiking.
It’s also important to pay attention to how your toes feel inside the toe box — you shouldn’t feel like your toes are being “swallowed” or bound too tightly.
Furthermore, it’s essential to test the size of the shoe. Try inserting your index finger between the boot and the back part of your heel — it should fit comfortably.
If you’re having a hard time getting your index finger through or there’s too much wiggle room, the boots are not the right size.
And when you’re shopping for hiking boots online, ensure you read through the sizing guidelines carefully to pick the right pair. It may also help to go through other buyers’ reviews to find out more about the sizing.
Splurge on comfort
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Everyone’s feet are different. While one person may feel like they’re walking on clouds, wearing the same boots may feel like torture to you.
Therefore, apart from investing in a high-quality pair of boots, it may also be a good idea to purchase the best insoles for hiking. Insoles are an excellent investment because they give added orthopedic stability and comfort. Just makes sure your inserts are well-suited to your boots’ fitting.
Give your feet some TLC
Sometimes you may have the best hiking boots on the market but still, experience discomfort and occasional blisters. In most cases, the culprit is your socks.
You need a pair of high-quality socks that not only fit effortlessly in your boots but also wick moisture away, thereby keeping your feet dry and preventing blisters. Stay away from cotton and opt for synthetic blends or wool.
It’s also a good idea to try on your hiking boots with your hiking socks on to get the real picture in terms of fit. The shoes may feel great with thin cotton socks but get uncomfortable with thicker hiking socks.
How to Break in Hiking Boots
Think of breaking in hiking boots as a metaphor for preparing for challenging hikes. You don’t go from day hikes to Denali. You build your endurance by trying out less challenging trails and working your way up to more ambitious hikes.
Similarly, you can’t expect to learn how to break in hiking boots overnight. The process of how to break in hiking boots takes some time, but it’s worth it. With patience and consistency, you’ll not only achieve a comfortable fit, but your shoes will also enjoy a longer life.
Here are our top tips on how to break in hiking boots:
Get acquainted with your shoes
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When you wear your hiking boots for the first time, it’s crucial to align the tongue and gussets neatly when you lace them up, because it determines where the permanent creases form.
Also, make sure you have your insoles in and your hiking socks on. Your boots should feel a bit snug but not overly tight. Afterward, walk around the house and keep the shoes on for at least an hour or two. Doing so will allow you to get a feel for their comfort.
At first, it may seem challenging to move in the boots due to stiffness, but that’s normal. As the shoes start getting used to the shape of your feet, they’ll stretch out and become more comfortable.
However, if you’re feeling actual pain that’s making it impossible to walk, it may be best to return the shoes for a different size.
Take an inventory of problem spots
When you’re wearing your shoes inside the house, you’ll want to pay close attention to how they feel. Are you noticing problem areas that may go away with prolonged use, or is there excruciating pain?
If the discomfort is manageable, these tips on how to break in hiking boots may fix that. But if you feel a lot of pain, it may be an issue with sizing.
Some of the red flags that indicate poor fit include rubbing at the back of your heels, cramped and numbing toes, cramping at the arch of your foot, and hot spots at the bottom of your feet.
It’s also not a good sign when your toes keep hitting the front of your boots when you walk.
If you notice any of these problems, return the boots for a different size because breaking them in won’t solve the issue.
Go on a stroll
If your hiking boots feel OK when you’re wearing them in the house, and you’ve managed to fix some of the minor issues like changing of socks and fixing insoles, the next step is taking them out for a test run.
As tempting as it may be to go on your first trail with your new bad boys, don’t do it. You need to stay close to your home so that if there’s any discomfort, you can make minor adjustments like changing your socks.
Besides, staying close to your home saves you the trouble of having to walk for miles in case your boots get uncomfortable.
Walk a few times around your neighborhood while wear
ing your boots before you take them out on a real hiking trail.
The first test
Once your boots have passed the house and neighborhood test, it’s time to take a hike!
Don’t go crazy here. Start with a few micro-adventures to test how the boots fair in real outdoor terrain. It’s best to start with a 2- to 3-mile hike in the foothills or your favorite camping ground. This way, if the shoes get uncomfortable, you don’t have to walk too far to get home.
At this stage, it may also be a good idea to test the features advertised. For instance, if the manufacturer claimed the shoes are waterproof, it wouldn’t hurt to verify this claim in a puddle of water.
However, in this step on how to break in hiking boots, you may get blisters due to several factors. One of the major causes of blisters is heat. The combination of the heat from your sock pressing onto your feet and shoes may create friction, thereby causing blisters.
Wetness also causes blisters. When there’s too much heat inside your boots, moisture builds up, causing your skin to be too soft and more susceptible to blisters.
Pressure from outside factors is also a contributing factor. When you have dirt, pebbles, and other debris continually getting into your shoes, they can injure your skin.
Deal with the mishaps before hitting the trail
If you developed blisters on your first outdoor test, a few tricks on how to prevent blisters might come in handy.
Reconsider your purchase
More often than not, the cause of blisters is an ill-fitting pair of hiking boots. Therefore, if you’re sure you have the best pair of socks and that no external elements caused the blisters, you should consider getting a new pair of hiking boots.
It’s always best to buy hiking boots from a company that has a reliable return policy to avoid losing your hard-earned money on boots you’ll never wear.
Strengthen your feet
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If you’re sure the fit of your hiking boots is OK, an excellent way to prevent blisters is to take care of your feet and prep them for a hike. One way to do this is to get treatment for athlete’s foot, foot fungus, and any other foot condition you may have.
And if you noticed your toes kept hitting the front of the boots while you were walking, it may help to trim your nails to remove any sharp edges and prevent ingrown nails.
For elastic and rough skin, use foot cream on callouses to prevent excessive build-up and cracking.
Take it easy
You can also prevent blisters by allowing your feet to breathe once in a while during your hike. When you stop to rest, remove your shoes to allow your feet to breathe and your socks to dry. Doing so will work wonders, especially if your hiking boots aren’t breathable.
It’s also advisable to remove any debris that gets in your boots as soon as you feel it and not later. This way, the rough objects won’t get time to rub on your skin.
Put your boots to a real test
Once your hiking boots have passed all the previous tests we’ve mentioned, it’s time to take them out for the actual test. You can go on a weekend backpacking trip or day hike to see how the shoes hold up.
Be sure to carry a blister kit and some spare socks on your trip!
There you have it, a simple guide on how to break in hiking boots. As you can see, breaking in hiking boots isn’t a complicated process. And if you have the right boots, to begin with, it won’t take much time to get the shoes to fit comfortably.
How do you break-in your hiking boots? Any tips you know that we left out? Let us know in the comments section below. We love hearing from our readers.
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Daniel C. Warren gradually morphed from a weekend warrior into a full-time outdoorsman and outdoor blogger. From picking up trash in the woods or sleeping under an open sky to hiking until his plantar fasciitis says no more or having a field day fishing with like minded fellow countrymen, there’s little he doesn’t wholeheartedly enjoy while out in the wild. While some might call him a true-born nature freak, he likes to see himself as a “born-again” outdoor enthusiast. Daniel just can’t get enough of nature, and we’re grateful whenever he decides to share his latest experiences with us.