How to Break in Hiking Boots

Hiking is an excellent way to stay in shape, explore the world around you, and enjoy nature. Of course, as even amateur hikers know, a good pair of boots is essential to the hiking experience. What many hikers don’t know (until it’s too late) is that that brand-new pair of boots will do much more harm than good if you don’t take the time to break them in before the bike hike.

 Breaking in hiking boots is essential to avoiding pain and blisters during long hikes, or – worse – falls and stumbles resulting in injury. In the following article, we’ll discuss how to break in boots so that your next trip into the woods is an enjoyable – and pain-free – experience.

Types of hiking boots

There is a wide array of hiking boot designs out there, all of which will require some form of breaking in. Manufacturers intend some brands for leisurely off-road walks while designing others to offer support in even the most extreme conditions. Depending on what type of hiking experience you’re pursuing, how you break in your boots, and how much breaking in they need may change. 

Here are some basic types of hiking boots to consider:

Hiking shoes

These are low-cut and built for comfort, and resemble sneakers more than boots. Though not suitable for much more than smooth trails, these shoes are perfect for a “walk in the park.” If you’re not tackling any mud, rock, or other harsh terrain, hiking shoes can be a cost-effective option.

Day hiking boots

With their higher cut and thicker material, these boots are a great combination of flexibility and grip. Though they lack the support of boots made of thicker material, they are still versatile enough to handle rougher terrain. As they have a thicker design, they will take much longer to conform to the foot than hiking shoes.

Backpacking boots

Designed with support and grip in mind, these are perfect for anyone covering a lot of distance. The thicker sole, stiffer midsoles, and optional features like waterproofing and slip-resistance make these boots ideal for multi-day treks. Backpacking boots utilize dense fibers that will not bend easily, requiring more breaking in than other designs. 

Reasons to break in hiking boots

Unlike tennis shoes, which can become comfortable quite quickly, the thick material of hiking boots  takes time to conform to the shape of one’s foot. Skip the breaking-in process, and your hike can quickly turn into an uncomfortable experience, or even a dangerous one. Unfortunately, breaking in boots cannot make up for an improper initial fit, so it’s crucial to size your shoes before purchase. 

Aside from comfort, breaking in hiking boots is essential for those with high or low arches, bunions, or awkwardly shaped feet. Shoes are made to conform to the most basic of foot shapes, so making sure you get the support you need is critical. Overall, people with foot issues are far more prone to injury than those whose feet are in good condition.

Related: Check out our picks for the best hunting boots!

How to break in boots before hiking

Every outdoor enthusiast has tips and tricks for how to break in boots before a hike. In the following section, we’ll take a look at some of the very best and attempt to explain how they work – not just why.

Get your socks out

It’s no good to try breaking in your new hiking boots with just any old socks. It’s best to try to replicate the way you’ll use your boots on a real hike as carefully as possible. Put on your hiking socks (which are usually thicker) and spend some time walking around indoors. If you notice any warning signs of discomfort, you should still be able to return them (as they’ll remain clean inside and out).

Know the warning signs

There are a few different signs to look for while you’re breaking in your boots. These include the following:

  •  Heels that rub against the back of the shoe
  • Toes feel cramped or tight 
  • Too much pressure on the tops or sides of your feet
  • Toes hit the front of the boot when walking
  • The fit is loose
  • Pain or cramping in the arch of your foot

Fold them flat first

When you first get your boots home, lace them up good and tight and grip them by the ankle. Once you’ve done this, begin folding them in all four directions. Harder boots will have a lot less give, but it’s essential to form creases along the gusset and tongue, as they’ll provide much-needed comfort later.

Explore the neighborhood

If you’re a hiker, you shouldn’t have any issues with a nightly walk around the neighborhood. After all, time is the only way that you’re going to break in boots properly. That said, it’s best to have that process take place near your home rather than out in the wilderness. In general, it takes three to five weeks for boots to conform to your foot. A week or two of walking should provide a great start.

Put some weight on your back

One of the last things you can do to prep for a real hiking experience is to strap on a loaded backpack and walk around a trail near your home. The added weight will increase the compression on the boots and help loosen up the toughest fibers, which will increase comfort in the long run.

Leather boots

Those that want to know how to break in leather boots should expect a bit more detailed work. For starters, with leather boots, it’s a good idea to use a leather conditioner or oil. On top of this, it’s usually necessary to wear the boots around the house with thick socks for one to two full weeks. Though many old-timers will recommend water or heat, this is more likely to shrink or fade your boots.

FAQs About Breaking in Hiking Boots

What does it mean to “break in” hiking boots, and why is it important?

Breaking in hiking boots refers to the process of wearing and using them until they become more comfortable and conform to the shape of the wearer’s feet. It is important to break in hiking boots to prevent blisters, soreness, and other foot injuries while on long hikes or backpacking trips.

How can a person break in their hiking boots before a long hike or backpacking trip?

There are several ways to break in hiking boots before a long hike or backpacking trip. One way is to wear them around the house or on short walks to gradually get used to them. Another way is to wear them on short hikes or day trips to help the boots adjust to the wearer’s feet and terrain.

Are there any specific techniques or tips to help speed up the break-in process for hiking boots?

To speed up the break-in process, a person can try wearing thick socks, using a boot stretcher, or applying leather conditioner to soften the boots. It is important to break in hiking boots gradually, so they do not become too loose or cause discomfort.

What are some common mistakes to avoid when breaking in hiking boots, and how can they be prevented?

Common mistakes to avoid when breaking in hiking boots include wearing them for too long or too frequently, not allowing them to dry properly between uses, and not adjusting the laces for a proper fit. These mistakes can cause the boots to become too loose or tight and cause discomfort or blisters.

How can a person properly care for and maintain their hiking boots to ensure they last as long as possible?

To properly care for and maintain hiking boots, a person should clean them regularly, remove dirt and debris, and allow them to dry thoroughly after use. They should also apply a waterproofing treatment to protect the boots from moisture and prevent the leather from cracking or drying out. Proper care and maintenance can help extend the lifespan of hiking boots and ensure they are ready for the next adventure.

Breaking in boots in summary

As you can see, if you want to know how to break in boots before a hike – the best answer is to wear them, just as you would any other shoe. Depending on the thickness of your boots and the materials used in their construction, you’ll almost immediately begin to notice a difference. After a little bit of time, you’ll be able to take on even the toughest trails while feeling as if you’re wearing nothing on your feet at all.


About the Author

Trey is a lifelong hunter and avid camper. He lives outside Denver, CO with his wife Kaci and their lab mix Ziggy. They spend as much time as possible outdoors - hunting, fishing, and camping.

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