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You’ve done your research, compared models and now have your new hiking boots in hand. Before venturing out into the backcountry for the first time there is one thing left to do- break in the hiking boots.
New hikers may be unaware that the breaking in period for hiking boots is often longer compared to breaking in casual shoes. Most people go about breaking in their boots by just strapping them on and going for a hike, but there are some things you can do to lessen the chances of sore feet and blisters.
First off, if you didn’t choose your boots in store with the help of an experienced employee then you should double-check the sizing before stepping out.
Follow these steps to quickly break in hiking boots:
Before you go anywhere you should take a moment to put on your new boots and examine them for proper fit. Just like majority of shoes, not all sizes fit them same across the board. No amount of breaking in is going to make ill-fitting shoes feel nice on your feet.
Here are some tips for proper fit for hiking boots:
Breaking in a pair of boots seems basic enough but there are a few tricks for making the process easier and reducing the chances of nasty blisters or other common issues.
*Tip – If the boots feel suspect in terms of fit right away but not enough to return them right off the bat, only wear them in the house for a few days. This should be enough time to decide whether they should be returned or not.
Only wearing them inside should keep them looking new so you are able to return them to the store.*
Consider the Style of Boot – Lightweight boots will break in quicker. The same goes for boots made of synthetic materials. Some people may find that these materials make the boot fit like their old favorite right out of the box.
Heavy synthetic boots and leather hiking boots will take longer to break in. Sometimes a few weeks or upwards or 50+ miles, depending on the model and your pace.
Nothing feels quite as nice as a well-worn pair of leather hiking boots but consider synthetic if you only hike short distances or have very sensitive feet.
Try an Old School Method – There are some older methods of breaking in that some people swear by for leather boots that involve water. You could either soak the boot in water then wear it until it dries or wear damp socks during the breaking in period.
Completely soaking leather boots is questionable- it may lead to more comfortable boots but possibly at the expense of longevity and overal durable lifetime. A better idea is to wear damp (not wet!) socks. This will soften the boot from the inside out, without sacrificing durability.
Use a Leather Conditioner – Another trick for getting leather boots supple more quickly is to use some type of leather conditioner.
You could use a product like mink oil on only the parts of the boot you want more pliable or a use something like Obenauf’s all over, according to the product directions.
A good leather conditioner for outdoor footwear should help speed up the breaking in the process while also improving the quality of the leather. Some products can really improve water-resistance as well.
Buy New Hiking Socks – You won’t be doing your feet any favors by wearing cheap cotton or old, threadbare socks. Socks for hiking can be categorized as lightweight, midweight and mountaineering. Personally, I recommend the Darn Tough socks as the best option for hikers.
If you are a casual hiker or going to be hiking on a groomed trail in good weather then a lightweight backpacking/hiking sock will suffice. Midweight socks are ideal for more difficult trails or longer excursions as they often have built in padding for additional comfort.
As you can guess, mountaineering socks are seriously thick socks made for strenuous trails and/or very cold weather. Don’t forget about sock liners as well, which should be used with midweight or mountaineering socks.
Before you start breaking in a new pair of boots, buy a new pair of socks and wear those during the breaking in process. Wool and synthetic wool materials are great choices. Liners made of a silk blend or any type of wicking material is a good idea.
Stay away from 100% cotton socks. They might be comfortable at first but you will regret it later. For very short hikes you might use cotton blend socks in conjunction with a wool/synthetic wool or a liner.
Breaking in hiking boots shouldn’t be rushed if you can help it. Be sure you start with a properly fitting pair and follow the above tips. Remember, even if the boot fits well, if your feet are in serious pain or you are developing severe blisters from chafing, you should return them.
Breaking in boots may be a bit uncomfortable at first but you shouldn’t be left in agony after a walk or easy hike.
Sam Hardy is an outdoor enthusiast with a penchant for survival skills. He writes about the great outdoors and his favorite equipment here.