Imagine hiking on a long and lovely day. You can feel your feet hurting inside your stiff, brand new boots but you figure the pain will go away with a little hiking. However, a few hours later, instead of the pain disappearing, it feels like there are blocks of concrete attached to your feet. Every step hurts. And you have hours left before you get back to the trailhead.
All of this could have been avoided by breaking in your new hiking boots before you left. Breaking in boots means wearing them for intervals around the home so the rubber soles, leather uppers, and nylon fabrics can better adjust to your foot shape.
In this article, I’ll share my top five tips for doing this quickly and easily.
Why Should You Break in Hiking Boots?
Breaking in hiking boots creates a more pleasant experience on the trails. New hiking boots, especially those with leather components, are notoriously inflexible. Taking the time to break in your boots increases their flexibility and overall comfort. Tackling long and difficult outdoor adventures without comfortable footwear is a quick way to become miserable.
So, unless you're time-strapped (which we'll cover below), breaking in new boots is a good habit to get into.
Would It Be Easier to Use Other Types of Shoes?
Generally, no. Hiking boots are the best footwear for the trails. And modern boots have ergonomic shapes and glove-tight fits, making them more comfortable than ever. They are much better at protecting and supporting your feet than other types of shoes.
However, despite advances in material and technology, new boots still feel tough and inflexible. The best and easiest way to alleviate this is by breaking the boots in.
5 Ways To Break In Hiking Boots Quickly
There are several ways to break in a new pair of hiking boots. I’ve outlined five easy methods below. Ideally, you’ll do them in order, but sometimes, life gets in the way. If you find yourself without the necessary time to properly break in boots, I also cover some alternate solutions.
1. Choose Boots Suited To Your Feet
Knowledge is power! The kind of boot you buy will impact how long it takes to break in. Hiking boots come in various styles and fits. Think carefully about what shoe size you are and what activities you plan on taking these hiking boots on. Our guide on how hiking boots should fit will help you here.
If you’re a casual hiker, you can get synthetic boots, approach shoes, or trail runners that fit well right out of the box but lack durability. If you have big hiking trips planned, get a durable pair of boots. Lightweight boots generally take less time to break in than heavier, traditional all-leather boots. However, the durability and foot protection is excellent.
Four-season mountaineering boots are likely the stiffest boots you can find. The break-in period will take the longest, but they are designed to handle the most rugged terrain out there. Mountaineering boots also come with benefits like full waterproofing and crampon compatibility. Check out our guide on the top mountaineering boots to see more options.
2. Walk Around The House And Check Your Socks
Regardless of what style or fit you choose, hiking boots are best broken in by first walking around your house. Slip the boots on, tie the laces all the way up, and do some household chores in them. Do this for about half an hour a day for a week. Note any hot spots, discomfort, or anything that feels a bit off.
Introduce hiking socks to the routine as well. Generally, hiking socks are made to fit well inside boots. However, note any areas where socks are bunching or rubbing. If your feet start sliding around in the boots, try thicker socks or combine hiking sock liners and hiking socks.
3. Take A Short Hike And Add A Little Weight
After walking in your boots at home, take them out on a short hike. Try something less than about 5 miles and relatively flat. To spice things up, add a little weight to a pack. Take care to note how the shoes handle the added weight.
With less durable hiking shoes, you may start to feel more pronation in the cuff. If the hiking boots have thinner soles, weight in a pack will reveal whether or not you can feel more of the trail surface beneath your feet. For sensitive feet, thicker-soled hiking boots will help blunt that impact.
4. Varied Terrain/Wet Hike
The next step is to take your boots out on a longer hike with added pack weight and varied terrain. Ditch the paved and gravel trails for rockier surfaces with notable inclines and declines. What you’re looking for here is how well your heel stays in place when you add some ups and downs.
If possible, add some creek crossings or go out on a wet day. Even if you have mesh hiking boots without waterproof capabilities, it’s worth testing how quickly they dry after getting wet. For waterproof leather hiking boots, make sure they keep your feet dry.
It’s important to note any foot slippage (which could create hot spots) and if your toes hit the front of your shoes, which can cause bruising. Top-tier hiking shoes and boots are water-resistant, waterproof, or quick drying.
5. Put It All Together: Go On A Long Day Hike
By this point, you should have a pretty good idea of what your hiking boots can handle. However, it’s best to add all the previous elements together and go out for a long day hike. After spending a full day out on the trails, you may notice some pinch points or areas of pain that shorter hikes won’t let you uncover.
If the hike goes well, the boots are broken in and ready for whatever you throw at them.
3 Tips to Keep In Mind When Breaking In Boots
As you’re testing and breaking in your hiking boots, make sure to do the following things:
- Put on your boots correctly.
Don’t try to step into them and collapse the back like you may do with old running shoes. Any action like this that warps the shape of the boot will make it much harder to tell when there’s something wrong with the fit of the boot.
- Pull your socks all the way up.
Start at your toes and work the sock over your heels and up your leg until all wrinkles and bubbles are gone. The sock should be flush with your foot and lower leg.
- Don’t give up at the first sign of discomfort.
Hiking boots are not meant to be the most comfortable shoes you wear, and that’s ok. You need hiking boots to blunt the impact of rough terrain, hold your foot in place and provide more support and higher comfort levels than athletic shoes would. If a pair of boots is doing that, you’re on the right path.
What If There’s No Time To Break In New Boots?
If there isn’t time to break in boots, you have a few options. You can break them in on the go, get a less durable pair of boots that are comfortable right out of the box, or try to expedite the process.
Break Them In On the Go
This is the most immediate but most painful way of breaking in boots. If time isn’t available, just be prepared to deal with blisters, rubbing, bruised toes, and generalized pain or foot fatigue. Sometimes, there just isn't enough time to fully break in boots, but you risk further injury by forcing a stiff boot out on the trails right away.
Get Less Durable Hiking Boots
Nylon and mesh hiking boots are usually much easier to break in. Many are comfortable enough to wear right out of the box. However, nylon and mesh hiking boots have some notable downsides, the biggest being a lack of durability. Over time, issues crop up faster than with leather hiking boots.
If you hike fairly often, they may need replacing in a season or two.
The Quick 3-Step Version
As long as you have 24-48 hours before a hike, you can try these quick three-steps.
1. Wear for 30-min increments.
Wear the hiking boots for half-hour increments as soon as you get them. Make sure to take the boots off after each increment and go about your day for an hour or two before coming back to them. Do this for three hours if possible.
2. Go for a longer walk.
Go for a walk around a mile or two and note any discomfort. If it’s just in your neighborhood, find driveways or streets with ups and downs. Really feel for that heel hold and exaggerate your steps, both up and down any rise you can find.
If they still feel uncomfortable, physically bend the hikers back and forth with your hands for a few minutes at a time. You’re trying to loosen up the bend that each boot develops where your toes and the front pad of your foot meets.
Also, try walking around with traditional hiking socks and feel for pain points. Add hiking sock liners if you think there’s too much space. If there's too little space, go for thinner pairs of socks.
3. Bring Moleskin.
Moleskin pads can be placed over emerging hot spots to help fight blister creation. If you’re hiking in unbroken hikers, this will help ease the pain.
The bottom line here is that if you are pressed for time, there are ways to speed up the break-in process. However, this will not alleviate all issues. Be prepared to encounter some level of minor foot pain on your first few hikes.
Breaking in your boots can save you from various forms of foot pain. You also gain the benefit of testing out the boots and how they fit on your feet before committing to long outdoor endeavors. If you’re time-strapped, you can speed up the process. However, if possible, take the time to properly break in your boots for the most enjoyable and comfortable hiking experience.
*The information on this site is based on research and first-hand experience but should not be treated as medical advice. Before beginning any new activity, we recommend consulting with a physician, nutritionist or other relevant professional healthcare provider.