If you’ve ever tried taking a brand new pair of hiking boots out on a lengthy hike you may have experienced some of these dreaded “new boot” side effects:
- Cramped Toes
- Hot Spots
- Extreme Stiffness
- Uncomfortable Walking Gait
- Pain and Discomfort
Make sure you pay attention to the fit of the toe-box (not too wide or narrow), length (not too short or long) and the size of the boot around your foot (not squeezing and not too much extra space).
While newer, lightweight synthetic boots and shoes may be a lot easier to break in and give you less trouble right out of the box than leather boots, it is recommended that you give every new pair of hiking boots or shoes some sort of break in period using the following steps.
Step-by-step to Break in Hiking Boots
- Always Wear the Right Socks – Socks are one of the most important things to consider when trying on and buying new hiking boots and you should always wear your boots in conjunction with the proper socks for the right fit and feel. So it is important that you wear the socks with the boots during the break in period to get the right information on any problems and get a feel for the boots. Wear proper socks.
- Be Precise for Your First Time – Extremely important with leather boots is making sure that you have the tongue and laces positioned and tightened securely and snugly, but not overly tightly. This is because leather will form creases based on your foot and how you walk, and these creases help soften the boot and make it more comfortable and easier to walk in. Creases will start to form the first time you walk around and will grow over time, giving you boots that are perfectly formed for you. Make sure you lace them up the right way, right away. Ensure the tongue is evenly positioned and and laces are snug and secure.
- Indoor Trials – Before you ever go outside, wear your boots inside first for short periods. The brand new boots should be clean so there shouldn’t be a problem wearing them around the house. This will give you a feel for any significant problems that there may be. There will be an amount of stiffness to the material which will become more comfortable the more you wear your boots, but you should keep an eye on any areas that pinch or are painful. Wearing boots indoors means that you won’t get stranded outside if you run into a problem with the boots and you can change into something more comfortable. Wear boots indoors for up to an hour at a time.
- Outdoor Trials – Time to take your boots out on the town. When you get outdoors you will probably be doing more walking around and be more active in general. During this period you will really be stretching out your hiking boots and getting the best fit. This is a great step for identifying any new potential problems and also speeds up the break in process and will help with the stiffness. This is your final phase before real trail testing. Wear boots outside on short trips and every day activities.
- Fix Any Problems – Once your boots are broken in, some small problem may remain. If there is still a hot spot somewhere you may want to take your boots to a repair shop to see if they can do anything about it with modification or shoe stretching devices (You might want to get your own stretcher if you go through a lot of boots). You might also find that you can solve the problem by switching insoles or taping up a toe that seems to be rubbing a lot before you are out on the trail. Sometimes there are easy fixes available. It is very difficult to find a perfect fit with boots, so if there is a small problem remaining you can try the above ways to rectify it and it may become less of a problem in time once the boots totally break in.
Additional Tips for New Boots
New boots may fit snugly but if your boots are too big or too small, breaking them in will not help. A good test is if you can just put your index finger down the back of the boot while you are wearing it. Your finger should press against the back of your ankle and the back of the boot without too much wiggle room. If you find it is an extremely tight fit or you have lots of room to move your finger about, your boots probably don’t fit properly. Remember that you’ll need the right socks on for this test. When you’re looking for the right boots, checking online reviews on how “true to fit” a boot is can be very helpful when ordering boots online.
Some commonly mentioned practices for how to break in hiking boots quickly include hitting them with a rubber mallet or getting them soaking wet and going out for a long walk. Not only will these potentially ruin your boots proper fit, support structure and waterproofing, but if you’ve ever gotten your boots soaked on a hike before, you’ll know that walking in them is no pleasant experience as they are extremely heavy and more often than not will lead to blisters. Stick to the proper methods for breaking in your new footwear and they’ll serve you well for miles and miles.