Learning how to break in hiking boots is simple: Just put them on your feet and, you know, wear them.
Jokes aside, that is exactly what you need to do to break in your beautiful new hiking boots. You just need to do so gradually.
It’s going to suck for a while, then it won’t suck so much, then it will be awesome.
Nevertheless, the internet is lousy with “tips” and “hacks” for breaking in your hiking boots quickly. And the bulk of them are completely unnecessary. Some are even counterproductive.
But the truth of the matter is, you want to break in your boots doing what you intend to use them for: walking.
We’ll explain why and how below, while trying to keep the snark to a minimum.
How to Break in Hiking Boots: An Actual, Sensible Process
Again, the key to breaking in hiking boots is to simply do so gradually. Listen to your feet, address minor points of discomfort immediately (thereby preventing blisters), and take things slowly.
In most cases, that means you’ll want to break in your hiking boots via the following three steps:
1. Wear the boots around your house for the first night.
Because some boots can be really rigid at first, you’ll want the initial portion of the breaking in process to take place close to home. So, put ‘em on and go about your evening.
Just be sure that you do NOT wear your boots home from the store or mall. Track all the trail detritus you want back in your home for all we care, but you don’t want to bring retail establishment floor funk home.
Either way, slip on the socks you’re going to wear on the trail, throw in your aftermarket insoles if that’s your plan, and lace up those boots.
Make sure to do so deliberately the first time. Fold them where you want them to crease and get the laces to lay on the tongue in *just* the right spot.
2. Wear your boots to the local park or while doing some errands.
Your boots should feel significantly different after wearing them for only a single night, even though you’ve gone nowhere.
You don’t want to head off on a 7-mile trek just yet, but they should be OK for a stroll around the local park or running some errands.
Ideally, you’ll stop before your feet start to really hurt (a little bit of discomfort is fine). No need to irritate your feet – breaking in hiking boots takes time.
3. Hit the trail (carefully).
At this point, your boots should be getting close to broken in. More importantly, you’ll know the boots better, and have a better idea for where the friction and pressure points are going to be.
Hopefully things will go well, and the boots start to feel completely broken in after a few more hours on the trail. If that’s the case, you’re more-or-less ready to just let it rip. Just be careful about mileage and terrain until you’re 100% confident you won’t suffer blisters.
However, if you’re still not feeling comfortable in the boots, you’ll want to take a beat and think things through.
This is a good time to consider lacing your boots up differently or picking up a good pair of insoles if you’re running into problems, but if that won’t help, it’s time to return the boots and try again.
How Long Does It Take to Break in Hiking Boots?
It usually takes one to three weeks to break in a pair of hiking boots (just understand that some parts of your hiking boots will break in faster than others). Obviously, this will vary based on a litany of factors, including:
- How often and far you hike. Hikers who log a couple of miles a day will break in their boots far more quickly than weekend warrior types, who only head out for a hike or two a week.
- The type of terrain you frequent. If you’re just walking on a paved trail it’ll take a little longer to break in your boots than it would if you were walking through all different kinds of terrain and angles.
- The material and cut of the boots. Stiff leather boots will require more work to break in than a pair of flexible nylon boots will, and the specific cut and design of some boots will also influence the length of time it takes to break the boots in.
- Your definition of “broken in.” Everyone will consider boots completely broken in and varying points; if you want them to feel like you’ve been wearing them for years, it’s simply going to take longer than it would for hikers who don’t mind their boots being a little stiffer.
And finally, there are a few things you may do in the breaking-in process that will influence this timeline. And on that subject…
The Dos and Don’ts of Breaking in Hiking Boots
In the vast majority of cases, hikers who gradually wear their boots for increasing lengths of time (and in increasingly rugged terrain) have no trouble. And this holds true whether you’re strutting down the trail in $400 top-of-the-line, professional-caliber hiking boots or if you’re a beginner wearing some entry-level boots from Amazon.
But just to reiterate, make sure you:
- Take the breaking-in process slowly.
- Wear the socks you plan on wearing on the trail.
- Use any aftermarket insoles you like to use while breaking in your boots.
- Lace your boots up carefully the first few times.
- Address any painful spots immediately.
Do these things and you should be well on your way to hiking without even thinking about your boots.
And whatever you do, make sure you don’t:
- Park your car or set anything heavier than your feet on the boots.
- Soak the boots in your tub or swimming pool (don’t worry you can go hiking in the rain once they’re broken in).
- Throw them in your washing machine.
- Use zip ties, duct tape or anything else to bind them into various positions or shapes.
- Apply shady products marketed as being suitable for accelerating the breaking in process.
Breaking in Hiking Boots: FAQ
Just looking for some quick answers? Still have lingering questions about breaking in your hiking boots? We’ve tried to answer some of the most common questions below.
It usually takes about one to three weeks to break in a pair of hiking boots. But this obviously varies based on everything from the materials used in the boots’ construction to the amount of time you spend on the trail to your definition of “broken in.”
Breaking in hiking boots can be mildly uncomfortable, but doing so gradually and in the manner described above will help make it as painless as possible.
But you know what DOES hurt? Wearing hiking boots that aren’t broken in on a long trek.
New hiking boots are stiff and haven’t yet conformed to your feet at all, and this can lead to pain and blisters. But if you gradually break them in (by simply wearing them for increasingly long periods of time), they’ll become more pliable and conform to your specific feet.
Not really. Some people swear by silly things like throwing their boots in a swimming pool overnight or parking the car on them. But at the end of the day, you want your boots to conform to your specific feet. And the only way to accomplish this is to wear them.
There is no one-size-fits-all answer for this question. Different people require different things from their hiking boots. Some require more ankle support, some require absolutely no toe sliding, and some don’t like boots that feel tight against the top of the foot. The important thing is just that the boots fit snuggly and they’re comfortable on your feet.
Really, breaking in hiking boots is exceedingly simple – you just need to wear them. You have to break them in gradually, but that’s really all there is to it.
That said, we’re always at least open to the notion that there’s a better way. So let us know how you break in hiking boots in the comments below.