A perfectly broken-in pair of boots is a beautiful thing.
They’ll support you on long treks through the outdoors, fit snugly, and disappear into the background of your activities.
Unfortunately, the break-in process can be long and painful. Simply wearing your boots out for a long hike is likely to leave your feet angry and interrupt your appreciation of the outdoors.
There’s nothing more disappointing than excitedly donning a new pair of hiking boots, only to realize your feet are in shambles halfway down the trail.
But this pain can be avoided. We’ve put together a list of the best ways to break in your hiking boots so you can explore nature in comfort.
How to Break in Hiking Boots: 6 Surefire Ways
Breaking in your hiking boots doesn’t have to be a drawn-out process. Use these methods to get your boots hike-ready in a flash.
Method #1: Choose the Right Boots
Hiking boots come in a variety of fits, styles, materials, and lace configurations. Each of these factors influences the way the boot contours and accepts your foot over time.
The right fit for you will also depend on what kind of activities you’re buying them for. A leisurely stroll by the creek won’t need the same kind of durability and resilience as hiking a 14er.
Taking all this into consideration, hone in on what you need from your hiking boots. Synthetic materials will be a bit easier to break in initially, but won’t ever form to your foot perfectly the way leather might.
If you only need your boots for short, relatively flat hikes, you may opt for a synthetic boot that fits fairly well right out of the box. If you’ve got long backpacking treks in mind, you’ll want to find a sturdy leather pair with a longer break-in period.
Regardless of which direction you go, getting the right fit is the best break in “hack” there is. The closer you start to the perfect fit, the faster and less painful the process.
Method #2: Wear Your Boots Around the House
Regardless of the out-of-the-box fit, brand-new hiking boots will require a break-in process. One of the best ways to handle this is to simply wear your hiking boots around the house.
Wearing your boots around the house keeps you from situations where you’re stuck with achy feet. You can wear them for as long as your feet can tolerate and remove them when they start to hurt.
While any amount of wear will help the boots accept your feet, weight and movement will make the process go by faster. Rather than just sitting, try standing, walking, or climbing your stairs.
These activities more closely resemble the movements of hiking, meaning your feet will press against the boot correctly.
Method #3: Wear Your Boots on Short Walks
Like wearing your boots around your house, wearing them on short walks has the advantage of letting you remove your boots before they make your feet ache or give you blisters. By the time your feet start complaining, you’re home.
Additionally, wearing your hiking boots on walks has the advantage of exposing them to various terrains. By encountering friction that resembles what you’d get on a proper day hike, you’ll ensure your feet move in the boot in a pattern that will make them comfortable on longer treks.
When using this method, start small. Maybe just wear your boots around the block. Do this as frequently as possible.
As time goes on, slowly increase the distance of your walks. Add another block. Go down to the creek and walk on the dirt path.
These slow, incremental changes will push your boots to accept your feet while staying within your comfort level. As an added bonus, you control how quickly you break them in.
Method #4: Wear Your Boots With a Backpack
Applying pressure and weight is a big part of stretching your boots. Your feet need to sink in and press against the lining if you want them to conform to your feet. It makes sense then that adding weight to your body while you wear your boots will speed up the break-in process.
The most comfortable way to do this is to wear a backpack.
Your backpack can be loaded with whatever you have laying around. Not only is this a convenient way to break in your boots, but it also means you can control the speed of the process.
The heavier you load the backpack, the faster your boots will stretch. You can shift between comfort levels, pushing when you need to so your boots are broken in on your schedule.
To use a backpack to break in your boots, simply load up a backpack with as much weight as you can comfortably tolerate and stand or walk in your boots.
Method #5: Wear Thicker Socks
If you’d rather break in your boots by wearing them as you normally would, you can make the process more comfortable by wearing thicker socks.
Purchasing a good pair of boot socks will benefit you in two key ways.
First, thicker socks will press against your boot’s interior. This helps your boots stretch and conform to your feet quicker than it otherwise would.
Second, thicker socks provide some padding for your feet. The cotton or wool can absorb some of the pressure exerted on your feet, making the break-in process more comfortable. Thicker socks also prevent blistering by keeping the boots from sliding against your feet.
You can use thicker socks to break in your boots in a number of ways.
You can wear the thicker socks on hikes right away if you’re impatient or didn’t give yourself enough time for a slow break-in process. This will still be uncomfortable, but less than if you didn’t use the socks.
Alternatively, you can couple thicker socks with the above-mentioned methods to speed up their effectiveness and make the process more comfortable.
Method #6: Use a Boot Stretcher
Boot stretchers are inserted directly into the boot. You then expand the stretcher so it presses against the boot, allowing you to stretch the material without having to wear them.
Our pick is the FootFitter because of its durability and versatility. Crafted from tough aluminum, the FootFitter is strong enough to stretch even the stiffest boots. This means you can skip the painful, tedious process of breaking in your boots and get to exploring sooner.
If you use a boot stretcher, just be careful not to overdo it. Applying too much pressure to your boots can damage them. Go slow and use it for 2-3 hours at a time. Try them on and repeat as needed.
How Long Does it Take to Break in Hiking Boots?
The length of the break-in process depends on a number of factors.
For one, the material your boots are made of determines how quickly they will stretch. Leather takes longer to break in than many synthetic materials.
Additionally, the fit of your boots out of the box will impact the duration of the break-in process. Some boots simply start closer to your foot shape, meaning they don’t need to stretch as much.
Perhaps the biggest factor though is how you go about breaking in your boots. If you jump right in and wear them on long walks with thick socks and a weighted backpack, the break-in process will go by fairly quickly.
Of course, this will probably be brutal on your feet, so it’s up to you to determine the ideal balance between comfort and speed.
When it comes to breaking in your hiking boots, you have many options. The best one depends on how quickly you need your boots and how willing you are to endure discomfort.
That said, using the methods above can help make the break-in process far faster and more enjoyable.
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Is ankle support necessary for hiking?
Ankle support isn’t necessary for hiking, but it helps. Wearing a boot that cradles the ankle can help prevent injury and reduce fatigue, making your hike a safer experience.
Is it better to hike in boots or sneakers?
It is almost always better to hike in boots instead of sneakers. Boots provide more grip, helping ensure you don’t slip as you climb. Additionally, boots support the ankle, which helps prevent injury.
Should hiking boots be tight at first?
Hiking boots should be a bit tight initially but should give and conform to your foot as you wear them. A pair that is loose out of the box will likely give you blisters. That said, the boots shouldn’t cut off blood flow or make your feet fall asleep.
How many miles does it take to break in hiking boots?
There is no one-size-fits-all answer. Each boot has different levels of stiffness, and each foot presses into the boot differently. That said, most boots are broken in after about 3-5 hikes.