New Hiking Boots: When and How to Break Them In

Summer is here, and you have a brand new pair of hiking boots to start the season. But are they ready to take you on your summer adventures? How do you know if you’re hiking boots need to be broken in before your first big hiking trip? And what’s the best way to do it?

To Break in or Not to Break In?

For hiking boots, the general rule of thumb is the more heavy duty the hiking boots, the more breaking in they will need. Some hiking boots are manufactured to be worn right out of the box. Largely these are your light to mid-weight trail runners, hikers, backpackers and mountaineering boots. Not sure what type of hiking boot you have? Ask your sales associate or look up the model online. If your hiking boots fall into one of those categories and are of mid-range to high quality, they don’t need extensive breaking in.

However, this doesn’t mean that you should take them straight from the sporting goods store to the trail. Before heading out on a long excursion, it’s always a good idea to spend some time in your hiking boots to make sure that they are a good fit. Lace them up, put on your hiking socks and walk around the house, up the stairs or out for errands. A few hours over varied terrain should be enough. The key is to identify any potential problems long before you start your hike.

How to Break in Heavy Duty Hiking Boots

If you’ve purchased a pair of heavy mountaineering or backpacking hiking boots, then they will need to be broken in properly.

But before you start that process, you will want to wear these boots (and your thick hiking socks) around the house as well to make sure that you have the right fit. Heavy duty hiking boots are supposed to feel stiff, but they shouldn’t exert undue pressure on the balls, heel or sides of your feet. If you feel pressure or heat in any of these areas, you should consider going up another full or half size.

After you’ve ensured that you have the right fit, you’re ready to start breaking them in. The general idea is that over the period of a week or so, you want to wear your boots for longer and longer periods of time while simultaneously increasing the weight that you carry each day until you can wear them for a reasonable amount of time without feeling any discomfort.

A good way to do this is with evening walks. On the first day, walk for about 10 blocks or so and stop, even if your feet have not begun to hurt. The next day, double that length and put some weight into your day pack.

For the third through the seventh day, continue to increase the length of your evening walks while varying the terrain. Take your hiking boots up stairs and over hills. Try climbing things. The key is to get as much stretch into your boots as possible. Once your boots have acclimated to your feet and vice versa (i.e. they no longer hurt after you wear them for prolonged periods), you’ve paved the way for a great hike.

Breaking In in a Hurry

If you don’t have the time to invest in breaking in your heavy duty hiking boots the right way, consider going with a lighter weight boot that can be worn right out of the store. However, if you must have a heavy duty boot and you absolutely do not have the time to break them in, you do have other, albeit inferior, options.

The first is to wet your boots and wear them until they dry on your feet. This is uncomfortable but it does work to a degree. Your second choice is to take them to a shoe store and have them stretched mechanically. But bear in mind that neither this method nor the former acclimates your feet to the boots, an important part of breaking in. And as a last resort, reserved for the very brave, you can forego any breaking in at all and just treat any blisters or aches while you’re on the trip.

And as a final note, even if you have broken your boots in properly, blisters can happen. For your first few hikes, bring along a few fabric-backed bandages just in case a blister does occur and you’ll keep it from ruining your trip.