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The Dos and Don’ts of Breaking In Hiking Boots

If you love to spend your free time on a trail like I do, you know a good pair of hiking boots can make all the difference. However, while a good pair of hiking boots can easily elevate your experience, perfecting how to break in hiking boots takes time and practice. Don’t let blisters and pain stop you from exploring. Find out how to properly break in your boots with ease.

How to Break in Hiking Boots || REI

How Long Does Breaking in Hiking Boots Take?

How long it takes to break in your hiking boots will vary depending on several factors. These factors include the type of boots, materials, your foot anatomy, and the extent of the necessary break-in. As someone who hikes four to five times a week, I have found it usually takes a few weeks before my boots start feeling lived in while on the trail. However, it can even take a few months to properly break in hiking boots. Make sure to give yourself plenty of time to break in your hiking boots before a big trek.

Is It Normal for New Hiking Boots to Hurt?

It’s typical for new hiking boots to cause some initial discomfort. The key is distinguishing between normal discomfort and painful blisters or pressure point issues. I had an old pair of hiking boots that no matter how often I wore them, I would still get blisters.

In the end, I decided they did not properly fit and I moved on to a new pair that didn’t cause constant pain. Like most shoes can cause some wear and tear before they are comfortable, hiking boots will take time to mold to your feet. Still, if your boots continue to cause pain or blisters, you may want to consider trying out a new pair.

Pro Tip: Pack like a pro with our Fall Hiking Outfit Checklist For Gearing Up for Cooler Weather.

Old hiking boots
Breaking in hiking boots takes time and patience.

How to Break in Hiking Boots Properly

Properly breaking in your hiking boots is the foundation for a pain-free and enjoyable outdoor adventure. By following these steps, you’ll ensure that your boots become a comfortable extension of your feet, allowing you to conquer the trails with confidence.

Start Early

Breaking in hiking boots begins well before your hiking trip. Start wearing your new boots several weeks in advance. Begin by wearing them around your house or using them on short walks, gradually increasing the duration to help your feet adapt. This will allow your boots and feet to get used to each other, reducing the likelihood of discomfort during your hike.

Wear Around Your House First

Before hitting the trails, wear your hiking boots around your house for a few hours daily. This indoor wear helps identify any potential pressure points, allowing you to address them early. I like to use this as an opportunity to find out what areas I may need to tape to prevent blisters when I first start doing short hikes in my new boots. It also softens the boot’s materials and makes the break-in process more comfortable.

Wear the Right Socks

Your choice of socks matters when breaking in hiking boots. Opt for moisture-wicking, cushioned hiking socks to reduce friction and enhance comfort. The correct socks can significantly contribute to preventing blisters and hotspots. I find these socks keep my feet comfortable and help prevent rubbing when breaking in a new pair of boots.

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hiking socks hanging on a clothes line
Using hiking socks can help make your hiking boots more comfortable.

Gradually Increase Usage

Don’t jump into long, strenuous hikes with brand-new boots. Start with shorter walks on easy terrain and gradually increase the distance and difficulty level. Keep in mind hiking on pavement or rocky paths versus hiking on dirt trails will be different experiences. You’ll want to give your boots time to adjust to being used on different terrain. This approach eases your feet into the boots and minimizes the risk of painful blisters.

Consider Boot Conditioners 

If your hiking boots are leather, consider using a boot conditioner or waterproofing product as part of the break-in process. These products maintain the boot’s suppleness, preventing it from drying out and cracking, especially in drier climates. They also allow the boots to better mold to your feet.

Target Discomfort Areas

If you notice discomfort or hotspots during the break-in period, address them promptly. You can use moleskin, specialized padding, or blister prevention products strategically to reduce friction and pressure, ensuring a more comfortable fit.

Hikinh boots by the beach
Make the break-in process easier by starting with shorter walks before increasing the distance and difficulty level.

Avoid These Mistakes Breaking in Hiking Boots

Navigating the break-in process for hiking boots can be a challenge, but avoiding common mistakes is crucial for a smooth experience. By steering clear of these pitfalls, you can prevent discomfort and setbacks during your hikes.

1. Don’t Rush The Process

One common mistake is trying to rush the break-in process. If you don’t buffer in enough time to properly break in your boots, you will find yourself scrambling for a quick fix. Avoid methods like soaking your boots or wearing them for extended periods initially. Hastening the process often leads to blisters and sore feet. Patience is key.

2. Avoid Extreme Hiking Conditions at First 

It’s best to start with easier hikes on well-maintained trails during the initial break-in phase. Avoid rugged terrain and extreme weather conditions until you are confident in your boots’ comfort and fit. This minimizes the chances of discomfort and potential injuries.

When I first start breaking in a new pair of boots, I like to pack either a pair of old boots or sneakers into my day pack. It is okay to hike through some discomfort, but you don’t want to push through extreme pain that will make it harder for you to put your boots on the next time you wish to wear them. Have a backup in case you need to change your shoes and preserve your precious toes.

tom hiking in palo duro canyon texas
Comfortable hiking boots are essential for enjoyable adventures.

3. Skip Using Heat Sources

Resist the temptation to use heat sources like hair dryers, ovens, or direct sunlight to speed up the process of breaking in your hiking boots. Applying excessive heat can damage your boots, causing them to lose their shape or become brittle. The best way to break in boots is to give them time on short walks to become perfect for the trail.

4. Don’t Avoid Some Pain

While it’s crucial to address severe pain, it’s normal to experience some minor discomfort during the break-in process. Your feet are adapting to the boots, and you should expect a little discomfort. Just be sure to differentiate between normal soreness and issues that require immediate attention.

Pro Tip: Before you lace up your hiking boots, make sure to download these 13 Best Hiking Apps for Finding and Hiking the Perfect Trail.

Denali Highway & Denali National Park| Go North Ep.10

Mastering the Art of Boot Break-In

Breaking in hiking boots is a skill that improves with experience. Over time, you’ll learn how your feet respond to different types of boots and how to minimize discomfort during the break-in process. Remember that investing time in breaking in your hiking boots will pay off on the trail, ensuring a comfortable and enjoyable experience.

What are your boot break-in tips and tricks? Tell us in the comments!

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About Jessi Blanarik

While originally from Pennsylvania, Jessi has spent the last few years living in various countries throughout South America, Southeast Asia, and Europe. She started her career as an ESL teacher in Prague and then taught online to kids in China while traveling around the world. She fell in love with the culinary, beverage, and tourism industries throughout her travels. She received funding from the European Union to pursue her master's degree in Wine Tourism and Sustainability with the Wintour Erasmus Mundus Program. Throughout her master's she researched the benefits of blog writing within the wine and sustainable tourism industries and developed models for writers to apply to their tourism-centered content. She has experience as a freelance tourism writer for various online platforms focused on wine tourism, sustainable tourism practices, and unique travel experiences. She also runs her own personal website Jessi's Journey where she helps travelers plan their trips, gives tips for digital nomad life, and encourages solo travel.

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Brian M

Monday 30th of October 2023

Good article