How to Break in Your Hiking Boots

Breaking in a new pair of hiking boots can be a long, painful process. Camping & Hiking Expert Hannah K. shares her tips and tricks to make it all easier.

A pair of hiking boots lay sideways on a cliff-side rock with a view of a plain below.

Photo by Vlad Tchompalov

Published on

It’s finally time for a new pair of boots—hiking boots that is! Or maybe, this is your first pair as you are getting ready for more technical trails. Whether you get a softer pair of boots that feel comfortable right out of the box or sturdier boots for intense mountaineering, here are some tips and tricks (and what not to do) to break in your hiking boots.

As a retired ballet dancer, I can tell you that breaking in hiking boots can be far more painful than breaking in pointe shoes. In fact, I used to throw my pointe shoes, beat them against the floor, stomp on them, and even take out the old hammer to soften them up. It was a short process for a shoe that I would wear two or three times if I was lucky and have to throw away because they were no longer supportive enough—quick fixes for a short life span. But I don’t recommend doing any of that with your hiking boots! Instead, here is my process for breaking in new hiking boots.

Pro tip: Make sure to buy your shoes/boots from a company that will let you return them if you do not like the fit or feel of them. Also while looking for the right boot, think about what kind of terrain and weather you normally adventure in. Fabric will be a key determiner in the weight and stiffness of your boot. Lastly, think about how much time you want to spend breaking them in or if you would rather have comfort out of the box. For more information, check out the article How to Buy Hiking Boots.

Someone holds a hiking boot up, dangling it by its laces, in front of a foggy landscape.

Photo by Rostyslav Savchyn

1. Wear Them Around the House

Once you find the pair that takes your breath away and you finally take them home, start wearing them around the house. Wear them with the exact pairs of hiking socks or socks and insoles you plan on hiking in. Tie your laces exactly how you plan on tying them on the trail. Make sure the gussets and tongue are straight to avoid discomfort. Unload the dishwasher, put away the laundry, make some lunch in your new boots. If you have stairs, climb up and down them a few times to see if there are any major problems right away. Also, try sitting and doing nothing in the boots. Time will tell you if the material, weight, and height of the boot are going to work for you. Of course, wearing boots inside versus outside will be different, but if they aren’t comfortable inside then they probably won’t be outside either.

2. Walk Around the Block or in Your Neighborhood

Take it slow and go for quick walks and short distances. Pay close attention to any discomfort in the toe box or potential hot spots around the heel or ankle that could blister on trail. Do you feel any pinching or friction? Is your pinky toe sticking out? Is your foot too narrow or wide? How does the sole feel? If there are too many issues, these may not be the shoes for you, or you may need to spend some more time breaking them in. Find any small hills or terrain changes in your neighborhood and test the boots out on them.

3. Hit a Short Trail

The neighborhood walks are great, but you will be able to feel the shoes more on the trail when you are walking over different terrains. Continue to listen to your feet and slowly increase the elevation and mileage. Make sure to add weight to your pack as well if you are gearing up for a backpacking trip. Added weight is another factor that will shift your shoes around. Try a mile hike first and slowly gear up for half-day and day hikes, which are great ways to test out your shoes and continue to break them in.

4. Take Them Everywhere!

If you have conquered multiple day hikes in these boots and feel like they are right for you and for your foot comfort, take them on that backpacking trip or snag that peak you’ve been training for. If you have followed the first three steps, these boots should be so comfortable by now that you don’t even know you are wearing them. If not, maybe check out a different pair.

Someone walks on rocks across a stream in hiking boots.

Photo by Wes Hicks

Properly breaking in boots takes time. Quick fixes like soaking them in water or putting thick socks in your boots and blow-drying them won’t allow the shoe to form to your foot. Instead, these will damage the boot and hurt you in the long run. Put in the time! Your feet will thank you.

I recommend two to four weeks to break in your boots before any long trip, depending on the stiffness and material of the shoe. Keep in mind that more traditional boots with stiffer leather boots will often take longer to break in.

Other Tips and Tricks

  1. Change up how you lace your boots. This could easily change any discomfort you may feel.
  2. Try taking a walk in the rain/wind/weather conditions. Boots will react differently depending on the weather and you want to know how you will feel on trail if the weather changes.
  3. Ask other hikers what boots or brands really work for them and try those out.
  4. Know your foot shape. Understanding the shape of your feet will help when buying shoes. Do you have a narrow heel and need a wider toe box? Or maybe the opposite? That’s important for your comfort.
  5. Know the climate. What will the weather be like and how will that affect your hiking footwear of choice? You don’t want to wear breathable summer boots in the snow and insulated boots in the summer!

If you don’t have time to break in your new boots, opt-in for a lightweight and soft boot or shoe that will give more easily to your foot. Don’t forget to bring any tape, moleskin, or band-aids to protect your skin. Go for thicker socks in case there is any unknown rubbing that could lead to blistering. If you want hiking boots but don’t have time to break them in before a trip, check out trail runners. They have the comfort of a sneaker but the stability of a boot. Hiking Boots vs. Trail Runners: Which is Right for You? does a fantastic job of discussing the differences between boots and trail runners!

Remember that you aren’t only breaking in your boots, you are breaking in your feet too. They are getting thicker skin, calluses, and learning what it is like to be in this boot. Be patient, and as I always say, listen to your body!

Have any other questions about breaking in your boots? Reach out to a Camping & Hiking Expert here on Curated for answers and for free, personalized gear recommendations. Have fun in your new hiking boots!

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Written By
Although I've been hiking for most of my life, I didn't start backpacking and camping until college when I joined the University Outdoors Club at my school. My first backpacking trip was ambitious, the Batona Trail in the Pinelands in New Jersey done in two days. To do that, we had to walk a maratho...

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