How to Break in Your Hiking Boots

This article is part of our series: Hiking Boot Basics.

 a hiker wearing boots while standing on a curb

Even great-fitting boots need to get in sync with your feet. If you take the time to break in a new pair of hiking boots, you’ll enjoy many comfortable miles on the trail together.

Different boots take different break-in times. Light hikers may feel perfect right out of the box, while burly leather models may require weeks. The leather needs time to soften up so your boots and feet can conform to one another.

The break-in process won’t turn a poor fit into a good one. See a footwear specialist at an REI store to get the right fit initially. For more details read Hiking Boots: How to Choose.

 

Go Slow and Steady

a hiker walking in their boots in an urban environment
Not surprisingly, the tortoise had the right idea. Follow these basic steps:
  1. Wear your boots inside the house. Wear the socks and insoles you’ll be wearing on the trail and tie your boots snugly, but not too tight. Make sure your tongues and gussets are straight. Your new boots will be a little stiff at first, which is fine.
  2. Walk around the block and around town. Make sure your boots feel good at each stage before upping the distance.
  3. Put on a daypack and hit the trail. Off pavement is where serious breaking in happens. Be sure you gradually increase both weight and mileage throughout this phase.

Always read and follow the manufacturer's instructions. Even if you don’t find break-in tips, you’ll learn about proper care and use.

 

Listen to Your Feet

Be vigilant about pain points: Small problems become big ones in a hurry. If your boots pinch or have a hot spot, try some of the tactics in How to Lace Boots.

If you have a significant fit issue, you might need a different pair of boots. Consult with your local REI footwear specialist; they can tell you if the store’s boot-stretching device can alleviate your problem or whether you need to make a bigger change. 

 

Avoid the Quick Fix

Shortcuts like soaking boots and walking long distances while wearing them are a bad idea. That would be hard on your boots and murder on your feet.

Remember: To do a good job breaking in your boots, you have to put in the time.

 

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Contributing Experts

Beth Henkes
Beth Henkes

Beth Henkes is a footwear sales lead and fit guru at the REI store in Alderwood, Wash.