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How to Break in Hiking Boots: 7 Simple Tips

Man walking in hiking boots

Breaking in hiking boots starts before you even buy them. With almost all modern brands claiming out of box comfort, the question is, why is there a need to know how to break in hiking boots at all?

Why, indeed!

Well, firstly, not all boots do what they claim they will. Secondly, everyone’s feet are different. What feels instantly luxurious to one person may be more like walking on hot coals to the next — unless that’s your kinda thing?!

How to break in hiking boots

From choosing the right boots to enjoying miles of comfortable hiking in them, our top tips will help you get comfortable in your boots in no time.

01Know your feet

Before you even start trying on hiking boots, it will help the whole process if you have a good idea of what your feet are like. Ask yourself the following questions:

  • Are your feet especially wide or narrow?
  • Do you have a high instep (arch)?
  • Are your feet flat?
  • Do you have bunions?
  • Are your feet different sizes to each other?
  • Have you had issues with breaking in boots before? If so, what were they?

Once you have an idea about what your feet are like, you can seek out the right kind of boots for your feet. There’s no point getting narrow boots if you have wide feet or bunions.

02Buy the right boots!

Probably the most important step towards comfortable hiking boots is the buying process. Hopefully you can identify any stand out features about your feet as this will help when choosing the right boots. Be sure to keep this information in mind when choosing boots to try on.

Understanding how to fit your boots will also help you get the right pair for you. If you take your time over the choosing, fitting and buying process, you may not need to break your boots in at all.

03Wear them with your hiking socks

Be sure to try on your boots with the socks that you’ll be wearing when you go hiking. The boots may feel great with thin cotton socks. But thicker socks for hiking might change everything. In the ideal world you should try to avoid wearing multiple pairs of socks. One pair should be just fine, providing you have chosen boots that fit well and are comfortable.

04Walk around the house

Even if your boots deliver that ‘out of box comfort’ that they promise, it’s still important to wear them before you head out on a 10-miler! Wearing the boots for a couple of minutes in the shop is very different to hiking in them for hours at a time. Wear them round the house as much as you can when you first get them. Include stairs (up and down), and stand around in them, too. Doing this will help you solidify your love for your new partners in hiking. Or it may highlight discomfort.

05Identify any discomfort

If you start to feel uncomfortable in your boots after wearing them around the house for a few hours, you’ll need to take action. You may need to return them and try a different boot altogether. But before you do, try to identify the discomfort:

Problem: The backs of your heels are starting to rub.
Solution: Try heel lock lacing.
Problem: Your toes feel cramped and are starting to go numb.
Solution: It may be that your socks are too thick. But if wearing slightly thinner socks doesn’t work (and doesn’t cause discomfort in other areas of your feet) then the boots are probably too small, or too narrow in the toe box.
Problem: The arch of your foot is starting to cramp up.
Solution: This may mean that there is not enough support in the arch. Try adding insoles that add extra support to your arch. If that doesn’t help then you may need to find boots that offer better support in the arch.
Problem: There is excess pressure on the tops of your feet.
Solution: This is probably because you have high volume feet and/or high arches. Try box lacing your boots to alleviate the pressure on this area of your foot.
Problem: You can feel hot spots on the bottom of your feet.
Solution: This is probably because the boots are either tied too tightly, or they are too small. Experiment with some different lacing techniques and try some slightly thinner socks. Otherwise, you may need to return them for a size up or a different boot altogether.
Problem: Your toes hit the front of your boot when you walk down the stairs.
Solution: Try heel lock lacing first. If this doesn’t work then it may be that the boots are too small. A half size up and some secure lacing may help stop this.

06Get out around the block

If you’ve managed to troubleshoot any discomfort by changing socks, adjusting your laces or adding insoles, then you should be all set to get out and about in your new boots. However, as tempting as it may be to hit the trail for your first outing, it’s a good idea to just stick close to home to start with. Doing this means you can easily make any adjustments or sock changes that you might need. Plus, if your feet start to become uncomfortable you don’t have miles of painful trekking before you can give them a break.

Do this a few times before you get out on the trail properly.

07Take a hike!

You’ve nailed your lacing techniques, your socks are feeling peachy and you’re totally happy walking in your new boots to the store and back. Now it’s time to take a hike! However, just because you’ve done everything you should have to break in your hiking boots, doesn’t mean they won’t give you grief on your first hike. So be sure to take a blister kit and some spare socks. And expect some discomfort. Take your time lacing your boots, and don’t be afraid to re-lace them at the first sign of discomfort.

Breaking in hiking boots doesn’t need to be a painful process. And if you take your time to buy the right boots in the first place then you shouldn’t need to do much breaking in at all.

Happy hiking!
hiking boots gear guide

Joey Holmes

Joey Holmes
Joey is based in Cornwall, UK, and runs Cool of the Wild. She can’t get enough of being outdoors – whether that’s lounging around the campfire cooking up a feast, hitting the trail in her running shoes, or attempting to conquer the waves on her surfboard – she lives for it. Camping is what she loves to do the most, but has also spent many hours clinging to the side of a rock face, cycling about the place, cruising the ski-slopes on her snowboard, and hiking small mountains and big hills.

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