How to Break In Hiking Boots

By: Derek Vitiello | Last Updated on December 22, 2023

We’ve learned over the years that good hiking boots are a staple for any outdoor enthusiast, especially since foot care is so important while hiking and backpacking. Your feet are the key to getting from point A to point B and they should be taken care of extensively. Knowing how to break in hiking boots properly is an essential step in preventing blisters and staying comfortable no matter how many miles you’re hiking or backpacking.

The break-in period can vary from a few days to a couple of weeks depending on how you wear them and the type of boot. Some lighter shoes may feel broken in right out of the box, while leather hiking boots or stiffer shoes can take quite a bit longer. Either way, take the time to break them in properly so they soften up and fit your foot the best they possibly can – it will be worth it!

Here’s a step by step guide to getting your hiking boots or shoes trail-ready. The most important thing to keep in mind is that breaking in brand new hiking boots won’t change the way they fit your foot, so start with a boot that fits properly.

Step By Step Instructions: How to Break In Hiking Boots

Start With a Good Fit

As we mentioned above, a boot won’t fit much differently after it’s broken in, so the most important part of breaking in a boot is how it fits to begin with. Start by considering the boots’ intended use, as this can determine what kind of shoe you need. A leisurely stroll or casual hiking won’t need the same level of durability and stability as hiking a 14er or thru hiking.

There’s an ongoing conversation about hiking shoes vs boots, but ultimately you’re the only one who can make the decision for yourself. We’ve hiked in boots, trail runners, and sandals, but each hike you do may require different footwear depending on the terrain.

When picking out hiking boots, look for options that offer a large foot box – you may even consider purchasing a ‘wide’ size if needed. For women who have larger toe spreads or who have feet that swell during activity, you could even look at buying a men’s pair of boots. Ashley’s favorite pair of hiking shoes right now are a pair of Men’s Sportiva.

Take your time at the store and walk around in each shoe. In our experience, the ‘right boots’ will feel pretty amazing right from the start. If it feels uncomfortable out of the box, it probably won’t get any better. They should feel pretty great, then the break in process will help them feel good long term.

When shopping, you must balance having enough room for swollen and sweaty feet, a tight enough fit that your heel doesn’t rise, a good fabric for your typical use, and so much more. It can be hard to find the right fit for hiking boots, so we highly recommend visiting a professional outdoor outfitter like REI and working with someone to pick out the perfect boots for you. Bring along the same socks you will usually wear with your new shoes or boots.

Pair With the Proper Socks

Wear wool socks with a sock liner, as this combination helps absorb moisture and reduce friction, hopefully resulting in less blisters during the break in process. We always avoid cotton, which is more likely to leave you with sweaty, blistered feet. During this whole process, you should be wearing the same type of hiking socks that you plan on wearing with your boots while hiking.

Some people recommend thick socks for hiking boots, but you don’t want thicker socks if you’re going to be hiking in hot weather. A low or medium cushion crew sock will be enough, you just don’t want to wear anything thin (like a dress sock) or short (like an ankle sock).

Wear Them Around the House and Town

Start by wearing your boots around the house during your normal activities. When you’re cleaning, doing laundry, or standing in the kitchen making meals, have your boots on. Don’t bother wearing them while sitting, as this won’t help break them in. Next, start wearing them around town while you’re running errands or on short walks like taking the dog around the block.

This phase will help the hiking boot conform to the shape of your foot and start loosening up some of the stiffer areas. If you find that they pinch, have hot spots, are the wrong size, or if they’re generally quite uncomfortable, you may need to go back to the drawing board and try a different pair. You could also just need to buy better insoles or re-lace your hiking boots in a way that fits your foot.

Start With Short Hikes

Once you feel like the boots are starting to loosen up, start by going on shorter hikes and deliberately hiking on varied, uneven terrain. Getting some time on dirt is where your brand new pair of boots will really start to break in. If you do encounter any hot spots or uncomfortable issues, stop and treat them or head back to the trailhead. You have to be in tune with the way your feet feel during this whole process. Always carry moleskin or duct tape for blister prevention just in case. 

We love using All Trails to find local trails near our house – there’s bound to be something near you. If you aren’t able to hike outdoors, wear them for 2-3 hours a day and create your own varied terrain using stairs, curbs, hills, and dirt at your local park. 

Increase Distance Gradually

As you get more comfortable in your boots, gradually increase the distance of your hikes. This will help break in the boot while also preparing you for that long hike you’ve been planning. If you’ve purchased these boots with the goal of a backpacking or mountaineering trip, you should also gradually increase the weight on your back.

Once you’ve gradually increased distance and weight, you can take them on your next hiking trip and really start wearing them heavily. If you’ve followed these steps properly, you shouldn’t have any issues.

How Long Does it Take to Break in Hiking Boots?

The time it takes to break in hiking boots depends on the type of boots and how much effort you put into wearing them. If they’re leather boots or are a more heavy duty style (like mountaineering boots), they could take several weeks to properly break in. Wear them consistently for a faster break in period but don’t rush the process. Keep in mind that leather boots require more time compared to modern boots or synthetic boots.

How to Break in Hiking Boots Without Getting Blisters?

Blisters are side effects of friction and moisture, so take steps to reduce these things. Wool socks absorb excess moisture, and sock liners help reduce friction. You should also re-do your laces after the first few minutes of walking, so you can make sure your foot is properly positioned inside the boot. If socks and laces aren’t the cause of the blister or hot spot, consider exchanging your boots for another style. 

Quick Fixes Are a Bad Idea.

Many people want to know how to break in hiking boots faster, but that’s the wrong way to go about it. Avoid soaking them, using a boot stretcher, or walking long distances right away. A boot that is improperly broken in can cause all sorts of foot problems, such as blisters and hotspots, or even toe nail loss. So take your time, wear them around the house, and increase the distance gradually to make sure you’re comfortable on that long hike.

Listen to Your Feet

The #1 piece of advice we can give you is: listen to your feet. Be vigilant when it comes to hot spots, pinches, pain points, or any kind of uncomfortable feeling. Take the proper steps to combat these by re-lacing your shoes or changing your socks. If you can’t seem to get the right feel, then perhaps they aren’t the right pair for you.

Conclusion

Breaking in a new pair of hiking boots can be frustrating and time-consuming, but it’s important to do it properly so you don’t end up with any foot problems later on. Even though boots need to be broken in, they should be comfortable from day one. If they’re causing issues, consider exchanging them for a new pair. It’s worth it to take the time to find a comfortable pair of boots that will support you and your many upcoming adventures. 

Continue your reading journey:
How to Clean Dirty and Smelly Hiking Boots
How to Waterproof Hiking Boots

FAQ

How do you speed up the break in process for new hiking boots?

While there’s some ways online people recommend for speeding things up, ultimately it’s worth it to take the time and do it properly. Skipping steps will only leave you wishing you had slowed it down, so we recommend just doing it the right way the first time. This means starting off by wearing them inside, then gradually increasing to longer walks and hikes before increasing the weight on your back.

Should new hiking boots be tight?

Hiking boots should fit snug, but never tight. The loosest part should be the toe box, which should never touch your toes and should offer room to wiggle your toes, even at the end of the day when your feet may be swollen. Visit a professional outfitter like REI to work with someone trained in picking out the perfect new boots for you.

Does it hurt to break in hiking boots?

While it will take some time to fully break in hiking boots, it shouldn’t hurt if you do it right. Gradually increase the length of time you wear them, going from walking around the house to going on short walks and hikes. This process will help the boots conform to your feet but it shouldn’t hurt. If you’re feeling pain or discomfort, perhaps that specific pair isn’t the right fit for you.

How do I make my hiking boots less stiff?

It takes some time to make hiking boots less stiff and break them in, but it can be done by following a few simple steps. First, make sure they’re the right fit for you. Two, wear the right socks. Three, gradually increase the time you wear them and get to the point where you can wear them on longer hikes. Over time, the boots will become less stiff. Avoid using a hair dryer on them, as this can damage the materials.

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About The Author

Derek, Co-Founder at Know Nothing Nomads

My goal with my writing and Know Nothing Nomads as a whole is to share my passions of hiking, camping, and a love of the outdoors with our readers.

Making the difficult and uncertain feel more approachable to people that might not know enough to feel comfortable taking their first steps into the wilderness is a driving factor for me.

When I'm not writing you can find me on a trail, in a forest, or next to a river with hiking shoes on my feet and a fly rod somewhere close by.

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We are Derek and Ashley of Know Nothing Nomads. Whether it is hiking, camping, or just generally being outside, we love it. We are so happy that you have found our little blog and hope that you stick around a while. Feel free to contact us with any questions or get in touch with us on social media!

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