Hiking boots are your best friend whether you are taking a day hike in a local trail or preparing for a backpacking trip in Annapurna Circuit. Your feet take the worst abuse during your trip. As such, wearing the right boots is essential for protection and comfort.
Unfortunately, hiking boots are not made to be worn from store to trail. It is essential to break in hiking boots before your hiking trip. Wearing brand new footwear can easily ruin the first hour of your hike with blisters and pain.
This article will show you how to properly break in hiking boots from the moment you buy them to the day before your trip. We will also share how to choose the right hiking boot and a few more tips to prepare your feet for an adventure.
Before Breaking in Hiking Boots
There’s no fixing the fit of new boots if they are ill-fitting. As such, make sure that you spend a lot of time choosing and fitting boots. Excellent fit should be your priority even before you start breaking in and wearing your boots. Here’s how to break in hiking boots:
Pay Attention to the Fit of Your Boots
Always measure the length of your feet before you go to the store. Others even trace their foot on a piece of paper and cut it out. This trick works if someone other than you is buying your hiking boots.
While fitting your boots, pay attention to its length and how it feels. Make sure that it is not too snug or too loose. It should have enough room for your socks, but not too much that you are slipping inside.
Notice the fit in the toe box. It should not restrict or “swallow” your toes. There’s a reason why wide-toe box boots are quite popular. One tip to determine if you have the right fit is to wear the boot and insert your index finger behind your heel.
Your finger should fit comfortably in the space. If it moves around too much, the boot is too loose. If you can barely fit your finger behind your heel, then it may be too snug.
Hiking Socks and Insoles
Aside from the boot, a sock is potentially the most important gear that protects your foot. Choose wisely by going for synthetic blends or wool. Try to avoid cotton socks.
Make sure to wear the exact same socks that you will wear on your trip when you break in your footwear. Similarly, wear them during boot fitting as they will provide the best and most accurate feel.
If possible, consider high-quality socks. They may be relatively more expensive, but they wick away moisture effectively. This prevents blisters and other painful spots on your feet.
Additionally, if your budget permits, consider orthotics and insoles. Good insoles or custom orthotics usually pay off in the long run. They provide orthopedic stability while providing comfort. Just like your socks, wear them when you need to break in your shoes or when you fit in at the store.
Breaking in Hiking Boots
With your brand-new hiking boots in hand, you’re probably excited to hit the trails. We’re on the same page. We’ve been there and done it before. Indeed, many of us bought several of them and were eager to test them.
Start Slow and Steady
The key to breaking in your new hiking boot is to start slow and steady. When you put on your boots for the first time, neatly align the tongue and gussets when you first lace them. The first few times wearing your boots is important as it will determine the creases that form in the tongue.
Here are a few things to do to start slowly:
- Wear them around the house. Make sure to wear the insoles and socks that you will be wearing on the trail. Tie your boots properly and snugly while making sure that they are not too tight.
- Walk around the neighborhood. Wear them while doing groceries, walking your dog, or even while you are exercising.
- Try the stairs. Walk up and down your stairs as these also simulate trails a bit better. You can also walk up an incline, like hills around your locality.
- Put your day pack on. Slowly increase the weight and mileage as you break in the shoes. This allows you to get used to your gear.
They could be a little stiff at first, but that’s okay because they’re already beginning to conform to the shape of your foot. If you are experiencing true pain or pressure areas that are not alleviated by minor changes, you should exchange your boots for a different size or manufacturer.
Venture Out With Your New Hiking Boots
After that, take them for a spin around the neighborhood and gradually introduce them to more places throughout town. Your boots will begin to stretch a little and mold themselves to your foot at this point. Continue to keep track of the problematic places in your boots and experiment with different orthotics and lacing configurations to see if you can find a solution.
Increase the length of time you spend on your feet gradually by adding easy two- to three-mile day treks on mostly level terrain. Before increasing the length of time you spend on your feet, ensure your new hiking boots are still comfortable every time you take them off.
If your boots claim to be waterproof or breathable, make sure to put them through their paces during the second jaunt. Consider increasing the distance of your second hike to three miles if your previous hike was just two miles. After a short period of time, your boots will begin to feel like an extension of your foot, and you will find yourself unable to take them off.
Try not to get carried away. You only want to go for a short hike of about two to three miles across very easy terrain. Having difficulties with your boots when you are a long way from home is the last thing you want to happen in this situation.
Take It Into a Field Test
A day hike will put your boots through their paces in the most extreme conditions. Start with a location that is not too remote from civilization and gradually increase your distance. You should be able to walk around in your boots without feeling uncomfortable.
If you purchased waterproof boots, now is a good time to put them through their paces by stomping through a creek or a few puddles and inspecting them for their waterproofness and dry feet afterward.
While on your first few day hikes, take note of the following factors that may cause blisters:
- Heat – Friction between your feet and your socks typically introduces heat as well as your socks and your shoes. While heat helps leather boots adjust to your feet, it may also cause blistering. Also, hot spots on your feet are typically where blisters form.
- Pressure – Depending on the trail, rough trails may cause more heat. And, with sand, dirt, and rocks sneaking inside your boots, you may find a few blisters here and there.
- Moisture – Heat introduces heat which softens the skin. This makes it difficult for your socks to gently slide against your skin.
The way you care for your boots while you aren’t wearing them is equally as crucial as how you care for them when you are. Simply kicking them off and stuffing them in your closet isn’t sufficient. It is, after all, an investment in boots that will protect your feet from the harsh trail or weather. If you protect them as well, you’ll get a longer lifespan out of them. For the time being, just make sure they’re clean and standing upright.
Tips in Choosing, Breaking In, and Wearing The Right Pair of Boots
How to break in hiking boots is not a complicated process, but there are a few tips you need to remember:
- Take time to survey and choose the right boots. Popular manufacturers are popular for a reason. For example, Ahnu sells great hiking boots for women.
- When ordering your hiking boots online, make sure to read the fitting advice found in the product description. Check the reviews as well to see what other users are saying about the sizing especially referring to a particular manufacturer.
- Take a moment to inspect your feet every time you are resting and taking your feet out. Sweating is not a bad thing, as leather usually adjusts to your feet faster when it’s warm.
- It helps to know your feet. Are they narrow or wide? Do you have flat feet? How about bunions?
- Take note of discomfort or pain during the first few times you break in hiking boots. It is normal during the first time, but if they persist, you may need to adjust your fit or replace your hiking boots altogether. Here are a few things to note”
- Rubbing too much between the back of your heels and the boot.
- Excess pressure on the top of your foot.
- Your foot arch cramps up.
- Your toes are cramped and sometimes go numb.
- Some hot spots on the bottom of your foot.
Prepare Your Gear as You Would Prepare Yourself
Most hiking boots are supposed to be ready for adventures right after buying them from the store. However, even with the best fit, you still need to break in your new hiking boots carefully. Taking it from store to trail will result in painful blisters, aching feet, or even potential injuries.
Your gear is not unlike your body in that you need to “train” them before your trip, especially if it is a challenging adventure. By learning to break in hiking boots, your feet will slowly get used to it until it feels like an actual extension of your limbs. Additionally, the boots will have time to adjust and mold to your feet which maximizes balance and support.
Once you feel confident enough to take your boots for a day trip or so without causing any major issues, they should be ready for their next big adventure.