Every hiker knows, a great hiking experience requires a ton of preparation. Getting weather-appropriate clothing, navigation tools, survival kit, food, water, hiking backpack, and comfortable hiking boots ready are essential components of a successful hike, especially the more ambitious ones. All these tools guarantee a safe, comfortable, and fun experience out in the great outdoors. However, unlike all the other gear that arrives ready to use, brand new hiking boots may be too stiff to wear straight out of the box. In this scenario, do you know how to break in your hiking boots quickly?
Many brands make hiking boots that, with proper care, can last a lifetime. That often means they have a fairly stiff and generic foot mould to endure any trek or trail for years or decades to come. And even though they mimic the shape of your foot’s arch points and folds, the boots often arrive too stiff, courtesy of the durable components that shape them. In turn, you may get nasty bruises, blistering, or feel sore when you wear your brand new hiking boots. So what’s the fastest way to soften the inner fabric and sole to contour your feet without wearing them?
In detail, breaking in your hiking boots entails softening the stiff sole, insole, and upper fabric to flex in tune with your foot’s movements. It gets rids of all the hot spots, loose points, and friction points in your lightweight or heavy-duty hiking boots. In this guide, we share safe ways to break in your hiking boots. They include lifestyle habits that help you transition from stiff to comfortable hiking boots without pain or injury to your feet.
How Long Does It Take To Break In Hiking Boots?
Despite popular belief, there are no quick fixes to breaking in your hiking boots. If you get the right boots for your feet, you may not need much breaking in after all. However, if you go for the aesthetics without thinking of how comfortable the hiking boots will feel when you wear them, the break-in process can be painful. All in all, the break-in times vary from zero to several weeks.
Determine If Your Hiking Boots Need Breaking In?
As mentioned, when you have chosen the right pair of hiking boots for your feet, they will need minimal break-in times. Here’s how you can get the right pair to start with:
- Knowing your feet
- Knowing where and how you want to use the hiking boots
- Comparing the boot ratings and seasonal ratings
- Checking the performance, durability, arch support, and breathability of the materials and sole
- Analyzing the user reviews about the width and pinch at the toe boxes
- Confirming the overall weight of the boots, especially when you plan to wear them for extended hikes
Know Your Feet
Did you know that our feet get wider as we age? And that gaining or losing weight will impact the size of your feet? More so, the best time to shop for hiking boots is in the evening when your feet are broadest and most swollen? Understanding how your feet fit in hiking boots can make the difference between getting blisters from ill-fitting boots and having a blissful experience in cozy ones. Here is a checklist to help you know your feet:
Are They Wide? Are They Narrow
The width of hiking boots depends on the size of the toe box, mid-foot, and heel. If you have wider feet, opt for hiking boots with a wider toe box. It will allow you to extend your foot and splay naturally with each step. In contrast, most European hiking boot brands cater to hikers with narrow feet. The boots feature a slimmer toe box, padded tongue and collar, and a supportive frame that snugs your slender feet for stability.
Second, is one of your feet bigger than the other? If so, you are not alone. Many hikers struggle to get proper fitting boots for both feet. Most manufacturers recommend buying boots that fit the larger foot precisely. That way, you can then wear thicker hiking socks or tighten the lacing for a stable fit on the narrower foot.
Do You Pronate? Do You Under-Pronate?
Ideally, we should make vertical strides when rolling the foot from the heel to the toe as we move. Yet, most people have their feet leaning inward or outward at any given time. Foot pronation and supination refer to the orientation of your feet when you move. This orientation varies in response to the weight distribution in your feet when you walk or run. Hence, foot supination describes how your weight shifts to the outer part of your feet (leaning outward) when you move. In contrast, you have foot pronation when your weight shifts inside your foot (leaning inward) when you walk or run.
If you have excess pronation, you roll your feet excessively towards the inside. In turn, your arch tends to flatten out. Likewise, your boots become uneven on the insole. Now, most hiking boots lack specific features for over-pronation. Still, getting boots with a shank between the outsole and midsole will prevent you from developing knee problems or unnecessary injuries when you trek. Here, the shank stabilizes the boot, preventing it from flexing as you step on uneven terrain.
Do you have a high arch? If so, you may struggle with under-pronation. Here, your arches remain suspended when you walk or run, hence offering minimal shock absorption from the impact. Get hiking boots with sufficient cushioning at the heel areas. They will reinforce the stability, absorb shock, and achieve a comfortable fit.
What Impact Does The Shape Of Your Feet Have On The Hiking Boots You Should Get?
The shape of your feet should match the inner contours of your choice hiking boots. That way, you will have snug feet ideal for tackling long walks on uneven terrain. Second, if you have a high instep and arch, opt for hiking boots with a raised heel to correct your walking style and relieve any pain. Alternatively, you may need to add orthotic devices to your shoes for extra support.
In contrast, are you flat-footed? Buy hiking boots with ample heel and arch support. Such boots should have extra ankle padding for comfort. Plus, foam cushioning at the arch areas will absorb maximum shock while contouring to the shape of your feet. Next, if you have a foot deformity, select hiking boots that take your condition into account as follows: –
Bunions are bone or tissue enlargements at the joint that forms the base of the big toe. As it grows, this bony bump pushes the big toe inward towards the second toe. This extra pressure causes pain and swelling. Bunions develop when you have “fallen arches” due to wearing tight, small or uncomfortable shoes for long. Likewise, some individuals are born with bunions or develop them during childhood. Then, if you are a mountaineer, hiker, trekker, or walker with bunions, opt for hiking boots that have ample space for your big toe joint.
Corns are calluses that develop when constant pressure or friction is applied to the skin due to tight or ill-fitting shoes. Avoid or manage corns by wearing well-padded hiking boots. More so, buy hiking boots with a wider toe area. And, wear boots with thick socks to ease pressure on the skin when walking or running. Finally, soak your feet in warm water after a long hike. It will soften the skin and prevent the corns from hardening even further.
Do you have one or some of your toes curled up instead of lying flat? These are hammer toes. They develop when you wear tight-fitting shoes, forcing the middle toe joint to bend upwards. This abnormal toe position weakens the muscles surrounding the toes, leading to pain and injury when hiking. Then, wear hiking boots with a wider toe area to relieve pressure on your hammer toes. And, if you are on toe splints, wear them when going to fit your new hiking boots.
Crossover Toe –Ingrown Toenail, Diabetic Foot
Finally, if you have an ingrown toenail or a diabetic foot, you are prone to developing sores, blisters, scratches, and redness at your pressure points. When you wear tight-fitting hiking boots, they press an ingrown toenail against the adjacent toes. This pressure results in nail pain or inflammation. And a diabetic foot has nerve damage preventing you from noticing any blistering or soreness. In turn, the blisters can break and develop an infection. Then, if you have crossover toes, wear hiking boots with a wider toe area to cater to the abnormal position of your toes. Trim your toenails regularly. And, if you have a diabetic foot, check the pressure points every day to treat any blisters or sores before they progress into an infection.
From the above discussion, wear hiking boots with a wider toe area to relieve pain and avoid injury due to oddly shaped toe areas. And, insist on wearing hiking boots with foam padding at the pressure points to prevent blistering or further deformities sharp edges at the ankle and toe areas.
Buy the Right Hiking Boots
Now, when it comes to shopping for the proper hiking boots for your feet, follow these tips to find a precise fit:
- Observe the shape of the hiking boots you want to buy. Do they resemble the contours of your feet? If not, you may struggle with ill-fitting shoes.
- Are you buying hiking boots to last you several seasons? First, shop for brands that offer premium quality boots. Then, ensure the shoes fit you correctly the first time. Likewise, parents and guardians should never buy oversize hiking boots for kids, hoping the young ones will grow into them.
- Confirm that the width of the boots is slightly bigger than the ball of your foot. Make provision for odd-shaped toe areas or if you are managing a specific foot condition.
- Go shopping for your hiking boots in the evening when your feet are at their largest size.
- Measure the size and shape of your feet on the day you buy the hiking boots. Remember, our feet grow or shrink in shape and size depending on our current lifestyles. Never stick to a particular size.
- When measuring the size and shape of your feet, take note of the larger foot. Then, settle for the hiking boots that feel most comfortable on the broader foot.
- The same shoe size may have a narrow or wide fit on you as you move from one brand to another. Indeed, each hiking boots brand has a particular target market in mind. Yet, their standard sizing charts may mislead you into getting ill-fitting hiking boots. Unless you are loyal to a specific shoe brand, always try out a new pair of hiking boots from multiple brands.
- Is there any space left at the end of the boots when you wear them for the first time? This space should be between 3/8″ and ½” wide.
- Do the boots chafe, rub against your pressure points, or feel comfortable when you stand and walk in them for the first time? And, does the heel slide or slip when you move? Ideally, you want snug-fitting boots that are comfortable straight out of the box.
How to Break In Your Hiking Boots
Walk Around The House – Go Up And Down Stairs
The first step in breaking in your hiking boots properly and quickly is to wear them as much as possible before you ever take them on a hike. Try and mimic the run or walk you will have on the actual day of the hike. For example, if you live in an apartment, run up and down the stairs every morning or evening.
Should You Wear Socks While Breaking In?
Yes, wear protective socks when breaking in hiking boots. Remember, foot conditions like corns come about when you are on ill-fitting shoes with no socks. Still, ensure that the socks you wear now are of the same thickness and length as those you intend to wear during the actual hiking trip. Second, opt for breathable and moisture-wicking socks that prevent dampness that can soften your skin and lead to blistering.
How to Avoid Blisters during the Break-in Period? USE Surgical, Sports or Leukotape
Apart from using breathable socks, here are some additional things you can do to avoid getting blisters during the break-in period:
- Add a sock liner
- Apply foot powder to your pressure points
- Keep dust and debris from entering your hiking boots
- Use Leukotape, athletic tape, or any other surgical tape to mask all the areas on your feet prone to blistering
Wear Your Hiking Boots on Short Trips to the Store or While Running Errands
Once you establish that the hiking boots are comfortable up and down the stairs, extend your walks to short trips outside the home. When you stroll, you can pinpoint the sections that need breaking in.
Start With Short Walks
Note that you are gradually increasing the time and exposure you give your feet to the hiking boots to get them comfortable on the actual hiking day. Begin to shift from short trips to the store to well-maintained trails.
Graduate to Longer Walks
Next, increase your walking duration from a few minutes to several hours through the woods. Pick walking trails with changing terrain to test your boots’ endurance in the outdoors.
Graduate to Small Hikes
How did the boots perform on the long walks? If the walk was swift and pain-free, it is time to now go on your first small hike. Indeed, your choice of shoes and the comfort level desired dictate how many miles to break in hiking boots.
Move On To Moderate Hikes
Once your hiking boots get comfortable during the small hikes near your home, plan your first moderate hiking trip in new terrain away from home. Observe how your feet feel at the end of the day. Check for any blistering or sore spots.
Move On To Difficult Hikes with Backpack to Add More Weight on Them
By the time you shift from moderate hikes to more demanding hikes, you should be confident that your hiking boots have the right fit for you. Then, add some weight to the shoes to simulate the strenuous hike. Again, observe how your feet feel at the end of a strenuous hike.
FAST METHOD – Get Them Soaking Wet and Start Wearing Them All the Time
Now, there are no quick fixes on how to break in new hiking boots. Still, you can speed up the break-in process by dampening them to soften them. Soak the shoes in a leather conditioning cream, then start wearing them until they attain a snug fit.
Now that you know how to break in hiking boots fast, are you ready for your next hiking trip? Remember, the process can still take a bit of time. And, if you still find the shoes to be pinchy or uncomfortable after going through the above-described method, go back to the boot retailer and counter-check your fitting. You may have wrong-fitting boots with little room to expand through your break-in efforts.