How to Break in Hiking Boots the Right Way?
Hiking boots are specifically-designed footwear worn during hiking and other walking activities. Most hikers consider them as one of the most important things in their hiking gear. This kind of footwear is constructed to support the feet and ankles and provide comfort and protection when walking extended distances, particularly on rough terrains.
This article will discuss the different types of hiking boots, the necessity of breaking them in, and how to break in hiking boots before wearing them to an actual hike.
Why Are Hiking Boots Essential?
While there is no such rule that says to wear hiking boots when going on a walking trip, it is the ideal thing to do for your own comfort. Depending on the trail, hiking boots can be a necessity or not.
Basically, there are various factors to consider in order to determine if you really need to wear hiking boots or your good old tennis shoes will suffice.
The first thing to consider is the tread. If you are going to hike on uneven, rocky surfaces with a lot of uphill and downhill slopes, then you might need a considerable amount of tread that only a good pair of hiking boots can provide. Most sneakers have a light tread that is not suitable for uneven terrain.
- Stiffness and Support
Stiffness and support are other factors to consider. For instance, if you need to carry a backpack during your back-country hiking, wearing a true hiking boot will provide your ankle with better coverage, and its stiff midsole will give your feet support. This is particularly necessary if your ankles are prone to sprains.
If your trail includes water and mud, wearing hiking boots will be a good idea. Hiking boots are usually waterproof, allowing you to walk through streams or mud without getting your feet soaked. Other alternatives are outdoor shoes that have mesh material that dries quickly.
Types of Hiking Footwear
Before you can even consider breaking in your hiking footwear, you must first decide which hiking footwear to get. These come in different types, which include:
- Hiking Shoes
These are basically low-cut shoes with flexible midsoles that provide utmost comfort. Hiking shoes are great for comfortable trails and day-hikes. Typically, they are cozy enough to wear every day, even in urban environments. They do not look too rugged and can pass as casual shoes.
Hiking shoes are ideal for light recreational hikes on established trails. While these can be a good, lightweight choice, they are not recommended if you will be carrying heavy gear on tricky terrains.
These shoes may be comfortable and lightweight, but they lack the protection that a true pair of hiking boots provide. Most hiking shoes do not require a lot of breaking in as they are already soft and pleasant to wear.
- Day-hiking Boots
If you are a mid-level hiker, these may be your best choice. Day-hiking boots come in mid-cut and high-cut variants, which are perfect for a day hiker or light backpacker.
Day-hiking boots are typically soft and flexible and do not require long periods of break-in sessions. While they are tougher and more rugged compared to hiking shoes, they are not the best choice if you are aiming for heavy-duty backpacking.
- Backpacking Boots
These are considered the true hiking boots and the beasts for that matter. Backpacking boots are designed to carry heavy loads and withstand long and frequent hiking trips. They provide stability and traction even on the most rugged terrain.
These shoes will be your best option if you are planning more walking hikes in back-country or high hills with loose rocks, a lot of wet grass, and even through mud and streams. Compared to hiking shoes and day-hike boots, a pair of these boots will take longer to break in as they are constructed more rigidly and the materials used are generally stiffer.
Types of Boot Material
Hiking boots are made with different materials that typically impact their feel and performance directly. While there are hiking boots that are made of synthetic materials, leather is much more common.
When choosing the material for your hiking boots, you must consider durability, weight, water-resistance, and breathability. Let us compare the different pros and cons of the common types of leather used to make hiking boots.
- Full-Grain Leather
Providing the boot with outstanding durability and resistance to abrasion and water, full-grain leather is one of the most popular materials for hiking boots. They are also great in enduring the toughest terrain and heaviest loads.
However, there are certain drawbacks to using this type of material. Full-grain leather is heavier and less breathable and may need more time to break in as it is very stiff.
- Split-Grain Leather
This material is a combination of nylon mesh and leather, which has better breathability and keeps feet less sweaty. It is also comparatively lighter than full-grain leather.
While it is a less expensive material, it is more prone to water intrusion and abrasion compared to its full-grain counterpart.
- Nubuck Leather
Another material commonly used in making hiking boots is nubuck leather. It is a full-grain leather with some nylon, polyester, or synthetic leather mixed in. It closely resembles suede and looks great in any boot style.
This material is really durable and resistant to water and abrasion. Flexibility-wise, it is better than traditional full-grain leather but is less flexible when compared to split-leather. Similar to full-grain leather, nubuck leather is stiff and may take a while before it is fully broken in.
Is It Necessary to Break in Your Hiking Boots?
Hiking boots are made to withstand the challenges the feet encounter during a hiking adventure. They provide the feet and ankles with protection against potential injuries, and they double as a good traction tool.
Since their main job is to protect the feet from damage, moisture, and impact, comfort is almost the last thing that your hiking boots can offer. In spite of all the effort the makers put in their hiking boots, they still come out really stiff and rigid because they protect the feet this way.
Nevertheless, the stiffness that is common to hiking boots can be gradually reversed by breaking them in. Breaking in is necessary for stiff shoes like hiking boots, casual boots, and basketball shoes, which are typically rigid and inflexible out of the box.
Lighter boots are quicker and much easier to break in compared to heavier boots. And while hiking boots these days are comparatively lighter than the hiking boots we had decades ago, they are still stiff and heavy, which is why breaking them in may take a little longer than any other shoe types.
Nevertheless, doing the process is crucial in making the boots comfortable and to prevent injuries like sore feet and ankles, calluses, and blisters. Breaking in your boots minimizes the risk of exposing yourself to these injuries, which may interfere with your hiking adventure.
How to Break in Hiking Boots
You won’t want to use your hiking boots for a hike straight out of the box. Doing this will only bring you trouble and weeks of pain and blisters on your feet.
While it is not really difficult to break in hiking boots, doing it properly can be time-consuming. If you're not sure how this is done, we've got you covered.
In general, the process is the same for different types of hiking boots. However, the amount of time needed to break them in varies depending on the type and material of the shoes.
Here are some tips for doing it properly:
Use Them Indoors
Prepare the hiking boots and the socks that you plan to wear with them, and wear them at home for a couple of hours. Doing this allows your feet to adjust to the form of the boot and vice versa.
If possible, do your normal household chores while wearing the boots. You may clean the house, cook, wash the dishes, or do the laundry. This helps to slowly break in the boots in various portions, especially the rigid and stiffer parts.
After one or two hours, or when your feet feel already uncomfortable wearing them, take off the boots. Do this every day and increase activity level and wearing duration gradually. This will help soften the boots a bit. Keep in mind that hiking boots are naturally stiff, but after this step, the chafing, pinching, or pain should lessen.
Before doing this stage, make sure that the boots, insoles, and even the socks are correctly set. Tie the laces correctly and adjust the tongue as necessary. If you fail to do this beforehand, your hiking boots won’t properly adjust to your feet, and when already set, it will be difficult to break in again.
Take Them Outside
After several days of using it indoors, your feet will already get accustomed to the feel and fit of the boots. It is now time to take your hiking boots outside but not on hikes. Just walk around the neighborhood or nearby places.
You may wear the boots as you go to the grocery store, take your dog for a walk, or any other tasks that can be done in a short period and just within your area. Don’t forget to keep the tongues and gussets straight and always wear appropriate socks.
Once the hiking boots become more comfortable to wear, they may be ready for the next step—short day hikes. Plan a short hike that covers only a few miles. Carry a light backpack, such as the type that you typically bring for a day hike to simulate actual pack weight.
If you can, do a short hike every day and gradually increase mileage and difficulty. Once you get through two or three short hikes with ease, you may start to take on full day hikes while slowly increasing loads. Take two or three full day hikes, and the boots should be completely broken in.
Some More Tips
There may be no way to make the break in faster, but here are a few tips to breaking in hiking boots better:
- Do not soak the boots to make the break in quicker. Soaking in your boots will only damage them, and it will do no good on your feet.
- Wear moisture-wicking socks and insoles every time you go for a break-in session. You may try different sock combinations like merino wool socks and liners, which can improve friction transfer.
- Try and ask the retailer or your local cobbler if they have a stretching apparatus that can be used to alter snug sections of the boot.
- Lace up the boot properly and adjust all boot components before breaking them in.
Benefits and Drawbacks of Breaking In Your Boots
Breaking in your hiking boots first before using them for a hike has many advantages. For one, it would make the boots softer and more comfortable to wear compared to its noticeable rigidness and stiffness straight out of the box.
Furthermore, blisters, calluses, and any other foot injury would be largely reduced when the boots are properly broken in. It also helps mold the shape of the boot around the foot, thus giving it a perfect fit.
The only probable drawback of breaking in your hiking boots is that it may take a couple of weeks, and you won’t be able to use them for a hike immediately.
When learning how to break in hiking boots effectively, you must keep in mind that it must be done slowly but surely. There is no such thing as a shortcut when it comes to breaking in hiking boots. Also, remember that not doing it properly can result in injury and can take your hiking adventure to a halt.
By choosing the right boot fit and breaking it in gradually, you can minimize the risks of having an issue when your big hike comes up. Proper break-in will ensure comfort and flexibility during your hike. Therefore, this process must not be foregone, or you will surely suffer the consequences.