How To Break In Hiking Boots Without Ruining Your Feet

Have you ever wondered how to break in hiking boots, but aren’t sure where to start?

We understand that you want your hiking boots to be comfortable when you’re out in the wilderness, so we’re here to tell you exactly how to break them in without giving yourself blisters.

The Breaking-In Requirements for Different Types of Footwear

The process for breaking in any type of shoe depends on the material it’s made from and the structure of the shoe itself. Knowing the type of shoe you are purchasing will help narrow down the steps in the breaking-in process.

Shoes vs. Boots

Sneakers are not suitable for avid hikers, so hiking shoes or hiking boots are a must-have.

Hiking shoes are more lightweight than hiking boots, so they are better for those that travel. They are also more flexible and don’t require a breaking-in period. If you’ve picked the correct fit, you can wear them right out of the box and be comfortable.

Hiking boots provide more ankle support and better traction on wet, slippery surfaces like rocks. Most hiking boots do require a breaking-in period because of their structure, which is why getting boots that fit properly, to begin with, is so important.

Leather vs. Modern Materials

Leather has been used for centuries, with the first-known leather footwear dating back to 3,500 BCE. It’s durable and can withstand the harshest conditions. It’s also not breathable or waterproof, which can be a challenge for those hiking in areas with creeks or streams.

Leather can take a long time to dry, and it can also lose its shape and become stiff if it gets wet. This makes it a less-than-ideal choice for hiking boots.

A pair of broken-in leather boots

More modern materials, like suede, cotton, and polyester, dry faster than leather and are a more economical choice. They are also vegan, for those who are concerned about how leather is made.

While hiking boots made with modern materials are lightweight, cost less, and dry faster, they may not be as rugged as leather, which is an important factor when considering which hiking boots to buy.

Getting the Right Fit

Hiking boots that fit correctly from the start will require little, if any, breaking in. Going to a shoe store and having your feet measured by a professional is the best way to get the correct size, but you can also measure your feet at home.

You can invest in a Brannock Device, which is the metal device used by professionals to measure feet, or you can use a sheet of paper, ruler, measuring tape, and marker, as in the video below.

Wear Hiking Socks When Trying On Boots

To ensure a proper fit, you’ll want to wear the same socks you usually wear while hiking when you try on boots. Since hiking socks are usually thicker than regular socks, this may change the shoe size that you need.

Bring Any Insoles Along

Another thing that can change the fit of a shoe is the insoles that you wear. If you require custom orthotics or insoles that you purchase over-the-counter to support the arches of your feet, you’ll also want to bring those with you to any shoe fittings.

Since insoles add another layer of thickness to the shoe, you’ll want to make sure the boots aren’t too tight when you wear them with the insoles (and use appropriate boot lacing methods).

Hiking boots with removable insoles are ideal because you can replace the regular insoles with yours without adding any additional layers to the shoe.

The Breaking-In Process

Following the correct process for breaking in a new pair of hiking boots is essential if you want your feet to be comfortable when you’re out on a hike. Skipping any steps could yield less-than-ideal results, so be sure to follow all steps correctly.

Step 1: Walking Around the House (1-2 weeks)

Wear your new hiking boots around the house, with hiking socks, for at least 1 to 2 weeks when you first get them. You can wear them for a few hours a day while you perform basic tasks, like dusting, vacuuming, and cooking dinner.

Step 2: Wear Them Outdoors (1-2 weeks)

Once you’ve stretched them out a bit at home, you can start wearing your hiking boots outside on a firmer surface like pavement. Wear them to get the mail, for a short walk around the neighborhood, or while running errands around town. Remember to wear your hiking socks with them to ensure the correct fit.

Step 3: Wear Them On a Short Hike (2-3 times)

Before you work your way up to a longer hike, start small. A quick one or two-mile hike through flat terrain will give you an idea of how the hiking boots handle different surfaces so you’re more comfortable once you advance to a longer hike.

Step 4: Have Them Stretched if They Still Aren’t Comfortable

Boot stretchers are a handy tool that can help work out any additional areas of discomfort you may be experiencing after following the breaking-in instructions. They are available for purchase online, or you can go to a local shoe store and ask if they can do it for you.

Step 5: Wear Them On a Longer Hike

Once you are sure your hiking boots are comfortable and you aren’t experiencing any pain, you can wear them on a longer hike. You can also wear a backpack with additional weight now that you have correctly broken them in.

Things to Avoid

Don’t feed into the internet hype about submerging hiking boots in water or exposing them to direct sunlight to break them in. Doing so can in fact shrink your boots, not stretch them.

You may end up being out hundreds of dollars on a great pair of hiking boots if you try one of these “quick fixes.”

Handling Pain and Blisters

If you correctly follow this breaking-in process and still end up with foot pain or blisters after a hike, there are some things you can do to relieve the discomfort.

  • Cover the blister with a bandage until it pops.
  • Don’t try to pop it with a needle or other method as this can lead to infection.
  • Once it drains, wash it thoroughly with soap and water and apply petroleum jelly and a clean bandage until it heals.
  • Follow the RICE method for sore, swollen feet: Rest, Ice, Compression, and Elevation.
Good breaking in avoids sore feet


The right pair of hiking boots can mean the difference between a good hike and a bad hike. Avoid a bad hike by following the breaking-in process for hiking boots:

  • Find the correct fit.
  • Wear them around the house for 1-2 weeks.
  • Wear them while running errands for 1-2 weeks.
  • Wear them on 2-3 short hikes.
  • Have them stretched if they’re still uncomfortable.
  • Wear them for longer hikes (with or without a pack).
  • Take care of blisters and foot pain properly.

Following these tips will ensure you have the best pair of hiking boots for a more enjoyable and memorable hike, without any painful feet or blisters to contend with after.