The sun is shining, the forecast is fine, you’ve got your brand-new hiking boots on, and are trying them out on your first big hiking trip. Hang on though, haven’t you forgotten something?
Correct: Hiking boots need breaking in. In years gone by, it was absolutely essential to soften stiff leather hiking boots before you could use them. The traditional method was to pee in them – honest, ask your grandparents. Thankfully times have changed. But what about modern hiking boots, do they even need to be broken in? We answer this and more besides.
Spoiler alert: These days, the whole issue of how to break in hiking boots is much easier than it used to be.
Breaking in new hiking boots essentially means customising the fit. When you start to wear in your new hiking shoes, the material gets softer and more supple. This is accelerated by the warmth from your feet and the moisture produced as you walk. What you want is for the material to take on the shape of your feet for good.
It makes no difference here, whether your boots have a leather or fabric lining. Leather itself is naturally supple, which means that it is quicker to adapt to the shape of your foot.
Having said that, we recommend that you view breaking in hiking boots as the final stage in the fitting process. When you buy a new pair of boots, make sure that they fit properly from the get-go. If your boots don’t fit poorly, then even breaking them in for weeks isn’t going to help. The better they fit from the start, the less time you’ll need to spend breaking them in. (–> Find out more: How to find the right shoe)
Old-school hiking boots used to be really uncomfortable at first and took a long time to break in. They used to be made of thick, stiff leather with little padding inside. Together with their very rigid construction, they were sometimes painful to wear at first. Thankfully, this has changed. “Many of our modern hiking boots are quick to break in and you can hike in some of them pretty much straight away,” explains Andreas Settele, Head of Research and Development HANWAG.
Nevertheless breaking in new hiking boots makes good sense with certain shoe types – especially mountaineering boots, designed for high-alpine tours. As a rule of thumb: the stiffer a boot, the more you’ll need to break it in.
“I wouldn’t recommend wearing a crampon-compatible or high-alpine boot right out of the box on a multi-day trip or a 4000-er,” says Andreas Settele. Heavier mountain boots definitely benefit from gradual breaking in. Their stiff, solid construction takes longer to adapt to the shape of your feet than our Trek Light boots or softer, lighter hiking shoes. (–> Find out more: How to choose hiking boots)
However, modern hiking and Trek Light footwear is so flexible and has such good padding that you can often wear them on longer hikes right from the start. Especially if you have standard shape feet. (–> Find out more: Hiking Boots for Bunions)
The important thing here is to take your time and build things up steadily. Don’t overdo it, for instance, by buying brand-new hiking boots right before a multi-day trekking trip, and then hiking straight up a mountain. You could end up with problems like blisters. Break in your boots step-by-step – and let your feet get used to them too – before you wear them hiking. Start off by using them in the garden, on short walks near to home or for walking to work. Then try short hikes, and more diverse terrain.
This also helps your feet acclimatise. Walking in different types of weather also helps. Why? Because changing from wet to dry conditions supports the breaking in of hiking boots by placing different demands on the material. Moisture helps soften leather. So, if you see puddles when you are out, jump right in. (–> Find out more: How to clean and dry walking boots properly)
Top tip: Before your boots have been broken in properly, play it safe and pack some blister plasters if you are planning a longer tour. (–> Find out more: Tips to prevent blisters)
Tipp: When breaking in hiking boots, it’s worth experimenting with different lacing techniques and different lace tensioning. This will also give you a better feel for how you can fine-tune or vary the fit on longer tours later on. (–>Find out more: How to tie hiking boots)
When breaking in walking boots, it’s best to wear the same socks you would wear for hiking. This is because the thickness of the material and the type of fibre can make a big difference to the fit and wear comfort.
If you experience discomfort when breaking in your boots, try using different socks. Or take two pairs of socks with you and see which type works best. Naturally, your socks should fit properly. Before you pull on your boots, make sure that you pull the socks tight, so that they fit smoothly without folds or creases.
Don’t listen to anyone who says that you should pee in your boots. It does more harm than good!
There are a few myths that need to be debunked up when it comes to the topic of ‘breaking in new boots’. Here are two things you should definitely avoid:
If you follow the advice and tips above, then you should find it straightforward to break in your hiking boots. However, what if you put in the time to break in your boots gently, but they still feel uncomfortable, or pinch and rub after numerous try-outs. If this is the case, then you should get your boot fit checked again and, if required, get them adjusted.
If your boots are too narrow, they can be made slightly wider over a larger last. However, this can have an impact on the material and, as a result, the boot might wear down more quickly. If your boots are too big, then adding a thin spacer under the footbed or a heel wedge can reduce the volume.
So, now you are well prepared for the first steps in your new boots. We hope that you enjoy many miles of hiking and mountain adventures together with them.