Getting new gear is one of the most exciting prospects, whether it’s a camping tent, motorcycle jacket, or a swanky new suit. However, while most gear is wearable right out of the bag, there’s one product category that requires a bit of extra attention before you can start living in it. We’re talking, of course, about a pair of boots.
As much as you’d like to immediately slip your feet into your new leather kicks, hikers, cowboy boots, or whatever else, we’d suggest you take a step back and consider breaking them in over time. There are a number of reasons for this, including both the health of your feet and the longevity of your footwear. And while there are a lot of tricks you might come across to get the job done, there’s really only one way to get it right. We’ve distilled exactly that here on our guide outlining how to properly break in a new pair of boots.
Start Slow & Ramp It Up
Ease Into It
Getting a brand new pair of boots — be they for hiking, officewear, urban outings, or otherwise — can be a very exciting prospect. And there’s a pretty good chance you’ll want to show off your new footwear as soon as possible. But, if you really want to make the most of them while remaining comfortable yourself, we urge you to take a step back and try breaking them in before you try to go out and wear them for an extended amount of time. New materials — whether they’re leather, manmade, or some hybrid — can be stiff and unruly and require working in to ensure the perfect fit on your feet. It can be a tedious process, but taking things slowly can make all the difference. You can expect breaking in your boots fully to take somewhere between 50-100 hours — depending upon the materials out of which they are constructed.
Quick Trips: As much as you’d like to wear your boots as much as possible when you first get them, the best thing you can do to start breaking them in is to put them on for short stretches of time. Rather than strapping them on your feet and toughing it out, put them on for an hour here and there — a trip to the store, a walk around the block, even just wearing them around the house. This will serve both to ease the breaking-in of your boots (keeping the materials from suffering too much strain) and can also save you some foot pain. After all, nobody likes blisters. Remember: boots are an investment that should last you for a very long time — taking it slow and steady can help ensure that. This step should take you somewhere between the first 10-25 hours.
Increase Your Wear: As you’re first breaking in your boots, you should be able to feel them getting more comfortable and conforming to your feet. As this begins to happen, you can start to wear them for longer stretches — even up to eight hours at a time. There’s no hard-and-fast rule for how much you should extend your wear, but there are a few cues to keep in mind. In the case of hiking footwear, that means short day hikes. For urban-ready footwear, you can get away with wearing them to work (unless they are work boots and you’re on your feet all day doing hard labor) or out for a night on the town. First and foremost, however, remember to listen to your feet. If they start to hurt, it’s time to swap out for more comfortable footwear and try again another time. This stage should last for around 50 hours, give or take.
Go For Broke: Now that your boots are beginning to feel less like medieval torture devices and more like a second skin, it’s finally time to up the ante. At this stage, it’s time to start wearing your boots all day long and, if comfortable enough, for multiple days in a row. In the case of hiking boots, that means camping trips, multi-day hikes, etc. It will also help if you increase the load on the sole by wearing a fully-loaded hiking backpack — helping to break in the heel even further. For work boots, you should be able to wear them for a full shift — again, if comfortable, for multiple days in a row. It’s during this stage you’ll refine the fit through constant wear that would be otherwise impossible with shorter jaunts. The final stage should take you to the 100-hour mark.
A Note On Care
Recovery Is Key
In spite of the fact that boots are not a living thing, they still require a bit of after-care in order to keep them functioning properly for years to come — especially if they’re made from a natural material like leather. A good analogy to keep in mind is that you should treat wearing your boots like a workout. Boots, like your body, will need time and specific care to recover after long periods of use. Again, this is much more vital when it comes to natural materials, but there are things to consider to keep any footwear in good shape. We’ve broken down those tips as follows:
Technical fabrics and manmade materials do not require conditioning in the same way that leather, suede, or nubuck might, but that doesn’t mean they’re immune to wear and tear. In order to keep them in tip-top shape, there are a few things you can do to care for them. For starters, don’t let grime collect on them. Especially in regards to outdoor wear, as dirt, sand, mud, snow, and more can collect on your boots and potentially render their beneficial properties a bit less effective. While there’s not a lot you can do about it while out on the trails, you can always clean them off once you get home. This is often as simple as shaking them off and/or hosing them down to remove any excess filth. But it should also be kept in mind that you should let your boots air dry before you use them again. Putting on damp boots could be quite uncomfortable and might also stretch them out — potentially ruining the fit. It might also be worthwhile to apply a waterproof spray to your boots in order to up their weather-resistance.
Leather, Suede, Nubuck, Etc.
Unlike synthetic materials, leather is natural and requires a lot more care in order to keep it healthy. It is, after all, made from animal skin and, therefore, has a natural stretch, breathable pores, etc. The first step to caring for your leather boots is the same as with technical materials: clean them off. Remove any and all grime with water and, if that doesn’t do the trick, you can use a non-abrasive unscented handsoap and either a cloth or even a toothbrush to do the detailing. Following that and after letting them dry, you’ll want to apply a conditioner. Like lotion for your skin, leather conditioner helps the material bounce back from wear and tear and is instrumental in keeping your boots in working order.
Bickmore Bick 4 Leather Conditioner: Having been around for more than a century, Bickmore certainly knows a thing or two about leather care. In fact, this particular formula is the same one used since the brand’s infancy — which should tell you just how effective it is. Without darkening your leather, this will condition it, clean it, polish it, and keep it protected for years and years if used regularly. Trust in Bickmore — they won’t let you down.
The Complete Guide To Leather Care
Unlike most technical fabrics and plant-based textiles, leather requires a bit more attention and care in order to keep it healthy for a long time. On our complete guide to leather care, you’ll learn everything you need to know to make yours last a lifetime — be that on boots, jackets, or otherwise.
Keep Personal Care In Mind
Protect Your Feet
One of the big things people forget about breaking in boots is that it can wreak havoc on your feet. While taking care of your boots is obviously key to breaking them in, the same mindset should be applied to your feet. After all, you’re not going to be able to wear your boots if your feet are covered in blisters, sores, or they’re cramped up. As we previously mentioned, you should listen to your body. If your feet are uncomfortable in your boots, it might be time to take a break from wearing them. Barring that, you can mitigate some of the discomfort and damage by wearing good-quality socks and keeping some blister bandages on hand.
Nexcare Waterproof Clear Bandages
Even if you take things slow and steady, you may end up getting a blister here or there. And that can be a major hindrance to breaking in your boots and, more generally, enjoying the outdoors. Make sure you keep any blisters you get protected and covered with these waterproof, germ-proof, and dirt-proof bandages. It will help speed up the healing process and save the inside of your boots from becoming a biohazard.
SmartWool Saturnsphere Hiking Socks
Your best defense against blisters and irritation when it comes to breaking in a pair of boots is a solid lineup of hiking socks. And they don’t get much better than SmartWool’s Saturnsphere options. Made in the USA from a unique blend of Merino wool, nylon, and elastane, they’re durable, comfortable, and built to last. They also have the added bonus of built-in arch support and extra cushioning on the soles for impact absorption.
A Last Resort
If after 100 hours of wear, you’re still finding tough spots in your boots — either the toe is a little cramped or the width constricts your feet, you aren’t completely out of luck. However, there are a couple of popular “hacks” we’ve come across we’d like to dispel as book breaking-in techniques. The first we’ve seen is that some folks suggest soaking your boots in water and then putting them on to stretch them out while they’re wet. While, in theory, this is a sound tactic, exposing materials to this much moisture can be damaging in the long run — shortening the life of your boots overall, even if you’re careful to condition them afterward. We’d suggest against it.
The second, in our opinion, is the far riskier of the two: exposing your boots to direct heat. The idea is that warming up the materials will make them more pliable, as body heat might do while wearing them. The problem with this is that extreme heat can cause materials to dry up, shrivel, and even crack — this can be seen in old rubber tires and leather that’s been left sitting out in the sun. While exposure to too much moisture can be mostly remedied, there’s no way to repair materials that have suffered from too much heat exposure — so you should stay away from this tactic entirely.
If you just need a couple more adjustments to get the perfect fit, however, there’s nothing wrong with using a shoe stretcher. Keep in mind, you’ll want to make sure long before you reach this stage that your boots are the proper size for your feet. But, since everyone’s feet are different, some fine-tuning might be necessary. Shoe stretchers are made specifically to suit such a task. They’re made to gently expand and stretch your footwear without causing any long-term irreparable damage that might be caused by moisture or heat. Just remember, this is for fine-tuning and won’t help you if the boots you’re wearing are entirely the wrong size to begin with.
FootFitter Premium Professional Boot Stretcher
Specifically made to compensate for the longer ankle of boots, these stretchers — which come in a pack of two — are ideal for fine-tuning your boot fit in regards to their width. On top of the devices themselves, they also come with a specially formulated spray that will relax the materials of your boots for a gentler stretch — ensuring that your footwear stays healthy through the process.
How To Take Care Of Leather Boots In Winter
Especially when the weather cools down, we find ourselves wearing our boots a whole lot more. But with the change in temperature and the increased likelihood of rain and snow comes a necessity to keep an extra close eye on your boots. Learn everything you need to know on our guide to taking care of leather boots in winter.