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How to Break in New Hiking Boots

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With hiking season upon us it’s time to think about the state of your hiking boots. 

Perhaps you’re like me – in love with the comfort of your old ones and all the memories that go with them. But at a certain point – and mine are there – it’s time for a new pair. When my boots get wet they now bubble air out along the seams. That’s not a good sign especially when you have several major hiking trips planned in the next six months including the Juan de Fuca trail on the west coast of Vancouver Island and a three week trek in Zanskar in the remote Indian Himalayas.

How to Break in New Hiking Boots

I love my old hiking boots but they bubble around the edges when they get wet

A few weeks ago I got a new pair of hiking boots from Sporting Life in Calgary’s Southcentre Mall. They’re the cleanest they’ll ever be but they don’t have a soul – yet. That comes with shared time on the trails. And they’re definitely not broken in. I never look forward to the process though on a couple of occasions my new boots were tested the next day on epic hikes and delivered. Cue the steep hike to Abbott Pass Hut. But that’s not usually the case.

With decades of hiking experience I have loads of tips that will make the boot breaking in process faster and less painful. In fact pain shouldn’t even be a factor.

How to Break in New Hiking Boots

New boots ready to be broken in

Leather or lightweight hiking boots

Before you even buy a new pair of hiking boots you’ll have to decide whether you want leather boots or lightweight waterproof boots. It’s been said that a heavy pair of leather boots is the equivalent of carrying five extra pounds on your back – so if possible I want the lightweight boots. But sometimes, especially if you’re a backpacker who likes extreme terrain, leather boots are the only way to go.

Getting the right boot fit before you leave the store is very important.

  • Do not fall for a pair of boots because of a brand name or appearance. The only thing that matters is a comfortable fit.
  • If you’ve had a certain brand in the past that works well, look at what they offer now. Some makes have a wider fit, others a narrower fit.
  • Don’t leave the store if the boot isn’t comfortable. Fine tune the fit in the store. If you own orthotics, try the boots on with them. If you don’t own orthotics you can still buy insoles. At Sporting Life Superfeet insoles ($34.99 – $49.99) may be the ticket to feel good boots without coughing up $300 – $500 for custom orthotics.
  • Heel lifts and pads – available at drugstores can help.
  • Leather boots do best when the leather has been softened. Treat the leather before you even hit the trails with a product like Nikwax Direct Spray On Protector. It’s a waterproof protector that helps rejuvenate water repellency and maintain breathability. Also consider taking a blow dryer to the boot and softening it up with heat.
  • If you have ongoing problems with a specific spot on the boot after a purchase get your boots punched out at a skate store.

Breaking the boots in outdoors.

You’ve got the new boots and they’re comfortable when you walk around inside. The next step is to break them in outdoors. I don’t recommend doing it on an epic 30 kilometre hike. Start off with shorter hikes and build up the distance. Boots often cause foot discomfort on the descent – especially at the end of the day when your feet have swollen and your toes get scrunched. Try to go easy on big descents on the first few times out if at all possible.

You’re better off customizing a pair of boots than continually buying new ones hoping to get a pair that finally work.

How to Break in New Hiking BootsBreaking in hiking boots takes time

At the end of a hiking day I switch to a pair of lightweight sandals as soon as the terrain allows. Sometimes I have to wait till I get to the car but then it’s the first thing I do. It feels so good to get out of boots and have my feet free again.

I just picked up a pair of these sandals from Sporting Life to wear after a hike. You actually bake them in a 225°F oven for three minutes and then stand on them with your full body weight for two minutes. The end result – a form fitted sandal that your feet will thank you for at the end of the hiking day.

How to break in hiking boots

Columbia’s Molokai II sandal molds to your foot


Did you know that Sporting Life carries a great selection of hiking boots – both for easy and epic trails? 

Sporting Life sponsored this post but all the advice is my own garnered from experience hiking on hundreds of trails.

Tips on how to break in new hiking boots

Leigh McAdam

Author of Discover Canada: 100 Inspiring Outdoor Adventures
HikeBikeTravel
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Author Leigh

Avid world traveler. Craves adventure - & the odd wildly epic day. Gardener. Reader. Wine lover. Next big project - a book on 100 Canadian outdoor adventures.

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Join the discussion 4 Comments

  • Nate says:

    It’s funny how this is experienced by the blogger. It’s really hard to let go of the old ones. Anyway, thanks to this blog.

  • Cindy says:

    Great tips for those of us who have trouble getting boots to fit well. I’ll have to give a pair that I’ve never really used another chance. Now do you have any suggestions for a right sock that always works its way down no matter how good of sock or boots or shoes you have?!?

    • Leigh says:

      @Cindy I have learned that for my feet only the thinnest of socks will work. But some people swear by thicker merino wool socks. I think you should take out three weights of socks and try them all for an hour to see what world for your foot.

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