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Backpacker Magazine – Online Exclusive

Gear Pro: Breaking In Your Boots

Learn how to get comfy in your new footwear.

by: Kristin Hostetter


A reader asks:

I am preparing for a 3 week backpacking trip and recently got some new boots for it. They felt great in the store and fit my foot great. As I walk around in them daily, I am noting pain on the top of my foot as I take a step. It happens right where the boot bends when I go up on my sole a few inches from my toes. Ideas?

—Jake J. (via Facebook)


Hey Jake, it sounds like a simple issue of breaking the boot in more. As someone who has tested hundreds of pairs of boots over the years—often right out of the box and onto the trail!—it’s something I can relate to!

That crease point across the toes is a common problem spot, and burly leather often takes some time to soften. There are few tricks you can use to help speed up the process in time for your trip. Both of these have worked for me in the past.

1. Give the boots a really good soaking and then wear them dry, as unpleasant as that might sound. I know this sounds a bit extreme, especially because we expend so much effort on multiday trips trying to keep our feet DRY, but I promise you this really does help. I’ve employed this technique on the trail, when I’m desperate to speed the break-in process along. Just stand in a creek or lake and let the leather get good and wet.


For optimum results, let the water pour right in over the top of the boot. Sometimes a new boot’s DWR (durable water repellent) coating is tenacious and makes it hard to get the leather saturated. But if you can do it, it works: The water softens the leather, then you lace them up (have several pairs of dry socks in your pack so you can rotate them out to prevent blisters), and hike. It works best in warm, dry weather because it gives the boots a chance to dry out in a day. Also, do this in the morning so they’ll be dry by the end of the day.

2. The other technique involves a mink oil massage. Mink oil is not typically recommended as a boot treatment because it can over-soften the leather, but in this case, that’s exactly what you want to do! Rub several thin coats of the oil into the offending spot, then put the boots on and go for a good long walk, or just go out and rake the leaves or putter in the garden. As you use the boots, the leather will conform to your foot and that crease point should become more flexible.

If neither of these tricks work, you should go see a professional bootfitter. I’ve had incredible success with the gurus that are certified by America’s Best Bootfitters, who have helped me stretch out several pairs of boots to accommodate a painful bunion. They specialize in solving fit problems in both skiing and hiking boots, and they can really work magic.  (Read and see more about the process here.)
The customized fitting will cost you $50-$75 dollars depending on what needs to be done, but it’s money well spent.  You can find a certified fitter here

I hope this helps, Jake!

—Kristin

If you’ve tried some other break-in techniques that have worked for you, leave a comment here or email me
: khostetter@backpacker.com

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READERS COMMENTS

Star Star Star Star Star
Charles Nadal
May 14, 2014

a option not ofter used is steam, I take a washrag, soak it, pop it in the microwave afor a few minutes, and get it so hot I cant handle it bare handed, pop it in a boot, turn said boot upside down, let it rest a few minutes and repeat this 2-3 times put the boot on and wear it. this mimic the sweating and vaporization of sweat into permeable materials like leather and synthetics. it really works great, and NO the heat from the washrag is not so high to cause glue delamination issues. try it it works.

Star Star Star Star Star
Charles Nadal
May 14, 2014

a option not ofter used is steam, I take a washrag, soak it, pop it in the microwave afor a few minutes, and get it so hot I cant handle it bare handed, pop it in a boot, turn said boot upside down, let it rest a few minutes and repeat this 2-3 times put the boot on and wear it. this mimic the sweating and vaporization of sweat into permeable materials like leather and synthetics. it really works great, and NO the heat from the washrag is not so high to cause glue delamination issues. try it it works.

Star Star
KGB
Mar 04, 2014

Mink oil is made from mink fat removed from pelts destined for the fur industry. How about recommending a less cruel alternative?

Star Star Star Star Star
Cliff Hangar
Mar 04, 2014

You can also purchase a wooden shoe stretcher on line for about $20. They work great!

Star Star Star Star Star
CoreyR
Mar 04, 2014

I am an old Infantryman (Airborne) and, back in the 80's and 90's the "boot soaking" thing is what we used to do with a new pair of combat boots. We used hot water, NOT boiling, to thoroughly soak the boots, then put them on, lace them up good and wear them all day. They should still be "squeeshy" when you put them on.
By the time they dry, these boots will be fitted to YOUR feet and no one elses. Your foot will be the mold the leather conforms to.
It may be uncomfortable and unpeasant when you do it but the pay off is well worth it down the road.

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