Hiking

How to Break In Hiking Boots and Basic Boot Care

Hiking boots in some leaves

Comfortable boots are essential for enjoyable backwoods adventures. Breaking in new ones and caring for boots with miles on them can make all the difference in your comfort levels and make sure they last a long time.

New Boots

Woman wearing hiking boots

If you are breaking in a new pair of boots, whether synthetic or leather, take the time to break them in properly. Start by wearing them around the house with a pair of hiking socks. Then, wear them on a number of short hikes, slowly increasing the mileage.

Listen to your feet. Any pressure points, hot spots, or small problems can become big ones very quickly. If you can’t resolve these issues by adjusting the laces or the tongue, you may need a different pair of boots.

Don’t immediately put wax or leather care products on your new boots. Sweating in them and letting them form to your feet first will make them more comfortable. The outer parts of the boots become soft and more pliable with use and exposure to sun.

Avoid “quick fix” tactics like soaking your boots in water then wearing them while damp. These shortcuts generally don’t work and can make things worse or even cause damage. Breaking in boots the right way takes time and patience but your feet will thank you.

Boot Care

hiking boots getting wet in a stream

Caring for your boots will go a long way to ensuring you get the most out of them. This is paramount if you want them to last a long time.

Cleaning

Leather and synthetic boots will endure a lot of muck and trail dirt but leaving them dirty can ruin the outer layer. To clean and care for them, remove the shoelaces and insoles then run them under a hose or faucet. Use a gentle brush (like a vegetable brush) to scrub off dirt. Never put boots in the washing machine.

Whether synthetic or leather, insoles hold moisture and can get soft, smelly, and bacteria-laden over time. Get in the habit of taking them out after every hike to let everything air out. Your boots, your feet, and your hiking buddies will thank you!

While boots are very resilient, salt water is their kryptonite. Freshwater is relatively harmless, but salt water can cause the metal eyelets to rust and become compromised. Salt water is also abrasive and can cause “hot spots” on your feet if your socks get wet. If you do get your feet soaked with salt water, rinse your boots off thoroughly as soon as possible.

Inspect

Now that your boots are clean, take a few moments to inspect them. Check the seams to be sure they are tight and there is no separation. Make sure the soles are still fully attached and the eyelets and hooks are not loose or tearing. Check your shoelaces for signs of fraying or wear and replace them if necessary.

If any significant repairs are necessary, contact the manufacturer about getting them serviced or take them to a professional. Preventative maintenance and early intervention can save you from mishaps on the trail and extend the life of your boots significantly.

Waterproofing and Conditioning

Hiking boots eventually lose their waterproofing. It’s time to reapply waterproofing treatment when you notice the outer materials are becoming saturated or water is not beading and rolling off. Follow these quick and easy steps:

  1. Choose a waterproofing treatment appropriate for your materials
  2. Remove the laces and insoles
  3. Clean and wet the boots
  4. Follow the application instructions on the product
  5. Let dry thoroughly without heat

If your boots have a Gore-Tex or other waterproof membrane, you probably will not need to treat those areas. Just clean carefully and let them dry.

Waterproofing treatments are made for either full-grain leather or “rough leather” like suede. Make sure you choose a waterproofing product appropriate for your boot’s materials.

Conditioners are made primarily for full-grain leather and will usually restore the durable water repellent (DWR) properties.

While wax based waterproofing treatments are no longer the norm, they are still available. If you would like the option of re-soling your boots in the future, avoid wax-based treatments. Wax residue can prevent the new adhesive from bonding with new soles.

Many waterproofing products work best when your boots are clean and thoroughly damp. The water in the material will help draw the treatment into the boot. If you are not applying treatment right after a cleaning, you will need to saturate the leather first.

Running water over them won’t be enough to saturate the leather. It takes a while for leather to absorb water and become soaked through. Wrap a wet towel around each boot and let them sit for several hours.

Once the leather is saturated, apply the waterproofing treatment or leather conditioner. Application steps vary widely so be sure to read the instructions carefully before you begin.

Drying

After you clean and waterproof or condition your boots, put them in a place with low humidity to dry or use a boot dryer. Don’t put them next to a heater or other heat source—including a campfire. Too much heat will dry and crack the leather, damage the seams, or melt the soles.

Put your boots in front of a fan to speed the drying process. Stuffing newspaper inside each one can help but be sure to change the newspaper whenever it becomes damp.

Boot Storage

New hiking boots sitting on the floor inside a house

Avoid leaving your boots in the trunk of your car or anywhere hot, humid, or with extreme temperature changes. Garages, basements, and attics are also not ideal places. Keep them in a place with stable room temperatures and low humidity.

Following these simple cleaning and care steps will ensure your beloved boots have a long life with countless miles of adventure.


What are your favorite boots, and do you have any boot care pro-tips? Share in the comments below.

How to break in hiking boots and basic boot care

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