After hours of shopping around for the perfect pair or tapping your feet waiting for the package to be delivered, they arrive. It is now time to unbox your brand spanking new hiking boots. Whether top of the line, mid range, or inexpensive your new hiking boots make you light up like a kid on Christmas.

Once you find your perfect boots, the journey has just begun. Now it’s time to get those things broken in so they fit your foot and stride correctly. Properly preparing your boots will ensure a happier experience your first time out on the trail and ultimately throughout the life of your boots! We have all been so excited that we just threw our boots on fresh out of the box and hit the road. Only to realize 45 minutes later we had a blister the size of a quarter on the back of our heel or a sharp pain in our arches.

One important thing of note is that breaking in a pair of ill fitting boots will not make them magically turn into a great fitting pair of boots. The proper fit should feel pretty comfortable out of the box and the internal measurements must be correct for your foot. There is a caveat with certain boots ,such as heavy leather boots, which may not be super comfortable right away. However, if you are sure the size is correct and they fit naturally then you can be pretty sure that the leather will soften up and slowly mold to the exact needs of your individual feet.

Different boots definitely have a different break-in period and method. A lightweight hiker may be pretty comfortable out of the box and you may only need to wear them around the neighborhood for a few miles to get the lacing and footbed synced up with your feet. Thick leather boots are on the other end of that spectrum and can take some special treatments and multiple weeks to get the leather really worked into the needed condition.

Remember, slow and steady not only wins the race, but lets your feet survive to race (or hike) again. Taking these next few steps should help to break in most boots.

Phase 1- Test your boots around the house:

This is where you can get the boots situated without risk of damaging them if a return is necessary. Make sure you use the same insole and sock type that you will be planning on wearing with the boots on your hikes and everyday wear. This is also where you can lace the boots up and inspect the eyelets, gussets, and tongue to make sure everything is perfect. Match up the tongue and gussets, create the fold and make sure they lay flat. Having a good crease here will make your boots fit better and will preserve them in the long run.

Lace the boots up pretty snugly as if you were going to be hiking and keep them on your feet for a while. They will probably feel pretty stiff at first but you will start the process of getting them ready for your feet and your feet comfortable with the boots. If you feel pinching, severe rubbing, or any pain during the first at-home trial period, you may need to think about returning the boots and getting resized before wearing them outside as these symptoms should not happen even before your boot is broken in.

Phase 2- Take them out for short day hikes:

Once you are sure that the boots fit your feet and the gussets are folded and laying nicely it’s time to take those boots for a test drive. Plan a short hike on fairly comfortable terrain that will allow you to get the boots working but not to long or hard to hurt your feet. Remember this hike is before they are all the way broken in and you should not try to break them in one long hike, but rather multiple short ones. You can hike the local foothills or arborium. Maybe plan a hike around the local lake or even just do chores outside in them (mow the yard, walk the dog, etc.). You will want to do 3 to 5 of these easier level hikes before attempting to go full throttle.

During these short hikes you want to look for signs of discomfort once again. Any pinching or pain may have been weeded out during the “in-home” trial but on the trail you are certain to get a better feel for the boots. On your early hikes before the boots are completely broken in you want to pay close attention to “hot spots”, or the places that blisters will form. Always be sure to note these areas and protect yourself by wearing the correct socks, making sure your feet are dry, and removing any debris that gets in your boot sooner than later. Another important part of these initial test hikes is to take enough breaks throughout the day to keep your feet from getting beaten up or sore, remember this is a marathon, not a sprint, and you need to get those boots broken in before you can tackle the long haul.

Phase 3- Head for the hills:

So now you have upped the distance multiple times during phase 2 and have theoretically broken your boots in. This means that it’s time for your first real journey in your now semi-new boots. The nice part about taking your time and breaking them in properly is that this first hike will be one to enjoy. You will already know how to lace your boots to avoid hot spots and which socks will give you the best mixture of cushion and breathability. So get out and get moving. Just be prepared to take lot’s of breaks and take a load off so your feet don’t get over worked on this first major hike.

Keeping You Boots In Tip-Top Shape:

What do you do with your boots once you get home and unlace? You should be doing a couple very simple things (at the very least) to keep them in the best condition possible. First thing is to do a quick cleaning with a brush to get the dirt and debris off, you don’t want mud crusted on your boots. The dirt starts to permeate the fibers and slowly erodes them away. Once they are cleaned off roughly you can further scrub them if you see a need to. Always make sure you keep them stored upright with the soles on the ground to maintain the integrity of the shape. Thirdly if the boots need a special treatment (ie: waterproofing, leather treatments, wax, etc) you should follow the care instructions and stay on top of them.