Even the highest-quality, best-fitting boots need time to get acquainted and in sync with your feet so they truly become your boots, custom molded to the shape and idiosyncrasies of your two-of-a-kind feet. Time spent breaking in new boots is time well spent, helping assure you'll better enjoy the future miles on the trail.
There's no set time, no set formula that it takes to break in boots and, to complicate it even more, different boots require different break-in periods. For instance, light hiking boots may feel fine right out of the box while stiff, robust leather hunting boots may require more miles - and days - for the break-in process. Keep this in mind when buying new boots before a big hunt. Allow plenty of time to break them in before the hunt begins. And, remember, breaking in boots is as much about conditioning your feet as it is breaking in the boots and molding them to a custom-like fit.
But first things first. Before wearing your new boots outside, be sure they fit correctly. A good place to start is the Choose Your Boot tab and be sure to read the section under "Considerations When Trying On Boots."
Ok. Let's say you've made your selection and you have brand new boots in your hands. The first thing to do is put them on, making sure you are wearing the socks and insoles you'll be wearing on your hunt/adventure. Then, here we go:
Start Slow. Wear the boots inside your home for a few hours each day for several days (or carry them to work and change into them indoors and wear them around the office), with the laces tied snugly, but not uncomfortably tight. Make sure the tongues and gussets are straight and smoothly folded. The idea is NOT to wear them out or anywhere they can become soiled or damaged, which would prevent you from returning them in the event you decide they do not quite fit.
New boots are likely to feel stiff at first; that is normal, that is fine. If you are able to wear them all day indoors without any friction, pinching or other issues, do it. That will help speed the breaking-in process.
Once you are confident that the fit is right and these are the boots for you:
Walk outside around your house, around the block and around town, in that order. Make sure your boots feel good at each stage before upping the distance. The idea is to put in more steps under different but still mild conditions.
Still good? Then it's time to:
Hit the trail. Off pavement - where Vibram® meets the road - is where serious breaking in happens. You should gradually increase mileage throughout this phase. Every day of wear, every mile you walk will make your feet a little tougher and the boots more pliable. A little more yours. Once you've put in a dozen or so miles on the boots during your daily break-in activity, it's time to start pushing yourself and the boots. Start walking on uneven terrain, if possible. Remember, uphill, downhill, and sidehill conditions will be part of your experience in the upcoming season so try to put yourself in similar scenarios as much as possible.
The first few times on more challenging terrain should be with little or no weight on your back. Excessive weight in a backpack too early in the process can be unproductive. Add weight to your pack slowly and over time/miles.
Here's an important tip. Always have Leukotape or moleskin on hand whenever you feel a hot spot coming on anywhere on your feet during this break-in period, address it immediately. Stop. Remove boots and socks and apply a patch of Leukotape or moleskin to protect the hot spot area.
And, remember, hot, sweaty, wet feet will create friction (Friction = hot spots = blisters.) and will make hot spots more likely and more frequent, especially on uneven terrain, so take an extra pair of socks to change into when you feel your feet getting sweaty. A sock change at the half-way point will be a welcome relief for you and your feet.
Pay attention to warning signs. Small problems can become big ones in a hurry if ignored. If your boots pinch or develop a hot spot, try different lacing tactics to change the fit and relieve pressure. Sometimes just re-lacing - or taking the boots off briefly and putting them back on - will relieve pressure points before they develop into something serious. That's a good tip to keep in mind when you're on the trail deep in the backcountry. It's better to stop for a few minutes and address temporary discomfort before it becomes a permanent discomfort - and a potentially significant issue. Stop, take off your boots and air out your feet and socks. It's one of life's simple pleasures.
To break-in boots properly, you have to put in the time to do it right. Here are the instructions in an 11-word nutshell: Put feet in boots, with proper socks and insoles, and walk.You're not done! Once your boots are broken in and your feet are conditioned and you're ready, the adventure really begins. You can hit the trail confident in your boot selection and the fit and feel of them as your feet carry you onward. But don't think of this as the end of your relationship with your boots; it's just the beginning. And the more you wear them, the more they become an integral - and appreciated - part of your adventures.
When the trophy you've been pursuing disappears over that far ridge, you know you'll be able to keep on going, walking harder than you ever did during that break-in period, which is now a distant memory. But you'll be glad you went through that break-in period.
The terrain may be rougher, the load heavier, the distance farther, but you'll be ready, and your boots will be ready to get you there - and back.