The Best Way to Break-in Boots
All boots require the wearer to break them in. This means forming the leather to your feet so that rubbing and chaffing is reduced. Breaking-in suede boots might take only a couple of days or could take as long as a week or more depending of several factors.
Leather boots tend to take longer to break-in than non-leather boots. On one end of the spectrum, civilian hiking boots that are mostly synthetic material take the least amount of time. However, boots with a full leather upper take the longest. Various brands of boots have different times depending on their construction. Boots used for different purposes require a different level of breaking-in, but the fundamentals are the same for any kind of boot.
Fundamentals of the Break-In
1. Break Them How You Wear Them
If you plan to use these boots for any purpose other than everyday wear, break them in for that purpose. If you’re going to use these boots for hiking in mountains, your break-in needs to include walking up steep hills. If you’re going to wear them cross-country, ensure your break-in includes wearing them in the woods.
Wear socks that you normally wear—do not wear extra padded socks or two pair. Finally, if you’re going to use these boots for running, ensure you run in them during your break-in.
2. Start Small
Begin your break-in process by wearing the new boots around your house. Pay close attention to any possible rubbing around your heel, top of the foot, and toes. Air squat a few dozen times, and feel for ankle rubbing. After you have identified any possible rubbing, plan your next wear.
Carry mole skin, scissors, and duct tape with you. Use the moleskin to pad any hotspots that develop on your feet. If you have small parts on the inside of the boots that rub or scrape your foot, cover that part of the inside of the boot with a layer of duct tape.
Next, take them on a short hike or run. Make any corrections in lacing or insoles as needed. After your second or third hike, you should identify where the leather is flexing the most and treat it with mink oil. The application of mink oil is covered in How to Care for Your Suede Boots Part One. If you have significant rubbing issues in the heel or on top of the toes, consider removing the heel cups or toe cups.
3. Wet Hike
Finally, do a wet hike. After your boots have a couple of miles in them, and you’re pretty sure that they can work for you, soak the boots in clean water or spray them with a hose. Saturate the boot with water. Take them on another moderate hike or run. When done, let them dry overnight.
After the boots dry, add a light layer of mink oil, and they are broken-in.
Do not wear your boots for a whole day without first doing a short walk in them. This could be the recipe for disaster. And do not make modifications before you’ve worn them on your first short walk. Modifications are cool, but they are permanent solutions that change the fit.
Common Cobbler Services
Most cobblers focus on repairing shoes and boots. The majority of these repairs are resoling. There are usually a variety of soles available. How to Care for Your Combat Boots Part One provides an overview of resoling.
Cobblers can also repair holes in the leader with patches. Patches are great covering large cracks, but if that crack develops on a high-flexion area, the patch will affect the wear of the boot.
3. Heel and Toe Cup Removal
Heel cups and toe cups are stiff pieces of material, plastic or hard paper, that are built into the shoe to help the leather maintain its shape. Heel cups are placed behind your heel, hugging your Achilles tendon. Toe cups go above your toes, from the tip of your foot to about where your toes meet your foot.
Many people have one or both of these items removed, but it is not always necessary. I recommend removing your heel cup if you have rubbing behind your heel or Achilles tendon. Removing the heel cup will also make the boot about a ¼ size larger. This sizing change can usually be corrected with certain lacing techniques.
Some people remove the toe and heel cups themselves, but there is the chance of not cutting out enough material and increasing the chaffing hazard or cutting out too much material and damaging the boot.
I do not recommend removing the toe cup. The toe cup can be reduced if it is cutting into the top of your foot when you run, but complete removal of the toe cup causes more problems than it solves. With no toe cup, the leather around the toe collapses over time and causes even more rubbbing on the toes.
With no toe cup, the leather around the toe collapses over time and causes even more rubbing on the toes.
When shopping for used boots, you can see if the heel cup is removed by squeezing the heel.
When you buy used boots, check to see if the heel and toe cups are still present. Boots that are called SOPC Specials have these two modifications
Lacing your boots differently can fix many problems that can’t be fixed otherwise. There are dozens if not hundreds of ways to lace boots for performance and decoration, but I’ll touch on a couple of methods I’ve used.
1. The Heel Lock
If your boots lace up tightly, but your heel still lifts off the bottom of the boot, a heel lock will help. It adds additional pressure to your rear mid-foot to keep the heel of your boot in contact with the heel of your foot.
Notice the heel lock lacing between the fourth and fifth eyelet. Pictured is my most highly recommended boot, the Garmont T8.
2. Double Lacing
If you are hunting, or tend to walk for a while, then stop and stay still for a while, double lacing is for you. You will use two shoe laces, each ½ length. Lace the first normally but stop at your ankle. The second lace will be used for the top half of the boot. This technique enables you to keep the boots laced tightly to protect your ankles while walking. Then you can loosen the top half when you’re sitting to promote blood flow. Because the lower lace is still secured, the boot won’t fall off and is ready to be walked in at a moment’s notice.
If you have a hot spot on the top of your foot or a point where the pressure causes discomfort while walking you can lace around that spot with a top-blister lace, also called gap lacing. This will alleviate the pressure on that pressure point.
And for those who need a lacing technique to provide an extremely tight fit (or those who are prone to ankle-rolling) I suggest ladder lacing.
I’ve been through many pairs of boots, destroyed many because of bad habits, and damaged my feet from not wearing them intelligently. This article covered some of my insights that will help your performance through increasing your boots' durability and comfort.