Before embarking on any of our challenges, you should do significant training to ensure your trip will be an enjoyable and memorable experience. Think about the trip in mind and, based on that, mimic the terrain, conditions, distance, etc. For a Grand Canyon hiking trip, feel confident in your ability to walk 10 miles with some elevation change. For a road biking challenge, feel confident riding 30–50 miles. Also be sure to “break in,” well in advance, any gear you will use.
- Your feet are the most important equipment when hiking, regardless of distance or difficulty. The comfort of your footwear is crucial! On a short excursion, the fit of your boots or shoes is a matter of having a good time. In backcountry circumstances, such as a longer backpacking trip, taking care of your feet is imperative.
- When purchasing new hiking boots, allow a thorough break-in period before hitting the trails for a long hike. Depending on the specifics of your hiking boots (e.g., fabric, material, weight), the amount of time needed for your feet to find their perfect fit will vary. Models made of lightweight material may feel great right out of the box, whereas heavier, all-leather boots will take upwards of a few weeks to shape to your feet.
- Heading into the backcountry without first breaking in your boots can lay the foundation for serious safety concerns on your trip. Don’t let your hiking trip be ruined by blistered feet due to new hiking boots.
Buying the Right Boots
First, when buying hiking boots, go to a nearby gear supply store and try on a few different pairs. Talk to a salesperson about the pros and cons of various brands, materials, and fits. Wear them around the store before you make your purchase.
- Consult a professional.
- Try them on.
- Make sure you can return them if necessary.
- Take them for a test run.
- Check out these boots/shoes buying tips from the pros at REI.
Breaking In Your Boots
While breaking in your boots, wear the same socks that you would wear out on the trail. Your boot will form and stretch around your foot and sock, so be sure your sock fits comfortably inside the boot. Blisters are typically caused by looseness and rubbing. If you use a thicker sock to break your boots in and then hit the trail with a lighter-weight sock, your foot may slide around and cause discomfort.
- Test them at home. So you have new boots, you’ve brought them home, and you’re ready to hike … but first, wear them around the house for few hours at a time to make sure they still feel comfortable before you head out to get them dirty.
- Start slow. Break in your new boots by wearing them for short, quick errands or walks, maybe going to get the mail, mowing the lawn, or taking a walk around the block. Take progressively longer and more difficult walks or hikes as the boots permit. As you wear your boots, pay attention to your feet. Are there places the boots are rubbing? Are you getting “hotspots,” or pre-blister sore spots, in the same place time after time? Do your toes feel squished? If so, these may be signs that your boots just don’t fit, and you should consult with an expert.
- Wear them properly. Make sure you are wearing your boots properly, even on short, easy walks. It’s important to break them into the form you intend to wear them in. Lace your boots when breaking them in, making sure the tongue of each boot is lined up properly. If the soles of your boots are overly stiff, slowly and gently bend the sole with your hands, working it back and forth.
- Put them to work. Performing squats while wearing the boots will also help an overly stiff sole. Lighter hiking boots will require less time to break in than heavy boots, and leather hiking boots require a long break-in period.
- Take your time. Winter is a great time to break in new boots at home to prepare for longer backpacking and hiking trips next summer. There is no fast and easy method. It’s a matter of time, miles, and letting the breaking-in process occur naturally.
Keep this in mind, when buying new boots, to ensure you allow yourself enough time. Take the time to read and follow the manufacturer’s care instructions to prolong the life of your boots.
Important: Most hiking boots stretch slightly as you wear them, but the break-in process will not turn a poor fit into a good one! If you are unsure about the fit of your boots, they most likely could fit better. Talk to a pro at your local gear shop. Remember, it is not uncommon to go up or down a size depending on the manufacturer—don’t get set on one size and risk an improper fit.