Getting a new pair of hunting boots is like throwing a new set of tires on your off-road adventure. It adds a level of confidence to your next trip, that is unless you fail to break them in ahead of time. Just the thought of a starting multi-day hunt with out-of-the-box boots is enough to put blisters on your feet. So, how do you break in hunting boots?
It's simple - wear them. The best way to get hunting boots bush-ready is to begin the process at least a few weeks in advance and approach it in three stages:
- Start by wearing your new hunting boots around the house and yard.
- Next, go on short walks over flat terrain, and look for areas with different materials such as gravel, mulch, dirt, etc.
- Finally, work towards terrain that simulates backcountry hunting conditions, such as inclines and trails. Pressure test as much as possible, even going through wet and muddy conditions.
If you step back and look at the 3 stages for breaking hunting boots in quickly, you'll notice a couple of things. First, breaking your hunting boots in really comes down to wearing them. Second, there is no overnight solution to get them ready for your trip. This will be an unpopular answer for those who have 24 hours to get them sorted for the weekend hunt, but it's the truth.
Breaking hunting boots in is a gradual process, but since wearing the boots is the best way to break them in, the process has more to do with a pedometer than a stopwatch. Meaning, within reasonable limits, the timeline is up to.
The only reason we say to start at least several weeks before you need them is so you don't have to cram all your wear into a week - you'll most likely blister (which would ruin the outing before it started), but also be the guy showing up to parent-teacher conferences in pac boots. So in this guide, we'll show you how to break hunting boots in correctly and as quickly as possible, so you can avoid the consequences of getting them wrong.
1. Around the House and Yard
First things first, if you're a western hunter, your initial step is to make sure your boots are water-rated. Yes, your boots probably say Sympatex or GORE-TEX, but with all the stress and mileage you'll cover, it's not a bad idea to spray them down with a waterproofing coating anyway.
Just give them a quick cleaning with a soft-bristled brush, then depending on the materials of your boots, condition them for the weather they'll inevitably face. Let everything dry for a day.
With that out of the way, let's get to the real point of this section - wearing your new hunting boots around the house.
This is your warm-up period, and while it may not seem as important, it's the most critical step (good pun, right?) in breaking hunting boots in. Your goal here is to figure out if the boots are causing any issues with your feet that you didn't know before you got them home.
Wear in Context
While your living room looks a bit different than where you'll be hunting, context is still key. Don't throw on some ankle socks and stomp around in half-laced boots. Wear your boots like you would in the backcountry. Grab your hunting socks and throw them on. Lace your boots up all the way. Drop insoles into the boots if you're going to use them in the future. Does anything pinch? Does the fit feel too loose?
Don't Forget to Sit
This is where most hunters mess up - they forget to sit with their boots on for a period after standing. Most will just throw them on, wear them around the house a bit, take them off, and give the new purchase their seal of approval. Western hunting most certainly includes a lot of vertical time, but during rests or the end of the day, you'll be sitting with your boots on.
After hiking for some time, the blood vessels in your feet will naturally widen to get the job done. But once you sit, this is when your feet will typically swell. Make sure your boots can handle the give and take here without pain. So walk around, but also take the time to sit like you would in the wild.
Small Steps to Bigger Steps
This is your first test drive. Lace your boots up and move around the house, help the family out with some chores you've been putting off, and do some heavy lifting of boxes in the basement. doing some chores, or working in the garage or yard for a bit. Hit different surfaces - that expensive slate in the bathroom, the hardwood in the hallways, the cement of your driveway, etc. Notice anything around traction? This is no match for the country, but you should at least have a general idea of how your boots handle slippery and rough surfaces. When doing this, start small - short distances and steady surfaces, increasing the challenge over time. This is a truth to keep in mind throughout the whole process.
2. Hit the Road
We think you should hit the road. No, seriously. After you've gotten as much wear and tear as possible around the homestead, the next stage is all outside. It's still a bit tame, but you're working up to terrain closer to where you'll be hunting.
Short and Level
This stage consists of short walks on mostly flat ground. If you live in the suburbs, it starts with walks around the blocks. If you live in the sticks, this is most likely a walk to the mailbox. As you begin to progress, the walks get longer and the ground can have some inclines. Don't confuse this with hitting a 9-mile trail. You'll get there eventually, but the purpose of this stage is to make sure that more steps and new terrains aren't causing any unneeded friction. The kind that can rock your world in the mountains.
Try to hit more surfaces than your beautifully landscaped yard can offer. Take your boots on a walk through pea gravel, dirt, sand, etc. Parks, playgrounds, and even high school tracks are great places for this. You want surfaces that start to bring the variety of firmness and cushion you'll find in the wild.
Grab Your Pack
The final test in this phase is to throw your pack on. Hitting the same mild conditions, with the extra weight on your back, this is a great way to feel how your boots will perform under pressure.
Again, start small with this part - keep it level the first go-around, and add some slight inclines and declines after you've got a mile in these new shoes.
3. Hit the Trails
At this point, you've probably got a few miles in your new boots. Now it's time to take them to terrains that mimic the real thing, or at least as close as possible depending on your situation. This is most likely local trails, where you'll once again increase the difficulty every time you head out.
In a simplistic view, the following sequence is a great way to approach getting your boots worn in for your hunting trip:
- Light 3 Mile: Take a short hike (3 miles or so) with a light pack on.
- Medium 3-5 Mile: Repeat this hike with a heavier pack (load up with your gear or weight equivalent if possible), and consider extending the hike by a mile or so.
- Wet 3 Mile: This isn't every hunter's favorite stage, but all the more reason to do it. Before you hit the trails, get your boots wet. This will give you the best indicator of how they're going to handle the real conditions of your hunt, more importantly, how your feet will do afterward.
- Packing Out Hike: We can tell you rarely leave the mountains empty-handed. To get you properly prepped, add some heavier weight to your pack and head out for a 3-5 mile trail.
The goal here is to put 12-16 miles on your new boots. This combined with the distance covered in the previous stages will get you close to the mileage needed to feel confident wearing new hunting boots in the backcountry. This brings us to the most popular question on the topic.
How Long Does it take to Break in Hunting Boots?
Hunting boots take time to break in, typically around 20-30 miles of hiking. It's a gradual process that requires days or weeks of use in advance to ensure a confident fit and the prevention of painful blisters. While mileage is the most important measure, it shouldn't be done in less than 2 weeks.
Don't Rush It - Plan Ahead
Every boot and every person is different. Leather, synthetic, or a hybrid of both, there are tons of factors that go into what's needed to break a hunting boot in properly. That said, when you add up the mileage in all three stages above, you'll find that it should get you to at least the 20-mile point.
This is a reasonable amount of time to determine if they're broken in or not. Ideally, leave yourself 3 weeks to run through the entire process. You'll weed out any problems without wearing your feet down in the process.
Hell, you could even wear them in your fitness training toward the end of the final stage. That will certainly help you know if they're in the right shape or not. Don't be afraid to say no by the end of this process either. Yeh, it's not ideal, but it's worth being comfortable on your hike, and more importantly, trusting your feet in dangerous places.
If you aren't feeling they'll get the job done, grab last season's boots. Clean them up as best as possible, and get them ready for the hunt. Just don't forget to pack dressings and extra socks.