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How to Break In Leather Boots

So, this is one of the most popular questions that we get asked almost every day. How do you break in new boots? Can I break in boots quickly? How long does it take to break in boots? Knowing how to break in new boots to your exact specifications can make them feel comfortable for years down the road, which is crucial whether you spend hours on end on your feet at work or just like to tromp around the woods for fun.

A sturdy pair of boots should be built to handle whatever obstacle you throw at them while still being comfortable to wear all day. Brands like White's, Frank's, and Drew's are all known for their balance of function and all-day comfort. The Drew's Linecutter II and the White's Smokejumper are two fantastic examples of highly durable all-leather construction that can be worn in a variety of environments.

boots-lined-up-on-stairs

Finding the Right Boot Size

Finding the right boot size is the foundation of comfortable footwear. If your boots are too small, they can cramp your feet on the front and on the sides, which can cause bunions, corns, and in extreme cases even hammertoes and crossover toes.

Check if you have enough space for your toes without them feeling squished. If you have wider feet, you will need to find a boot fit specifically designed for wider feet. Breaking in medium-width footwear with wide feet will not yield a comfortable fit. They will still be uncomfortable no matter how long you wear them.

Finding the right calf fit can make all the difference, too. As a rule of thumb, there should be about two fingers of space (or roughly one inch) between your calf and the boot's leather. If necessary, you may use wraps, bandages, or long socks to prevent blisters around that area. However, if a boot is too large, it can slide around, creating friction and blisters.

How Long Does It Take to Break In Boots?

Breaking in new boots does not happen overnight. And it is not possible to break them entirely in just a few days, either. Do not expect to buy your boots and wear them out to work the next day because they will not be very comfortable to wear. For best results, we recommend wearing them at home for a few days before taking them out and about. After wearing them at home for at least a week, you can continue the breaking-in process outside of the house.

High quality leather boots are made with very thick leather, so they will take time to break in. Normal break in time on these types of boots is an estimated 80-120 hours of active wear. That is about 2-3 weeks of full time active wear before these are fully broken in. Not to worry, we have some great tips and tricks to help you along through the process.

Wear Liner Socks

Liner socks are made of a soft, thin, and breathable material that provides an added comfort level, even if your socks rub against the boot material. Opt for moisture-wicking fabrics like polypropylene or Thermax if you wear thick socks with your new boots.

Wear Quality Wool Socks

The first thing that we recommend out of the gate is to wear the proper socks to protect your feet against the leather. For best results, we recommend wearing thick socks, preferably Merino wool, with your boots. Wearing a thick pair of socks can fill out the space in your boot and help the stretching process in areas where you need it most.

We see many people try to wear these types of boots with athletic cotton-based sports socks. We typically find that these are not thick enough to give you a good cushion around your foot, ankle, and calf to help ease the break in process, and do not fill up enough space in the boots to ensure proper fitment.

We recommend more of a midweight Merino wool sock with leather boots of this quality. Socks like these help the break-in process, and are also comfier to wear after the boots are fully broken in as the boots are designed and fitted with these types of socks in mind instead of a sports sock.

Use a Leather Conditioner or Oil

Leather conditioners and oils can help soften and relax your boot’s leather fibers. By softening the fibers, your foot will not have as hard of a time fitting comfortably and stretching the leather. Keep in mind that there is such a thing as applying too much leather conditioner. A little conditioner goes a long way. When you over condition the leather, it can backfire and overly stretch your shoes, creating a floppy mess.

How do you use leather conditioners? Always refer to the label’s instructions but generally, you may apply the conditioner liberally on the upper of the shoes. Leave it on for a few hours. When the conditioner has worked into the leather fibers, you can wear them, and the shoe will begin to mold to your foot shape. Remove the excess oil or conditioner with a damp cloth.

Conditioning leather can also improve your boot’s water resistance. Conditioning your boots increases their ability to last you longer. It also typically increases the amount of resoles and rebuilds a boot can sustain.

Use Adhesive Bandages or Blister Pads

Putting on a few bandages or blister pads might not hurt if you plan to regularly wear your boots to break them in. Apply them underneath your sock on the areas most susceptible to forming blisters, such as the pinky toe, side of the big toe, heel, top of the foot, and inside the ball of the foot.

You may only need to wear bandages for about a week before they become more comfortable. If you do not go with the bandage treatment, you can increase your risk of creating friction in vulnerable spots and causing pain with every step. If you form blisters, the breaking-in process will be delayed until your foot is fully healed.

Adjust the Shoelaces

Cowboy boots presented on farm

Do you have high arches? You may experience discomfort at the top of the foot where the boot rubs your foot. Avoid the pain by skipping a few eyelets with your boot’s laces in the areas rubbing against your foot. This can help relieve the pressure and help you break in other areas of the boot.

If your heel is killing you, you can use a hiker’s crossover lacing around the area where the ankle bends. This technique can keep your ankle snug and secure and reduce friction during the break-in process.

Soak Your Boots in Water

Something that can help the break-in process for the internal leather footbed of your boots is water. If you fill your shoes entirely full of water, lace them up around your feet, and wear them until they are dry, the break-in process for the leather footbed will be a lot easier. The water combined with the wear will help the leather footbed mold and shape to your feet at a quicker pace, making the rest of the breaking in of the boots feel a lot easier.

You can also try soaking boots in warm water for 30 minutes to 1 hour to loosen the leather fibers. After soaking them in, you can wear the wet boots with socks and keep loosening the fibers to your specific foot shape and size. Avoid keeping your boots submerged in the water for too long which can damage your footwear material.

Wear Them Often, but Not TOO Often

Wearing your boots is the best way to break them in, but wearing them for too long at a time can be bad for your boots and feet. When you wear your boots for several hours, your feet can become sweaty. When the boot is not allowed to properly dry, the excessive moisture can cause more friction, blisters, and discomfort.

For best results, wait about a day or two between the times you wear your boots. If you are worried about moisture, invest in a shoe tree. Shoe trees are placed inside shoes and help them keep their shape and absorb moisture and odors. We prefer cedar shoe trees due to their pleasant aroma.

Scuff Up the Inside Heel

New boots can cause pain due to the stiffness of the hard leather. The harshness of the material can create friction, blisters, and pain. This method is generally not recommended but can be a good way to offset the discomfort from the hard leather, particularly in the heel area.

Use fine-grit sandpaper to gently scuff up the inside of the boot in the heel area. Remember to scuff it up gently and not aggressively to avoid damaging the leather and reducing the boot’s longevity.

How does this work? Scruffing up the leather exposes leather fibers, which can grip your wool socks. This trick allows your heel to rub up against the soft sock material than the hard and painful leather.

Apply Heat

Heat is a common tool to loosen the leather fibers alongside various other techniques. Be careful not to apply excessive heat or hot heat for extended periods of time, which can permanently damage your footwear. If necessary, you can use a hairdryer on low heat to heat all sides of the boots and loosen their fibers. After heating your boots, you can wear them with socks around the house or outside to speed up the molding process.

Rubbing Alcohol

While this method is hotly debated among boot owners, in moderation, applying isopropyl alcohol to your new boots may work to soften the leather fibers. Apply rubbing alcohol with water onto the parts of the boot that require more breaking in. Let the boots sit for a few hours. Afterward, wear the boots, clean the rubbing alcohol with a wet cloth, and dry it with a hairdryer.

Wet Towel or Newspaper

If you want to speed up the breaking-in process, you can stuff your boot with a wet towel or newspaper. This works especially well when you use a boot conditioner or boot stretching spray before filling your boots with wet newspaper or towels.

Apply the conditioner or the boot stretching spray to the boots and stuff a wet towel or wet newspapers inside the boots ensuring that as much space inside is filled. The moisture will penetrate the boot fibers and the conditioner or spray. This will speed up the breaking-in process. Some users leave the material in until the moisture is completely gone. Then, you can remove the towel or newspaper and finish off the drying process with a hairdryer.

Work the Bends

The breaking-in process is primarily focused on creating a comfortable fit around the ankle and toes, the main areas where the boot bends. Wear your boots for a few hours to start creating that bend in the area.

Before it feels too uncomfortable, take the boots off and reinforce the creases in the ankle and toe area with your hands. This is not the most effective option but can be an excellent way to speed up the breaking-in process when you are not wearing your boots.

Try to really break those boots in by crouching and bouncing slightly to start forming creases that follow your natural foot shape and size.

Use a Shoe Stretcher

We do not believe in quick fixes, but sometimes, you need a little extra help breaking in your new boots. Boot stretchers are a last-ditch effort to assist during the process. Watch out, though, since using them too much or improperly can create a stretched-out look. Go slow and gentle, and use low heat and moisture to assist the process.

Boot Stretch Spray

There is a shoe stretching spray called Drew’s Boot Stretch that we recommend to help break in the leather that surrounds the top of your feet, ankles, and calves. Spraying this on liberally every day until the boots are broken in helps soften and mold the leather to your feet and legs. This will help alleviate any "boot bite" and make the boots feel closer to a glove-like fit much more quickly.

Have a Second Pair of Boots Readily Available

pair of brown shoes with black soles

Breaking in boots can take a toll on your feet. That is why you need a reliable pair of old boots by your side when your new pair of boots and your feet need a break. Always have an old pair of boots around to help you complete your project without working through the pain of breaking in new boots.

Practice Proper Care and Maintenance

Work boots can go through some wear and tear. Dust, dirt, mud, and grime can stick to your boots and stiffen the leather fibers. Keeping them clean is one of the best ways to properly break them in and ensure they are in working order for years to come.

Leather boots can be cleaned with regular brushing and leather shampoo for tough-to-remove stains. After cleaning your boots, you can use a leather conditioner or mink oil to continue with the breaking-in process in certain parts of your boots.

Wear Your Boots Regularly

At the end of the day, the big thing to remember is that these boots take a long time to break in. They are made of thick, heavy-duty leather that needs to be molded and manipulated over many hours to be comfortable to wear day-in and day-out for long hours.

Be Patient

Leather work boots are a big investment that require great care and maintenance to keep around for years to come. Breaking in new boots takes time. Avoid falling into the trap of using too-good-to-be-true methods that promise to break in your boots in no time. Not only may this not work, and you will lose out on money, but you can end up damaging your boots.

Trust a Professional

If you do not want to risk damaging your boots or need any other advice on breaking in your boots, reach out to a reliable cobbler to handle your new pair of tough boots. Cobblers have stretching tools that can work on tough parts of the boot. They can also provide padding for an arch or insole.

Find Your New Boots at Baker’s Boots

Baker’s Boots is here to help you find the right boots for you and give you advice on how to break them to ensure a comfortable wear day in and day out. Stop by or check out our online boot inventory for an array of boots in any style.

We hope these tips helped, and if you have any questions, feel free to email us at orders@drewsboots.com or give us a call at 1-800-722-0393.

Thanks for reading, and stay safe out there!

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