Is It Normal for Hiking Boots to Hurt at First?

When you are in a shop trying your new boots or shoes, you want them to fit well and that you feel comfortable. I guess nobody would buy boots that instantly feel uncomfortable and that hurt.

But the question in the title is a real question that people ask, and the words ‘at first’ are probably about eventual problems that may appear later when you start really walking outdoor in your boots. But this does not have to be even after you walked a kilometer or two, it may be much later.

The reality is that even the most comfortable boots may start causing trouble and rubbing somewhere. There is no prescription when and how this will happen. The reason is simple, we are all built differently while boots are made by following some ‘average’ feet shape.

Is It Normal for Hiking Boots to Hurt at First - top picture showing my Salomon boots.
My Salomon boots.

So, is it normal for hiking boots to hurt at first?

The answer is as follows. Even the most comfortable new boots may cause some issues after a few kilometers of walk. I have experienced this with my Salomon boots (the top picture above) and Lowa Renegade (the picture below), and I have never had more comfortable boots.

In my case this was with collar where I had a bit of rubbing, nothing big indeed. So after I realized that there was a problem, to avoid this, I made sure to have thick socks that were long enough to give some extra cushion around ankle.

I also experimented with several ways of lacing, and I found one that looked appropriate for this type of rubbing. In time the problem disappeared.

From my tour to El Teide, Tenerife.
From my tour to El Teide, Tenerife.

Yet another possible place for rubbing and blisters is the front toes area. So should toes touch end of hiking boots? I have seen this question also asked, and it is related to the main topic of this text. It is important that the boots are not too small and that they do not feel tight at first.

So if you feel that your hiking boots are tight, then it is sure you did not choose a proper size. It should be possible to have two pair of socks in your hiking boots, one thin and one thick. If this is not so, then you have to take a larger pair.

Now, thick socks can add at least half-size to your foot, so bear this in mind when you choose. Note also that feet tend to swell, so if you go to try new boots, do this later during the day and not in the morning.

It is always a good idea to take your old boots with you, assuming that you have them of course. This will make it easier to compare and it may save you from trouble.

How do I stop my hiking boots rubbing?

There are no strict rules about what the most problematic and friction-prone areas are. But it is wise to have a few band-aids at hand, so if you feel something, put it on the vulnerable part of your foot. In combination with thick socks this may help.

If you know from previous bad experience where your critical areas may be, you might want to place such band-aids or blister pads even before problems start.

How long do hiking boots take to break in?

This is related to the main topic of boots that hurt at first, and this is again a real question that people ask. I have seen some suggesting a certain period of time.

But strictly speaking it is not about time, it is about distance. You can put boots on and keep sitting at home as long as you want, but this will not break them in.

In general, it all depends on the type of boots. Some of hiking boots and shoes are practically with an out-of-the-box comfort. The picture below shows my Merrell Moab waterproof shoes that is of this type, incredibly comfortable and with a minimal break-in time, if any.

But even with such boots I would never go on a tour without wearing them at least 10-15 kilometers or so.

My Merrell Men's Moab 2 WTPF Hiking Shoes.
My Merrell Men’s Moab 2 WTPF Hiking Shoes.

With stronger and stiffer boots, in particular those that are made of leather, think about tens of kilometers, say at least 40-50 km or so.

Something similar you need with the boots shown in the picture below, these are my excellent Scarpa boots with stiff soles. But note that this should not be a single long walk, it is likely you would suffer a lot. So make more shorter walks instead.

My Scarpa boots.
My Scarpa boots.

Here is a nice video from REI, the main message is take it easy with new boots, but have a look:

 

There is no exact formula for break in period. As mentioned above, this all depends on the type of shoes/boots. I have seen some speaking about 100 km, and I would say this is close to reality when this is about the strongest boots for the hardest terrains. But for most of standard hiking shoes this is not so.

How important is it to break in hiking boots?

It is absolutely important. Do not even think of going on a longer tour in boots that are not tested properly.

How do you break in hiking boots in one day?

My answer is simple – you don’t. So do not be fooled with some advises, breaking in boots is a process. Make sure you make it as less painful as possible.

Is it better for hiking boots to be bigger or smaller?

If they are smaller, this is a recipe for a long-term misery and suffering from blisters and other problems. I have had such a pair, my excellent but small Meindl boots.

If the boots are too large, then your feet will move a lot and this is again a certain way to get blisters.

Sometimes you are in between sizes and none is optimal. So what to do? If this is the model you want. then it is obvious that you must go for a larger option. By adding some additional insole or by replacing the existing with some thicker, you may effectively reduce the inner volume and make the boots fitting better.

Are boots supposed to be tight at first?

The answer is – definitely not. The reasons are explained in the text above.


In summary, the answer to the main question here is yes, it is normal for hiking boots to hurt at first. This is why you should never go on a tour with brand new boots or shoes before breaking them in properly.

But if you have no choice, then i) make sure you have tons of band-aids or blister pads with you, and ii) use two pairs of socks, thin as the first layer and thick above them. This is because thin layer will make friction with thick socks instead of your skin, and you might avoid rubbing and blisters.

There is a lot of work and craftsmanship in a pair of boots, we may forget this. But have a look at this video, I was fascinated watching it:

Please see around in this site for more topics of this type, in particular in the category Trail Gear. In particular, read my text about toenail pain when hiking.

Thank you for reading. There is a comment box below so let me know if you have questions. Bookmark this site and come again, you will always find some new texts with answers to the questions that people ask.

 
Me on Jalovec.Hi, I am Jovo, the founder of this OutdoorsFAQs site and several other outdoor sites. I have been mountaineering for almost 40 years already, and I have created this site to use as a reference for various questions that I receive in my sites. Being a theoretical physicist by profession, I tend to base my answers on facts and on my own personal experience.

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