Backpacking Boots
Old Faithfuls: Lived-in Backpacking Boots

How can I stretch out my old leather hiking boots?

Maybe my feet have gotten bigger lately (though I’m an older guy), or my boots are getting smaller. Either way, I have some good leather boots that could use some stretching. What’s the best way to go about this? Art North Bend, Washington

Backpacking Boots

Get access to everything we publish when you sign up for Outside+.

Two things are probably at work here, Art. One, as we get older, our feet spread out a little as gravity slowly spreads the connecting ligaments and tissue in the foot. I’m about a half-size larger, shoe-wise, than I was several years back, even though I am still exceedingly young, know how to use an iPod, and have on occasion sent text messages. Dude. Sup?

Backpacking Boots

Backpacking Boots Old Faithfuls: Lived-in Backpacking Boots

Conversely, leather shrinks slightly as it ages, which is a shame. Wouldn’t it be great if the leather stretched a little as our feet spread?

Anyway, what to do, short of having painful toe-shortening surgery? You can take your boots to a good shoemaker, preferably one with a lot of experience in boots (Dave Page in Seattle comes instantly to mind, as he’s one of the best boot-repair guys on the planet). He’ll have commercial-grade tools that likely can add a half-size or so to your shrunken boots.

Alternatively, there are some boot-stretchers you can buy yourself and try. The ProFoot Stretcher ($20), available from several websites, consists of a two-piece wooden wedge that slides inside the shoe. A screw device opens the wedge once inside the shoe, pushing it out and making the toe area larger. I can’t say whether this is a sturdy enough device to really give hiking boots a good stretch, but it can’t hurt to try.

Of course, all good things come to an end eventually, including hiking boots. Between the tendency of leather to shrink, and feet to expand, it might also be time to move to a boot that’s a half-size larger. Sad, but true.

Check out this year’s more than 400 must-have gear items, including a comprehensive boots section, in the 2006 Buyer’s Guide.