Gear Guy

How can I break-in a new pair of boots?

I bought a pair of leather Scarpa hiking boots, but I'm having trouble breaking them in. The soles feel too rigid and it hurts to wear them, even for a short hike. I think they are too sturdy for my weight of 116 pounds. Some people have told me to get them wet and then hike in them. What do you suggest? Janet Payson, Arizona

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Oh, brother, the old “get-’em-wet-and-hike-in-’em” story. The source of this myth is that, supposedly, a wet boot will mold better to your foot, ensuring a more precise fit. Nonsense, of course, particularly these days when very few boots still have leather liners. So don’t start soaking your boots, Janet.

My advice is threefold: One, make sure the boots actually fit. They may simply be a half size too small or too large. Two, keep wearing them. Do some short hikes, and see if you can increase the distance without getting sore feet. Three, replace the factory insoles with something like a pair of Superfeet ($28; These will often add greater comfort immediately, as perhaps your problem is related more to the curve of your foot against the insole, not the boot’s stiffness.

If, however, your boots are just too stiff for you, try this: Put on the boots and find a concrete curb or step with a very solid edge. If you can hook just your toes on the edge and the sole doesn’t flex, then maybe they’re too stiff. I say “maybe” because at times I’ve worn boots with full steel shanks, with absolutely zero flex, or close to it. And while they weren’t the most comfortable trail boots in the world, they weren’t the worst, either.

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