How to Break in Leather Boots: The Ultimate Guide for Men

red wing boots
Courtesy of Red Wing

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Leather boots are, without a doubt, a staple in a well-dressed man’s wardrobe. The right boot will be wearable in all the right ways — but made all the better if you know how to break in leather boots. Like sorting out the best watches for your wardrobe or finding one of the best work jackets, footwear designers and shoe brands design the best men’s leather boots for maximum versatility and wearability.

However, you don’t often get there without a little hard-earned trial and error. We’re not talking about the grueling, age-old process of breaking in your boots right out of the box, wearing them to the point that you literally can’t wear them again until your feet heal.

We’re talking, of course, about a more intelligent, better way if you want to know how to break in leather boots. In short: Use the tools at your disposal, consider the type of leather boots you’re breaking in — how to break in cowboy boots is going to differ from how to break in hiking boots, for instance — and then follow those steps religiously.

Wash, rinse and repeat (figuratively speaking) with each new favorite pair of boots you purchase. If you’re anything like us, we will bet you can’t get enough of all the best men’s boots of the year. Get started adding to your boot collection ASAP, and know how to break in leather boots before you go.

  

Red Wing Heritage Moc Toe Boots

Red Wing Heritage 6" Moc Toe Work Boots Courtesy of Zappos

  

How to Break in Leather Boots: A Guide

Wear Those Boots Bit by Bit

There’s a tricky balance to strike with the most commonly made pairs of boots (like your trusty, classic style from Red Wing Boots). Wear them too much, and you’ll quickly end up with uncomfortable feet, bunched-up socks and even a dreaded blister (or many) if you’re not careful. Wearing said boots around the house briefly then extending that wear slowly is a helpful way to get that break-in process started. Don’t wear your leather boots right away for an 8-hour workday. Start around 2 hours, and work your way up from there.

Wolverine Plain Toe 1000 Mile Boots

Best leather work boots for men. Courtesy of Wolverine

  

Tools Are Your Boot’s Best Friend: Use Leather Conditioner

While some pairs of boots are incredibly supple straight from the box, there will inevitably be a break-in period as the footbed molds to your foot, and as the upper, in turn, gets used to your foot and its wear patterns. Of course, you should set the bar high and look for a pair of leather boots with high-quality, rugged (not cheap-feeling) vegetable-tanned (not chrome-tanned) leather. To help speed that process along, consider using both a leather conditioner and shoe polish.

Best leather conditioner for leather boots Courtesy of Amazon

For a softening effect, a leather conditioner takes even the most sturdy boots and helps soften and add a more supple touch that can protect and amplify new leather while also breathing new life into old leather. Shoe polish can aid further down the line, removing scuffs and unsightly marks on dress boots. Some boots, however, look better with a bit of wear and tear. We think this is the case for most boots, but the choice is up to you because even the most beat-up pair of boots needs a little TLC now and again.

  

Find the Right Socks — Seriously

The process of how to break in leather boots will only get more manageable if you’re wearing your boots correctly. To avoid discomfort, bunched-up socks and a fit that’s too snug (and thus not benefitting either your boots or your feet), selecting the right socks helps break in all sorts of boots. With leather dress boots — those that feature a slimmer sole and a slimmer profile — dress socks or more standard cotton socks will give you a smooth ride underfoot. Solid colors or simple marbling are your friends with most boots, too.

REVIEW: After Months of Wash and Wear, How Do Bombas Socks Hold Up?

American Trench Recycled Marl Crew Socks

Best everyday boot socks for men. Courtesy of American Trench

With your more typical leather work boots, aim for “boot socks” — thicker knit socks from materials like cotton or wool blends — because they are more apt at handling the cold or being worn in more adverse conditions (like on a job site). Of course, if you want to know how to break in hiking boots, you best opt for hiking-specific socks, which often feature a crew or high-ankle cut and use moisture-wicking blends such as merino wool.

Arvin Goods Boot Socks

Best boot socks for men. Courtesy of Arvin Goods

  

Store and Look After Your Boots Properly

It may seem evident that caring for your boots properly when they’re not on your feet will go a long way towards helping the break-in process. You don’t want to stow your boots somewhere too damp, too dry, or exposed to sunlight or dust. And if your boots happen to get overly wet, make sure they’re dry before putting them on again. Even handy kits give you the proper tools for proper care in one convenient package. (Why do you think there are always leather-care kits by the register when you check out at the shoe store?)

Bickmore Boot Care Kit

Best boot care kit for men. Courtesy of Amazon

Using the right tools — be it leather conditioner or shoe polish — removes dirt and debris. But sometimes, a simple spot clean with a damp cloth is enough. The best leather boots were not designed to be kicked off or discarded. To help your boots keep their shape, and in turn, keep them comfortable, stay in tune with your feet themselves, wear them in, not out. Remember what we said about wearing them too much right at the start.

  

Go with the Flow: Find the Boots That Work for You

Ultimately, how you break in your leather boots will differ slightly for each person and pair. For example, how to break in hiking boots involves wearing them both on flat ground and trying them out lightly on the trail, while how to break in Cowboy boots involves more pre-care and treatment and then wearing them in slowly but surely.

Classic leather lace-up boots, especially if made with a more thin, softer leather, like Thursday Boots’ most commonly found styles, will give you a leg up in the break-in process, not unlike blue jeans that have been washed once or twice or faded out of the box. Yet, the most common way to break in your leather boots revolves around time and the right tools. And yes, the right socks make a big difference.

Before you wear your new work boots out to the job site, take them for a test run with boot socks. The same can be said for even your best pair of dress boots. Low-stress situations, be it a stroll around the block or a few hours in the office, can be ideal for getting the most out of your new go-to boots.

Yet the one primary key remains the same: The more you wear them, the better they get. That’s something every boot lover can appreciate.

Thursday Boot Company Captian Boot

Best lace-up men's leather boots. Courtesy of Thursday Boots

  

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