By Craig Hill The News Tribune
Breaking in a new pair of hiking boots used to take some serious time and effort.
Some hikers would fill their boots with water and others would even wear them in a shower in an attempt to get the perfect fit.
Fortunately, those days are long gone.
I saw this firsthand last summer when I hiked the 93-mile Wonderland Trail. By the time we left, I’d easily logged 1,000 miles in my boots, but one of my hiking partners had pulled his boots out of the box the night before we left. On top of that, Thad Richardson wasn’t wearing sock liners, a thin second sock designed to help eliminate blisters.
Richardson is a Graham firefighter and folks in his line of work are made of Kevlar, but I figured there was no way this was going to end well.
By the second day, he’d raised a small blister on the outside of his foot. But by the end of our weeklong trip, he had no other problems. In fact, he said, his feet felt just fine.
On the other hand, I felt pretty good too, but I had two small blisters. Perhaps they were the byproduct of not fully embracing modern technology.
“How much easier is it to break in boots these days?” said Joe Hyer, owner of Olympia’s Alpine Experience. “Much, much, much, much” and I don’t know how many muches that was but at least six more.
“Boots have changed so much. It used to take several weeks to break in a pair of boots. Now you can do it in a day or two if you are fit correctly. … I’ve probably had just one blister in the last decade.”
Today, Hyer says keeping your feet happy on the trail is as simple as making sure you have good socks, good boots and good foot beds.
The most important part of the breaking in process is your time at the store, Hyer said.
“You don’t need to be 100 percent of the way there by the time you leave the store,” he said. “But you should be 90 percent.”
Hyer says his staff members spend about 40 minutes with customers making sure they have the right fit.
“That’s where you try on several boots and maybe spend some time walking with one (type of boot) on one foot and another on the other to see what is best,” Hyer said.
From there they are likely to pick out a foot bed, a supportive insole that typically costs an additional $40. The support helps alleviate pain in the feet, knees and back.
“An aftermarket foot bed is helpful for about 80 percent of people,” Hyer said. “And for about half, they are essential.”
Also crucial to the fitting process are the right socks. Hiking specific socks have a little extra padding, are designed to avoid bunching and have heel pockets sewn in.
These socks, typically $15 or more, reduce the chance of blisters and negate the need for liners. Hyer recommends people don’t use liners, but still stocks them in the store because they’re a habit for so many.
Hyer says liners could cause hikers’ feet to sweat more, increasing their risk of foot issues.
Richardson and I both wore hiking specific socks on the Wonderland.
He didn’t use liners, but I did. I also wrapped several toes in duct tape, a technique that has worked well for me for many years.
Still, watching Richardson circumnavigate Rainier in brand-new boots, is enough to make me reconsider my system. At about $8 per pair, I wouldn’t mind never having to buy liners again.
About this story: Craig Hill of The News Tribune in Tacoma hiked the Wonderland Trail, a 93-mile loop around Mount Rainier. He wrote about all aspects of the trip including gear and planning. You can read the series at wwwb.thenewstribune.com/wonderland.