Hiking boots and the word comfort should be synonymous at all times, happily intertwined with one another. Hikers demand comfort in their boots because your feet are one of the most crucial things to remain healthy on the trail, right behind getting plenty of water to drink. So, how to make hiking boots more comfortable?

Fortunately, there are a lot of things that you can do to make your hiking boots more comfortable, starting with getting the right boot for your feet, breaking them in, grabbing some comfortable insoles, tying them the right way, and using socks that are worthy of the trail, and much more.

Feet are like faces in that everyone’s feet are different from everyone else’s. Most people advise you to simply break your boots in as if it is the world’s simplest answer to an overly complicated question. The truth is, it starts with selection. Choosing the right boots is the very beginning of a pathway to comfort on the hiking trail.

Choose the right boots for the job

Walking boots
Photo by Annie Spratt / Unsplash

Knowing your size just isn’t enough. As we made clear above, everyone’s feet are unique, and just because you know your size doesn’t mean you won’t have blisters the size of fifty-cent pieces three miles down the trail.

Don’t believe you can get a blister that big? Try hiking in an inappropriate size boot for a few miles. It doesn’t take long at all to develop a monstrous blister on your heels and ankles. Unless you want the top of your foot or your heel to look like a giant, fleshy snowglobe, you need to sit down and explore your feet.

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We’ve previously covered how hiking boots should fit to avoid blisters. It might be worth a read if you’re currently looking for new boots.

There are several types of feet, some rarer than others. But these are the most common types of feet:

  • Flat feet (lacking an arch)
  • Narrow feet
  • Wide feet
  • Abnormally high arches
  • Midfoot is high
  • The forefoot is wider than average
  • The forefoot is narrower than average

That’s just to name a few. The good news is that most hiking boot manufacturers are well aware that everyone has different feet and that some are more disproportionate than others. In other words, there is a hiking boot out there with your name all over it.

The best way to figure out if your feet are out of the ordinary is to measure them and see a podiatrist. Of course, not everyone has the luxury of being able to see the doctor just to figure out what size hiking boots they can wear.

If that’s the case for you, take careful measurements of your feet. Stand flat-footed and take a foot mold to determine how high your arch is, if you are wide-footed, or have a wide forefoot.

You want to be intimately aware of your feet in all of their glorious proportions. In this way, you can take the first steps (pun intended) toward picking out a perfectly fitted hiking boot.

Properly break in your hiking boots

Keen Hiking Boots and Wolven Zephyr yoga leggings
Photo by Alexandra Tran / Unsplash

The best way to break in your hiking boots is to use them. Wear them everywhere, including when you go out on mundane errands. Wear them around the house, while you’re out gardening, walking through the grocery store, or wherever you decide to go on any given day.

Wear them in the shower (ok, we’re taking it a little too far with the shower), but most importantly, just wear them. Another good way to break them in (with an eye toward future hiking trails) is to wear them on natural ground.

Breaking them in on natural ground means your hiking boots break in the way you want them to, on the kind of ground you’ll be covering.

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We’ve written an entire article covering how long it takes to break in hiking boots and how to do it the right way. It might be worth a read!

Will a pair of insoles make hiking boots more comfortable?

A good pair of insoles can make a difference inside some hiking boots. However, you do need to make sure that you properly break your hiking boots in before you throw some insoles in there.

Insoles take up space inside of the boot and you want your hiking boots to break in properly, without insoles, before you put them in. You also want to look for a good pair of gel insoles that are designed for high impact.

The heels of your feet and the balls of your feet, just at the backside of your toes, are where the primary and most forceful impact points are, so you want some gel insoles that can handle that kind of stress in the long term.

Also, if your feet match one of the rare types listed above, there are insoles on the market that address all of those issues, sometimes more than one at the same time, so insoles are certainly worth considering.

Choose the right type of hiking socks

Nothing like a good pair of Salomon's (IG: @clay.banks)
Photo by Clay Banks / Unsplash

Sock choice for hiking boots is probably the most essential aspect of the entire process, outside of choosing the right size. In the military, on long humps across vast stretches of real estate, one of the first things that soldiers or Marines do when they stop for a break is remove their socks and replace them with clean, dry socks from their packs.

If anyone knows how to take care of feet on long hikes it’s Army Rangers and Marines. However, it’s not just the clean and dry socks that you should focus on–although you should always bring a pair or two in your pack–but also the type of socks.

Sorry, but your bright yellow Pikachu socks probably aren’t going to cut it on the trail. There are a certain variety of socks that you need to focus on as well, with particular traits:

  • Cushioning (light, moderate, and heavy)
  • Fabric type (Wool, silk, polyester, spandex, and nylon)
  • Socks that are the right size
  • Socks that have the right length for your boot

Sock cushioning is crucial for a comfortable hike

Cushioning makes a difference, even when you have insoles in. The right kind of cushioning is predicated on seasons and the type of trail that you’re looking at. Ultra-thin socks are great for light to moderate hikes, in the heat of the summer. However, you have to make sure that they are the perfect fit and don’t allow your foot to swim around in the boot.

Moderately cushioned socks are more for fall and early spring weather, when there is still a chill in the air, depending on where you live, of course. Heavy cushioned socks are for hiking in the winter and, depending on the material, are great for keeping blisters at a minimum.

Try to look for socks made of wool

Wool is hands down the highest recommended sock material that you can find. You may assume that since it’s wool, it will be incredibly hot on those summer trails. However, wool is a tricky material, very good at adjusting to temperature, keeping your feet cool in the summer and warm in the winter.

Plus, it comes in different thicknesses, so you can take it down a notch on the thickness when summer rolls around. The size of the socks is important as well and you should stick with an exact fit for your feet size. No stretching on one of your kid’s socks before you hit the trail.

Socks need to match your boot height

Last but not least, where socks are concerned, if you have a high-top boot, you don’t want to go anywhere near ankle socks. If you do, you’re asking to set records in ankle blister sizes. If your boots run up to your calf, you need calf-length socks, period.

Does tying your hiking boots the right way make them more comfortable?

Tying your boots the right way will make a significant difference in how comfortable your hiking boots are. The problem that most people have, is that not all boots are created equally, in terms of where the eyelets are located, how many of them there are, and how much space is between each eyelet.

The lengths of your laces and how you tie them, per your eyelet layout and spacing, are crucial to keeping your boot firmly in place, avoiding your foot shifting around inside your boot. If your foot is moving in there, it creates friction and friction is the primary ingredient in blister-making.

There are plenty of good lacing techniques out there to learn from and there is one for nearly every type of foot. Whether you have flat feet, large arches, wide feet, narrow feet, or a high midfoot, there is a specific way that you can lace your hiking boots up that will properly accommodate your feet.

Final thoughts

There are a lot of elements involved in getting your hiking boots to a comfortable level, both in the short and the long term. However, all of the above tips stem from the very first thing that you have to do, which is choose the right size.

After that, everything else is a matter of necessity or lack thereof. If you need it, don’t be afraid to use it. Measure your feet and you should even go so far as to make a mold to take with you to the store. If nothing else, a mold of your feet will be a good conversational piece. So, here’s to happy hiking and, more importantly, happy feet.