When you invest in a new pair of well-made boots, don’t expect to lace them up and take on the world on the same day. Thick leather uppers and solid leather midsoles take a while to break in and rub and squeeze your feet, leading to painful blisters if you’re unprepared. While the sturdiness and durability of boots vary widely from brand to brand, there are a few universal tips for breaking in a new pair, regardless of who made them.
That said, brands that make hefty, quality boots tend to have a better understanding of what it takes to get a boot to the point of wearability. So we reached out to Eric Kinney, the vice president of operations at White’s Boots in Spokane, Washington to learn more. Founded in 1853 in West Virginia, White’s Boots relocated to Spokane, Washington, in 1915 and quickly became a favorite of loggers and forestry workers. Known for making hand-sewn boots with hand-lasted uppers and substantial leather arches, White’s boots are used by smokejumpers battling forest fires across the West.
Kinney started at White’s as a bootmaker and has an intimate knowledge of what is required to build and rebuild every style. Over the years, the brand has changed its recommendations for how customers break in a pair of boots. “We used to tell people to fill them up with warm water and soak them for a bit and then wear them dry,” Kinney said. “While doing that won’t hurt the boots — the shoemaker soaks the upper before he builds them anyway — we have gone away from that now.”
He does believe there are misconceptions about breaking in boots from White’s, though. If a customer eases into wearing the boot and maintains the leather from time to time, they shouldn’t have a painful experience. And after a relatively short break-in period, they’ll have a boot that’ll last them for decades. “These tips will help you enjoy your White’s for years to come,” Kinney said. “I made boots for 26 years and wore the same pair every day and only had them rebuilt once.”
Use leather oil. “It takes roughly 80 to 100 hours of wear to get them broke in correctly. Apply White’s Boots Oil or an oil like Obenhauf’s two to three times the first week to treat the vamp leather (the front piece of leather from ball to ball to the toe). This will soften the leather and allow a little stretch as the leather will form to the foot.”
“We recommend not using oil on the quarters of the boot at first. You want the leather at the ankles to stay firm and not stretch. If there is a spot that is rubbing, then use a small amount of oil on that spot to get some stretch.”
“The fit will change slightly as the boots break in. We allow at least a thumb width at the toe in the initial sizing. The toe of the boot will naturally curl back over time and tighten up the overall length. Using the oil will allow the boot to stretch in the ball areas the first month or so. Also, the all-leather insole will start to take the shape of your foot pad. White’s is a naturally breathable boot that keeps foot sweat and odor to a minimum.”
Ease into it. “Never try to wear a new pair all day. If you have never worn a pair, your arch can’t take it all day. Wear them for two to three hours a day for a couple of weeks to let your feet get used to the high arch. The feeling of wearing a pair of White’s is like standing on the rung of a ladder, but once you break them in you will never go back.”
Adjust lacing. “If your job requires a lot of kneeling, you can skip the first set of hooks while lacing to keep the bottom set of hooks from biting you. Over a period of time, you can start to lace the whole boot up again.”
Keep them clean. “Always keep your boots clean. Mud, cement and [other grime] will rob the leather of its natural oils. If you work in environments like these, then once a week you should brush them clean, use a mild soap and water to clean them, allow to dry and then add a light coat of White’s oil to them. If you work in a less extreme environment, then use a light coat of oil just once a month.”
“If your work environment is damp and moist then you can treat your boots with White’s Leather Preservative to add some water resistance to them. If your boots are wet, we recommend using a boot dryer like a Peet shoe dryer or let them dry a room temperature. We don’t recommend putting your boots on a heater vent. When leather starts to crack there is not much you can do except get it rebuilt.”