Blisters suck. They are the worst part of breaking in a new pair of boots.
And you never really know if you’re going to have an easy break-in or if it will take weeks of excruciating pain that produce blisters and bloody socks.
I was lucky enough to chat with expert cobbler Steve Doudaklian from Bedo’s Leather Works about how he prevents blisters and what advice he gives guys looking for a painless break-in.
- How To Stop Blisters
- Wrapping Up
How To Stop Blisters
Steve gave five pieces of advice to avoid getting blisters from your new boots, ranging from before-you-buy to once-they’re-out-of-the-box.
Let’s get to it.
1. Get the Right Size
“From what I see with my customers, usually when they buy new shoes or boots, most of the time it’s the wrong size.”
Simple, common sense advice, but people still make this mistake. And it’s not your fault. There’s just a huge variation in boot shapes out there. Even though it would be nice if boot and shoes sizes were uniform across different manufacturers, it’s not possible because the human foot simply varies too much.
To accommodate a world full of people with diverse feet, shoe companies have to make a variety lasts — the mold or pattern used by each company to shape shoes and boots to their version of a generic human foot. Red Wing boots won’t fit the same as Carmina. Heck, boot companies use different lasts for different styles, so those Red Wing Iron Rangers might fit like a glove, but your foot might swim in the Classic Moc Toe.
[Learn More: What Exactly Is a Last, and Why Is It So Important?]
This isn’t just anecdotal evidence from grizzled old boot dudes. The Journal of Foot and Ankle Research did a meta analysis to figure out how often poorly fitted footwear is associated with foot pain and foot disorders, like blisters. They found that
Between 63 and 72% of participants were wearing shoes that did not accommodate either width or length dimensions of their feet.
Statistically, your boots don’t fit.
The same study mentions that 69.2% of guys have a tendency to wear boots that are too long. If you have 10 dudes in a room, only 3 of those guys are wearing boots that are the optimum length!
Another study in the Human Kinetics Journal found that,
there was a significant association between men and wearing incorrectly sized footwear.
“If you wear a size 10 when you buy new shoes or boots, try a 9.5, try a 10, try a 10.5,” says Steve. “See which one fits your feet best, don’t just always be stuck on your foot size because some forms, some different shapes, some styles will fit you differently. It’s a matter of just looking for a last shape, a manufacture, that you’re comfortable with. That’s it, if you find one, stick to it.”
[Make Sure You Get the Right Fit: The Ultimate Guide to How Boots Should Fit]
2. Use Inserts to Fill the Boot’s Volume
Even if you find the right size for you, you might find that a pair of boots fit well in the width but are bit a too long; maybe the heel slips.
In this case, there are a few things you can do to fill in the extra volume in some parts of the boot so you don’t get a blister. “You’re very lucky if you find something right off the shelf that fits you 100 percent,” says Steve. “It’s never the case.”
The good news is that you can break them in and adjust the fit.
Steve told me when he got a new pair of Aldens, “I had to put in an insert to take up a bit of room in them. I wear a 10.5, the boots were an 11. They were a little bit larger on me, so I put the inserts in there and they fit me perfectly.”
Inserts cause your foot to get lifted up in the boot, filling up the extra space, and allowing the leather uppers to better grip the foot, reducing friction and blisters.[SHOP DR. SCHOLL’S INSERTS HERE]
[Learn More: Find the perfect insoles for your boots: here]
3. Consider Tongue Pads
Another big takeaway is that boots are multi dimensional: it’s not just length and width that need to fit well. There’s the instep, ankle thickness, and the shape of the heel. These dimensions all affect the way your boots fit. If any of these are too big or too small, or not long enough, you can get hot spots and blisters.
If you want to prevent blisters on your heel, Steve recommends to get some tongue pads.
“Even though tongue pads are mainly for dress shoes, they push the heel back to grip a little better. You can still do that for boots.”
[SHOP TONGUE PADS HERE]
But if you buy a new pair of boots and you want to prevent blisters, how do you know if you should use an insert, or a tongue pad, or a heel pad? Are there flow charts? Do you have to go boot fitting college? How do you decide what you need, if you need anything at all?
“If you’re tying your boots and the uppers at the laces are touching or overlapping, that’s not a right fit. You should have maybe a good half inch”, says Steve. “Get some inserts and you’re going to push up a bit.”
If your heel is slipping try a tongue pad or a heel strip.
[SHOP LEATHER HEEL PADS HERE]
4. Don’t Wear Brand New Shoes All Day
After you’ve done all that work shopping for boots and dialing in the fit, there’s still one challenge you have to overcome: breaking in the darn things.
“When you buy new shoes, don’t wear the brand new shoes on your full day of meetings, for example,” Steve informs his customers. “Wear it around the house, 30- minute increments, one hour or so. This way you’ll slowly break them in, so when the day comes that you wear them all day, you can wear them comfortably without any blisters.”
When I got a pair of Daytons, I had a horrible experience breaking them in, and it took weeks for them to not hurt. I could only wear them for about an hour before they got too painful, so I got in the habit of bringing an extra pair of shoes with me when I left the house.
It turned out to be a winning strategy: wear them until they hurt, change out of them before you get blisters.
For new boots, when you don’t know if the break in is going to be bad or not, you can just take them off before the blister develops and put on a comfy pair.
But what if the leather is just too darn stiff?
5. Mix a 50/50 Water/Alcohol Solution
There are really only a few reasons we get blisters walking around normally. Either the boots don’t fit or the leather hasn’t softened enough, meaning they aren’t broken in well. (Or the leather’s just too damn stiff and shouldn’t have been made into boots in the first place.)
For stiff leather, a lot of people recommend wearing wet boots for 12 hours. I’ve seen this recommended for military boots but this isn’t something that I would do, it’s not something Steve would do, and it’s probably not something you should do. It will break your boots in, that is true, but it can also damage your leather, or cause blisters.
There is some truth to it. Water softens leather, wearing wet leather shapes it to your feet. But you don’t need to walk around in wet boots all day.
Use a 50/50 water to alcohol solution. This helps to break the boot a little faster, that’s what I would do.
It’s really easy:, spray the inside and outside of your boots with a 50% water to 50% alcohol solution. Walk around in them until it’s uncomfortable. If you’re worried about the leather drying out, apply some conditioner afterwards. Using the alcohol and water every day for years will damage the leather, but doing it a few times is fine.
[Learn more: The 5 Best Conditioners for Boots]
If you want to prevent blisters, there are just so many bits of advice that may be suitable in certain circumstances. You can wear two pairs of socks — not a bad last resort if you ‘re hiking — but isn’t really suitable for everyday use. You don’t need to rub petroleum jelly all over your feet to reduce friction. Products like Moleskin can help in the short term, but do you really want to tape up every time you leave the house?
The best general advice is to buy shoes that fit. If they are slightly too big in any part of the boot, fill in the extra space with insoles or tongue pads. Keep your feet dry and don’t go running around in new shoes or boots all day.
Good luck breaking in those boots blister free.
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