Five Tips for Boots (aka “Hacks”)–Part 5 Breaking In Tall Boots

This is the last installment of my “boot hacks” (or tips) series. This post addresses the most frequent question I have received over the years and also see in comments on social media and other places on the ‘net.

The issue of feeling discomfort, heel slippage, and calf tightness (or squeezing, especially if worn with breeches or pants tucked in) is frequently mentioned when guys get new boots and begin wearing them, as this cop (using a photo I took years ago) describes…

The nature of the comments besides good-natured cop-to-cop ribbing had a lot to do with recommendations on breaking in the boots.

One would figure that a motorcop with some 20 years on the job would know these things, and I think this cop actually does, but enjoys some lighthearted laughter with his friends over this issue.

But just in case you are not aware of the recommendations on breaking in new boots (patrol boots or otherwise), here are my recommendations based on experience, confirmed by cops and other boot-wearing men, on dealing with break-in issues:

1. Break in the ankle by hand before pulling the boots on

The most important thing to do when you get a new pair of tall boots — especially the combo synthetic/leather stock Dehner patrol boots — is to break them in at the ankle correctly. When you do that, you are “training” the boots. You want them to bend at the ankle in such a way that the boots do NOT form folds, or dimples, that go inward on a diagonal (not straight) slant. If you get diagonal bends (breaks) at the ankle, it can cause the inside of the boot to rub against the soft, tender flesh of the ankle and generate blisters or bleeding sores.

Believe me, I know from experience how this can happen. In the early ’90s, I bought a pair of all-leather custom Dehner patrol boots. I was thrilled with them when I got them. I put them on and hopped on my Harley for a ride. I walked in them a lot, thinking I was breaking them in.

Problem was, I did not take time to train the ankles of the boots before I put them on. I didn’t know that you had to do that! Unfortunately, those boots developed a bad break at the ankle. The leather at the fold where the boot shaft meets the foot folded diagonally. The result: agony. I started to experience bleeding sores on the back of my ankle.

BadbreaksI tried to “re-train” or “re-bend” the offending area and folds of the leather. I learned, though, that once the folds get set in place which happens by walking in them, the leather will not be “retrained.” I even soaked the offending area in water and stuffed the boots with kraft paper while they dried. I waited a week, then tried to “train” the fold at the foot. But it was a “no-go.” The boots creased at the same bad places. In order to make those boots wearable, I had to put in a protective piece of plastic between my sock and the back of the inside of the boot to prevent rubbing. It is odd to have to do that, and wastes time. But it is the only way I can wear those boots without causing pain.

If you already have boots with a “bad break,” I am sorry — you can not “retrain” boots. Learn from my experience! When you get new boots, train them right. This is why I created this video, titled Training the Ankles of New Dehner Patrol Boots. I hope you find it helpful and learn from it.

Note: This is applicable to any kind of tall boot from motorcycle police boots to Buckaroo cowboy boots to fashion boots worn by women. Get the crease at the ankle broken in correctly — straight across — and wear your boots more comfortably for years to come.

2. Wear “lightly”

As this cop mentioned later in comments on his post, he plans to wear the new boots one day, then wear is old boots the next, and exchange wearing new and old boots for a while. That helps with the break-in process. Boots get more comfortable when you wear them and they stretch in some places to comform to your body as well as crease naturally in the ankles and feet.

3. Keep the boots conditioned with leather conditioner

This is especially important: apply leather conditioner to leather-lined boots on the inside. That enables the leather to be as pliable and flexible as possible where the boots may feel tight. The legs may also naturally enable some stretching of the calfs, especially if worn with breeches.

4. Let boots “breathe” between wearings

Boots absorb sweat from the body, especially if they feel tight. You may not see evidence of sweat when you take the boots off, but it is there. Allow the boots to air out for at least a day, preferably two, between wearings so the sweat can evaporate. Keep the boots in a well-ventilated area, but not in direct sunlight.

5. Keep the boots dry

Contrary to a bunch of myths still around, do not soak the leather with water, alcohol, beer, or anything else! The evaporation process actually causes boot leather to shrink. Please, please, don’t wet the boots! It doesn’t help, and frequently makes matters much worse to the point of ruining them.

6. Take your time

It can take as long as 40 hours of wear for some boots to feel fully broken in. Take your time to do that. Your legs, feet, and the boots if they could talk, will thank you.

Life is short: break in tall boots correctly, and enjoy them for years to come.