How to Break in Leather Military Boots

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Introduction: How to Break in Leather Military Boots

About: Brought up in a household where building, engineering, math, science, and design were the law of the land. One of my earliest memories is my father taking me out to his workshop when I must have been 5 or 6....

Here's a quick Instructable on how to break in Army-style leather boots. All of the boots shown have rough leather on the outside but any of these processes can be used for smooth leather hiking or work boots.

Step 1: Step 1- Water

One of the easiest and fastest methods is to use water. The trick is to use water along with regular walking to help loosen up the leather. This may seem counter intuitive because water is known to shrink leather but often times the leather used in boots is pre-shrunk and won't get any smaller.

In the morning as you are getting ready to go about your day, head to the nearest sink, bathtub, shower, etc and fill up your boots with water. Fill it up as you would a cup and then dump it out. The point is to get the boot soaking wet. If your boot has drainage holes, it may not fill up but just make sure its completely drenched.

Next, put on two pairs of socks. Having two pairs helps prevent blisters and acts like a moisture reservoir to keep the boots wet all day.

Finally, lace up and go about your normal business. Just wear them around all day as you would normal shoes. The water may feel a bit strange at first but it's not that bad. You may want to re-tie about an hour later or so because the leather will start getting loose quickly and it helps break them in faster if they are tied tightly.

When you get home, open up the laces, pull out the insoles, and throw them in front of a fan to dry. Gore-Tex boots tend to take a lot longer to dry than regular boots but they will still probably dry overnight in front of a fan.

Depending on your type of boot, you may want to wear them wet a couple of times. You should be able to tell a difference in flexibility and stiffness from the new boots before moving to the next step.

Step 2: Step 2- Leather Condtitioner

Once your boots are dry, it's time to use the leather conditioner. I've found that Glovolium baseball glove conditioner works really well and it's relatively cheap. You can get it from your local sporting goods store or perhaps a Walmart in the baseball section. Other brands will work too, I just don't have any experience with them. Other products that might work could be leather couch conditioner or Armor All car leather spray. Feel free to experiment.

Some conditioners come in a spray bottle but the spray Glovolium was $3 more so I didn't get it. Use a paper towel or a rag and apply the conditioner to all the outside leather surfaces. If you have the spray, just spray it directly on the boot. The leather will turn a slightly darker color but it's not noticeable from more than a few feet away.  The conditioner will take a few hours to dry and depending on how stiff the boots still are after step 1, you may want to add a second coat.

Step 3: Finished (kinda)

Your boots should now be considerably more flexible and soft than when you started. However, breaking in boots is a continual process. The boots will continue to become floppier and softer until the day you retire them so you can never be truly done breaking in boots.

Make sure to continue to wear them around after you have applied the leather conditioner. This helps to drive the conditioner farther in to the leather.

The method I have described is much faster than just wearing the boots around dry but it still may not break them to the point they need to be. If you have a 20 mile road march next week, it may be unreasonable to expect to break a brand new pair of boots so that they're soft enough in that time frame. Give yourself adequate time for the task or you could end up with some bad blisters.

Take everything I've said with a grain of salt and tweak it to fit your situation. I've broken in 5 pairs of boots this way and never had any issues but that doesn't mean yours will go flawlessly. Take care and have fun with your new boots.

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36 Discussions

From my time in the Marine Corps I found that putting the damn things on and sucking it up like a man works just as well. Besides the boots today have cushioned insoles and liners unlike the old black combat and jungle boots of my early years in the Corps.

3 replies

Yea, we know, marines are awesome yada yada. Give the kid a break. I've seen several marines destroy their feet cause they decided to ruck in a pair of boots that didn't fit and or weren't broken in. Your old school jungle boots didn't have much cushioning because 1. they were made for marching in the jungle where its soft anyway where as modern urban boots are geared more toward pavement and rocks and 2. if they had more cushion, they wouldn't dry out as fast giving a higher probibility of getting trench foot. In the desert if you do cross a wadi or step in a puddle, the dry desert air drys them out in a couple of hours at most. From my experience as a paratrooper, it's better to let your soldiers know what they're doing right as well as what they're doing wrong and put the fear of god in them when they do something stupid. So take a step off your soap box and help the kid out or can it, okay, marine? I don't know why you guys pride yourselves on using outdated Army hand me down equipment anyway. My great great grandpa went to war with a black powder rifle but that doesn't mean I need to "suck it up" and scrap my M4. As for you fu m4nchu, you'd probably save yourself a lot of trouble by putting on a thin pair of socks and a pair of class a uniform nylon socks under those. Then take your boots to the beach and splash salt water (not piss lmao) on them until the outside is wet and you just start to feel the water creeping through the boot. Then sinch 'em tight and wear those things until they are completely dry. That's where the thin socks come in. For one, they'll dry faster and more importantly, the leather will set essentially around your bare leg and foot so that when you do put on a thick pair of boot socks you have room to sinch them down without maxing them out and allowing for your foot to slip around in your boots when you are ruck marching. If your feet start to feel itchy or tender, take the boots off for half an hour or so and let your feet dry, change your socks and put the boots back on. After 8 years that's about the best way I've found to break boots in quickly. I hate agreeing with marines, but I definitely prefer getting a pair of boots well in advanced of any long ruck march and breaking them in the old fashioned way little by little but in a pinch salt water works! All & all it's not a bad tutorial for someone not used to boots or new to the army though! Now teach me how to shine a set of jump boots haha.

Actually I gotta agree with the Marine. My dad is a veteran as well, and he taught me that keeping your feet dry is crucial. They were ordered to dry off their feet and replace their socks after every march. And from personal experience camping, doing boy scouts, etc. wet boots are festering, blistering nightmares. But everyone's got their own way.

Goodness, no! Using water, and as one person suggested, urine, are the best ways to shorten the lifespan of your boots. Oiling them and wearing them are the only ways to break in a pair, all while prolonging the life.

Don't soak them, don't fill them with water, and by no means should you be heating them up. Leather does not like evaperating moisture and it hates heat.

2 replies

military boots see far worse conditions in the field and we don't usually have the luxury of oiling them after we get them wet.

Soaking your boots and letting them bake dry in the Afghan heat is a way of life. Honestly my boots never fit 100% until I soak them and bake dry them in the sun.

I guess I was speaking for civilian use. There are work-arounds in the field, and I wouldn't expect the above to apply in such places like Afghanistan.

Just don't pee on your boots when you return to the States...

I was Army from 89-2000 and I have used the water technique many times though typically during land nav or during patrols...boots get wet and walk them dry. That being said, there is a much better way that softens your leather and protects it while you are breaking in your boots. It's called Lexol. It is a leather preservative that is very liquid and soaks in to the leather very fast. Here's what you do...get a rag and a bottle of Lexol, apply to boots so they are soaked, and let soak in. It may take 15 minutes to an hour. Once it soaks in, reapply. Repeat this for a couple of days. I did mine in the morning before work and about 4 times after work for 2 days. Then if you have all leather black combat style boots, apply a brush shine. If not, then skip that step and thank the military for issuing you boots that you don't have to shine. LOL Then wear, walk, do whatever. The leather will be nice and moist but won't have any softening robbing water in it. Key point it that you don't need water or piss and that you can soften the leather while giving it what it needs.

always used to have a good wee on mine. leave them overnight. Then put them on on shower. tgen wear till dried. beeswax then polish well

check out this site http://bestcombatboots.net it has really good reviews and OK articles

I see yours a suede, they look nice a supple. mine are suede is solid. Great info thanks mate from the UK.

I use this method all the time, and it works great with all types of boots, even basic issue boots. I have found that with basic issue boots I need to "walk them dry" 2 to 3 times before they feel comfortable enough to be referred to as a tennis shoe. As for the comment made earlier about getting trench foot walking your boots dry, from a literal point of view you would have to have your feet wet like that for much longer than the time that it takes to walk them dry. However, for those people who are worried about having your feet soaking wet all day and possibly getting a fungal infection, every so often take your boots off and rub your feet with rubbing alcohol. This will dry out your feet, and toughen up the skin. It is what I was trained to do in preperation for long ruck marches to help prevent blisters.

All in all, good instructable, very informative, and easy to follow.

1 reply

Also, before putting on the leather conditioner, take a stiff brush and rough up the leather a bit. This will help the conditioner soak in to the actual leather, rather than fighting its way through the suede fibers to the pores below.

Amazon has very good combat boots. I have bought several pairs from them directly from the sellers. The prices cant be beat!

You can buy them online directly from Altama at their website. They're one of the primary DOD suppliers for combat boots.

http://www.altama.com/categories/17-Deserts

our local surplus store has them i would just google army surplus stores near you

Doing this with the suede boots they issue in the US Army might be problematic. I had a pair of Altama boots that were issued to me when I first enlisted that shrunk about a size and a half the first time they got wet. After that, I've opted for a simpler, quicker method: get a hammer and just beat the crap out of them till they're soft. A good rock would work too if you don't have a hammer.

wear them :-P just like with any shoes espeically boots the key to break them in is to wear them.