Your First Pair of Military/Firefighter/Law Enforcement Boots: How to Break Them in and Care for Them

Waterproof Army Boot At Military Boot Super Store, we care as much about your feet as we care about your boots. If you just purchased your first pair of military, firefighter or law enforcement boots, you may experience a little anxiety regarding breaking in your boots and the horror stories you have heard about blisters being considered a self-inflicted wound. We want to help you keep your feet healthy and your boots long lived, so we have prepared a beginner's guide to breaking in and caring for your first pair of boots.

Breaking in Boots

We strive to provide you with the best possible fit for your boots. Unfortunately, even boots fitted to perfection will cause blisters on feet unaccustomed to service boots, so think of the breaking-in period as having a dual purpose: creating supple boots that form to your feet and familiarizing your feet with the boots.

Ideally, you should begin breaking in your boots at least two weeks before you need to work in them. It is entirely possible to break them in on the job, but it is better to get the discomfort over with on your own time so you can perform your job without the distraction of blisters and aching feet. Long-time firefighting, military and police personnel generally recommend one of two methods to break in boots: the dry method or the wet method. The method to choose depends upon weather, the type of boot and personal preference.

The Wet Method

Walking around in wet boots gives you the quickest means of forming the boots to your feet. It is an easy method, and, although it sounds uncomfortable, it does not take long for you to become accustomed to the feeling of wet boots.

Do not use this method on high-gloss boots or outdoors when the temperature drops below freezing. If the boots freeze, they will not dry around your feet to create a personalized fit.

1) Place your boots in a sink or tub, and fill the boots with warm water. If your boots have drainage holes, you may have to keep the water running into them for a few moments to ensure the inside of the boots soak completely through.

2) While the boots are soaking, put two pairs of socks on your feet. Avoid material like cotton and wool that absorb water: Socks that absorb moisture keep the moisture inside the boot, which extends the time it takes for the boots to dry.

Additionally, use thin socks to mold the boots. By molding the boots to your feet while you wear thin socks, you will have a more snug fit later when you wear heavier socks. The snug fit keeps your feet from sliding around and rubbing against the inside of the boots and prevents future blisters.

3) Empty the water from the boots, put them on and go about your daily business. If possible, go on a long hike or walk. If neither a walk nor a hike fit within your day, just wear them indoors and out during your daily routine.

4) If your feet are new to service boots, you might need to condition your feet throughout the day of wearing wet boots. Every hour, take the boots off, rub your feet with isopropyl alcohol, also called rubbing alcohol, and put on two fresh pairs of socks. The alcohol is good for drying your skin, toughening up your skin and preventing fungal infections. An anti-fungal powder adds additional protection against fungal infection.

5) Whenever you feel the leather loosening up, stop and lace the boots again. Loose boots will not form to your feet, so keep cinching them as often as needed.

6) Place your boots in front of a fan at the end of the day. This will dry the residual moisture without distorting the fit you formed during the day. If the boots have insoles, remove the insoles and place them also by the fan.

After wearing your boots this way two or three times, you should notice the boots have greater flexibility and a more formed fit than when you first put them on.

The Dry Method

While the wet method works quickly, it does not work on boots requiring a high-gloss shine. The dry method, on the other hand, takes longer but works for all boot types and during frigid weather that makes walking outdoors in soaked boots inadvisable.

Wear two pairs of socks under your boots to prevent, or at least reduce, blisters, and wear your boots constantly. It takes approximately one full week of constant wear to break the boots in using this method.

Over the course of the week, do as much jogging, stair climbing and hiking as possible. This not only helps shape the boots to your feet, it also accustoms the various pressure points of your feet to the boots.

The leather does not loosen as noticeably when you break in your boots using the dry method as it does with the wet method. However, when you do notice the boots begin to loosen, re-lace them for a snug, but not tight, fit.

When you re-lace your boots, inspect your feet for wrinkled skin and the formation of blisters. If the skin appears waterlogged from sweating, rub your feet down with isopropyl alcohol, and apply bandages or athletic tape to any red areas where blisters will form. This will not prevent blisters, but it will minimize the size and severity. Remember to replace sweaty socks with fresh, dry socks before you put on and re-lace your boots.

Blisters will happen when you break in your boots. Some people suggest taking a hammer and beating your boots to soften the leather as a means of avoiding blisters. This method does soften the leather, but it neither forms the boots to your feet nor accustoms your feet to the boots, so blisters will still occur.

Muddy BootsCleaning Your Boots

Cleaning your boots is a relatively simple task and does not take long to become a habit. If portions of your boots are made from fabric, you can clean those parts the same as you would clean civilian shoes, but any leather components require special handling.

Cleaning Suede

Suede does not get along with liquid, so do not use water to clean suede boots. Instead use a suede brush or a metal-bristle brush and lightly brush your boots. Do not use heavy strokes or a scrubbing motion or you will damage the leather.

You can use a damp, soapy cloth to wash down the insides of your suede boots.

Although water should not be used on suede, you can cautiously perform spot treatments to remove stains from your boots. Mix Dawn dish detergent with water and use a toothbrush dipped into the mixture to gently scrub the spot or stain. Use a clean, dry towel to gently blot the treated area dry, but remember to blot gently and not rub.

Cleaning Full-Grain Leather

For a regular cleaning, you can use water-based detergent and soft rag or shammy cloth to clean full-grain leather boots. Occasionally, you will notice a build-up of polish and dirt and want to give your boots a more thorough cleaning. To remove accumulated polish and grime, rub saddle soap into the surface of your boots with a wet cloth until a lather forms. Rub the lather well into the boots and wipe it off with another clean, damp rag.

If necessary, you can do a second wash with the saddle soap; otherwise, let the boots dry and then buff the boots using a soft polishing cloth. The saddle soap not only cleans your boots from accumulation, it also sets a nice base for a new coat of polish.

Conditioning Your Boots

Nubuck, suede and rough-out leather boots do not require conditioning; in fact, leather conditioners will damage the appearance of this type of material. The only boots that require conditioning are those made of full-grain leather as this leather tends to crack and flake if left unconditioned. Condition your boots after you have cleaned them.

To condition full-grain leather boots, apply leather conditioner, such as mink oil, Neatsfoot oil or Glovolium, to the boots. Use either a bottle or spray bottle as you prefer. Continue applying the conditioner until the leather cannot absorb any more of the spray or liquid. To work the conditioner deeper into the boots, you can walk in the boots until the conditioner dries or you can work the boots by hand. Work the boots with your hands by bending, twisting and flexing the boot.

Waterproofing Your Boots

Although most of our boots arrive already waterproofed, you may want to add additional waterproofing once in a while. You can use a waterproofing gel on full-grain leather by rubbing it into the boots, letting it dry partially and then wiping away any excess gel.

Do not, however, use the gel on suede, nubuck or rough-out leather. Instead, apply a spray-on form of waterproofing. Spray the boots evenly but without saturating the leather. If the type of spray you choose requires multiple applications for best results, allow your boots to dry for four hours between applications.

Whether you use the gel or the spray, if you waterproof your boots, treat the entire boot, including the sole, but be warned that waterproofing solutions might slightly darken the shade of your boots.

Before you decide to waterproof your boots, consider the situation in which you will wear the boots. If your feet will be regularly exposed to water, you might want to consider not waterproofing the boots. In circumstances where the boots will experience frequent immersion in water, waterproofing will do nothing more than increase the time it takes for the boots to dry.

This guide is a starting point for breaking in and taking care of your first pair of military, firefighter or law enforcement boots. Over the course of your career, you will find a combination of products and methods that work best for you. Always keep in mind that by taking care of your boots, you increase their longevity, which means a long time until you need to break in another new pair of boots.