How to Soften Stiff Leather Shoes For Hiking

A well-made shoe eventually conforms to the shape of your foot. Softening shoe leather is usually a natural process that takes place as you wear it. Some shoes, depending on the leather quality and shoe construction, break in faster.

The first thing you should make sure of is if your shoe fits. Go to any quality shoe store, and they will have a Brannock device that will accurately measure your foot length and width. This way, you get off on the right foot (no pun intended) by buying the right size.

At least you know that size will not be an issue contributing to any shoe discomfort from the get-go. You will also do away with the ordeal of trying to stretch your shoes if they are tight or padding them if they are too big. (Read How to Clean Hiking Boots)

Leather shoes in blue cloth

While how to soften shoe leather will differ from one pair to another, there are common methods that work towards this end.

It does not matter if you prefer dress boots, casual shoes, or some of the best hiking boots. Breaking in a shoe is quite a uniform process.

Make Your Boots Last For Many Years

I have noticed that, for some reason, boots have become quite popular lately. I think it is due in part to the more casual dress style and attitude the world has adopted. Boots are also quite stylish and make a fashion statement on both men and women.

As you soften leather boots, they will become much more comfortable. For one, I have a few pairs of boots that, although they are already over a decade old, still provide many hours of daily use.

They are far from being retired, and when the time comes that their soles are worn out, I will have them resoled by a professional cobbler.

Preparing New Boots for Wear


Your new boots will benefit from a good leather conditioner. You have no way of knowing when they were last treated (it could be months). A conditioner will penetrate the leather and make it suppler.

A leather conditioner is usually applied evenly all over the shoe surface using your bare fingers. Rub and work it in gently. Once you have covered the entire shoe, gently brush off any excess conditioner with a shoe brush.

Opt for a leather conditioner product that has lanolin and follow the directions for best results. I have found that this is the most effective leather softener for shoes.

Wear Them

You can start to break in your shoes or boots by wearing them around the house. Use the thickness of socks you would if you used them outdoors. Try wearing them for around half a day.

Do not wear them on two consecutive days so the shoes can dry out properly from any foot sweat. Shoetrees are also a great idea, so your footwear gets to retain its shape. Cider shoetrees are the best since they can absorb shoe moisture.

As you wear them around the house, try to simulate the different bends and strides you would be making if you were walking with them outdoors. (Read 5 Health Benefits of Hiking)

Just go slow and gentle with them, making sure you do not make any exaggerated contortions with your feet. Leather is pliable but allow it time to stretch slowly.

Wearing Your Shoes Outdoors

Once you decide to wear your shoes for real, make sure you take them out in relatively good weather. There is no point in subjecting your shoes (dress, casual, or hiking boots) to bad conditions when you are breaking them in.

Conditions like rain, puddles, mud, slush, or snow will come eventually as you use them, so try to avoid these situations as you get accustomed to wearing them.

Take a walk around the block in your hiking boots and gradually increase the distance that you walk. If you have daily things to do, wear them as you gradually get used to them. Eventually, the shoe will conform to your foot shape as well as walking habits and tendencies.

Other Shoe Factors That Affect Comfort

Keep in mind that many factors will affect how your shoe fits even when they are well past the breaking-in period.

Leather Quality

The kind of leather on your shoe greatly affects how comfortable it will get, not to mention durability and appearance. Calfskin, cowhide, pigskin, chromexcel, and shell cordovan are just a few types. There are different grades like full-grain, top-grain, corrected grain, genuine leather, and bonded leather.

Collection of leather shoes

Sole Material

The sole material of hiking boots are many. Rubber, leather, crepe, and synthetics will all have a major effect on the comfort of your shoes. Whether or not your shoe has a shank will likewise affect how it feels on your foot.

Other Factors

Other shoe factors that will affect the overall comfort is the construction of the boot. The vamp (the front and center part covering the top of the foot) should not be too tight. The arch support of the sole should also be appropriate to your actual foot arch.

Having mentioned all these factors, if your shoe size selection is spot on, then breaking in your shoes should present no issues. Also, keep in mind that shoe sizing will vary from each manufacturer. Due to this reason, I never purchase a brand I am not familiar with online.

I would rather go to a brick and mortar store and try the shoe in person to confirm my size with a new brand. You surely have heard the terms “runs small,” “runs big,” or “runs true to size.” These pertain to the sizing discrepancies from one brand to the next.

Having said that, I confidently buy brands online that I have previously owned and know for size conformity. (Read Hiking Essentials)

If The Shoe Fits

Getting your leather hiking boots or any shoe to soften and become comfortable footwear is not difficult at all. Just follow the steps I mentioned, and you will soon find a new pair of “favorite” boots in your closet.

How To Soften Stiff Leather Shoes For Hiking