Shit-kickin' boots kickin' the shit out of ME!
March 16, 2010 12:05 PM   Subscribe

My new combat boots are intent on my destruction. Got any tips for breaking in stiff boots?

I replaced my ten-year-old combat boots (Carolina Jump Boots, now rebranded as Corcoran Jump Boots) recently. I wasn't positive what size I bought way back in 1999 with my first paycheck, and in the end, I kind of guessed. I feel like the shoes are the right size, though. They lace and zip up comfortably, with ample room in the toe box.

HOWEVER. Both times I've worn them for any significant amount of time, they very suddenly attack my feet. Yesterday, I walked six blocks to lunch, didn't feel any pain, but when I got up to walk back, BAM. OUCH. OH LOOK. I HAVE FOUR INDIVIDUAL DIME SIZED BLISTERS RUPTURING ON ONE FOOT. It was surprising, and made them impossible to wear anymore.

I loved the old boots, and I really wanna break these new ones in, but it's tough! Mostly the part that's blistering me is the heel. The heel "box" is VERY stiff, three layers of rawhide-feeling leather. I went to a shoe repair guy and he basically told me there wasn't anything he could do for me, but he gave me some spray.

I've smushed the heel in my hands as much as I can, but it's not making much difference. Should I get a shoe tree? Slather my feet in vasoline, put on two pairs of socks, and hope that works?

Any advice? Thanks, hive!
posted by Ambrosia Voyeur to Grab Bag (18 answers total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
I'd wear some extra thick socks and put moleskine on the blisters that you've got. Part of having awesome boots for me has always been a painful breaking-in period.
posted by youcancallmeal at 12:09 PM on March 16, 2010

Fill the bathtub with water, put your boots on and stand in it for a while, then let the boots dry on your feet.
posted by Duffington at 12:09 PM on March 16, 2010

Either two pairs of socks or one of those pairs of socks that is actually two thin layers- that way the socks rub against each other. Or try a square of sheepskin padding (the kind that is sold as insoles for slippers etc.).

It sounds like the heels are too tight, not too stiff. I'd think you want them to be stiff for support. Also, the best way of breaking in combat boots is... combat. Surprised nobody else has mentioned it yet /sarcasm.
posted by variella at 12:15 PM on March 16, 2010

i was taught the "get them soaking wet, then wear/walk them until dry. silk socks with thicker socks over them keeps most of the friction off of your feet.
posted by rmd1023 at 12:26 PM on March 16, 2010

You could try stuffing tennis balls in them - works pretty well for me.
posted by meepmeow at 12:40 PM on March 16, 2010

Whenever I get new fire boots, like some of the other posters, I put on a good pair of wool socks and climb into a tub with them on and wait until they are totally soaked before getting out. Wear them until they are totally dry. Plan to keep them on at least 4-8 hours after you get out of the tub.

One important tip: Make sure that the tongue is adjusted and the boots are laced the way you'd like them to be forever. My first pair of boots dried with the tongue slightly off to one side, and it was virtually impossible to change it later.

As you're breaking them in (after the water bath treatment), baby your feet. Moleskin is ok, but second skin is the far superior treatment. Never wear cotton socks. If you haven't discovered the wonders of SmartWool, invest in a couple of pairs. If you have a local REI, you can get 10% off if you purchase three pairs at once, but no matter what you wear, don't wear cotton. Make sure that between sessions, you expose your feet as much as possible to the air. Don't break the blisters that have already formed, try to cushion them and let them heal on their own. (Some will disagree with me on blister treatment, but I've discovered that puncturing or deflating blisters, no matter how antiseptically done, can easily lead to infections and much more pain down the road).
posted by RachelSmith at 12:48 PM on March 16, 2010 [4 favorites]

Everything above is good advice. In addition to moleskin and double socks (one light polypro pair and heavier socks on top of that), I'll suggest duct tape over sensitive spots. I've spent six months living in mountaineering boots and if I had to choose between my ice axe or a roll of duct tape, I'd be hard pressed to decide.
posted by elendil71 at 12:57 PM on March 16, 2010

I wear the same type of boots, although not always the same brand. Thick socks helps when breaking in a new pair, but each new pair chafes in a different way... I'm usually can't wear them continuously with any comfort until callouses have formed in the appropriate places.

My current pair I got pre-broken-in at an army/navy surplus store, which cuts down on the breaking-in time if you're not easily squicked out by other peoples' feet.
posted by logicpunk at 1:12 PM on March 16, 2010

This post on SocNet. It's generally about foot care from a special operations viewpoint, but there is some really good information about breaking in new boots that you'll be able to use.
posted by LDL707 at 1:15 PM on March 16, 2010 [2 favorites]

Also, I should have mentioned, there's some...salty language both in that post and on the site at large.
posted by LDL707 at 1:16 PM on March 16, 2010

I'm a huge fan of Lexol. Before bed, clean your boots. Then take a rag and absolutely soak the boots on the outside with the conditioner. Leave a visible sheen on them as they sit overnight.

After a night of them absorbing the Loxolly goodnefs into the leather, take your horsehair bootbrush and buff down the boots thoroughly. Not only will this help extend the working life of your boots, but it'll help them form to your foot shape faster and be less blistery.

After one or two treatments like this, they should be fitting quite nicely. Then just regular treatment with the Lexol as maintenance, depending on how hard you are on 'em.
posted by Pirate-Bartender-Zombie-Monkey at 1:40 PM on March 16, 2010

Love the boots! Looking at the pic, it seems that the old pair didn't fit correctly - look at the way the leather part of the heel is sort of collapsed onto itself, with that bend in it. Were they a smidge too large? Do you remember any problems breaking the first pair in, or is it just this pair?
posted by iconomy at 1:44 PM on March 16, 2010

You may be right, iconomy, but it might also have been a result of my wearing them both laced-up and zipped and sometimes open and floppy, or a result of my highly curvaceous calf-to-ankle ratio situation, causing the leather, once soft, to bunch near the ankle. Over the course of 10 years of frequent wear, mind you. And no, I really don't remember having trouble breaking the first pair in... but it was so long ago. And there are some minor differences with the new manufacturer.

Thanks for the tips so far, all. I was nervous about getting the leather wet, but I'll try the bathtub trick. Maybe even put the through the washer on hot so they get beat up a little, then wear them.
posted by Ambrosia Voyeur at 1:58 PM on March 16, 2010

Those silicone blister bandages they sell in the drugstore now look like they shouldn't work, but they are absolutely fantastic for keeping your blisters covered and cushioned.
posted by fairytale of los angeles at 5:20 PM on March 16, 2010

Soak those bitches in dubbin. Lather it on like you are trying to drown them. Inside, outside, all surfaces. I wear Australian Standard Issue Combat Boots, which start out life as stiff as a tin can, and my current pair are as soft as butter now.
posted by Jilder at 6:55 PM on March 16, 2010

I can't really tell from the photo, but are they lined at all? I ask because my Carolina combat boots have a Gore Tex sock styled liner designed to make them waterproof, so any of the suggestions above about filling them with water probably won't actually work. Standing in a tub might, but it will probably take a while to get them sufficiently saturated to remould the leather. (Most new boots are heavily treated to make them as water repellent as possible.)

I've broken in many pairs of combat boots, and the system that tends to work best for me is a combination of some kind of slip in liner (just to cut down the abrasive powers of the insole while they are learning your feet), good socks, and tight lacing. Add in some softener like Jilder's dubbin or saddle soap to speed the process.

The last pair of unlined boots I broke were some 10" Redwing lineman's boots. The soles are extremely rigid (for gaffing poles and the like) and they took longer than any other pair I've had to break in, and even so, I'd say they were wearable within a week, comfortable within two, and god-like within a month.

Just make sure you keep a spare pair of comfortable shoes with you while you are breaking them, so you don't end up somewhere that you need to walk a lot early in the process.
posted by quin at 7:25 PM on March 16, 2010

Former shoe maker here.

Judging by your picture of your old boots, vs. the new ones, no amount of "breaking in" is going to make your new boots fit well on your feet.

The heel of your boots actually has a thermoplastic piece called a counter, the purpose of which is to greatly stiffen the heel of the boot, and provide stability to you in wear, by transmitting torsional stresses across the heel of the boot, to your foot, so as to minimize twisting of your ankle, and shock to your leg, when walking on uneven ground, or landing hard on hard surfaces. That thermoplastic piece sits in between the inside lining of the boot, and the outer counter piece or foxing, which when sewn together, create a "pocket" for the counter, often called by shoe makers, the counter pocket. In the lasting operations of manufacture, that counter will be heated to a couple hundred degrees Fahrenheit, then inserted into the boot's counter pocket in a soft, pliable state, and pulled down to the last shape by hydraulic pressure of hundreds of pounds, applied through the pinchers and wipers of a heel seat machine, forcing the counter to take the shape of the heel of the last as it cools.

In your old boots, you've visibly broken the counters, as evidenced by the big wrinkle, just above the heels, noted by iconomy above. Definitely a very bad fit problem. You don't want boots to be in that state of repair, as they've lost a key feature that contributes to stability in walking! If you actually did ever "jump" in those old boots, you'd be highly prone to twist or break your ankle(s).

It might be that boots of this pattern are simply not right for your foot. But if you love them, and want to walk in them with any comfort, you may need to get some internal orthotics, to raise your heel in the boot, significantly. Frankly, judging by the big wrinkle in the heel of your old boots, you're probably going to need more lift under your heels than most commercial orthotics, by themselves, can provide, so you may even need internal elevator lifts.
posted by paulsc at 8:02 PM on March 16, 2010 [3 favorites]

Wow. paulsc, that is almost uncannily good advice. I wore Dr. Scholls' heel and arch supports in the old ones, effectively raising my heels. I had those supports in almost all 10 years. I wonder if that alone might fix this pair's problem.

I don't remember the old ones having the stiff counter in them, but these new ones certainly seem to, and I'll take you at your diagnostic word that the old ones' counters were broken. These I can't seem to deform no matter how I try, manually.

> If you actually did ever "jump" in those old boots, you'd be highly prone to twist or break your ankle(s).

Yeah, I tended to wear them unzipped, unlaced and floppin' to college classes, not dropping in on the effing mekong; I wear hiking boots for that kind of thing.

I tried to put them on soaking today, btw, with moleskin and a nylon and a thick sock, but my giant infected blisters said "fuck you, heelraper!" (How's that for salty language?) So, I'll have to wait till I'm not oozing, I guess.
posted by Ambrosia Voyeur at 10:56 PM on March 16, 2010

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