Will Leather Work Boots Stretch? And Other Questions About Break-In
Will leather work boots stretch?
A little. But boots that pinch to the point of being uncomfortable are probably a half-size too small.
A lot of people get nervous after purchasing a new pair of casual boots or work boots, especially if they fit a bit tight or if they're heard horror stories about break-in.
Let's flesh this out a bit. We'll go over what you can expect when you get a new pair of boots, including the stretch question.
Will Leather Work Boots Stretch? A Bit, But Not That Much
When you first get a pair of leather work boots or even casual boots, they're going to feel a little tight in some spots. It's natural to worry if they'll stretch to fit.
The good news? They're going to stretch a little. The leather will stretch, and so will the stitching.
The bad news? Only by millimeters.
If your boots pinch in a lot of places, especially around the widest parts of the forefoot, chances are you might have gotten them a half-size or even a full size too small.
That's why it's important to get fit for handmade work boots; you want to make sure they'll fit before you get them.
So a little stretching is normal, a little stretching is good. If the fit is obviously way too tight, that's a problem. When you get a new pair, they should feel a little snug but they shouldn't pinch; as you wear them in, the fit will loosen a little and you'll have a great fit.
Does Break-In Hurt?
Will break-in hurt for you? Maybe. Most people experience a little discomfort, but how much really depends on you. It might, it might not, or it might only for a little bit.
With that said, there are two key areas that you want to pay attention to as you break your boots in.
First is the widest part of the forefoot, which will be the first knuckle of the big and small toes. Look at your foot, and you'll see a big bump on the inside of your foot and one on the outside of your foot, just before the little toe and big toe start. That's the area in question.
You're going to notice a little pinching here, either on the inside or the outside of the foot. This is normal, as the upper begins to "break" (meaning soften with initial use) but will dissipate with a bit of time.
The other area is at the heel and the ankle. These areas likewise need to stretch a little bit to fit the shape of your feet.
Then you have the insole and footbed. What's happening there is your foot is literally pounding it's shape into the insole and the footbed, so that it fits your feet. It's going to take a while, and it may be a little uncomfortable at first.
However, as the toe box, heel and insole/footbed are worn into the shape of your feet...any discomfort reduces over time and eventually subsides. How long that will take...depends on you.
Some people don't have issues with break-in. Others have a bit of discomfort for the first week or two, and smooth sailing after that, and some folks have to put up with sore feet for a couple of months before their boots are good and broken in.
What To Do As Your Boots Break In
There are a few things you definitely want to do as your boots break in...and some things you definitely shouldn't do.
Do make sure to grease or oil your boots liberally. Keeping the leather conditioned and hydrated will make it supple, which is going to make the break-in process easier.
Definitely wear them. You can't break in boots that aren't on your feet. Don't take new boots straight to the job site; you might make yourself completely miserable and that's no good. But do take time to wear them until you're confident that they're ready to go.
Do NOT soak them. It won't make break-in any shorter or easier, and can damage the leather as well as the footbed. That's how you get fungal infections in your feet; the footbed molds and you wind up with athlete's foot or possibly even trench foot.
Don't use mechanical boot stretchers. Break them in naturally.
While boot stretching is a thing - leather shoes and boots can be stretched up to one size in length and width - the reality is it's only needed when they're the wrong size. You should get boots or shoes that are actually the right size to begin with.
Your feet may swell or shrink over time, so you may find yourself a half-size smaller or bigger at various points in your life. A boot stretcher...is really just delaying the inevitable.
Once they are broken in...definitely continue to take care of your leather boots.
Decent leather footwear of any sort isn't cheap, so you want to treat them as an investment. A few minutes of saddle soaping and oiling or greasing every week or two goes a long way in protecting that investment.