You’ve booked the plane ticket and hotel room, made an elaborate itinerary, and have decided to treat yourself to a new pair of shoes before your big trip. While you may be tempted to keep your new kicks unworn in the box just so they are in picture-perfect condition for your vacation, this may not actually be the best idea.
Fact: ill-fitting footwear or that which hasn’t been properly broken in can really ruin a trip and your health. Blisters, skin irritations, ankle, knee, hip, or lower back pain, tendonitis, leg cramps… the list of potential health problems is long. So before you board that plane wearing your brand new shoes, it’s good to spend some time making sure they'll be comfy.
But first things first. “The best way [to break in shoes] is to start with proper shoes for your feet,” said Michael J. Trepal, DPM, professor of surgery and vice president of Academic Affairs and dean at the New York College of Podiatric Medicine. “This includes proper size and style. Improper fitting shoes will never be truly ‘broken in’ for the individual wearing them.”
Or as Dr. Miguel Cunha, founder of Gotham Footcare in New York City, puts it: Shoes should accommodate your feet and not the other way around. So don’t purchase a pair of tight-fitting loafers thinking: Oh, but they’ll expand after a while. Dr. Cunha recommends buying your shoes in the evening when your feet are most swollen. “If the shoe feels comfortable at the end of the day they will most likely feel comfortable throughout the day,” he said.
The best way to break in a brand new pair, according to him, is to wear them for a gradually increasing amount of time every day for four days and then wear them all day on the fifth day. For example, put on the shoes for two hours only the first day and then switch to another pair. The second day you should wear them for four hours, the third day for six hours, and so on.
“This allows to shoe to expand gradually while minimizing any pressure or friction that would otherwise cause pain or discomfort, swelling, calluses, and blisters,” Dr. Cunha explained.
And while this is a good general tip to keep in mind, not all shoes are created equal. Depending on the type of footwear and material, some shoes may need more time to break in than others.
“In general, the softer and more flexible the shoe is, the easier it will be for the foot to adapt to it,” said Dr. Trepal. “Sandals with open toes and heels do not characteristically require much break in time as they do not rub toes or the heel.”
But it's also smart to remember that those types of shoes are often not designed for intense physical activity or prolonged periods of walking. “Sneakers would be the next easiest footwear to adapt as they usually are roomy and flexible. If the sole is stiff, try bending the empty sneaker in the area of the ball repeatedly to make it more flexible,” he suggested.
Finally, the hardest shoes to break in would be those with stiff soles and rigid heels, such as formal men’s shoes and stiletto pumps. But there are plenty of products on the market to help you break them in.
“If the shoe is just a bit tight and you know it will give, you can use products such as shoe trees, shoe stretching sprays, or even bring them to a shoe cobbler to have them professionally stretched,” said Dr. Jacqueline Sutera, DPM. You can also use shoe spray and then stuff them with socks for a few days in your closet.
And speaking of socks, Dr. Sutera also recommends wearing the shoes at home for 20-30 minutes with bulky socks after using a hairdryer on the shoes to warm them up.