How to Break in a Pair of Doc Martens Shoes
Hooray! You’ve bought a pair of Docs! Take a moment to admire their never-worn beauty because by the time you're done with them, they are going to look somewhat less pristine (but even cooler!).
Anyone who's ever bought a brand new pair knows that it takes some work to get your new Doc Martens to fit just right. Why is there a breaking-in period? Well, consider the type of leather they're made of. Big, black, standard DMs are made from rigid, hard leather that requires care and time to soften and render the perfect fit.
Breaking in your new Docs will take time and patience, but everyone goes through it. Read on to discover the ways to make this rite of passage go smoothly.
How to Break In Your Doc Martens
- The first step is to pull on a pair of socks to protect your skin. Thick ones work best. If you go out, pack an extra pair of socks in case of emergency.
- Wear them around your home for one to two hours at a time. Just sitting isn't going to do it: To get the leather to stretch, you'll have to move. I'm not going to pull punches here… this is going to hurt, especially your heels and the backs of your ankles, but hang in there! It will be worth it in the long run.
- You can also remove the inner soles of the boots to give yourself a little extra room while you're breaking them in.
- Personally, I like to wiggle my foot as far forward inside the boot as it will go to stre-e-e-etch that leather just a little further.
- Don't expect to wear them too long at first. Start by wearing them for a couple hours, then progressively work up to more. Alternate one day on, one day off, until they're broken in.
How Can I Break Them In More Quickly?
- Use your hands. To help break up the extremely stiff back of the boot, fold the spine back at several levels each time before you wear them. Also, bend them back and forth a bunch of times at the instep. This will assist in making them more pliable. Some people go to town with a hammer and end up with some very broken-in boots. I prefer a gentle massage.
- Use a boot stretcher to stretch the toe box over the course of several nights. You can also stuff them tightly with newspaper when you're not wearing them.
- Lace them differently during the breaking-in process: Lacing over the eyelet everywhere except at the base of your ankle will assist the boot in bending.
- Use a softening agent to soften them more quickly and protect the leather from cracking. I recommend Wonder Balsam (see instructions below), or you may choose to let them age naturally and tell their own story. Either way, remember you spent a pretty penny on these iconic shoes, so give them the care they deserve!
Additional Tips for Breaking In Your Docs
Softening your Docs (or any hard, smooth leather boots) is easy when you do it right.
- You really must get the right size. If they're too small or too large they’ll always hurt your feet, no matter how hard you try to break them in.
- The last time I was in a DM store, the salesgirl informed me that some styles are cut more narrowly than others. For example, 1460s are cut significantly more narrowly than 1461s and some other newer styles.
- If your Docs feel too narrow, consider using moleskin or a bunion pad on those spots to protect your tootsies. It may not be glamorous, but your feet will thank you!
- You could wear them continuously for days (even while sleeping), but that will mainly just toughen your feet instead of softening the boots.
- Wear them outside as soon as possible.
Although you may hear some bad rumors going around, I don't suggest soaking your boots in water, lighting them on fire, or rubbing olive oil or Vaseline into them. These techniques may make your boots more pliable, but only because you will have ruined their structural integrity. Also:
- too much water will make the stitching disintegrate over time
- too much fire will turn them into charcoal
- olive oil or Vaseline will just make them greasy.
Doc Martens' Wonder Balsam, which contains coconut oil, lanolin, and beeswax, was created for just this purpose, and guess what? It’s comparable in price to Vaseline!
Be Sure to Buy the Right Size
A too-small pair will never fit, no matter what you do.
How to Soften and Protect Doc Martens From the Elements
Although the least-hassling way to break in a pair of Doc Martens is to wear them outside, once blustery winter weather rolls around, take care to protect them! Water and salt will leave mottled marks on your shoes, and that's never attractive. So consider one of these treatments:
- Wonder Balsam is Dr. Martens' unique blend of coconut oil, lanolin, and beeswax that protects against water, liquid, and salt marks while keeping the leather nice and supple without polishing.
- Dubbin Polish is their natural wax formula for greasy, oily, and waxy leathers. It provides a water-resistant coating to leather and is great for breathing new life back into old, dirty shoes that have been exposed the elements.
- If you didn’t use Wonder Balsam or another type of protectant and ended up with salt marks, Dr. Martens brand black polish (or any good-quality black polish, for that matter) will restore color to your treasured black boots… use cherry polish for cherry-reds!
When should I use the Wonder Balsam and when should I use the Dubbin Polish? What's the difference?
If you bought the Dr. Martens shoe care kit, you'll notice that it comes with two different products: the balsam and the polish. Usually, the container of balsam is much larger than the polish, and here's why...
The Wonder Balsam is like a moisturizer. It's mostly for keeping the leather soft and new and to help prevent rips, holes, scuffing, and surface damage. You'll want to use this stuff sporadically throughout the year.
The Dubbin Polish is a waxy layer of protection against the elements. It's something you'll want to apply before and during the wet and winter months.
How to Use Wonder Balsam to Soften Your Docs
- Make sure your boots are dry and dust-free. Use a brush to clean them, if necessary.
- Using the sponge the balsam came with, apply a small amount to the boot, rubbing in circles.
- Work the balsam into the leather all the way up to and over the seams (it won't hurt those stiches!). Don't forget the tongue.
- Allow the leather to dry and absorb the stuff for about five minutes.
- You can apply the Dubbins Polish afterward, but only if it's wet or snowy outside.
Is There Any Way to Avoid the Long Breaking-In Process?
- If you can't tolerate pain even temporarily, maybe the original style or leather is not for you. Some of the new fabrics are softer, or you can opt for the vegan or soft leather-type instead of the hard, smooth leather type, although they're not as shiny.
- If you have tender ankles, you might prefer the Mary Jane or brogue styles over the classic lace-up boots.
- If your foot is between sizes, opt for the larger size. By the way, I recommend that you get properly fitted so you know exactly what size you need.
- Consider having them professionally stretched. There are some old-school shoe shops that have machines that can help soften the leather.
- Buy them used. I suppose you could pay someone to break them in for you, too!
Doc Martens: There Will Be Bruises, Blood, and Blisters
Taking Care of Your Feet as You Break In Your DMs
At first, after wearing your Docs all day, several things may happen:
- Your socks will have left serious impressions and/or patterns on the top of your feet, especially if the socks are ribbed. Your feet will feel itchy in those spots. But take care! If you must scratch, do so gently; vigorous scratching of irritated skin will cause it to scrape and bleed.
- Try soaking your feet in a foot bath or basin filled with or epsom salts. Towel them dry and massage gently if they are still feeling pinched. Johnson's foot soap
- If you have tied your laces tightly or have a fleshy calf, the boots themselves may have also left impressions on your calves. These impressions will go away over a period of several hours. Seeing an indentation on your calf can be distressing! Try not to tie your boots quite so tightly next time.
- If you develop any blisters, give your feet time to recover before wearing your boots again. Consider using moleskin or a bunion pad on those spots.
How Often Should I Wear My Docs?
I have found that alternating days wearing your new DMs with other shoes will help keep your feet happy and give them time to renew themselves. You may want to break in your DMs as soon as possible, but is it worth hurting your feet? I don't think so.
But above all, do wear them, wear them, and wear them! Because after you’ve broken those babies in properly, you’ll have them forever and you can enjoy figuring out ways to wear them.
Socks With Docs?
Invest in several pairs of thick, soft, or squishy socks (i.e. wool for winter). They will protect your feet and ankles while stretching the leather where you need it to be stretched.
By all means avoid wearing thin cotton socks with your DMs until you have broken them in somewhat!
Removing the Inner Sole
Doc Martens are equipped with an extra inner liner. Did you know you can remove it to customize the fit of your shoes? If you want a little extra room in there immediately, wiggle it out.
Personally, I've never bothered doing this— it's so much more comfortable to leave them in! But if you need more room in your boot, give it a try.
How long did it take you to break in your DMs?
Frequently Asked Questions
Are Dr. Martens Comfortable?
My Docs are the most comfortable shoes I own, but it took about a month to break them in. The first month is hell, but their hard-won comfort will last a lifetime.
How Long Does It Take to Break Them In?
Of course it depends on the shoe and your feet. Some styles and materials take longer to break in than others, and if you're thin-skinned, it will take longer. To be safe, count on the breaking-in process to take about a month.
Can I Hike in Doc Martens?
Absolutely. Just don't try this until after you have completely broken them in, or you'll be sorry.
How Often Should I Wear My Docs?
I have found that alternating days wearing your new DMs with other shoes will help keep your feet happy and give them time to renew themselves. You may want to break in your DMs as soon as possible, but is it worth hurting your feet? I don't think so. But above all, do wear them, wear them, and wear them! Because after you’ve broken those babies in properly, you’ll have them forever and you can enjoy figuring out ways to wear them.
Do Doc Martens Run Large?
Yes, their sizes tend to run on the larger side. Plus, they only make whole sizes (no half sizes). Check the Dr. Marten's size guide to see how they stack up for men, women, US, EUR, and JP sizing.