Ever buy a brand new pair of hiking boots, get them home and they’re not what you’re expecting? Unfortunately, with the rise of online shopping, this has happened more than I’m willing to admit.
This just happened to me a couple of weeks ago. The boots felt so comfortable, but the second I stepped on my hardwood floors they started to squeak.
They were driving me crazy and I really didn’t want to send them back cause it was such a good deal. So I decided to hit the web and after a while I finally found out why my hiking boots were squeaking. Lets dive in and I’ll let you know how I stopped the squeak.
Why Do Hiking Boots Squeak?
After scouring the web I figured out what was causing my squeaky boots. My insole was actually rubbing against the sides of my shoe. After replacing them with those cheap Dr. Scholl Insoles, the squeaking stopped. Honestly, I didn’t care for the Dr. Scholls so I swapped them out for Superfeet Orthotics(On Amazon) and it was a night/day difference.
Swapping out the insoles worked for me, but that’s not the only cause of squeaky hiking boots. Here are the most common reasons why your boots squeak.
- Soles are Slick: Most hiking boots squeak because the soles are too slick. Luckily this usually goes away after wearing the shoes for a while. If the shoes are old or you don’t want to wait there are ways to fix the soles.
- Shoes Don’t Fit: If the shoes are too big your feet will slide inside causing the insoles to move. Try to add a thicker insole, but if that doesn’t work there’s really nothing you can do.
- Insoles Rub: If the footbed or insole isn’t properly sized it will rub against the side of your shoe. This is the perfect time to replace your soles with new insoles.
- Bad Gluing: Hiking boots are made out of multiple layers glued together. Sometimes the waterproof layers aren’t properly glued so they start to rub on the leather exterior.
- Poor Design: Sometimes the boot design just stinks. There’s really nothing you can do to battle bad design.
Brand New Hiking Boots Will Squeak
Throughout my life I’ve easily bought more pairs of hiking boots than I can count. Some of them last for years, other pairs didn’t make it through a hike. Just about every pair I’ve ever bought has squeaked straight out of the box.
With a little effort and time, they all got better. If you follow the steps below I can almost guarantee the squeak will stop.
Where is The Squeak Coming From
Normally, it’s not easy to figure out where the squeak is coming from. The best way to narrow it down is by process of elimination. Look at the list above and go down the list slowly narrowing it down.
Once the squeak disappears you’ve found the cause. If after following the steps below you haven’t fixed the problem it might be in the intermediate layers. At this point, there’s no easy fix you’re better off just taking the boots back.
How to Fix Squeaky Hiking Boots
Without looking at your boots it’s hard to tell exactly what’s causing the problem. What I can tell you is that hiking boots squeak because of friction between two sources. If you can figure out where the boots rubbing you can solve the problem.
The source of the problem can be found anywhere in the boots. Make sure you check the boots upper layer, insoles, outsoles, and the internal waterproofing layers.
Some Surfaces are Worse Than Others
Before you do anything to your boots you should think about how you use them. If you only plan on wearing your boots on the trail there’s no reason to bother. Boots rarely squeak when walking around on dirt, gravel and sidewalks.
After a little bit of time, boots tend to wear down and the squeaking stops. So you might want to consider just wearing them on the trail, ignoring the squeak for now and coming back at a later date.
1)Bottom Soles are Slick
Everybody has dealt with squeaky shoes at some point in their life. Brand new shoes almost always squeak when worn on hardwood floors and slick linoleum. Luckily, most of the time this goes away on its own. As time passes your boots will squeak less and less.
If after a couple of weeks your shoes still squeak it’s time to do something about it. Usually with a little bit of lubrication and light sanding the squeak will go away.
Before you proceed make sure the noise is actually coming from the bottom of your boots. To tell if the sole of your boots is the problem just line the bottoms with duct tape and see if that helps. If the squeaking goes away you’ve found the problem. Luckily, this is usually a fairly easy fix.
You can significantly speed up the wear in the process by lightly sanding the bottoms of your hiking boots. Use fine-grit sandpaper and go to town slowly scuffing up the bottoms. A slower approach is to just walk on rough surfaces like rock and gravel.
Grip Sprays Get Rid of The Squeak
Have you ever tried grip sprays on your boots? Good old-fashioned stickum spray(On Amazon) will significantly improve traction. If your boots aren’t sliding around they won’t squeak.
You can also try those traction pads that you stick to the bottom of your boots. Personally, I haven’t had much luck with grip tape. It works at first, but eventually wears down and tears off.
2)Poor Fit Makes Hiking Boots To Squeak
When boots don’t properly fit the insides tend to move and wear unevenly. Your feet slide along the soles and the insides move freely. It might not happen immediately, but over time the insides start to wear and eventually rub.
There are two main ways to fix this problem. You can either return the boots for ones that actually fit(my preference), or you can try to fill in the extra space with thick socks and thick insoles.
Don’t list to the “so called experts” that recommend going up half a size for extra comfort. That was the old rule of thumb that has been disproven over the years. Boots that fit properly will always be more comfortable in the long run.
3)Insoles Rub The Sides of Your Boots
The footbed (aka insole) of your hiking boot is one of the most common problem areas in new boots. Problems start to arise when manufacturers try to use regular insoles in their hiking boot lineup. The product just isn’t designed for the way most people hike.
When your insole doesn’t properly fit it’s gonna slide around as you walk. Most insoles aren’t actually attached to your shoes so they can easily be replaced. Just take out the insole and see if you still have a squeaking problem.
Obviously, if the problem persists you know to move onto other steps on this list. If it stops you have a few options to try. Start off by putting some foot powder down into your boots. Gold Bond Foot Powder(On Amazon) works really well and it reduces foot odor.
You’d be amazed at how much of a difference a thin layer of talcum powder actually makes. All you’re trying to do is reduce friction enough to prevent squeaking. It’s just another layer that helps protect the boots.
4) Bad Gluing and Hiking Boot Defects
Sometimes the shoes just aren’t well made. This tend to happen in complex leather/goretex boot designs that have multiple waterproofing layers. With added design complexity, there’s more risk of failure.
If they aren’t properly glued the layers on the insides of your boots start to rub into each other. This commonly happens with leather boots. The two pieces rub together and create the squeaky sound we all hate.
If that’s the case there’s not much you can do. Start off by conditioning the leather and applying some other type of lubricant. A little bit of zinc oxide(Desitin) or saddle soap on the leather might be all you need.
5) Poor Hiking Boot Design
Most major hiking boot manufacturers have figured out their designs. Companies like Salomen and Merrell have used the same basic designs for the past decade. From one year to the next there might be slight differences, but for the most part these designs are foolproof.
You start to run into issues when buying cheap to mid-range boots. Obviously, you shouldn’t skimp out on cheap hiking boots, but you can also run into trouble with name brands like Columbia and Timberland.
There’s just no way to tell what you’re getting into without trying the boots out in person. Try them on in the store and if they just don’t feel right don’t settle regardless of the price.
If you can’t afford quality hiking boots you’re better off just wearing your favorite pair of running shoes. Nowadays there’s really no reason why you can’t just wear a regular old pair of tennis shoes on the trail.
Other Methods That Sometimes Work
- Stickam and Grip Tape: I didn’t even realize Stickum(On Amazon) was still a thing until I saw it at my local sporting goods store. This stuff is crazy tacky. Spray a little bit on the bottom of your boots and under your insole. You can also try grip tape on the bottom of your boots, but this never seems to work for long on rough terrain.Foot Powder(Gold Bond): If the sound seems to be coming from the inside of your boots you should start off with some foot powder. This is one of the easiest ways to fix noise that originates on the inside of your boots. Just apply a thin layer of powder into the insoles and shake it around your boots. A little bit of powder goes a long way.
- Chamois Cream: Chamois cream has long been a staple in the cycling community, but it’s not really popular among backpackers/hikers. Just rub a little bit of Chamois Cream(my favorite On Amazon) wherever leather rubs and use the rest of the tub to prevent leg chafing. You might want to check out my post on preventing chafing with chamois cream.
- Sand Paper: Take some fine grit sandpaper and rub it on the bottoms of your hiking boots. This will significantly speed up the wear in process on new boots. Just try not to overdo it cause you can quickly damage your boots.
- Dryer Sheets: I’ve never actually tried this method, but a lot of people online recommend rubbing the bottoms of your boots with dryer sheets. Supposedly the oils reduce friction and static buildup. Honestly, I can’t say if this method works, but you might as well try.
- Tape: If the bottom of your boots are the problem you can temporarily fix it with a strip of duct tape or masking tape. This method doesn’t really work for long so you might want to use Stickam or grip tape.
Some Hiking Boots are Just Gonna Be Squeaky
Sight unseen it’s hard to tell if your boots are going to be squeaky. Full-grain leather boots are notoriously squeaky. Most of the time this is caused by poor gluing techniques on the mid-layers.
When buying online it’s hard to tell if boots are going to squeak. Try to read the reviews so you can make an informed decision. Go with an online store that has an excellent return policy like Amazon. Start off by looking at Merrell, Saloman, Keen, Etc.
You’re much better off testing the fit in person. Definitely check out your local REI store because they have an excellent return policy.
Should I Return Squeaky Hiking Boots?
Sometimes you’re just better off returning squeaky hiking boots. With companies like REI and Amazon returning boots is relatively painless. Quality hiking boots aren’t cheap so why settle on poor quality products.
With older boots you can usually solve the problem by following the methods above. It just takes time and a little bit of work to get rid of the noise.
Sometimes You Might Need to Call in The Experts
Squeaking can be annoying, but there are worse things to overcome on the trail. If the boots fit comfortably and fall in your price range you can usually quiet them down, if not you might want to take them to an expert.
Shoe repair shops can almost always solve the most common problems. For a small fee, they can strip down the intermediate layers that aren’t easily accessible. With a little bit of wax, carefully applied glue and minor touchups they can almost always fix your boots.
Although most problems should be fixed at home shoe repair shops are well worth the money.