What you are looking for is a pair of boots that feel snug everywhere, but not tight anywhere. The toe-box should have enough room to wiggle your toes and you should not feel any seams or hot-spots anywhere.
But to get to that fit, here are a few tips.
Use Them As You Would On The Trail
To ensure your boots will fit when you are on the trail and not just at home or in the shop, try them on with conditions as close as possible to those on the trail.
Try Them on Later in the Day or After Exercise
Try on boots at the end of the day or after you have been walking around. Most people’s feet swell a bit during the day, especially if you have been walking on them.
By ensuring you try your boots on when they are in their swollen state, you will get a much better idea of their fit when you are hiking and avoid getting boots that are too small.
Wear your Usual Socks and Orthotics
If you wear orthotics, try your boot on with them in place as they will impact the fit.
Also wear the socks you plan to wear with these boots. If you normally walk with a thicker, more padded sock this will obviously affect the fit compared to your day to day socks.
I also find that some socks creep or have little pressure points in some boots but not others. Even a small amount of discomfort can turn into blisters and misery on a long hike.
Check the Length
Most people do not have symmetrical feet, so you will usually have one foot slightly longer than the other. So, while wearing the socks you expect to wear with your new boots, identify your longest foot.
Loosen the laces of the boot of your longest foot and remove any insole. Leave the boot unlaced, slide your foot in, and push your foot forward until your toes touch the end. Then stand up, ensuring your toes are pushed as far forward as possible.
Now, you will need some help here as you need to get someone to slide a finger down the back of the boot to the area behind your heel (do not do this your self as you will not have your weight as you would be when standing) You should be able to get roughly one finger between your heel and the back of the boot.
If they get significantly more or less than that, the boot is too large or small.
Please note that you cannot check this yourself; your foot and heel lift forward when you bend over!
If you have one foot much larger than the other you may need some orthotics, or even custom made boots, but for most people, this should be a good indicator that you have the right length.
Check the Width
Now put both feet into your boots, lace them up and stand up. If the boots feel snug, but not uncomfortably so, then you have a good fit. Most boots will stretch enough to ensure a comfortable fit as your feet change shape during your hike.
If your toes or the sides of your feet feel at all scrunched up, the boot is too narrow.
On the contrary, if you can slide your foot from side to side inside the boot, then the boots are too wide and may cause blisters on the bottom and sides of your feet.
Check the Heel
The next step is to make sure the heel fit is good. Your heel should be locked in position inside the boot and not slide up or down as you walk (the number one cause of blisters).
To test this, slide your feet into the boots and loosen the laces as much as possible. Leave the laces across the top of your feet loose, but tightly lace up your ankles. This will keep your heel in place.
Now, stand up and walk around, climb some stairs and stand on your toes to check for heel lift. If you feel absolutely no movement, you may have a boot that is too tight (although not always) but anything up to about a quarter of an inch or less should be fine.
General Fit Issues
OK so the boots fit, but you now need to ask yourself if they are really comfortable?
Strap both boots on as you would on the trail and take a stroll through the store or your home. How do they feel when you walk up and down stairs? I will even step up and down onto a chair to simulate bigger drops.
If you can, find a slope and walk on it both up and down.
You should not feel odd bumps or seams, but they should feel snug, not loose.
Also ask yourself if your toes touch the end of the boot, or get overly compressed when you walk on an incline. Also, how is the fit in the toebox, is there any pinching of your forefoot?
Finally, with your boots laced firmly, can you still feel space above the top of your foot, or is there any undue pressure on the top of your foot? If so, then the volume of this boot is wrong for your foot.
Many specialist retailers have calibrated fitting machines. These take measurements of your feet and map them onto the boots and sizes that should be the best fit.
These do not just take measurements like length and width but your foot volume and arch length. This can save you a lot of time but will restrict your choice to the boots they have in stock (and the prices they offer!)
Which Brands Fit Your Feet
Especially if you are shopping in line, be aware of whose boots you have found to be comfortable in the past.
Most hiking boot companies have a familiar cut to their footwear. This means that they tend to have a consistent feel over time, especially if you stick to the same range or purpose. For example, do not expect the trail runners made by a brand to have a similar fit to their mountaineering boots!
Before getting into this, you should be aware that if the length of your boots is wrong, then you are not going to be able to do much to change it. Socks and orthotics can make a small difference, but in reality, they are either the right length or they are not. Your best bet is to return them or trade them in.
Width, is slightly different as thicker or thinner socks can make a pretty big difference if the fit is just a little bit too wide or narrow.
Do not be tempted to take this too far though as the wrong socks can slip and cause blisters or not provide enough padding.
Insoles can also make a difference if the volume of your boot is wrong, but again, don’t try to adjust this by more than a small amount, you will be better off with a better matched size.
If your boots are mainly leather, do be aware that leather boots will stretch significantly much more than synthetic alternatives. In addition, they mold to your feet over time, which is why I like to replace soles on leather boots more often than I like to replace them at times!
Lacing Your Boots
The way you lace your boots can make a difference in how they fit. See our article on Lacing Tips to improve the fit of your shoes.
If you struggle to find a good fit, insoles may well help.
A tight boot can be helped by thinner insoles, although I would tend to get a slightly larger boot and pad it out than take this approach as the reduced protection on the trail is not ideal.
If your boots are a little loose, or your heel still lifts, even after tightly cinching the laces, a pair of after-market insoles can help.
Not only can these insoles help eliminate some of the extra space around your heels or top of your foot that causes them to slip, but they can also help with cushioning and arch support too.
Break Them In
I cannot stress how important it is to break your boots in before your first trip. Start by wearing them around locally, then build up to short hikes.
Too many shikers overlook this important step and regret it…alot!!.
Our best piece of advice here is, make sure you get this right! Do not be tempted to get a pair of boots because they are on sale and offer some widget or feature, the fit is what is the single most important thing.
And no I would not recommend trail runners if you are hiking the high Andes, I mean the most comfortable of the right type of boot!!
If the boots feel comfortable and snug, then they are probably the right size, so this should always be your guiding light, not the brand or price.
Yes, finding the right pair or returning a pair of ill-fitting boots might be a pain in the rump, but compare that to nasty blisters when you are miles from anywhere…
- 1 Use Them As You Would On The Trail
- 2 Check the Length
- 3 Check the Width
- 4 Check the Heel
- 5 General Fit Issues
- 6 Professional Fitting
- 7 Which Brands Fit Your Feet
- 8 Fit Adjustments
- 9 Break Them In
- 10 Summary