One way you can ruin a good hiking experience is by wearing the wrong kind of footwear. Other than ending up with injuries and blisters, you may never make it high enough to enjoy the views. So after inviting my friends for a hike up the Rocky Mountains, I have to help them choose new hiking boots that fit well.

Hiking boots should fit snug everywhere around the foot and have a little room to wiggle your toes at the front. It should not feel tight or compress your toes and should have good support under the foot arch. It is best to try hiking boots at the end of the day when your feet are slightly swollen with a pair of hiking socks. It helps avoid choosing boots that are too small. Take your time and visit several shoe retail shops until you get the perfect fit. Here is a detailed guide to help you choose hiking boots that fit well.

How should hiking boots fit?

Besides the style and cut of the hiking boots, the hiking boots’ fit is most important.  The fitting process is about getting the right internal shape that matches the shape of your foot. To get the best fit, you need to consider how the shoe feels on these five parts; they include:

Toes

Your toes should have the most unrestrictive space within your boot. When you wear your boot, you should comfortably wiggle your toes without touching the sides of your boot. When walking, your foot is likely to move forward. Your toes should not reach the boot’s front since it can cause toe pain, spraining a toe joint, losing a nail, or blisters. There should be about 15mm to 1cm of space in front of your longest toe. If you are not used to wearing hiking boots, having that much toe space may feel uncomfortable at first but quite comfortable when you walk on rough terrain.

Under the arch

When the boot is new, your foot’s arch should have a light contact or a minimal gap with the boot. Over time, a dip will form on the insole around your heel and the ball of your foot, allowing more support for your arch. If you have flat feet or overpronation, you need to get hiking shoes specifically designed for flat feet hikers since you have a higher risk of foot injury or developing plantar fasciitis, lower back, and knee pain.

Forefoot

The forefoot is the part between the toes and the foot’s arch, generally the widest part of your foot. Proper hiking boots should fit snug. If it is too tight, you will feel a lot of pressure around the bunion bone, and it can also distort the shape of the boot and affect how you lace up. It can cause blisters around the bunion on your foot’s sole and lose some ankle stability if the fit is too loose.

Heel

You want your boot to be snug and firm around the back of the heel, hugging your foot with very minimal space around. The pressure should not be too much that it pinches around your ankle but should be enough to hold your heel in place. If your boot is too loose around the heel, it will cause blisters, and this excess space also allows your foot to ride forward and have your toes banging on the front of the boot, which can be very painful.

Ankle

All the length of your boot’s collar should be in contact with your ankle or the lower part of your leg. It should feel snug and comfortable, not too tight.  The idea of ankle support is that the boot should absorb most of the pressure if your foot moves abnormally sideways instead of your ankle ligaments and tendons.

If the ankle support is too loose, you are at risk of spraining or breaking your ankle, which is also crucial if you have a heavy backpack. Laces also help with ankle support; that’s why you may see some hikers or runners tying their laces around their ankles. It is best to tie the laces consistently tight up to the ankle. Pulling just the top of the lace and tying will loosen the lower half of your boot. Secure laces can also prevent heel lifting and rubbing.

It’s important to note that when looking for new hiking boots, you should always wear the hiking socks you will wear on the hike so that the space they occupy is accounted for during the fitting otherwise, you may end up with very tight hiking boots.

How to size for hiking boots

Getting the right size for hiking boots is quite a challenge since the left foot ad right foot are not identical, and even different styles from the same manufacturer can vary in size. When it comes to sizing, hiking boots need to be larger than regular shoes for various reasons such as:

  • As a reaction to gravity, the body’s weight, and increased body temperature when hiking, it results in increased pressure and the accumulation of fluids in the lower body, making your feet swell.
  • Since you must wear socks when hiking, your hiking shoes need to be large enough to accommodate the socks.

All shoe manufacturers have their shoe size guides, so if you are size 10 in one brand, you may be a size larger or smaller with another brand. When going to buy hiking boots, it is best to go with each foot’s measurements and confirm with the manufacturer’s size chart. Here is how you can measure your shoe size.

Things You’ll Need

  • Piece of paper (larger than your foot)
  • Pencil
  • Measuring tape or ruler
  • Hiking socks

Directions

  • Wear the hiking socks you intend to wear when hiking.
  • Sit on a chair that allows you to put your feet flat on the ground, then place the large piece of paper on the floor in front of you.
  • Place your foot flat on the paper and ensure you put your full weight and the foot so it can spread out. You should have someone to help or draw an outline of your foot yourself while holding the pencil at 90 degrees.
  • To get the length, use a measuring tape or ruler to measure the distance from the longest toe to the heel’s back.
  • The width of your foot is the widest part of your foot across the bunion joint.
  • Then confirm with the manufacturer’s size chart of that specific style of boot.
  • Repeat the same process on the other foot as the measurements are never identical.
  • If your foot size is between two sizes, it is best to go half a size up. Hiking boots that are too tight may injure you, but you can always wear thicker socks or add some insoles to compensate for the difference.

Once you have both feet’ measurements, you should match the fit of the hiking boot to your foot’s length, width, and volume. Here is what to look for when you are choosing a hiking boot:

Check the length

The length is the distance between your biggest toe to the back of the heel. Wear the hiking socks you will wear when hiking, then wear the boot on your longest foot. Most people have one foot slightly longer and wider than the other. Without lacing up the boot, stand upright and push your foot forward until it touches the end. Then, check the amount of room left at the back of the heel by asking someone to slide a finger on two at the back of your heel.

Check this too: Best Hiking Shoes for Bunions

A proper fitting biking boot should fit the index finger between the heel and the back of the boot. If the finger can’t fit or is a painful squeeze, then the shoe is too short; equally, if there is more room around your finger or even enough for another, the boot is too long. Remember that you shouldn’t slide the finger yourself; when you bend, you will lift your heel, giving you the wrong estimation. If one foot is significantly larger than the other, you will need some orthotics or custom-made shoes.

Check the width

The foot’s width is the distance between the right side and the left side along the widest part of your foot, which is across the bunion joint. Wear the boot with socks on, lace them up, walk around for about 10 minutes, and feel if they fit snug, tight, or loose. You should be able to wiggle your toes inside, even with the socks on. Ensure the foot is not sliding off when your walk or compressing you from the sides, especially around the toes. Feel for any spots around your foot that pinch; the shoe may be the right width but not the right shape for your foot, especially around the toe box.

Check the heel

The heel should feel hugged by the boot’s back part. Wear the boots with your socks on, and loosen the laces as much as possible. Leave the lower part of the laces and tighten the top portion around your ankles. Stand upright and walk around; your heel should not ride forward or move side to side. Stand on your toes and check for heel lift; ideally, there should be no lifting, or about a quarter-inch or less is acceptable.

Should hiking boots fit tight or loose?

Hiking boots should be tight enough to cradle your foot without restricting movement and without creating uncomfortable pressure. The foot should feel comfortably supported at the center, with a little room for movement at the toe and the heel, where the foot normally moves when walking. Sometimes it is not so obvious when a hiking boot doesn’t fit right during a fitting. So here are the signs that your hiking boots are too tight:

  • If your longest toes crunch up
  • If you feel a pinch around your feet’ widest points or hot spots like on your longest toe, bunion, and at the back of the heel.
  • If you feel some toe pain, especially when going downhill.
  • If you feel sore around your heel.

How much room should be in the toe of a hiking boot?

When you wear your hiking boots with hiking socks, you should be able to wiggle your toes without touching the front of the boot. But also, the space between your longest toe and the front of the boot should not be too much. The comfort of your toes is crucial when hiking. To test how much toe room your hiking boots have, you should use the insoles. Most hiking boots have removable insoles for padding and comfort.

Remove the insole from both shoes and place it on the floor. Put your foot on top of it as if you were wearing the shoe and slightly bend your knee forward. There should be about 15mm or a finger’s width of space between your longest toe and the edge of the insole. This space accommodates swollen toes and also protects your toes from banging on the front of your boots when walking downhill.

How do you know if your hiking boots are too big?

Since hiking boots fit differently from regular shoes, it may be difficult to tell if the fit is too loose or just right for hiking. So your hiking boots are too big when:

  • You lace them up tightly, but your foot still shifts from side to side and forward and back in the boot. Your foot should be comfortably snug apart from around your toes.
  • You develop blisters on your heel since your foot keeps rubbing on your shoe when you walk. A well-fitting hiking boot should hold your heel in place without shifting too much around the heel.
  • You feel toe pain when you walk downhill. Because of gravity, your foot will have too much room in a loose boot and will keep hitting the front of your boot with every step.
  • You don’t get sufficient ankle support even after tying the laces tightly. It could also mean you have slender lower legs; in that case, you have to get a different style of hiking boots.

Conclusion

From the article, you can understand why fit is one of the most important features of a proper hiking boot. The hiking boot should feel comfortably snug, tight enough to hold your foot but enough room for toe movement and comfortable arch support in the middle.