Alright, from part 1 of our hiking boot guide, you now know the different types of hiking boots, as well as the differences in the materials used and how they are put together. Now let’s jump into the most important aspect of choosing a hiking boot – the fit.
Hiking Boot Fit Guide
I have been on too many hiking trips in the past with improper footwear, and let me tell you, this can sabotage a hike faster than just about anything else. Blisters, black toenails, and rolled ankles are the common side effects of an improper fit or of improper footwear on the trail. To minimize these effects, not only do you need to choose the right type of footwear (high-cut boot for rough and uneven terrain hiking, for example), but the fit needs to be as close to perfect as possible.
Before You Shop
To achieve the right boot fit, you need to do a few things before you go to the store or start shopping online. Take a good look at your bare foot. What features do you see? Do you have runners toe (second toe longer than your big toe)? What about your foot’s arch? Is it flat or is it a sharp arch? Do you have a chronic sensitivity in one part of your foot (ie neuroma or plantar fasciitis)? Remember these features or sensitivities when you start trying on shoes.
Measure your feet before shopping. The process of trying on several different shoes will take a lot of time. Having a good idea what your shoe size will be will help narrow down the search. Measure your foot’s length, width (at widest point, usually just behind the toes), and arch height. Below is a good sizing chart to use, with instructions on measuring your feet correctly.
Another great way to measure your feet and have an accurate guess of your shoe size is to use a Brannock Foot Measuring Device (pictured below). If you don’t have access to one, you can do this when you go to the store. If you are shopping online, it might be a good idea to go to a shoe store and use their measuring device to know your measurements.
Finding The Perfect Fit
Now you are ready to head to the store to try on some boots. This is going to take some time. You might get lucky and find the perfect fit on the first pair of shoes you try on, but not likely. So plan for a couple hours of fitting, and make sure you are shopping somewhere that you can ask questions. The first thing you will want to do (if you haven’t at home) is take your measurements on one of those foot measurement things, called Brannock foot measuring devices (pictured above). But remember to do this with the socks that you will be hiking with, along with any other inserts you plan to use (such as a liner or gel sole insert). It’s OK to just measure your feet at home (since you are getting an estimate of your measurements), but when you are actually fitting your boots, you MUST include these other items.
Have a plan when you go to the store. For example, I bring a notebook with me and take notes as I go. This is especially helpful if you are switching between several different brands. Sizes aren’t usually consistent across brands, which can get confusing and hard to remember. While trying on each pair, walk around the store, and if possible, go up and down stairs and up and down inclines. Spend some time in the shoes. Move on if you feel any pinching, squeezing, or discomfort anywhere. Be sure to lace each pair up like you would on the trail. Remember that your toes shouldn’t hit the end of the toe box, especially while coming down the inclines. Adjust the laces to see if that helps.
Here are a few good fitting tips to consider when sizing your hiking boot:
- Your toes should wiggle freely at the end of the boot with your heel against the back of the boot. This ensures that you have the right length.
- Your feet should not slide side to side while walking in the boot. This ensures that you have the proper width.
- The space all around your foot (top, bottom, sides, front, and back) should be snug, remembering that your toes should be able to wiggle freely. This ensures that you have the proper volume.
- If your foot slips around while you are on the trail, you will develop blisters and jam your toenails when going down hill (black toenails). The fit should be snug, but not squeezing your foot at any point.
Try on several different pairs, and don’t settle on a pair because they look cool, fit your budget, or because the sales rep likes them the best. You are looking for the perfect fit, and that is the most important reason to choose one boot over another. Sure, if you are looking for a full-grain leather boot over a synthetic boot, or low-cut over high-cut boots, those are important considerations as well. So to narrow down your choices, only try on boots of the specific type you are looking for rather than every boot in the store. This will prevent you from choosing a boot for any other reason other than the fit.
Narrow Your Options
After you have tested several pairs of shoes in the store, make a list of 3 or 4 pairs that could be winners based on the fit. Once you have that list, you can narrow down your list based on the features you like from the boots on your list and based on your budget. Just make sure you aren’t sacrificing fit and comfort for anything else, especially for something that is purely cosmetic. You’re not walking down the runway of a fashion show. Comfort is key.
When you decide on a pair, be sure to wear them at home for several hours. Walk around your home (keep them clean, of course, so you don’t mess them up so much that the store won’t allow a return). Make sure after a day or two that they are still the most comfortable they can be. If not, don’t hesitate to take them back and try a different pair. Let me reiterate that point again – don’t hesitate to take them back and try a different pair if they don’t fit perfectly. This is really important.
What if you are not fond of shopping in stores? Buying hiking boots online is a little bit more complex than buying any other pair of shoes online, especially since the fit needs to be as close to perfect as possible. But it can be done. What I recommend is taking exact measurements of your feet. Be sure to shop with retailers that allow returns, and purchase a few pairs that are close to your measurements to try out. Wear them around for several hours until you find the pair that fits you the best. Don’t be afraid to send a pair back and request a different size. Remember, the key is to find the best fit possible.
Another tip for online shoppers is to stick with a brand you have used and liked in the past, as many brands will have consistent sizing between models. If all else fails, have your foot measured at a local shoe store, and use those measurements in your online shopping. I have even tried on hiking boots at my local outdoor shop (which has very high prices) to find the boot and size I like, and then found the same boot online for much less.
The Bottom Line
“Be good to your feet and your feet will be good to you.” Remember this saying as you go about finding the hiking boot that best fits your hiking needs. It is not uncommon to have tired feet after a long, rough hike. But a good pair of hiking boots will make it so you spend more time enjoying the hike, nature, and your friends and family than you do noticing the aches and pains on your feet.
This wraps up our two part hiking boot guide. This guide will be made available in the form of a free downloadable E-book, so keep an eye out for it. What did we miss? What has helped you find your perfect pair of hiking boots? Any suggestions for our readers? Please feel free to leave feedback or ask questions in the comment section below. Happy trails!