It’s always exciting when you get a new pair of hiking boots. But improperly sized boots can lead to blisters, bruises, and foot cramps. So, how should hiking boots fit? In a word, snugly. Just remember, hiking boots take some time to adapt to new feet. If you put on some fresh hiking footwear and something feels off, don’t hit the panic button right away.
Our feet are unique, and each boot type is as well. In this guide, I’ll help you determine if what you’re feeling is normal until you break in your boots, or if you should consider returning them. You’ll also discover a few small tips and adjustments that can make a world of difference.
How Should Hiking Boots Fit?
Whether it's a short day hike or a multi-day hiking adventure, hiking boots should always feel sturdy. They should cradle the shape of your feet, blunt the impact of rough hiking terrain, and provide durable performance. We can break it down even further by focusing on different parts of the hiking boot.
How Hiking Boots Should Fit At The Toe
You should have enough extra space to touch the roof of your boot with an upturned toe. If your toes touch or are pressed against the front of the boot, they’re too tight. However, if your toes have so much room that you have to press them down to keep a grip inside your boots, they’re too big.
How Hiking Boots Should Fit At The Heel
Heel hold is likely the most important part of a hiking boot fit. The boot heel should firmly grab your foot and hold it in place. You should feel a solid connection between the boot and the left, right, and back of your heel. Your heel should move with the boot; any extra heel movement or rubbing will lead to blisters.
How Wide Should Your Hiking Boots Be?
Similar to the heel feel, you should feel your boots holding the sides of your feet. If there’s a bit of space between the edge of your foot and the boot side, you’ll slide around and get nasty blisters. If you start getting pins and needles on the side of your feet, the boots are too tight, and you should consider getting a larger size.
2 Quick Methods For Knowing Your Hiking Boot Size
If you don’t have access to sizing or measuring tools, use these quick tests to determine whether the boots are a good fit for hiking adventures.
1. The One-Finger Test
Put your hiking boots on (without lacing them) and shove your foot forward. Ideally, you want your big toe to touch the tip of the boot. Now, take a free index finger and run it around the back of your heel.
You should have enough room for one finger to trace a line around your heel. If you can't get your finger in there, your hiking shoe may be too tight. If you can circle your finger around without impacting anything, the boots may be too big.
2. Stand In Your Insoles
Take the pair of insoles out of your boots and place them on a flat surface. Then, position your foot within them. Put your heel firmly in the heel cup of the insoles. Look for signs of sizing issues, like your foot width spilling over the sides of the insoles.
Additionally, look for a gap between your big toe and the end of the insoles. If there’s no gap, your toes will be smushed inside the boots. Keep in mind that generic factory insoles don't always offer the best support.
If you know you have specific foot issues, make sure to add performance insoles to the mix that address your unique foot shape.
6 Tips To Get the Right Hiking Boot Fit
Use the tips below to zero in on the best hiking boot fit.
1. Consider The Profile Of Your Feet
Do you have plantar fasciitis? Splayed toes? Do you use arch support insoles? Your unique foot profile provides invaluable insight into which hiking boots will fit better. For example, if you have wide toes, look for wider boots with large toe boxes, like Keens. Vasques, by contrast, have a narrower shape.
2. Lace Them Up Properly
Don’t just step into your boots; pull the tongue out, slip your foot in, and then lace them up properly. Why? The more you retain the shape of the boots, the quicker you’ll know if they’re the right size.
Constantly stepping into your boots collapses the heel, which distorts the shape. Too much distortion and you’ll have fitting issues no matter what you try.
3. Use Custom Insoles
If you are a hiker with flat feet or collapsed arches, you’ll want orthopedic insoles. Remember, the generic market insoles that come with your boot won’t address your specific foot needs. Take the included insoles out, and slip in an insole that works for your feet before judging the fit.
While orthopedic insoles are the best, they are also the most expensive. If you need a little fix, like a firmer insole or more arch support, there are over-the-counter insoles that work well.
4. Choose Your Socks Wisely
Socks can cement the grip your boots have on your feet, or they can create blisters and foot cramps. Trying to make up room in a boot by wearing thick socks obscures sizing problems. Opt for thinner socks, preferably a pair of good-quality polyester or wool socks. Stay away from thick cotton socks.
If you have circulation issues and are convinced you need thicker socks, try adding liners to the mix. A good liner and hiking sock combination can do wonders. Additionally, look for moisture-wicking material. Your feet will likely sweat while hiking, and walking around in wet socks can give you big blisters.
5. Go For A Short Hike
Take a short walk on a hiking trail, roughly a mile in length. But make sure to include some ups and downs. On each section, pay attention to what your foot is doing inside your boot.
If it’s sliding around, that’s a sign that your boots are too loose. If your toes are hitting the front of your boots on the downhill portions without the rest of your foot sliding, they may be too tight.
6. Remember The Break-in Period!
It’s ok to have a quarter-inch to half-inch slippage in your heel when you first try on hiking shoes. As the shoe adjusts to your foot, the foam inside the boot will form to your heel. When it does, the shoe will hold your foot better.
Similarly, if you try a pair of boots and they feel a bit tight, try walking in them for a while. As the pressure of your foot impacts the inside of the shoe, the material will depress, giving your foot more space.
However, if you’ve been walking around for a week and you still feel obvious pain, the boots are the wrong size.
Hiking Boots vs. Hiking Shoes
For the purpose of this article, “hiking boots” is an umbrella term meant to cover all hiking footwear. However, once you dive into individual activities and styles, you’ll find there’s quite a bit of variety.
Heavy hiking boots or winter hiking boots are great for rugged terrain but will weigh a lot. A pair of hiking shoes are light and easy to slip on but won’t have a lot of arch or ankle support. It’s important to match your actual hiking activity with the style of boot or shoe that you buy.
Generally, trail runners and long-distance hikers will prefer trail shoes. Backcountry explorers and mountaineers will likely gravitate toward more durable hiking boots.
Having hiking shoes or boots that fit comfortably is absolutely essential for long days out on the trail. Because of the unique size of your foot, the ideal style or model may not be the same for others. But just because a boot doesn’t fit right away doesn’t mean you need to return it.
Make sure to lace up your boots properly, fit preferred insoles into them, and remember the break-in period. Additionally, make your life easier by choosing a good pair of moisture-wicking hiking socks to wear. Thicker socks can obscure the true fit of a pair of hiking boots. The best hiking boots are both snug and sturdy, especially around your heels.
*The information on this site is based on research and first-hand experience but should not be treated as medical advice. Before beginning any new activity, we recommend consulting with a physician, nutritionist or other relevant professional healthcare provider.