If you buy a new pair of shoes for work or for a special occasion, you probably don’t mind too much if they’re a little loose or tight. A pinch here, a gap there, it doesn’t really matter as long as they look the part.
After all, you’re not going to be moving much and will remove them the first chance you get.
But with hiking footwear, it’s a different story. When you buy a new pair of hiking shoes or boots, they need to fit perfectly, lest you spend the next few months nursing blisters and cursing your poor choices.
This is your guide to how hiking boots should fit and how you can check they’re the right size for you.
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How to Check if Hiking Boots Fit
Spend some time with your hiking boots to make sure they fit. Whether you’ve just bought some new boots online or you’re trying some boots from a store shelf, always check the following:
Hiking Boot Length
Leave the hiking boot unlaced and slide your foot inside until your toes touch the end. Ask a friend to check how much room you have between your heel and the back of the boot. If the hiking boots fit properly, they should be able to squeeze roughly one finger between the boot and your heel. If they can’t get any fingers inside, it’s too tight; if they can get multiple fingers behind your heel, it’s too loose.
Hiking Boot Width
Once you lace up the boots, that heel gap will shorten and the length should be perfect, albeit still slightly on the large size.
The next step is to check the width.
Try rocking from side to side. If the sides of your feet aren’t snug against the sides of the boot, you may need a narrower fit. If the boots are digging into your feet, they are too tight.
Hiking Boot Fit with Socks
Socks can make a big difference, especially with hiking boots. The socks you wear to hike are probably much thicker than the ones you wear the rest of the time. So, if you’re trying hiking boots, wear your hiking socks.
If the boots fit snug, thick wool socks will make for a tight and uncomfortable fit. You could try wearing thinner socks, but if you’re trying to accommodate your new boots it means they’re probably not right for you.
Hiking Boot Heel Fit
Does your heel lift forward when you walk? Your heel should be locked in position when you walk. A little heel lift is normal, but it should be so minor that it’s more or less imperceptible. If you can feel your heel lifting off the sole of the boot, it’s not a good fit.
Hiking Boot Fit While Walking
After performing the above steps, it’s time to take some actual steps!
Check that your hiking boots are laced up, make sure you’re wearing your hiking socks, and start walking.
It’s normal for them to feel a little odd at first, but it’s not normal for them to pinch and nip. Pay attention to how they feel against your heel, toes, and the sides of your feet. Do you have good arch support? Are your feet loose and sliding around?
If you have already been on the hiking trail or walking/running around all day, then save your fit for the end of the day when your feet have swollen a little.
Should You Buy A Size Bigger In Hiking Shoes?
Usually, your hiking shoes or hiking boots will be a half-size bigger than your normal shoe size. As noted above, they shouldn’t be too loose, but that half-size will be filled by thick socks and what remains will accommodate swollen feet.
Should I Buy Hiking Boots Online?
One of the problems with buying hiking boots online is that you can’t try them. You won’t know how well they fit with and without socks, nor will you know how they feel when you walk around in them.
But that doesn’t mean you must always buy hiking boots from your local store.
Check the measurements and read the reviews—gauge how customers are responding and whether they are complaining that the boots are too tight, too loose, etc.
Stick with retailers that have good return policies. And by “good” we don’t just mean a half-hearted promise of “easy returns”, as most companies promise this and then drag you through a complicated process that charges you for shipping and then hits you with a restocking fee.
The returns process should be easy, quick, and free. If it’s not, look elsewhere.
Should Hiking Boots Be Loose Or Tight?
Ill-fitting boots are never a good idea, but loose is better than tight if you’re heading out on a long hiking trip.
After a while, your feet may start to swell so it helps to have a little extra room. By wearing thick socks when trying your boots, you’re giving yourself some options if you need them to be a little looser or tighter.
If you’re planning a long summer hike, wear thinner socks and your feet will gradually fill that extra space. If you’re going on a short and cold winter hike, layer up or buy some thicker socks.
You should never buy a size too small. Not only will they always feel much smaller than intended, but as soon as you start hiking and your feet begin to swell, they’ll get smaller and smaller and will begin to cause you problems.
Summary: Getting The Right Hiking Boots to Fit Your Feet Perfectly
When shopping for new hiking boots, don’t be afraid to try on multiple pairs. Take your time, as it’s an investment that will take you over dozens and even hundreds of miles, and if you buy boots that are too loose or too tight, you’ll wince with every step.
There are some minor adjustments you can make by changing the thickness of your socks, switching the laces, and adding aftermarket insoles, but for the most part, that initial fit needs to be perfect if those boots are going to work for you.