Never let anyone tell you otherwise, choosing your Hiking Boots is a big deal! And part of that choice is finding the perfect fit for your feet. Hiking boots come in all shapes and sizes as do feet and you will likely be wearing them for long stretches at a time.
Hiking boots are also a bit more expensive than your average boots or shoes. Therefore, it is worth spending a bit of time thinking about what you need to look for when looking for your ideal boots!
As an overall guide for choosing a pair of hiking boots, check out this guide on how to choose hiking boots. In this post, I want to expand on this topic a bit further and take a look at some common sense tips you can use to help you find the perfect fit boots for your feet.
Try Hiking Boots on in the Afternoon
A hiking friend told me about this, I thought he was a bit barmy. The reasoning behind this is that your feet will naturally be a bit swollen
in the afternoon from walking most of the day so you will have a more realistic version of your feet size when trying your boots on.
Having queried this in a few places, there is apparently truth in this and your feet will be a bit bigger in the afternoon. It was a new one to me too I have to admit 😉
Wear Your Hiking Socks
Good hiking socks are really important to the overall comfort and fit of your hiking boots or shoes. I mention this a lot but it’s worth adding here again.
When it comes to your hiking boots or shoes, always wear your hiking socks when trying hiking boots for size as your hiking socks are always that bit bigger than standard ones. This will impact the fitting and therefore the comfort of your boots when you try them on.
Similar to socks, if you always wear orthotics or use any kind of foot support on a day-to-day basis, be sure to incorporate them when trying on your hiking boots. They will have a significant impact on your fit and comfort.
This will be obvious I feel to people who actually wear them but it’s worth adding a note in on it all the same. If your orthotics don’t work with standard hiking boots, you can always look to get custom made ones.
The boot should be snug but not tight on your foot. As a general rule, there should be enough space of about a finger width between the top of your toes and the top of your boot. When you push your foot forward in your boots, you should be able to slide a finger between the back of your boot and your foot.
The boots also needs to be wide enough to let your feet move. This is a common one I notice people having issues with if they have wider sized feet. A good way to account for this when buying online is to check out other customer reviews. For a popular boot, you’re bound to see some comments in there on that topic and many boot manufacturers these days offer wide feet options.
Measuring Your Feet
You likely already know your shoe size but it is worth getting your feet measured anyway. Both when you stand and when you sit just in case there are any minor deviations in size, due to more or less pressure on your feet, which could cause discomfort.
Be sure to request this from the sales person if you’re in a shop or do it yourself if buying online. You will also likely be aware of any other sizing nuance your feet may have so be sure to take that into account too.
Note: Keep in mind any common sore points you may have. For example, if you regularly get hot spots and blisters on a certain part of your foot, be sure to factor that in to your fitting and decision making process.
Stand on a Slope in your Hiking Boots
Firstly, face downward. This is of course to imitate standing and facing downwards on a hill or mountainside which you will likely be doing a lot of when you’re hiking. The general rule here is that you don’t want your toes hitting the front of your boots. This could potentially cause a lot of very uncomfortable problems, for your toes and toenails, very quickly and you won’t be able to walk long with pressure like that if it’s the case.
Next, face upwards on the slope. Push your heel up as far as you can. It shouldn’t come up more than 1 cm or 1/2 an inch.
Another useful thing to do, can be to walk up and down steps or stairs in the boots or shoes. This again will give you a feel for some different types and variations of foot movement. Again, the boots should remain comfortable and secure while moving.
Note: If you’re buying in a shop, they should have a slope tool which is made specifically to test this on. If you’re trying them on at home after buying online, standing on any kind of downward slope in your house at about a 45 degree angle should do the trick.
Wear the Boots Inside for a While Before Keeping Them
This is one of the main things I think you need to do regardless of whether you buy boots in a shop or online. Some folks think that you must try a boot on in a shop before you can decide what is best for you, so buying online may not be the best option.
However, if you get your hiking boots in a shop, granted you can do some of the above tests on the spot and you can also walk around the shop a bit to check for any issues like rubbing, tightness, etc., but you can’t walk around the shop all day!
The main thing you need to do is take them home and try them on in your house, with your hiking socks, etc. on and walk around in them for more prolonged periods of time. That’s the only real way you’ll start to get a good feel for them. If you bought in a shop or online, either way, you will be able to send them back for a full refund or credit within a certain period, usually at least 2 to 4 weeks, if you haven’t worn them outside.
This final point is the best gauge you can use to ensure you have the best chance of a winner of a hiking boot on your hands, or should I say feet 😉
I hope you found this short article useful. If you’re buying your first pair of hiking boots and so are completely new to this, these pointers should get you started. Also be sure to check out this article on how to buy a pair of hiking boots and shoes, there’s a wealth of information on what to look for in that.
Remember, that even when you get your new hiking boots home and have worn them comfortable for a while in the house, they still may well not be fully adapted to your feet. So if you get some initial sores when you finally take them out on the trail, you are quite possibly still just breaking the boots in and that can take a while, especially for tougher leather hiking boots.
If you’re a seasoned hiker, it’s always good to go over the basics before settling on a new pair of hiking boots. Also, like the trying the boots on in the afternoon point above, which I only learned recently, there’s always something new to pick up to help with your buying choice.
As mentioned at the start of this post, good hiking boots will cost a bit more money than standard shoes and boots but they are an investment in comfort for the trail and, frankly, you don’t have a choice if you want to hike regularly. Good hiking boots or shoes are simply a must in my opinion.
If you want to get the hunt started for a good pair of hiking boots, check this out to see some of the best boots available on the market today!
Do you have any other tips for finding the perfect fitting hiking boot? I’d love to hear them in the comments below 🙂
I’m an experienced hiker and backpacker and I’ve bought a lot of boots through the years. However, I believe my feet are changing shape and creating fit problems. After five years, I’m in the market for a new pair of boots. I CANNOT find a pair that fit. I have worn a size 7-1/2 consistently for a decade or more. Now in that size I hit the front of the boot. Size eights (1/2 size bigger) are too big; I slip and slide all around inside the boot. I have tried on every single pair of backpacking boot sold by REI and A-16 (I live in Los Angeles) and now am starting to go through the inventory of Eastern Mountain Sports (because they will let you return boots after trying them on the trail). I am at my wits end. I have a backpack coming up and NO BOOTS. Not enough time (or money) to get custom boots. Any words of wisdom?
Hi Beth, I feel for you! That is a tough one. It sounds like you’ve tried everything as you’ve tried so many different types. Working through every backpacking boot in REI is a lot of boots!
My first thought would have been to say that maybe custom hiking boots was the way to go but as you rightly say, they are insanely expensive.
With that ruled out, I do have two long shot suggestions which might be worth a shot.
1. Did you see Mark’s comment below with regards to breaking leather boots in and getting them to mold to your feet by stomping around in them in a bath of luke warm water? It’s a long shot and I’ve never done it personally but it could be worth a go. It sounds like you need to get the boots to mold to the precise nuance of your feet.
Just looking into that trick some more there actually and it’s important that you walk the boots dry too. That would make sense as they should then adapt to your feet as they are moving. So maybe getting a pair of leather boots in size eight, try the bath trick to see if they shrink down a bit to your actual feet size and then walk them dry. You could also try and mix the thickness of the hiking socks your using too to compliment the process when finished.
It’s a risk, as Mark say’s, as there will certainly be no taking the boots back after taking them for a dip in the bath but if you’re at your wits end, it might be worth it.
2. Now I just came across this after looking online but I guess the second option is to stick with the size 7.5 and try and stretch the front of the boot out to hopefully stop you from hitting it. There are 5 stretching options listed here.
I’ve never tried these but they seem plausible and some of them could be used on non-leather boots too. You could maybe try the suggestions out on an old pair of size 7.5 boots you have to see if it makes any noticeable difference. Hopefully no cost involved too.
I’m afraid I can’t think of anything more than those two possibilities and you may have already tried some of them. You have my sympathies, there’s nothing worse than a bad fitting boot on the trail, especially when carrying a heavy pack.
I really hope that these suggestions are of some help to you!
Thanks! I will try stretching the 7.5s and see if that helps.
Great Beth. Please do let me know how you get on.
I’d be curious to know how effective some of the stretching tips at that link are.
Some good advice here Colm. Something I have done myself to break in a pair of boots after buying is to stomp around in a bath or basin of luke warm water to soften them and mold them to the shape of your feet. An old military man told me that and it works well on leather not so sure about the new modern materials. The downside is once you have done this they are yours to keep, no returns after that.
Question: What would you recommend as the best sole to have as I have had some in the past that were downright dangerous on wet rocks?
Thanks Mark, that’s a great tip for leather hiking boots I hadn’t heard before. I think I’ll investigate that more and maybe add it into the hiking tips section of the site, could be a nice addition!
I guess you do run the risk of not being able to take the boots back, after having them in the bath, as you say but you have to commit to them at some point. While you can break your boots in at home to get a good idea that they’ll work well, to be honest, I think they really need to be put through their paces out on the trail to get a real feel for them. So you can’t bring them back at that stage anyway.
With regards to the best sole, I am a fan of Vibram. Before the Winter season started last year I got a new pair of Scarpa hiking boots with Vibram soles. I have found them to be very good for comfort and grip from my experience hiking in them over the Winter. Here’s a link to some options to give you an idea:
However, I feel that no matter what you’re wearing walking over wet rocks with bad moss, etc. you are still prone to a bad slip at any point. Therefore a lot of caution, taking your time and so on must always be exercised.
Thanks for the link that KAILASH GTX boot looks nice.
I hear you in regard to moss on rocks etc. A good walking stick is an essential accessory when walking over this terrain. As you say there is no grip that will be 100% as the moss can give way and allow you to slip anyway.
Another great suggestion Mark, a good walking stick or set of walking poles is a great accessory to have for slippy areas.
I like the KAILASH GTX myself.
OK, so where do I find someone that will custom make a pair for me.
I have been blessed with H width feet. Yup, they don’t come off the shelf in any store.
H width is wider than EEEE. Not feet, flippers.
That’s a really good question. I have looked around and have found the companies listed at the bottom of this comment for custom made hiking boots. They generally seem to operate by sending you out a ‘fit kit’ (I’m sure it’s possible to go to into them in person if you happen to be close to their location). This is a kit you use yourself at home to take your own measurements for the boot. Once you’ve done that, you send it back to the company and the customization process begins.
I am sure there is a lot more back and forth, than just the fit kit, to try and get your preferences precisely marked down. However, not having went through the process myself, I can’t say for certain what happens.
A few things to note from my research. Custom hiking boots are expensive. I can’t give an honest assessment of how fair these prices are as I am not familiar with custom made hiking boots. However, from looking at a few of the offerings below, prices are all in a similarly high bracket so I will assume that it is the norm. However, I recommend more detailed price comparisons between the offerings.
Next thing to note, is that several of the customized brands below have also got good reviews from quite well known hiking publications like ‘Backpacker Magazine’ so again, that should be a good indicator of quality, reliability and good customer service. It’s worth checking these reviews and, of course, customer testimonials which most of the sites seem to have.
It’s also worth noting that I noticed that one or two of the companies below have a backlog. While this means you might have to wait a bit longer for your order, it should be a good indicator that they’re offering quality. I think to be in the business of custom made hiking boots, satisfied customers are a must!
Finally, one caveat I came across with the customization process, is that once you commit past a certain point in the customization process, you can’t go back! From reviewing the offers below though, there is a strong reliance on working with the customer to meet their very specific needs so I don’t necessarily see this as an issue and I’m sure they make it very clear to you as part of the process.
Thanks again for posting this question. I am lucky enough to have standard enough feet so I can get away with standard pairs of boots available in the standard shops. I imagine this is a common problem for many people though so I am thinking I will do much deeper research on the customization process and add a specific post covering it.
I hope this helps you in your search in finding the perfect fitting hiking boot. A good fit is a must to be able to fully experience and enjoy the trail!
The companies I found offering customized hiking boots are listed below:
Update 07/05/14: These links have been moved to this post.
It is always better to invest a little bit more and buy a better pair that will keep your feet comfortable, healthy and free of pain. Other than hiking for enjoyment, pain free feet are very important to good overall health as they enable you to exercise and keep your weight and health in check
I couldn’t agree more Andrew. It’s crucial to take good care of your feet when out on the trail so the right boots are a must.
I agree with you on the general point too, that our feet are vital as they enable us to exercise which in turn keeps us healthy. Whether engaged in hiking or any activity that involves extra strain and stress on your feet, it is always worth investing that bit more money for a good pair of boots or shoes to ensure you keep them healthy and in good shape.
Hi Colm, I must say that I have bought a few pairs of hiking boots in the past, some more successful than others! This looks like some really good information to get a person started and pointed in the right direction when looking for the right boots.
Hi David, that’s great you found the information useful.
Yes, definitely a few handy pointers can help the process of picking the perfect boot. There’s nothing worse that hiking in an unsuitable pair of boots for your feet, will only cause more hassle and, quite likely, pain! Anything that helps you make the right choice from the start can only be a good thing 🙂
Awesome info, i didn’t know the feet get bigger in the afternoon, wow, i agree with you though, its true that the feet seems to get swollen during the day. Thanks for this awesome information.
Great Kelly, glad you found it useful 🙂
Yes it’s a funny one, with regards to your feet getting bigger in the afternoon, when you first think about it but on reflection it makes sense. When you’re sleeping at night you’re lying down so fluid can move relatively easily around your body on an even level. During the day you’re standing so gravity does it’s work and so the fluid can remain in the feet longer and so they swell a bit more. For some people the difference is near non existent but others will notice a real difference. That’s why it’s better to try them on later in the day … No harm to wait till the afternoon just to be on the safe side 🙂