Buying new hiking boots can be a drawn out task that can take multiple shopping trips and lots of wasted online orders. I even managed to get rope burn on my hands from tying up so many pairs of laces when I first shopped for hiking boots! So, knowing how to fit hiking boots will save a great deal of time and effort (and pain!), and will ensure that you get exactly the right boots for your feet and their hiking needs.
To make sure that you have the best hiking boot fitting experience possible, we asked Giulio Piccin, Product Manager at AKU, to share some tips and advice on fitting and choosing hiking boots.
AKU is an Italian company who have over 30 years experience designing and producing high quality footwear for hiking, trekking and outdoor activity. If anyone knows how to fit hiking boots properly, these guys do!
- Why you need to know how to fit hiking boots
- Choose the right hiking boots to try on
- How to fit hiking boots
- How to make your existing hiking boots fit better
Why you need to know how to fit hiking boots
You can get away with regular shoes or sneakers being a half size too big or a little on the narrow side. Put on thick socks, or just make sure you don’t choose to wear those shoes on an active day! But ill-fitting walking and hiking boots is a different matter. “A wrong fitting boot can transform a nice day into a nightmare. It is the most important element of your equipment” says Piccin. “Imagine walking hours with blisters.”
No thanks! Hiking up steep and challenging terrain for hours is tough enough.
Piccin also highlights the importance of well fitting boots from a safety point of view. “If your boot is too loose, for example, and you’re trekking across rocks and climbing, your foot can twist inside the boot and you have an increased risk of slipping.”
Finally, we hate the idea of having to replace hiking boots unnecessarily. Not only are they expensive and time consuming to buy, but it is also super wasteful to ditch a pair of perfectly good boots after only a few uses. Choose a pair that fits great in the first place and you’ll be set for years of safe, comfortable hiking.
Choose the right hiking boots to try on
Unless you have unlimited time on your hands, there’s no way you can try on every boot on the market. It would be a waste of time anyway as not all boot options will be suitable to your feet and your needs.
Buying hiking boots in store
“Be assisted by a professional in a proper technical shop” suggests Piccin. “Advise them about the main activity you intend to do and your skill level. They will help you to find the best option. Always consider the activity you will be undertaking and what you will need; i.e. if you’re looking for stability and protection don’t choose a soft boot with lots of flexibility.”
Finding the right boots to try on will be much more straightforward if you know the answers to the following questions:
- Where will you be hiking most? The Himalayas or your local park?
- What time of year will you be mostly wearing your hiking boots?
- Do you intend to be climbing mountains in them?
- Are you used to wearing hiking boots? If so, what sort of boots do you wear?
“Foot measuring is also very important, both length and width. Every boot brand has its own fit and by measuring your foot the shop assistant can identify the brand/model that is closer to your foot anatomy” advises Piccin.
He also insists on wearing “a proper hiking sock” when fitting hiking boots “as it can significantly modify the volume of your foot.” If you have hiking socks that you know are comfortable, then bring them along when having a boot fitting.
And although it may be tempting, “don’t choose your boot based on colours or trends, but based on feel, let your foot decide” says Piccin. Sound advice.
Buying hiking boots online
If you’re not able to get to a store to try on boots with the assistance of boot fitter, then you’re going to have to do some extra research at home.
First up, read our guide on how to choose hiking boots. This will help you answer the above questions so that you’re headed in the right directions when choosing new boots.
Secondly, order multiple pairs. Yes, this means multiple returns, but it’s really good to compare the differences between ½ sizes, styles and brands.
How to fit hiking boots
So you’ve got a good idea of what sort of hiking boots you need and what the size of your feet are. Now to the really important stuff: how to fit hiking boots.
“Make sure you have the proper volume in the forefoot, a good heel and instep lock, and that there’s enough room between your toes and the toe cap” says Piccin.
How to test if a boot fits your foot well
- 01Put on your usual hiking socks, or a pair that you intend wearing with your boots.
- 02Open up the boots fully and place your feet inside them.
- 03Lace up the boots fully so that the boots are snug, but not too tight.
- 04Kick the ground with the front of your foot until your toes touch the front of your boots.
- 05Put your finger inside your boot between your heel and the back of the boot.
- 06If you can fit in more than one finger then the boots are too big.
- 07If your finger doesn’t fit then the boots are too small.
Boots that fit well
If only one finger fits in comfortably then the boots pass the test. They should feel snug, but not uncomfortable or tight. Hiking boots that fit perfectly should feel “secure with no pressure points” says Piccin.
To further test that there are no pressure points or uncomfortable spots, it’s essential that you walk around on a carpeted floor as much as possible. If you are buying in store then they should have an inclined slope to test your boots on both uphills and downhills. If you are fitting your boots at home then trek up and down the stairs.
Boots that don’t fit well
Although new hiking boots may not instantly feel like slippers, they also shouldn’t feel uncomfortable.
Piccin states that “the uncomfortable feeling can come from specific pressure points.”
Discomfort can be due to the following:
- Squeezed toes
- The upper of the boot bending inward when flexing the forefoot
- Laces pressing directly on the foot
- The collar bending against the Achilles
- A gusset tongue with thick wrinkles
“Discomfort can come also from an unbalanced fit due to lacing that doesn’t hold properly in one area and compresses too much on another” says Piccin.
He also states that “you shouldn’t feel the heel that lifts from the footbed while walking nor any rubbing coming from stitching or wrinkles.”
How to make your existing hiking boots fit better
The advice in this article may have come a little too late for some of you who have already committed to ill-fitting hiking boots, even after trying to break them in. If this sounds like you, then there are a few things you can do to try to remedy the situation before buying new boots.
Piccin gives three tips to help your boots feel more comfortable:
- “If you’d like your boot to be a bit wider, you can ask the local shoe repairing shop to stretch it a bit. The change won’t be radical, but it will help.”
- “As everyone’s feet are unique a way to personalize the fit is through customized orthotics. If you already have your own, remember to always take them with you when you try new boots.”
- “Check regularly the wear of the outsole, as an unbalanced consumption of the rubber can determine a wrong foot gait. On most of the hiking boots the sole can easily be replaced locally.”
A couple more tips from Cool of the Wild:
- Try different socks. If your boots are too big, grab a thick pair. Too tight, then a thinner pair might help.
- Try some different lacing options. If you have tightness or pressure in specific areas, lacing differently can make a big difference. Read our article on how to lace hiking boots for more info.
Thanks to Giulio Piccin, AKU’s Product Manager, for his super useful tips on how to fit hiking boots. For more information on AKU boots check out their website: www.aku.it