Beginner's Guide to Walking Boots - Fitting
Work in progress....do not distribute.
Walking boots and shoes are easily the most important bit of walking or trekking gear to get right, and certainly the hardest bit of kit to fit correctly, given that unless you're a footwear abuser you're unlikely to have to do it very much (unlike putting on a jaket or trousers!) However, when you find a pair of boots which fit do properly, it’s a joyous feeling indeed.
In this beginner’s guide we’ll cover the basics of boot-fitting and the things to look for to try and help ensure you’ve got the best size. In part 2 (coming soon) we’ll look at some ways to improve your fit and make the most of your boots.
Disclaimer: If you’re in any doubt as to whether your boots fit then we always recommend that you seek professional advice in the flesh at a decent local outdoor store. Also please bear in mind that this is a general guide and certainly non-exhaustive!
Why is it so important to get it right?
A poor fitting waterproof or fleece can cause some discomfort either through too tight a fit, or too much fabric under the arms, but it’s more of an inconvenience than anything. Walking boots on the other hand support and protect your feet from rough terrain, moisture and the impact strikes made by walking - which is a surprising amount of force, especially if you’ve got a heavy pack on – that travel from your feet, up your legs via the knees and hips and then up your spine.
The biggest and most immediate danger of an ill-fitting boot is blisters, which are usually caused by a combination of moisture and friction (i.e. sweat and rubbing). Now we can’t stop you sweating but we can minimise friction. Of course ill-fitting boots can also cause longer term, and more permanent problems.
At the very least they'll spoil your day, and if you'd planned to do more than one day then you'll probably contemplate cutting your feet off.
Selecting a size - or how I learned to keep an open mind!
Most people’s feet are slightly different sizes and shapes, and most manufacturers’ boots also vary in last (internal shape) between each other, and often between styles. Just because you take a size 9 in Hush Puppies, does not mean you’ll be a size 9 in Merrell. In short, treat each boot as its own animal.
Always choose sizes with an open mind! Sizes are only numbers; the fit is what’s important. Use your current shoes size as a guide, not a limitation. I usually wear EU 41, so that’s always the first size I ask for, but then I’ll adjust up or down depending on fit.
Remember, you may want to have size 4 feet, but if a size 6 boot fits...wear it!
If you haven’t had your feet measured in a while then take your current size with a pinch of salt. Over time gravity and aging will change a foot's size, width and shape. Be prepared to find that the exact same boots you bought 15 years ago may not fit this time.
- Always wear the same socks (or at least a similar thickness) as you will when using them on the out and about. There’s no point fitting a pair of winter mountain boots in thin cotton socks. It’s a good time to invest in some socks if yours are getting old.
- If you have orthotics or corrective insoles then make sure you put them in. Do bear in mind that some insoles can damage waterproof linings, although you’ll need to check this with your podiatrist.
- Your feet swell over the day, especially in warm weather. Ideally try boots in the afternoon (or evenings if at home)
- Most shops offer a ‘home trial’…make sure you use it for as long as it takes make a firm decision, although do not wear them outside, or scuff/dirty/waterproof them before you’re 100% happy with the fit!
- Over time boots will ‘mould’ themselves to your foot-shape thanks to body heat, and internal volume can often change a fair amount. Be aware of this when attempting to replace a pair like-for-like, or buying second hand boots!
- Remember to check both feet, and usually buy for the bigger the foot.
Fitting a boot
Put the boots on
Ideally you need a second person for this, and although it can be done solo it is much less accurate.
- Loosen all the laces so they’re not tight, and pull the tongue forwards so the boot is as open as possible.
- Put your feet in the boots and press your toes so they touch (but are not pressed hard) the front of the boot.
- Stand naturally with relaxed legs and try and get your buddy to try and slide a finger between your heel and the back of the boot.
So what am I looking for?
If you have a finger width at the back, when tightened you should have at least a finger-width at the front. This should prevent you stubbing your toes and losing your toe nails! So the theory goes like this:
- If you can’t get a finger down the back at all, try at least size up and repeat.
- If you can get a finger down the back but it’s tight, try at least ½ a size up and repeat.
- If you can easily get a finger down the back, but there’s not much extra space, you’re probably in the right ball park – proceed to next step!
- If you can get a finger down the back but there’s a little bit of extra space try ½ size down. (Or possibly use volume adjusters or extra socks)
- If you can get two fingers down the back, try a size down and repeat.
As mentioned, everyone’s feet are slightly different, so fit for the larger foot. You can make the inside of a boot ‘smaller’ (adjust the volume), but you really can’t add more space!
Do them up and take a walk
Once you’ve found a nice length, do the boots up properly - when I used to work in a shop it always surprised me how many people didn’t do their laces up properly and then complained their feet were slipping around - and take a walk around (remember to stay inside if you want to return them) and ask yourself the following.
- Do my heels slip around or up and down?
- Is it uncomfortable along Achilles’ tendon?
- Is there pain around the cuff of the boot?
- Is their pain or discomfort down the tongue?
- Does the width feel comfortable? (I.e. is it pinching, or does it feel sloppy?)
- Are any/all of my toes touching the front of the boot?
- Can I easily wiggle my toes?
- Do my feet move around inside the boot at all?
- Is there uncomfortable pressure across the top of my feet where my toes bend from boot fabric being forced into them?
Find a slope or incline or roughly 30°-40 ° and stand facing down
- Do my toes slip forwards and hit the front of the boot?
Try ‘bouncing’ your body so your feet have some forces exerted on them, then ask yourself the same question.
Turn around and walk up the slope naturally.
- Do my heels noticeably lift off the insole? (This will cause blisters pretty fast!)
Gently, but firmly kick a solid object (don’t mark the wall or boots though), which’ll mimic stubbing your toe.
- Did I feel my toes touch the end?
If you answered ‘yes’ to any of these questions then the boot’s not a perfect fit, although a few of the above issues can be fixed, so long as they’re hardly noticeable.
If you answered ‘no’ to all the above, congratulations, you’ve probably just found a great pair of companions. Read our footwear cleaning guide and remember to take care of them!
Try the following fixes, but each time you do remember to check the list again. If you try a size down to fix width for instance, bear in mind that it may well end up making the boots too short and cause new problems! Be prepared to spend time trying and tweaking boots, if you want help in a shop, allow as much time as possible to avoid rushing, I have spent upwards of 2 hours fitting boots, to discover there’s nothing in store/in stock that fits properly.
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|Slight heel slippage?||Ensure your boots are laced correctly. Try a different lacing method (see below). Bear in mind that it only works for small amounts of slippage, if your heel doesn’t feel supported then try another style of boot; your feet aren’t the right shape for your current one.|
|Major heel slippage?||Ensure your boots are laced correctly. Try a smaller size. Try a different style.|
|Achilles rubbing?||Try another style of boot.|
|Toes touching the front?||Ensure your boots are laced correctly. If it still slips then try a larger size and repeat process.|
|Pain/discomfort around cuff?||Often a problem with people new to boots. Sometimes this will naturally disappear as your feet get used to the new support, other times it won’t, sorry! Keep wearing the boots around home/shop for longer, you’ll know whether it’ll be a permanent problem fairly fast.|
|Pain/discomfort along tongue?||Untie laces and make sure tongue is correctly aligned. Retie laces and see if problem still occurs. Over tightening of laces can cause this, laces should keep foot ‘locked’ in place, but you don’t want them cutting off your circulation! If tongue still causes pain try a different style.|
|Width too tight?||A specialist can ‘stretch’ boots out and provide extra space, but this is usually reserved for people who always have a problem with width, or bunions. If you don’t, try either a larger size, or a different style.|
|Width too loose?||Try tightening laces a bit, using a pair of volume adjusters or a pair of liner socks (if you want)…otherwise try a different style. Boots will stretch and ‘bed in’ over time, but they’ll never usually get smaller!|
|Can’t wiggle toes?||If no, you need to try a different style, there’s no other fix.|
|Feet move around?|
If they move around slightly then make sure laces are tightened correctly. Try a volume adjuster or a pair of liner socks (if you aren’t already).
If they move around a lot try a smaller size (always remember to check the length though, or else you’ll be swapping one problem for another), or a new style.
|Boot upper presses into toes when walking and causes pain?||Unfortunately the boot is designed to bend in a slightly different place to your foot. If everything else is fine then try a new style of boots.|
|Toes hit front of boot when facing down slope?||Ensure lacing is correct. Try a larger size.|
|Feet slip when facing down hill (toes do not touch)?||Ensure lacing is correct. Try a smaller size.|
|Heel/s lifts when going up hill?||Ensure lacing is correct. Try an ‘alternate lacing’ method. Try a different size/style.|
|Toes hit from of boot when ‘stubbing’ toe?||Ensure laces are correctly tightened. Try a slightly larger size. Try a different style.|
The feeling we’re aiming for is for your feet to feel supported and ‘held’ all over, but with no excess pressure anywhere, and no movement anywhere along the length of the boot. You’ll often have to try on several pairs if it’s your first go at buying a pair of walking boots, but once you get a pair which fit, you’ll see what we mean!