Are you wondering how to tell if your hiking boots are too small?
Picture this, you’re in a beautiful part of the country that you’ve been waiting to hike for months. Barely a half-hour through the hike, your feet start to hurt and you can’t bring yourself to continue with the hike.
Can you imagine? Well, that’s what happens when your hiking boots are the wrong fit.
If you’re looking to purchase a pair of hiking boots, it’s so important to make sure they fit. They can be the best hiking boots in the world, but if they don’t fit, you’re going to have a lousy hike.
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How To Tell If Your Hiking Boots Are Too Small?
You can tell if your hiking boots are too small if:
- You feel pressure on your toes from the end of the boot whilst standing straight and walking on a steep downward incline.
- You feel pressure from the top and sides of your foot even when your boot laces are undone. It will feel like the boot is squeezing your foot from both sides.
- Your toes overlap each other, which can lead to bruised toes.
- Your insole is shorter than your feet. Insoles should be at least ½ a centimeter longer than your feet.
- You should have enough wiggle room, an inch in the front and at least a quarter-inch in the back of your boots.
You need be able to tell if your hiking boots fit well before you get them. It’s best to not make this purchase in haste. The process is a little tedious, but it’ll all be worth it when you have the comfiest pair of hiking boots.
Follow the simple guidelines below to make sure your boots are not too small or tight and are a great fit for you!
How to Assess Your Hiking Boots
As hiking involves a variety of conditions, it will place your feet under unique strains compared to walking on even ground, and thus the fit will be quite different from how a shoe fits.
It is likely that the boot, in your shoe size, will not accommodate the length of your foot.
It is probable that you will have to get the boots in one size up.
Also, not all boot brands will fit the same, you will have to try on each pair. So how to tell if hiking boots fit?
Before you’re able to pick out the best fitting hiking boots, you’ll need to consider a few key assessments to tell how your hiking boots should fit you.
1. Assess Your Boot Length
Here is how you can assess if the length of the boot is just right for you.
Firstly, check if your heel fits a finger. Ensure that you can place a finger in the space between the back of the boot and your heel. If you’re unable to fit your finger, it is too small.
Next, check if you’re able to walk on a steep decline. You can do this by applying a great amount of pressure tilting toward the front part of your boot.
Are you able to feel the front of your boot? If you’ve laced up nice and tightly, and you feel pressure at the front of your boot, it is too small for you.
Tip: It would be great if the store you’re at has a ramp or you could borrow one to test out your boots.
As mentioned in the earlier part of this post, insoles should be at least ½ a centimeter longer than your feet.
Test this out by removing the insole of the boot and placing your foot on it, this way, you are able to distinctly estimate if the insole fits well.
The boots will be way too small if your toes extend past the end of the insole. You have to ensure that there is a gap of preferably ½ an inch between the toes and the edge of the insole to be comfortable.
This way of assessing is also applicable for checking the width of the boot.
2. Assess Your Boot Width
Boot width is often overlooked but it is super important as well. The two main aspects to consider are pressure from the sides and the top of the boot and ensuring there are no overlapping toes.
If you can feel even slight pressure from the sides of the boot on your toes and feet, there is a high possibility that as you progress through a hike, the pressure will build up and your feet will be in pain.
If you’re wondering do hiking boots stretch, well yes they do stretch out a little. And it is completely alright if the boot fits snugly, just as long as there is no pressure.
If your toes are crammed against each other and there is no wiggle room, your boot is not wide enough. Your toes will overlap as you’re walking and it can be very uncomfortable and cause blisters.
It’s essential that when you check your fit, your toes can spread out comfortably.
Here is a list of hiking boots for ladies who prefer a wide fit.
3. Assess Your Boot Heel
As hiking terrains can be quite unpredictable with rocks, mud, and slippery slopes, you need to be prepared for it all.
It is essential that the fit of your hiking boots right around the ankles are well as your ankles will need immense support. The best way to make sure of that is by ensuring the heel is fitted snugly.
Your heel should fit nicely without sliding up or down when you’re walking. After lacing up your boot, stand up and check if your heel is lifting off the boot.
It is not bad if there is a bit of slippage initially (about a quarter-inch at best). As you break into your boots, they will usually disappear and start to fit just right after a while.
However, hiking boots are heavily padded around the heel area due to the intensity of use. The padding is meant to secure your heel and fill up extra space.
4. Assess Your Arch
An area that usually is not given much importance when finding the right shoes or boots is the arch.
Not many hiking boots take arch support into consideration, so does arch support truly matter?
Yes, it does, as arch support can improve your sense of balance. You will also prevent aches and pains by providing yourself arch support if you’re flatfooted or high arched.
Firstly, you need to know what type of arch you have. Are your feet flatfooted, normal arched, or highly arched? Find your arch type by doing The Wet Test. Once that is determined, you can get the boot with the right support.
Ensure that the boots you pick fit your arch size as opposed to it fitting just your foot size.
If you are flatfooted, check out this post on the best boots for flat feet.
5. Assess & Modify The Fit
Here’s how to tell if your hiking boots fit or not.
Boot Length: If there is no pressure in the front near your toes, and enough space between the heel and the back of the shoe, you are good.
However, if the boots are tight, there isn’t much you can do to improve the fit except for changing their size.
Boot Width: If the boot feels slightly narrow, with only slight pressure on the sides and your feet are not in pain, you can look into getting a thinner pair of socks.
Also, leather boots will stretch significantly and fit better as you use them, in comparison to synthetic boots.
Boot Heel: If your heel is still slipping after you’ve broken into your shoes, consider trading the existing insoles for aftermarket insoles that will provide extra padding. I recommend using these insoles specifically for heels.
This may help with filling up the excess space around the heels that are making the heel slip.
Lastly, keep in mind that it is much better to find a pair of hiking boots that fit you really well even if the search is going to take a while.
How Should Hiking Boots Fit?
All in all, your boots must fit securely and comfortably at the heel and midfoot and have enough wiggle room in the front for your toes.
The best boots for you will provide support for your feet and ankles, eliminating the chances of long-term injuries, severe pain, and even fatigue.
In order to get the most comfort out of your boots, I recommend wearing them for a few hours every day, for a week or two, before your first hike. This act will break in your boots and give your feet time to adjust to them.
You’ll start noticing how they feel comfortable and supportive after two weeks or so.
What To Do Before Purchasing Hiking Boots?
It isn’t easy to go boot shopping when you have no idea how to buy boots.
However, it is easy to get influenced by sleek designs, pretty colors, and popular brand names. And so, I’m here to help you buy the best hiking boots for your needs.
When boot shopping, there are a few major elements to consider. You need to find a proper fit, at a reasonable price, that will be durable and comfortable throughout all your hikes.
There are so many types of hiking boots, it can be so hard to choose the right pair. Do you get something lightweight, waterproof, or leathered? You can determine the type of boot you need based on its purpose.
1.Decide On The Type Of Hiking Boots You Want
Boots need to be chosen carefully based on the type of hike you’ll be going on and the kind of terrain you’ll be hiking through. For example, if you’re going backpacking through coastal terrain for 6 whole weeks, you’ll need to have backpacking boots.
Backpacking Boots: These types of boots are designed for backpackers, who carry heavy packs for long periods of time.
Backpacking boots are high cut and go around the ankle, providing amazing support. It is durable but with firmer midsoles compared to lightweight boots, great for hiking terrain, but not so much for daily use.
Day Hiking Boots: These boots are designed to support lighter weight, and are intended for day or overnight hikes.
Day hiking boots are usually mid-cut designs and do not provide as much support as backpacking boots. However, they require less time to break-in.
Hiking Shoes: These are excellent for short excursions and daily use, it is low-cut with flexible midsoles, and also great for long journeys that do not need much foot support.
As you go on more hiking adventures and explore different types of hikes, your boot collection will need to expand. You won’t be able to use one boot for all types of hikes.
2.Look For These Desirable Components
How the pair of boots you choose are manufactured is the most important component to look into as it ensures comfort and durability.
Backpacking Boots: For long hiking trips and heavy loads, it is best to get boots full-grain leather boots.
These are great for all kinds of terrain, they provide great support, can withstand abrasions, are durable, and provides protection from extreme weather conditions.
However, it is expensive, takes a few day hikes to break them in, and is not breathable (hello sweaty feet!).
You can also consider Nubuck leather, full-grain leather that looks like suede, these are softer on the eyes.
Day Hiking Boots & Hiking Shoes: For day hikes, overnighters, or short hiking trips, it’s
best to look out for hiking boots that are made from split-grain leather, it is usually
paired with nylon or suede materials.
Boots in these materials are lightweight, breathable, cost less, and don’t take much time to break in. On the flip side, these are not as durable and may need to replace them fast if you use them frequently.
Also, these are rarely ever waterproof unless specifically stated. If you need a pair that’s waterproof look for a waterproof membrane as one of the features.
If you’re against the idea of using animal leather, you can go for vegan leather boots. It is, however, much less durable as it is thinner in texture.
3.Other Elements To Consider
These elements are pretty universal and can be used to assess any type of footwear you want to buy.
- The Fit: As mentioned throughout this post, a proper fit is a must. Try on any type of footwear at the end of the day as your feet swell during the day and you won’t be able to know how to tell if shoes are too small.
- Wear Socks: Using your own seasoned socks will give you a good picture of the fit and feel of the footwear you’re trying out. Ensure that the thickness of the socks used is similar to what you intend to wear with the footwear. Bring your orthotics along if you use one.
- When Shopping Online: If making your purchase online, consider purchasing from a brand you already use or are familiar with. Make sure they have a flexible return policy too.
- Spend Time In Your Boots: Walk around the store for a while and if you can find inclined surfaces to test out.
How Tight Should The Hiking Boots Fit?
Your hiking boots should be tight enough to lock your foot in place, without restricting movement and creating pressure.
Your feet should be comfortably supported through the center, with enough room for movement at the toe and heel, where movement happens naturally when you walk.
Here is how your boot should fit in terms of tightness, by each of these points:
- The Toes
Make sure that there is enough room for movement at the toe. Ensure you are able to move your toes up, down and a little to the sides.
Your toes play a role that is especially important when you’re hiking through various surfaces. The toes’ main function is to provide balance and posture, ensuring that they can perform their duty.
- Middle of Your Foot
Your boot should gently hug the sides of the middle of your foot. You do not want it to be too loose on the sides, as you’ll lose your ankle stability.
But you do not want it to be too snug either, it will be uncomfortable and your feet feel compressed.
Take note that you can adjust the tightness of the sides of your feet to your liking with lacing techniques for hiking boots just as long the sole of the boot is supportive and comfy.
- Top of The Foot
After your boots break-in, you will have a little more vertical space, as you would have created minor depressions in the sole of your boot.
A little tighter at the top, especially when your boots are new is alright, but if your feet start to feel compressed from the top, it’s probably too much.
- The Arch
It may be a little loose in the beginning, with a slight gap between your arch and boot.
Once you’ve broken into your boots, your arch should be more supported compared to when you first wore it on.
- The Heel
Initially, it’s okay for your heel to fit a little loosely, with slight space between the back of your foot and the boot.
Once you’ve broken into your boots, your heel should have firm contact with the back of your boot, however, it shouldn’t feel uneasy or cause any blisters.
- The Ankle
Your ankle should feel the sides of your boots, this applies to your lower legs if you’re using a high-cut pair of boots.
It should be snug, with little to no room for movement, but it shouldn’t be painfully tight. The boot’s purpose is to protect your ankle and absorb any pressure when you fall or sprain your ankle.
If the boot is loose, it won’t be able to provide the support and protection and you may risk injuring your ankle.
What To Do After Getting Hiking Boots?
After you purchase your hiking boots, what do you do? Do you just leave it on the shelf till you need to use it? And how exactly do you care for it after using it? Here’s all you need to know:
- Breaking Into Your Shoes
Even though your boots fit great, they still need time to synchronize with your feet. Enjoy many comfortable hikes with your boots by making time to break into them.
Different types of boots take different periods of time to break in. Hiking shoes or day-hiking boots for lighter use may take just a day to break in or might feel great the second you put them on.
High-cut full-grain leather boots will need more time to ease up and feel comfortable.
You can take these steps to break into your new pair of boots and ensure their comfort before you take them out for a spin on the trail.
- Put on your boots at home every once in a while with the socks and insoles you are going to wear while hiking. Check if it still fits right.
- Take your boots out for many strolls, starting with a short one around the block, building up to spending a day in them running errands.
- Once you’re ready, put on your backpack or daypack and take it on a short hike. Real breaking in takes place on terrain. Gradually increase your pace and weight as your boots feel more comfortable.
- If there are any instructions on breaking in your boots by the manufacturer, try those tips too.
If there are any pain points, take note of it and try modifying your fit by changing your lacing style, wearing a different pair of socks, or adding insoles.
If it still doesn’t feel great, this pair is not for you. The process of breaking in your boots won’t transform a bad fit into a good one.
- How to Care For Your Boots
Here I share with you some basic care tips for your new boot babies.
- Ensure Boots Are Always Dry And Clean
Both leather and synthetic boots will be able to withstand dirt and water on the trail. But it will ruin the outer part of your boot if mud or sand stays on for too long.
Clean your boots with water, hose them down and scrub the outsides with a vegetable brush. Air dry them preferably on a hot day or in a warm room.
But never place it right next to a dryer as direct exposure to heat will crack leather and melt the soles of your boots.
P.S. Remove your insoles after every hike if possible, as they retain moisture, it’ll then become soft, smelly, and a host for bacteria. Just dry them out overnight.
- Keep Your Boots Waterproof
Water will damage leather or nylon hiking boots, you will need to constantly apply waterproofing agents.
I like to use Nickwax’s Fabric and Leather Proof as it’s water-based and easy to apply. You also only need a thin layer and you can apply it on to go.
Reapply the waterproofing agent when you notice that the outer part of your boot is getting damp, whether it’s because of river crossings, rain, or the weather.
P.S. Saltwater will cause metal eyelets to rust, and these are hard to replace unlike some other parts of a boot. If you do happen to get them wet in the ocean, rinse them off as soon as you can.
You can also follow the care tips provided by your boot manufacturer.
How Tight Should Hiking Boots Be?
You need to be able to tell whether your hiking boots fit snugly in all places, but it should not be tight in any way and provide you with enough room to splay out your toes. Ensure you know your boot size and try the boots on at the end of the day, after feet swelling goes down. Wear the boots with the socks you plan to use.
How Do You Know If Boots Are Too Small?
Your boots are too small if when you put on your boots, stand upright, and wiggle your toes, there is no room for your toes and the boots feel too tight on the sides. I suggest walking in the boots for a few minutes.
Is It OK If Hiking Boots Are A Little Big?
Your hiking boots should fit snugly in all places, but be tight in no place and provide you with enough room to splay out your toes. Ensure you know your boot size and try the boots on at the end of the day, after feet swelling goes down. Wear the boots with the socks you plan to use.
How Much Room Should Be At The End Of Hiking Boots?
Use the rule of thumb for the best fit. Have a salesperson or friend check if the space in between the heel and the back end of the boot can fit a finger or two, or as wide as half a full thumb.
When choosing a pair of hiking boots, it’s good if you know how to tell if hiking boots are too small.
We consider so many factors such as brands, styles, quality, and prices. However, the most important factor to consider is the fit.
It does take a bit more effort in comparison to just buying shoes at the store, but it’s better to take the right measures before investing in them and potentially hurting yourself if they do not fit.
You want your boot to fit right to have pleasant and enjoyable hiking experiences. Hopefully, you’ve got all the information you need from this article to find yourself the right fitting hiking boots.
Browse through this post to find yourself the perfect pair of boots under $100.
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