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Boot Fitting Guide

By Brian Hewitt - June 12th, 2003

Try it on!
When your footwear arrives, try it on as soon as possible. Be sure to wear the right socks. For the first try-on (especially with boots), take the time to remove the laces entirely and re-lace, making sure to snug the laces through each eyelet. When your boots are laced completely there should be no slack in the laces near the toe area. Be careful not to over-tighten! Once the shoes or boots are laced properly, take a short jaunt around your living room. (Don't go outside yet!) Here are some things to keep in mind about fit:

Evening is best
Afternoon or evening is the best time to try on your new footwear, since your feet generally swell throughout the day. If your brand new boots fit perfectly first thing in the morning, they may be too tight by the time afternoon rolls around. After you've determined a proper fit in the afternoon/evening, you should also make sure your boots fit OK first thing the next morning.

Toe Room
Toe room prevents your toes from banging into the front of the boot when going downhill, and allows for natural foot swelling. Ideally, you want a snug fit through the ankle, heel, and forefoot, and plenty of toe room. (Trail running shoes offer a closer 'performance' fit in the toe area, so they normally have less toe room.) To see if you have enough room, slide your foot forward so your toes are touching the front of the unlaced boot. In this position, you should have a finger's width behind your heel.

If your heel is loose, try tightening the laces in the area near the bend of the ankle. If you are trying on a low-top shoe this means the laces at the very top-two eyelets. In a boot, tighten this exact same area, directly at the ankle-bend. If you have a 'chronic' loose heel, please see our Advanced fitting tips.

If you notice too much pressure over your instep (the top of your foot near your ankle), try completely skipping one set of eyelets with the laces, directly over the affected area. One drawback to be aware of: you may experience a looser heel with shoes laced this way. Skipping one set of eyelets is illustrated in our Advanced fitting tips.

Wide Forefoot (ball)
People with wide feet (in a boot that is too narrow) often feel slight pain or numbness at the ball of the foot. To fix this, first try loosening the laces (in the affected area only). If this doesn't work you may need to try a thinner insole, which will give your feet more room. Also, check out the boot-freezing trick for Extra W-i-d-e feet in Advanced fitting tips by clicking here.

Narrow Forefoot (ball)
People with narrow feet (in a boot that is too wide) can try two things: Tightening up the laces often works, but once the boots have stretched slightly you may run out of room for more lace tightening. This is where a thicker after-market insole will help take up excess space. Try a flat (arch-less) insole for this purpose, and put it underneath the removable arch insole that came with the boot. If your narrow foot is causing heel slippage, see the Runner's Knot in our Advanced fitting tips.

Pressure on top of toes
If, after you take a few steps in your living room, you find the boots creasing abnormally and digging into the tops of your toes, you may have a boot that is too wide, too long, or has too much interior volume for your foot. Thicker insoles may help, or you can try a 'Rubbing Bar.' You can view information on the Rubbing Bar in our Advanced fitting tips.

Too tight at the top of the boot
If you're not used to wearing hiking boots, the tops of the boots may feel restrictive on your lower shins, just above the ankles. Generally this discomfort goes away after break-in. During the break-in process you can skip lacing the top set of eyelets, so the laces don't come up as high on your lower shin. This also allows for more forward flex while you walk.

Walk on the Wild Side

So, after a few adjustments, everything checks out OK. Your new boots feel great. It's time to take a test walk outside. Ideally you should stick to a moderate walk somewhere around your neighborhood. If possible, try to incorporate some hills into your test walk. If no hills are available, try to find some stairs to climb and descend. Bring along a small daypack containing a pair of comfortable shoes to change into if need be.

Things went fine on your neighborhood test walk? Great! Now try an actual day hike, bringing your familiar comfortable shoes or boots along for the ride, just in case.

Love Doesn't Have to Hurt
An estimated 63% of Americans live with constant minor foot pain. Roughly 50% of these people think that this pain is 'normal.' Also, an international study done by the American Podiatry Association found that 74% of people raised in shoe-wearing cultures have ongoing foot problems, while only 3% of people raised in non-shoe-wearing cultures experience foot troubles. The APA determined that the problems arise not from the actual wearing of shoes, but from being improperly fit in shoes over the course of many years. With all of this in mind, don't settle for an improper fit.

Advanced fitting tips

Loose Heel, Narrow Foot
The Runner's Knot can eliminate heel slippage in most cases. Follow the diagram exactly. Be sure to snug the slack out of all the loops in the hitch before giving it your preferred tightening tension (Important! Pull down toward the ground to remove slack. Then pull up, and cross the laces to get your preferred tightening tension. Finish lacing the eyelets in normal fashion.) This knot may present problems for hikers with a 'high instep' by putting too much pressure on the top of the foot. See the Instep Hitch below if you have a high instep.

High Instep
The Instep Hitch is a great lacing variation for hikers with a high instep. This hitch involves skipping one or more eyelets over the affected area. As with all special hitches, follow the diagram closely. Note the added Runner's Knot (see previous illustration) placed above the instep hitch. The runner's knot may be necessary in this instance to compensate for a loose heel caused by skipping eyelets.

All-around Custom Lacing
The Surgeon's Knot is great to use with all sorts of lacing techniques. The knot involves crossing the lace three times (as shown). This knot is best used as a 'lock,' when you need one section of your laces tighter (or looser) than another. Example: For wide feet leave the lower laces loose for more room, apply a surgeon's knot to the eyelets near the bend of your ankle, and tighten the laces in the upper eyelets. This knot has many other uses; how creative can you get?

Battling the Bulge
A Rubbing bar takes aim (see right). Bunions, prominent metatarsal heads, heel spurs, and other foot complications can limit your chance for a good fit. Don't despair. You can take customization into your own hands with the following technique: Find a stout chair with small-diameter legs. Turn this chair over. You now have a make-shift version of what professional boot fitters call a 'rubbing bar.' With the laces removed, place your boot upside down over one of the chair legs sticking up. Use the end of the chair leg to 'rub' a bulge into the required area, thus making room for protruding bulges of your foot. If there are sharp edges on the end your upside-down chair leg, cover this area with several layers of duct tape to avoid cutting the boot lining. Wet the leather to make stretching easier. Once you've successfully customized your boots using this technique, wear them for a few hours.

Extra W-i-d-e Feet
Freeze them. The boots that is. Take two puncture-free produce bags commonly found in a grocery store. Place one bag inside the other. Stuff these doubled-up bags down into your boot, as if you were trying to line the boot with the bags. Lace the boots up with a lacing tension similar to what you would use if your feet were in them. Now carefully add water to the produce bag. Avoid getting water in the boot lining. When the bag contains enough water to fill the entire boot area below the ankle, securely tie off the top of the bag using several wire twist-ties. Now pop the whole set-up -- boot, bags, and water -- into the freezer, where the liquid will solidify overnight and expand. This expansion is your widening tool; you can imagine what this does to the forefoot of your boot. Viola! Your D width is now an E. If you need to drastically widen the boots, use this procedure in multiple stages, using new bags for each width stage.

All about socks Socks play an important role in keeping your feet comfortable, especially with new footwear.

New Boots? Get New Socks

Your new boots will serve you best with new socks; new socks provide extra padding that is crucial to prevent blisters during break-in.

Salty Old Sock Stories
Salt from your sweat is corrosive, and very abrasive. Over time this salt breaks down the fibers of your socks, causing them to thin out, lose their padding, and restrict their ability to wick moisture. Old socks therefore cause more blisters and general discomfort. Old, less absorbent socks also allow more salt to prematurely wear out your boots.

Sock Construction: Then vs. Now

For decades wool was the preferred choice for hiking, skiing, or mountaineering socks, and for good reason: it was the best material available. But technology and materials improve; these days the best choices for sock materials are synthetics. These new materials last longer, provide superior fit, and are much better at dealing with moisture than wool.

Liner Socks: Still a Good Thing

Liner socks are recommended with wool socks; they are less abrasive against the skin than wool, and the thin, extra layer acts as a buffer to reduce friction. Abrasion and friction is not as noticeable with synthetic socks; however, there are still several good reasons to keep those liner socks in action: (1) Liner socks can cure some 'problem fits,' especially those caused by narrow feet.(2) Liner socks are part of a two-layer system, which is an excellent way to deal with lots of moisture.(3) Liner socks can also be used on long trips when you want to take along a minimum number of socks: use fresh liner socks each day and carry fewer outer socks. Liner socks save your outer socks from the ravages of sweat and oils, and liner socks are easier to wash and quicker to dry than outer socks.

Wearing socks: A Few Wrinkles
When wearing hiking socks here are a few pointers to keep in mind: Never wear your socks inside out, or you may experience discomfort from the seams. The seams of hiking socks were designed and constructed to be on the inside. Make sure there are no wrinkles in your socks when you put your boots on. This is especially important when using liner socks. Ideally the entire surface area of your socks should be smooth and wrinkle free. Wrinkles and bunching can cause blisters and hot spots.


Ready to shop around. Check out the selection of hiking shoes and boots at The


Need help deciding on boots...

Im actually looking at this particular pair of work boots, not hiking. Ive tried them on a couple times in the store, they fit perfectly, even an entire size smaller than my normal sneaker size fits nice n snug and is wide enough for my feet.
The question I have is, there is a lot of verticle room in the toe box area(width is perfect), this alone shouldnt be a problem right?

The smallest size which fit nice n snug but not too tight all around had one problem area, because of this high verticle toebox, it would crease sharply when rolling my foot taking a normal step, and I could feel this crease dig into top of foot right above toes.

Will this part break in over time and conform more to the top of my foot? Or should I just get the next size up(which felt too big in many areas but the creases never touched foot)
Its a leather type material, waterproof.

Posted on April 28, 2012 - 3:00pm
by Jason

Great article!

I'm going to try the frozen boot trick to try to widen some shoes as I have extra wide feet.

Posted on March 10, 2012 - 8:40am
by Larry

boots for 10 yr. old son

My son Zane, is in Boy Scouts and needs some type of hiking boots. Simple? Zane was born with a tethered spinal cord, that was repaired at birth and again twice there after. 14 surgery's on his foot have him wearing a AFO on one side and a slight amount of tripod on the other. He does wear a 4 on one side and 4.5 on the AFO side. He either needs a 5/8 lift or reduction in the foot box of the other. I little of both would be great as he is 10 and is becoming self conscious of the shoe issues. Like I said not so easy, but hopefully you have some suggestions that will allow him to hike 5-10 miles and not break us financially. Thank you in advance for any help you can give. Kent Kampton (925)382.6560

Posted on March 29, 2010 - 4:19pm
by Visitor

boot fitting

Liked your advice. Want to find out how to do Runners Knot and Surgeon's knot, but couldn't find a link on your site. Where?

Posted on January 18, 2010 - 2:25pm
by Visitor

hiking boot fitting

Very informative article, thank you.
I would also add that while choosing the right shoe it's good to keep in mind the purpose of it. As for hiking, the sole is very important, it should be hard and have some serration for a better grip to the muddy terrain.

Posted on December 28, 2009 - 10:30pm
by hiking boots

Rub/pain outside right ankle bone

Hello. I'm looking for solutions to pain caused by the rub of hiking boots against the outside of my right ankle bone. The left foot and fit is always fine. My right foot is about 1/2 size smaller than the left, and my right leg is shorter than the left by 3/4". I buy shoes and boots to fit the larger left foot. Could this be part of the problem?? Would a smaller boot fit the smaller right foot more appropriately and not hurt? Thanks for your help. Jan

Posted on April 12, 2009 - 8:30am
by Janet MacGregor

ankle rub

The soreness that you are feeling is not likely due to the difference of size in your feet. When trying on a new pair of hiking boots I suggest massaging the material for a minute or so. This will begin to break in the material and soften it. If the boot has three open eyelets to the top you can lace the bottom eyelet, next over the top then around the middle to lessen the stiffness at the top of the boot.

Posted on April 12, 2009 - 1:29pm
by Lonnie Taylor

Rubbing bar.. where can i buy one

Hello. My name is Ross Bennett and I am a shoe buyer for a company named Whole Earth Provision Co. in Austin, TX. I was wondering if you knew where I can purchase a rubbing bar as well as an incline board for one of my stores. I would greatly appreciate it if you could point me in the right direction. We used to order from Phil Oren but they are no longer around. Anything would help.


Ross Bennett
512.476.4811 ext 12

Posted on November 13, 2008 - 1:02pm
by Ross Bennett

Rubbing bar.. where can i buy one

Hello. My name is Ross Bennett and I am a shoe buyer for a company named Whole Earth Provision Co. in Austin, TX. I was wondering if you knew where I can purchase a rubbing bar as well as an incline board for one of my stores. I would greatly appreciate it if you could point me in the right direction. We used to order from Phil Oren but they are no longer around. Anything would help.


Ross Bennett
512.476.4811 ext 12

Posted on November 13, 2008 - 1:01pm
by Ross Bennett

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