How Should Hiking Boots Fit? Top Tips for the Perfect Fit

8 Min Read

Hiking boots need to be firm on the foot without constricting it. They need to have a little extra length in the toe box. They need to have a comfortable insole that fits your specific foot shape.

A good pair will never rub or chafe your feet. It’ll grip your heels without causing discomfort. And it’ll be the right width; not just the right length.

I’ve been on multi-week hikes through the Scottish Highlands, epic adventures across the Peruvian Andes and long treks through the Amazon rainforest. By choosing hiking boots that fit me well, I’ve managed to stay comfortable and pain-free.

It wasn’t always like this. On an early hike in Northern Spain, I had no idea what I was doing. I was less than 200 miles into the trail and my feet were shredded. I had to take a week off and nearly cancel the trip.

To stop this from happening to you, I wrote this article. I’ll share everything I know about sizing, insoles and breaking in new boots. We’ll also go over the best level of stiffness for you.

Keep reading as we answer, “How should hiking boots fit?”.

Disclaimer: This guide was created for educational purposes. It neither offers nor replaces medical advice. Learn more here.

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Table of Contents

Top Tips For The Ultimate Hiking Boot Fit

Poor-fitting boots are at best uncomfortable and at worst, crippling. Know your typical shoe size but be prepared to deviate from this a little. Hiking boots tend to fit differently from normal shoes; this can mean sizing up slightly.

Width

Hiking boots typically come in a range of widths, starting at B (extra narrow) and working up to EEE (triple-wide). Ensure you pick the correct size for you. If your boots are too tight, blood circulation can be restricted. This’ll leave you with cramps, blisters and pins and needles.

It’s worth being aware that your feet are narrower in the morning than in the evening. It’s best to try on shoes towards the end of the day when your feet are at their largest.

Length

Shoes that are too short lack sufficient toe room. Without enough space, your toes can get crushed against the toe box; especially during steep climbs and descents. This can lead to toe cramps, losing nails and even fractures.

There’s a couple of methods for determining whether your boots are the correct length before leaving the shop:

  • Remove the insole and measure it against your foot. It’s best to do this by standing on it. As long as there’s at least half an inch of space between your toes and the end of the insole, you’re set.
  • Make sure there’s just enough room at the back. While wearing the boots, stand up and slide one foot as far forward as possible. If you can fit one finger between your heel and the back of the boot, you’re good to go. If there’s not enough room, you need a longer boot. If you can fit more than one finger in, consider sizing down.

While walking, hiking boots should feel snug around the back of your foot. The collar shouldn’t dig into your foot.

Some heel slippage is normal but this shouldn’t be more than a quarter of an inch. Once your boots are broken in, it should stop. If it doesn’t, we suggest either wearing thick socks, trying heel grips or sizing down.

Stiffness and Support

The terrain you hike on will determine the level of support and stiffness you need.

Hiking boots designed for steep, rocky environments are stiff and feel like they’re clamped around your feet. They offer incredible support but take a long time — up to 80 hours — to break in.

Those designed for gentler, flatter terrain will be more flexible. They also tend to be lighter.

Overall, choose shoes that offer ultimate ankle support for hours and hours of continuous walking.

Think About Your Socks

If you’re hiking in cold conditions, thick socks make a massive difference to your comfort and happiness on trail.

But be aware that thick socks can add half a shoe size to your feet. Also, be mindful of choosing the right socks. We recommend going for premium socks for sweaty feet.

Do I Need Insoles For Hiking?

Many hikers opt for custom insoles; many do not. It depends on your situation. If you already use insoles in day to day life, you’ll want some for hiking. Especially if you have a foot condition like flat feet, overpronation, etc.

If you don’t normally use insoles, you may well not need them for hiking. But some hikers find the repetitive impact of walking tires and hurts their feet. This can cause pain and inflammations like plantar fasciitis. Good insoles will prevent this.

You may need to size up your boots by 0.5-1 full size when using thick insoles. Remember to take them with you when trying boots on.

What Makes a Good Hiking Insole?

There’s a number of things to look out for in hiking insoles:

  • Firm arch support. This distributes your weight effectively and stops your feet from going flat. Ensure the level of support matches your arch height. Too low and it won’t do much. Too high and it’ll bruise and rub your feet.
  • Deep heel cups. They offer extra support and cushioning — especially important if you’re hiking on rough, rocky terrain.
  • Anti-microbial treatment. This will stop bacteria and fungus growth in your shoes. It reduces bad odours and fungal infections like athlete’s foot.
  • Low friction surface. Anything that causes friction is likely to cause blisters. Avoid insoles that grip your feet. Look for insoles with a low-friction top cloth.

How Do You Make Your Hiking Shoes More Comfortable?

To make hiking boots more comfortable, here there are a few things you can do:

  • Ensure you break them in correctly. Hiking boots generally take 20-80 hours of wear before they’re at their most comfortable.
  • Wear good socks. Wool or wool blend socks are the best choice for hiking. They wick moisture away from the skin and reduce the chance of blisters. They also provide an extra layer of protection and cushioning.
  • Use the right insoles. Custom insoles can provide a huge boost in comfort. They’re not always necessary but many hikers choose to use them.
  • Consider stretching your boots. You can stretch the toe box of your hiking boots by packing them full of newspaper and leaving them overnight. It won’t make a massive difference but even a full millimetres feels dramatic to your toes.
  • Use heel grips. Sometimes heel slippage can occur even after you’ve broken your hiking shoes in. Heel grips prevent this by adding a small cushioned layer to your heel. It prevents your foot moving and can improve your overall comfort on trail.
  • Go waterproof. When hiking, chances are that you’ll encounter rain or possibly snow. To keep your feet dry, we recommend choosing quality waterproof shoes.

How Do You Break in Hiking Shoes?

Breaking in hiking boots can be a painful but worthwhile process. If you don’t do it before you hit the trails, you’re in for a world of hurt.

Here are our top tips for breaking in your hiking boots:

  • Wear the boots around the house. By spending a few hours at a time wearing your boots inside, you’ll start to stretch them without getting them dirty. This way, if you decide they’re too small, you can send them back!
  • Wear thick socks. Thick socks not only protect your feet but the added mass will stretch your boots quicker.
  • Wear plasters and blister pads. Anywhere that your new boots rub can turn into a blister. Cover these areas early to save yourself the pain!
  • Walk, walk, walk. The most effective way to break in new boots is to walk in them constantly. Obviously, this isn’t sensible but by walking a small amount each day you’ll slowly get the job done. Try to increase the distance you walk each time too as this will also speed up the process.

Hiking Boot FAQs

How should hiking boots feel?

Hiking boots should feel:

  • Supportive around the ankle
  • Snug but not constricting at the heel
  • Roomy between your toes and the end of the shoe (1/2-1 inch space)
  • Wide enough to spread your toes without them being squashed against the boots.

You shouldn’t feel any pinching or discomfort around the joints in your toes and ankles. If you do, consider sizing up or trying a different make of boot.

Should hiking boots be tight or loose?

Hiking boots should be neither tight nor loose. They should be supportive without being constricting.

If they’re too loose, they won’t offer enough support. You’ll risk tripping, rolling an ankle, or facing a more severe injury on rough terrain.

If they’re too tight, you’ll also suffer. l Reduced blood flow will give you pins and needles, numbness and eventually nerve damage. It’ll also put you at risk of other foot problems like hammertoe, bunions and ingrown toenails.

Should I go a size up or down for hiking shoes?

In hot environments and on thru-hikes, size up by up to a full size. For day hikes and cooler environments, only size up if you’re wearing thick socks and custom footbeds.

Unless the manufacturer recommends you do so, there is never a reason to size down with hiking boots.

Should your feet move in hiking boots?

With new boots, you’ll notice some heel slippage initially. As they break in, this should go. If it doesn’t, consider getting a set of heel grips.

In Conclusion

Hiking boots should fit snug without suffocating the foot. They should have half an inch extra length in the toe box. An uphill boot should feel stiffer; a flat-terrain one should have more flex in the sole.

Make sure your boots have an insole that works for your feet. If you need extra support, consider getting a custom one.

The best way to make your boots more comfortable is to break them in. Wearing them around the neighbourhood or at home is a good way to do that.

Writer:

Tim Ashdown

Last Updated:

April 27, 2022

Tim Ashdown

Tim is an avid hiker, self-proclaimed adrenaline junkie and lover of all things outdoors. He spends long hours researching the best equipment for every adventure. 

“Whether it’s hiking through Europe, white water rafting in the Amazon basin or lazing on a beach in Southeast Asia, having the right gear can make or break a trip. Time spent researching is time well spent!” 

Although Tim’s a big proponent of barefoot shoes, he won’t be pigeon-holed. His current shoe collection includes Supra skate shoes, Merrell walking boots, Vivobarefoot hiking shoes and of course, the obligatory classic Vans.