How to Find a Perfect-Fitting Pair of Hiking Boots
With any shoes, fit is important. But with hiking boots, fit is important important. If you read the book or saw the movie Wild, you probably have a vivid memory of what an ill-fitting pair of boots did to Cheryl Strayed’s feet as she hiked the Pacific Crest Trail (warning: it’s bad). We really don’t want that to happen to you (or us . . . or anybody!). And there’s no reason why it should, as long as you take the time to prepare for your hike by shopping carefully.
Here at KEEN, we have a resident kinesiologist (a fancy word for an expert on the human body and how it moves): KEENesiologist Kenny. He helps us understand how to create shoes that keep people active and comfortable. He also helps us understand exactly what “the perfect fit” means. (Hi Kenny!). Here are 16 tips from Kenny on how to find a pair of hiking boots that really fit you.
SHOPPING IN A STORE?
Visiting a shoe store is the best option because trying boots on is the only way to really know if they fit your feet. (That can be difficult right now. So if you need to buy your boots online, skip down to the ONLINE section below.) Here’s what you need to know:
1) Do some prep before you come in. First, make sure you clip your toenails (seriously!), and bring along the socks you plan to hike in. If you use insoles or orthotics, bring those along, too. Oh, one more thing to bring:
2) Bring (or wear) your old boots. A footwear specialist can learn a lot about how you walk from old, worn-in shoes that have seen a lot of miles. Bring an old pair of broken-in boots or athletic shoes with you to the store.
3) Shop later in the day. Feet get bigger over the course of the day, and even more so when you’re doing lots of walking. Trying boots on later in the afternoon will give you a better feel for how they'll fit on the trail.
4) Trust the experts. At the shoe store, a trained boot-fitter can find the perfect match between boot and foot. Lean on their expertise, ask them questions, and get their opinion on how it fits.
5) Remember size isn’t fixed. Different brands or styles may fit differently even if they’re labeled the same size. The only way to know for sure is to try them on.
6) Don’t stop at the first pair. Try on several different styles, models, and brands to find one best suited to your foot. It might not be until you get to the fifth pair (or more!) that you find your perfect match.
7) Wait for the ‘Cinderella moment.’ There should be no hot spots or pinch points – just a snug, secure heel and ample room in the toes. Trust us, you’ll know it when you feel it.
8) Do a “tippy-toes test.” Stand on your tip-toes in boots to ensure your toes can splay and don’t hit the front or top of the boot. Gently kick a wall or use a decline ramp to ensure your toes will have enough room when you’re hiking downhill.
9) Lock in your heel. Check for heel lift or slip by putting your foot at different angles and walking up stairs. Make sure you’re lacing up nice and tightly (your boot fitter will help). A secure heel is very important to comfort on the trail.
10) Buy the right boot for the adventure. Buy a boot to match the activity you have planned. Day hiking, mountaineering, taking on the entire Pacific Crest Trail just like Cheryl - they all require a different set of features.
11) Test them out indoors at home. Most retailers (online and real world) have return policies that allow you to lightly wear purchased goods at home for a certain amount of time. Just be sure to keep the boots scuff-free and clean while you test them out inside (in case you want to return them). Read KEEN’s return policy here.
Can’t make it to a store? That’s ok, you can shop for hiking boots online. All the fit rules above still apply, but you need to make sure to follow a few extra steps:
12) Measure your foot! To buy online, it’s so important to know your foot size and shape. Most online sites will have a conversion chart for measuring your foot at home in inches or centimeters. Don’t assume you know your foot size. Weight gain or loss, pregnancy, injuries, and other factors can change the shape and size of your foot. Better to measure your feet right now and go from there.
13) Measure both feet, not just one. You’ve got two feet, and they aren’t necessarily the same size. Exact measurements will help you decide on the right size pair.
14) Remember to also measure width. Length is the standard for shoe size, but be sure to also measure the width of your foot.
15) Look to reviews for solid advice. Read online reviews to see what other shoppers thought about the boots you’re browsing. You might be surprised at the helpful descriptive details and personal stories people post about their shoes. But remember, footwear is a very personal thing. Positive reviews can be a factor in your decision, but they shouldn’t be the only factor.
16) If you can't decide, order both. Comparing boots side-by-side can be the best way to figure out what feels best. Whether you are in between sizes or considering a couple of different styles, you may want to get both and then return the one that doesn't work. (Read up on KEEN's online return policy here).