How Should Hiking Boots Fit?

If you are in the market for hiking boots, then chances are you are looking for the type of shoe that can last over long treks through thick underbrush, rough terrain, and perhaps the occasional stream or river.

A quality hiking boot is an investment not only in proper footwear, but in comfort and reliability. If your boots do not fit properly, then you are in for a rather miserable hike.

A poorly fitted hiking boot can cause blisters and other painful issues that will make your hiking experience not worth the effort.

Don’t let your boots be the deciding factor in whether or not you choose to explore the great outdoors. Educate yourself on how a quality hiking boot should fit so that you can make the best choice when the time comes.

Below, we have laid out a list of tips that will help you find the right hiking boot to fit your unique needs–and feet!


Size seems like a straightforward decision–after all, you have been wearing some style of shoe or another nearly all your life.

When it comes to specialty shoes (like hiking or running shoes), it is important to truly understand the exact dimensions and arc length of your foot to choose the boot that will best fit.

The easiest way to do this is to have a specialist at a shoe supply store measure your foot.

The fit of a hiking boot should be snug, but not tight, and your toes should be able to still wiggle.

The best time to try on a new boot is at the end of the day when your feet have swollen to their maximum.

This way, if you plan on hiking over an extended period of time, you know that your boots will not suddenly begin to feel tight and uncomfortable as the day wears on.

Nearly everyone has one foot that is larger than the other, and anytime you are searching for a shoe or boot, you should always size to the larger foot. Once you have slipped on a boot, slide your foots all the way to the front so there is a slight space near the back of the boot (if there is no space, you already know you do not have a well-fitting shoe).

There should be about a finger’s width between the back of the shoe and your foot. Depending on how much space there is (less or more), move up or down a size and try again until you find the size that fits your feet perfectly.

Proper Lacing

With the boot on, it is time to lace up. When you tie the laces, try to avoid going too lose or too tight; you should be able to lace your boots just tight enough that they are snug, but your heel still has a little bit of give in the back of the boot (again, about a finger’s width of space).

Proper lacing of your boot is crucial to a comfortable hiking experience.

Walk around the store and get a feel for how much your foot moves inside the shoe and if the boot is even comfortable to walk in.

If you feel like your feet are being pinched or cramped, or if your feet feel like they are swimming, then it is time to try another size or another boot entirely.

The way that you lace your boots can also affect the way they fit. Start by lacing your boots the traditional bottom up method and see how the fit feels. If the fit does not feel quite right, unlace the boot and start over–this time from the top down.

The top down lacing method locks your heel into the boot from the start, and can help to improve the fit.

Socks and Inserts

It is good practice to either wear or otherwise have the socks you intend to wear while hiking when you go to try on a new boot.

Especially for colder weather hiking, a thicker stocking is usually the go-to choice, and between the thickness of the sock and your foot’s propensity to swell, this small addition will seriously affect the way your prospective boot fits.

This is a sort of “real world” type of testing, since this is the way that your feet will be dressed for hiking.

If you have orthotic shoe inserts, you should also have them nearby when trying on new boots. Inserts will also affect the sizing of your boot in the same way that socks do. With both factors together, you should get a pretty good idea which size boot will fit your feet the best.


It is highly tempting to go with the first pair of boots that seems to fit perfectly. Shopping done, hiking trip ready to go. But it is truly in your best interest to try on more than one pair of boots so that you can really get the feel for what a comfortable–or uncomfortable–is like.

There are a variety of styles within the hiking boot niche, and it is worth the time to get to know which styles work best for you, and which can be put in the “absolutely not” pile.

And you never know, you might just try on a second (or third, or fourth) pair of boots that fits even better than the first!


By following these tips, you should be able to walk into any store with confidence that you will know how to choose the perfect, most comfortable pair of hiking boots to start your outdoors adventure.

A properly fitting hiking boot can truly make the difference between a fun romp through the woods, or a blistered, cramping collapse on the trail.

Hopefully this article gives you a better idea of how hiking boots should fit.

To sum up: make sure your foot has enough space, but is not swimming; your hiking socks and/or orthotic inserts can alter the size you need; lace up right; and don’t leave with the first pretty face you see. Happy hiking!

Check out this video from mountainwarehouse for more information.