How Tight Should Hiking Boots Be?

By Thomas Sorheim •  Updated: 05/06/20 •  6 min read
Brown hiking shoes

If you are an ardent and adventure loving hiker, I am sure you will agree with me when I say that a pair of hiking boots are pretty much the most important and the most crucial hiking gear that you will ever invest in. They have the potential to literally make or break a hiking trip, even if you’re on one of the easiest trails, as they decide the performance of your feet.

Yes, I said performance of your feet. Imagine having to walk all the way down the trail with super uncomfortable, ill-fitting hiking boots that are either too tight or too loose. Now wouldn’t that affect the distance you wish to go? Wouldn’t that affect your mood and motivation to complete the trip? Wouldn’t that completely ruin your trip?

Yes because it puts you in pain and discomfort.

That is why it is extremely important that you find the right fit when it comes to hiking boots. And it is not that easy, I get it. To top it all off, none of our feet are even either, in terms of size. So it makes buying a pair of right fitting boots all the more difficult.

A lot of people don’t even know what a “right fit” is for hiking boots. It is definitely not enough if it fits like one of your regular shoes either.

How Tight Should Hiking Boots Really Be?

Well, here is a comprehensive guide on how to choose the perfect fitting pair of hiking boots for your next trip.

Buy them late in the day

Whenever you are buying a new pair of hiking boots, you need to always go late in the day. This is because your feet swell throughout the day and it only makes sense to try on a new pair of boots after your feet have gone through some work, in order to get a more realistic idea of the fit.

Try them on with a pair of walking socks

Once you are done finding a good pair of hiking boots in your size, try them on with a pair of walking socks. Since walking socks are thicker than regular socks, they will enable you to judge your fit better.

The fit

Now ideally, your hiking boots should fit you well, with a small amount of space left in front so that your toes aren’t squished. When untied, you should be able to fit two fingers comfortably right in between your heel and the back wall of the boot. That’s a little trick you can try.

When laced up

Once you lace up your boots, your feet are supposed to feel well supported and in place. There should absolutely be no pressure points anywhere. You should feel totally comfortable walking in them. Try walking a bit, briskly, to see if there are any points where you feel it’s too tight. Remember, any point of pressure is likely to be a point for blisters as well, accompanied by pain of course. The sad part though is that it is only over a whole day, spent walking, that you will be able to make an accurate gauge of all the uncomfortable points. But don’t worry, brisk walking should do the trick.

Now for the trick; when you do walk around, be sure to pay attention and see if you can feel a slight lift on your heels. This is important as when you start using them on trails, your feet are bound to swell up and the little space gives room for your feet to do that. Although, do make sure that there are no glaring gaps because it would defeat the purpose of course.

Breaking in

This is probably the most crucial step when it comes to purchasing a good fitting pair of hiking boots. The key is to take your time and break in thoroughly. Now different boots take different amounts of break-in times. For example, light hiker boots may feel quite perfect right when you take them out of the box, but say if you’re going for a tough pair of leather boots, then it might take a few weeks. It comes as no surprise as a material as sturdy as leather would obviously require some time to soften up and fit your feet in a way that compliments one another.

You will be able to make a perfect decision after a break-in as it would never change a poor-fitting pair of boots in to a good fitting one. So you basically need to take it slow. However, ideally a really good pair should sit comfortably on your feet even before breaking-in.

Tips on How to Achieve a Good Break-in

Wear your boots inside your house

One good way to start of the breaking-in process is to wear the same in-soles and socks that you are going to be wearing on the trail, inside your house. Be sure to tie up your boots pretty snugly and also make sure that the tongue and the gussets are straight. If your boots feel stiff at first, that’s ok.

Take it up a notch

Once you feel good about your boots walking at home, you can walk around the block and the around town. The trick is to make sure that your boots feel comfortable at each stage before you move on.

Taking it up further

Once your block is done, you can take it off-payment where the breaking-in actually happens for real. You don’t have to do more than a day’s trail. Be sure to increase both weight and mileage as you go, so that you can make a proper assessment.

Apart from all of these factors, one thing you simply cannot slack on is taking care of your precious hiking boots. Once you start using them, it is very important to take good care of them in order to maintain it the way it is even after say, 5 trails to say the least. Depending on the material and use of your boots, you need to strictly follow wash and care instructions to make the most out of your hiking boots.

Thomas Sorheim