Having bought lots of bad fitting, toe-pinching, very leaking, boots over the years, I thought I would share some of the steps I go through when choosing and fitting hiking boots. This is what I've found works best, but I'm sure there are thousands of other methods out there!
For the majority of boots, there should be very little "breaking in" required. Boots are a lot fancier than they once were. If it is painful in the shop, it's not really going to get any better.
Fit before brand
Hiking boots are not cheap things, and I've met people who have read every review, found what their research shows to be the "best boot" for what they want to do, and decided that's the boot they need. And it's great to see people really interested in the outdoors. But what works for the person who wrote the review is possibly the worst boot for you.
Every person has a different shaped foot. If you have wide feet, and the person writing the review has narrow feet, then you are going to get horrible pressure points and blisters and corns, and damage the boots. Likewise, if the person has a wide foot and recommends, lets say the Meindl Meran, and you have a narrow foot, you are going to be swimming all over the place inside the boot, and will probably downsize to get something to fit better - which will again cause blisters, sores, and damage these amazing boots.
Having just used the Meindl Meran as an example of a wide fitting boot, I feel I need to make something clear: just because the Meindl Meran is wide does not mean all Meindl boots are wide. The majority of boot companies make several different fits of boot. In heavy hiking boots Meindl has at least 3, to brush it fairly broadly. If I go into this any deeper, it will end up talking about lasts and this post will get too long-winded. If you are that interested, let me know!
How to Fit
The magic of Insoles
Majority of hiking boots have a removable insole. Take it out, and put it on the ground. Now put your foot on top, and bend your knee forward slightly. There should be about 15mm between the end of your longest toe and the end of the insole (or a finger width). This is to protect both your toes and the boots: when walking downhill, your foot will move, and if your toes can touch the front they are going to be banging into your boots for that whole decent. And if blackening or loosing toenails isn't a deal breaker, you will also damage the boot - especially if it is a waterproof boot. A Gor-tex lining (or waterproof similar linings) is the very inner lining of a boot; imagine it as a sock that's been attached to the inside. To be breathable and light, these linings are very thin. A toe banging into the front of a boot is going to break through it.
Now - the insole is only a guide, and is best used for checking the length. I do not expect the outline of your foot to line up perfectly to the outline of the insole. The boot is 3D, like your foot, and will be a much better guide of width and fit.
Put the insole back in and put on your boots!
When wearing the boot:
The fitting comes in four parts:
Heel and arch area:
This is where you want the boot to be snug: hugging your foot, with no obviously baggy areas. This does not mean squeezing and lots of pressure. I know this is a fine line that I'm trying to describe. However, once you have tried on a few pairs I feel this will make sense.
Forefoot/just before your toes/generally the widest part of your foot:
The "title" to this section is so long because I want to get across where exactly on the foot I'm talking about. If the boot is too narrow you will be able to feel a lot of pressure across here. If it is too wide, the boot will be baggy and not hold your foot in place.
The toes themselves:
Your toes need lots of space. They should feel completely unrestricted. Typically I have found that people who do not usually wear hiking boots, or have had ill-fitting boots, find it strange to have lots of toe room. This links back to where I was talking about standing on the insole and having that 15mm or so extra on the insole after your foot. If your toes do not have space, you will have sore toes as soon as you have a lot of down hill to do, and will damage the boots. This can be the weirdest part for people, as it's not how most street shoes fit.
Laces are far more important than people realise. Laces want to be consistently tight the whole way up the boot. if you just pull the top of the lace and then tie it, the lower half of the boot is not going to be secure. Well tied laces can also remove heel lifting and rubbing.
While walking around check that your heel doesn't feel like its lifting up and down as you walk. I'm not expecting the boot to hold you like a vice grip, so a small amount of movement is ok, as long as it feels pretty minimal. If you have a stairs or a ramp, go up and down it a few times. "Uphill" will highlight heel lifting, and "downhill" can check that there is enough toe room. If your toes touch the front of the boot at all, it's a no-go. If it can touch the boot within 5 minutes of downhill, it will definitely become a problem when actually hiking downhill outside.
With all of the above said, the comfort is key. So whatever boots you walk away with, they must feel comfy on your feet.
And now - go hiking! Enjoy the outdoors!
Originally ellie wrote this for her own site, allezberry.com.