Arguably the most crucial phase in the walking boot selection process is boot fitting, because only this process can definitively ascertain whether or not a particular boot is the right size, shape and feel for you. It is possible to pick out boots which are suitable for your needs on paper, as outlined in our guide to Choosing Walking Boots – but only the fitting process can confirm if they actually feel right. If a pair of walking boots fit well, the likelihood of developing painful ‘hot spots’, blisters, sprains and muscular damage through walking, will be significantly reduced. And healthy, happy feet mean a more enjoyable outdoor experience! This is our guide to how best to check whether or not a walking boot is a good fit.
Things to do Before Trying Your Boots on
Even before you put your feet into your newly arrived walking boots, there are a few initial tests that can be conducted to test their flexibility and stability. A good pair of walking boots should provide a base level of torsional and lateral stability, but precisely how much stiffness/flex you need is down to what you’re planning on using the boots for, and to some extent, personal preference. If you’re planning on carrying a lot of weight, walking over rough terrain, or covering long distances (e.g. multi-day trekking through a remote, mountainous area, more rigidity will generally offer greater protection from the ground. If on the other hand you intend to use your boots with only a light daypack, predominantly on well-defined paths, or covering shorter distances, you may prefer a boot with less rigidity. Many experienced hikers or ultra-lightweight backpackers choose to wear lighter, more flexible (often mid-cut) boots, as they prefer the lighter weight and superior freedom they afford when moving fast and light. However, beginner hikers are strongly advised to opt for a boot that is supportive enough to protect the feet from any terrain they are likely to encounter on their intended route(s).
Stiffness / Flex Tests
Here are three tests that you can conduct at home to test the flexibility of a walking boot:
1. Pinch the heel area of the boot upper between thumb and forefingers. You’re looking for a stiff, supportive heel cup, which is essential for stability on rough terrain. If the area feels soft and flexible, your heel is likely to shift around leading to overall instability.
2. Grasp the front part of the boot (toe box) in one hand, and rear section of the boot (the heel cup) in the other, and twist in opposite directions. There’s should be minimal twist in the sole. If the sole twists easily, it will give limited support on uneven ground, and when carrying a heavy pack. The torsional rigidity of a boot is the best indicator of how much ‘ankle support’ it will provide, regardless of how high-cut the ankle may be.
3. Try bending the forefoot part of the boot. You’re looking for a flex point that corresponds to where your foot bends. Good walking boots don’t need to be massively stiff unless you’re buying them for 4-season use with crampons, but they do need to flex where your foot flexes.
Another test you can conduct before trying the boot on, is to remove the footbed (insole) from the boots, and stand on them, on the floor. This will enable you to see precisely how much space there will be between the edges of your feet, and the inside walls of the boot – avoiding the imprecise guesswork hang to ‘feel’ where your toes are through the top of the boot! Your foot should not overhang or project beyond the edge of the footbed, or you will experience pressure or rubbing once the boot is on. You should also have approximately a thumb’s width of space between the end of your longest toe and the end of the footbed to allow for movement of the foot inside the boot. However, you won’t be able to accurately gauge if the boot is the right length or not until you try it on…
Things to do When Trying Your Boots On
When trying on a pair of boots, you should put on the same socks in which you usually like to hike, preferably good quality walking socks. Put the boots on your feet and lace them up tightly, to give a snug but not painful fit – again as you would on a hike.
Once your boots are on, there are a number of fit tests that you can perform to ascertain whether their fit is right for you or not:
1. Standing up normally on a flat surface, there should be sufficient space in the toe box to wiggle your toes. They should not reach the front wall of the boot, or feel overly restricted vertically or horizontally.
2. Walk around in your boots. Ideally include a flat surface, go up and down stairs, and if you have access to a clean sloped surface, walk up and down that too (just remember that all retailers require returned boots to be in clean, re-saleable condition). If you don’t have a clean slope, scuff your feet on a flat surface, to mimic the effect of your feet pushing forward into the toes of your boots when descending. There should be no movement of your foot inside the boots, even when moving vigorously; there should be no heel lift (up and down), or foot slide (forwards and backwards). The boots should feel secure, but not so tight as to cause uncomfortable pressure anywhere.
3. Go down onto one knee, bending your back foot at the ball of the foot as you do so. There should be no pinching where the material of the boot upper bends, and no pain in the heel area.
4. Standing normally on a flat surface, reach down and squeeze the boot around the middle of the foot. When you gather excess material from one side of the boot and push it around to the other side, there should be no large pockets of space inside. In short, there shouldn’t be too much excess space inside the boots.
Having done all of the tests outlined on this page, if you’re happy that your boots fit well, feel comfortable, and provide you with the support you require, then you’re onto a winning pair of boots! If on the other hand you’re not completely happy with your boots, take advantage of the Webtogs Hassle-Free Returns policy to send them back to us within 60 days of purchase, and exchange them for another pair free of charge. If you need any guidance on the fit or width of a particular boot brand, send us an email with your question to [email protected], or ask direct via our customer service telephone number listed at the top of the page.
Once you’ve found your perfect pair of boots, you can start building upto wearing them out and about! But be warned, leather boots, particularly full grain varieties, will need breaking-in through gradually building up the miles. You can read all about how best to break-in your new pair of walking boots in our Gear Guru guide on the topic!