When you go shopping for your hiking boots, there are several things to look for. You know that they need to be waterproof, to give you ankle support, to have a tough sole and midsole. Ok, you know the drill. But, when you’re shopping you don’t have time to climb, to jump, to descent, to break them in.
So, you’re left with few things to do (besides reading about their features) in order to check if the hiking boots are ready to take on the next hiking experience. Or…is it?
The first test to try on your hiking boots is the “finger test”. The boot needs to be fully unlaced and you need to move your foot as far forward in the boot as possible. If you are able to slip your index finger down inside the boot, at the back of the ankle, then you get the right fit. This happens because the finger is as big as the space you need in front for the comfort on the move. You need that space when backpacking downhill as the foot slides forward in the boot, especially when you’re heavily backpacked.
Even though this is not entirely sanitary, take off your sock and try the boot bare foot. This sensory test helps you to know if any part of the boot feels tight. This is very important in the area of the small toes. There are boots that make your toes feel “pinched” or “jammed”. The fit if miss leading when you wear two pairs of socks. So, it’s almost logical to try the boots barefoot. This is the best way to see if the boot feels narrow on the sides or in the “ball” of the foot. You also get to feel if the boot is too tight in the middle part of your foot on either side of the arch. If that’s the case, this is not the boot for you. The sensory test gives you fast the best idea of the fit.
It’s also very important to have the sensory test with your socks on also. The socks need to be stretched smoothly over your feet and not loose as this way the socks may fold over when you put the boots on. The boot shouldn’t feel tight in this case either, in any area. On the other hand, it shouldn’t fit loose either. It should give a snug fit. In case some part of your foot feels jammed, try a lighter, medium-weight sock on the outside. Various thickness of socks might help you get the best idea on the fitting.
The width of the boot is very important, especially for women. As women are more used to tight-fitting street shoes, this should be avoided when getting the hiking boots. Wearing tight boots when you have wide feet makes the boots leather stretch and lets the feet extend beyond the sole of the boots. This puts more stress on the body as the hiker tries to get balance on the move, while wearing too small a shoe platform for the foot. Sometimes, the edge of the sole may even dig into the bottom of the foot through the boot fabric/leather, giving blisters and bruises.
Typically, a women’s “D” width is a men’s “C” width. Pay attention to the heel area in case you want to get men’s boots as women have narrower heels.
Another efficient test for your boots is the “stride test” which means literally to walk around in the boots. Do they feel comfortable? Does the boot “break” across the top of the toes when you stride forward? Look for another pair of boots if the top of the boot is jamming the back of your toes when you stride forward. Pay attention to the comfort on the heel. If the heel slides easily, you got a boot that’s a bit too large and that’s not ok. A new pair of boots always makes the heel slide a little and the sole is new and stiff. But, in case the sliding is too large, go down ½ size but also get the “finger test” just to play it safe.
Now that you got through all of these tests, it’s time to ask the salesman a “slant board” to test your boots. You need to walk down the incline. In case your foot jams into the front of the boot and the toes feel pinched, then try another pair of boots. Go up ½ a size if the toes touch the end of the boot also.
If you went through all these tests and the boots you picked have managed to get these tests, then you have yourself a winner. If not, you need to try some more…
What if you’re at home?
When you are at home, take the “paper doll” test. Put on the socks for the hiking, place a blank sheet of paper under your foot and trace an outline of your foot with a pencil. Cut the foot outline from the paper and slide it into the boot. Press this paper flat onto the bottom of the boot, working into all corners, just like a cook does with the dough into a cookie sheet. Remove the cut-out and see where the paper is folded up. That’s where the boot is too tight for you. Keep in mind that it’s ok that a boot fits snug, but in case there is paper folding of ½”, the boot might not be the right one.
Wear the boots around to get the real feel. Even better, take the “long walk” inside your house or run some errands downtown. Give the boots some distance for trial and if they give you a good fell, then you’re good to go for the next hike. If not, you’re back to test one.