Planning & Tips

How to buy hiking boots that actually fit

I’m lucky enough to have spent eight years of my life travelling in the Andes and Himalayas. Between my trips, I worked in an outdoor shop in Covent Garden, London. I loved it and quickly became one of the top boot fitters in the branch, relishing the chance to chat about trekking and get people geared up for their trips. 

During my time there, I soaked up just about everything there was to know about hiking boots. For example, in Patagonia, where it is often wet underfoot, it’s worth having Gore-Tex or leather-lined boots with ankle support. If you are going off the beaten track and spending time on scree then consider a sturdy boot with a fairly stiff sole. We don’t recommend that you use walking/trail shoes because you will get soggy feet, and moisture leads to blisters. 

I still enjoy sharing my top tips with Swoop customers, like you, to help you get good-fitting boots for your adventure. So, how can you ensure your boots fit?

Go to an outdoor shop with boot fitting experts

Swoop Patagonia Specialist, Sydney, above Glaciar Huemul hike, north of El Chalten, Argentina

A boot fitting expert will measure your feet and make suggestions based on your foot size and shape. They will take both a seated and a standing measurement of your feet, both width and length. You should use the standing measurement as the size of boot you should start trying on.

Ideally, a boot fitter will be the person going and getting you pairs of boots to try on until they have found ones that fit you best. If you can’t find a good boot fitter then ask them which boots suit wider feet and which suit narrower feet (or Google it).

Slide your foot into the boot and then push your feet all the way to the front of the boot. This should allow you to snuggly push one finger down between your heel and the inside rear of the shoe. If you can’t do this, get a bigger size, and if there is more space than this, go down a size.

Lace-up your boots

There are a few lacing techniques that you can use to ensure that your foot is held nicely in the boot or shoe.

1. First things first, lace up your boots starting close to the toe, ensuring that the section of the boot around the heel is particularly securely held.

2. When you reach the bend between your foot and your ankle, tie your laces in a surgeon’s knot – see video below.

3. If you have pressure on the front of your shin, then on the final set of lace hooks take the laces downwards rather than upward, which means you will be tying slightly lower.

4. If you are feeling pressure on the top of your foot, introduce a lacing gap when lacing up your boots. In other words, don’t cross your laces at one point on the boot.

Walk around the shop

Swoop Patagonia Specialist, Iain, in the Aysen region in Chile

When you are in the shop, try walking up and downstairs. The best boot-fitting shops will have a ramp that you can walk up and down. Stamp your feet as you walk down the ramp to ensure that your toes don’t hit the front of the boot – if they do you will get bruised toes once you are hiking on hills). As you walk upstairs or up the ramp your heel should stay in place and not ride up and down. Where there is movement there will be blisters! 

A good boot fitter will use heel lifts or volume reduces to fine-tune your boots to fit even better. Heel lifts are little wedges that sit under the heel if your heels are moving around too much. Volume reducers can be used if you are in between sizes or have narrow feet or there is simply too much space in the boot. Often people go down a size if there is too much room and in doing so they lose the length of the boot, which means that they get bruised toes on long descents. Don’t make this mistake as it can be nasty. 

Take the boots home in the box and wear them around your house to ensure they are a good fit and take them back if they aren’t.

Wear your boots in as much as possible

Leather boots need to be ‘broken in’ on several hikes before they will be comfortable so buy new boots at least a month before your trip. Even if you do a really good job of breaking in your boots, make sure to pack some blister plasters for your trip – you still might need them.

Finally, always look after your boots

1. Don’t dry them too close to a fire or stove or the glue will be damaged and they will become unstuck. I suggest stuffing them with newspaper or rags and putting them somewhere warm. 

2. Use the right boot treatment for your boots. There is no point spending a fortune on Gore-Tex boots if you then block the pores with the wrong treatment. 

3. If your boots have been in a cupboard for a while, test them out before you need to wear them for anything important – especially your trip!

Harriet Pike

Head of Swoop Patagonia

Harriet first started planning a trip to Patagonia at the age of 14 when her parents returned from a holiday there. Four years later she went to work in the remote Patagonian region of Aysen where she discovered trekking, the great outdoors...and her future husband. From this base she went on to trek in Torres del Paine and throughout Patagonia, Bolivia and Peru before going to University.

When Harriet returned to the Andes she did so with her bicycle and spent two and half years biking and mountaineering throughout the Andes, climbing 8 of the 12 highest Andean peaks completely independently.

Harriet joined the Swoop team in 2014 and on her most recent visit to Torres del Paine and El Chalten she checked out both the traditional hiking trails and some off the beaten track trails that she likes helping our customers to discover.