How to Pick the Best Hiking Boots for Your Feet

hiking boots

Most podiatrists agree that break-in time is a myth. If your shoes or boots hurt your feet – even for a week or two – they’re probably not the right fit for you.

So how do you find the right fit for hiking boots? Notoriously challenging to find, a good pair of hiking boots (that works for you) can make or break your outdoor experience. There are a few factors to consider when making your choice: your feet, your hike, and your socks!

Your Feet

Feet come in a lot of shapes and sizes. When choosing a hiking boot, it’s important to match the boot shape to your foot shape. The 3 dimensions to pay attention to here are toe box, mid-foot, and heel. With the right combination, you can find a very complimentary fit to your foot. Common considerations include:

Narrow Feet

La Sportiva, Teva, and Salomon all offer narrow, supportive hiking boots. For narrow feet, it’s important to make sure you’re able to prevent heel slipping. When fully laced, shoes should keep your foot in place!

Wide Feet

Brands like Keen, Merril, and Altra have options for wide feet, but many brands offer wide options. Look for a wide toe box where your toes can spread out naturally

High Arches

Aftermarket insoles are your friend (and custom orthotics). Look for good arch support, but you’ll get more from your insole than the boot itself. Make sure you bring your insoles with you shopping to ensure fit

Flat Feet

Shock absorption is key in hiking boots for flat feet. Higher ankles can also provide a little extra stability. Keen and Salomon offer boots with good traction and shock absorbing soles

Bunions

If you’ve got bunions, any hike can be unpleasant. Look for soft leather, good support, and wide toe box. Keen has some good options. And don’t forget cushy, sweat-wicking socks!

Your Hike

Hiking is as unique as your feet. Are you climbing? Walking? At a National Park for 3 days or the local trail? The environment, duration, and even your own pace can help narrow your hiking boot options.

Multi-day Hikes & Backpacking

Look for stiffer insoles, support, and sturdiness to carry heavy loads on and off road for multiple days

Difficult Terrain

Look for higher ankle heights and lacing systems that will keep your heel in place as you climb

Laid Back Day Trip

Look for flexible soles, lower cut ankles, stability and support

Wet Climates

Look for waterproofing like gore-tex, but make sure the interior is designed to let sweat evaporate

Warm Climates

Breathability! It’s always important, but when you know you’re going to sweat, it’s non-negotiable

Your Socks

Even if you have awesome boots, the wrong socks can create all kinds of problems – from discomfort and rubbing to sweaty feet and fungal issues. Choosing the right hiking socks is also important. For socks, look at factors like:

Boot Height

To avoid rubbing and discomfort, make sure your socks are at least as tall as your boots.

Climate

Regardless of climate, socks need to wick sweat. Merino wool and engineered materials can be effective. Keep in mind thickness – socks need to fit comfortably in your boots without adding pressure to your feet.

Arch Support

High arches? You can get a little added support from your socks. But make sure your boots are supportive as well!

Fit

The best socks are shaped like your foot. This will help prevent bunching, keep socks in place, and not interfere with that great fit you got on your hiking boots!

Bonus Round: A Few Tips for Hiking Boot Shopping

Okay, even with all this information, shopping for the right hiking boots might still feel pretty daunting. Here are a few more tips to make sure you land the perfect pair.

Shop Late

Try your boots on in the afternoon when your feet have already been active for a while. Feet swell as the day wears on, so ensuring fit later in the day means you’re less likely to find out your boots are too tight when you’re on the trail.

Size Up

If you’re between sizes, always choose the larger size.

Custom Orthotics

If you want the right support for your foot, custom orthotics can really help. Start here and shop for boots with your orthotics to ensure fit. It’s still important to make sure your boots have the right attributes, but nothing fits your feet like custom.

Work with a Specialist

Serious outdoor shops can provide help in finding the right boots for your specific needs, and even fit. Seasoned professionals can help point you in the right direction. Try local specialty shops, REI, or other companies that specialize in outdoor sports.

Ask Your Podiatrist

When in doubt, get a recommendation. Podiatrists are obsessed with finding the right shoes and boots and generally would love to share their knowledge. If you’re in the Middle Tennessee area, book an appointment with one of our podiatrists.

Happy trails!