At the risk of stating the obvious, you will be spending a lot of hours walking in your hiking boots. When you add in the weight of a pack, getting the sizing and fit of your boots right is key.
While not the topic of this article, it's also important to get a quality pair of boots. You can go cheap on a lot of gear but your boots are NOT the place to cut corners.
How much movement can you expect to have when wearing a hiking boot? Do hiking boots stretch or will yours remain the same shape from your first hike to your last? These are the questions we’re hoping to answer today.
How tight should hiking boots be?
The fit of a hiking boot does not come down to the personal preference of the wearer. A hiking boot will not be able to provide the stability and comfort expected of it if it is not properly fitted. But what is proper fitting for a hiking boot?
A hiking boot should be snug in virtually all areas, clinging to the foot of the wearer with its tongue pressed against the ankle. Inside the boot, the wearer should have enough room to wiggle their toes. If you’re unable to wiggle your toes once your hiking boots have been fully fastened, you can assume that they are too small and unsafe to hike in. It is important to remember that hiking boots generally don’t fit as normal shoes do, so you should avoid purchasing a pair in the size that you would normally buy.
More often than not, hiking boots run small. If you are purchasing your boots online as opposed to in-store, you obviously will not have the opportunity to try them on before spending money on them. For that reason, we advise all hikers who choose to buy their boots online to read the customer reviews of any pair they consider purchasing in order to determine if the boots in question run small and, if so, by how much.
How much movement can I expect?
Regardless of the manufacturer or additional features of your boots, you can expect to be able to wiggle your toes once they have been fully fastened if they fit correctly. However, further movement will vary from boot to boot. Some boots offer greater flexibility than others, with those intended to be worn in warmer weather generally granting the wearer greater flexibility than boots intended to be worn during the winter months.
Many hiking boots come fitted with a steel shank, which has its pros and its cons. On the plus side, a steel shank provides enhanced support, which makes it particularly alluring to those who hike long distances with any degree of frequency. A significant drawback of steel shanks, however, is that they greatly restrict the wearer’s range of motion, which is far from ideal if you are trying to navigate an uneven terrain which calls for careful positioning of your feet.
For this reason, many hikers choose hiking boots with nylon shanks. While a nylon shank does not offer quite as much support as a steel shank, it does grant the wearer superior flexibility, allowing them to contort their foot as necessary to safely complete his or her hike. Purchase a pair of boots with nylon shanks and you can expect significantly more movement than a pair with steel alternatives.
Should Hiking Boots Be a Size Bigger?
If you have been paying attention this far you should know that the answer to this question is no.
While you might where thicker socks than usual with a pair of hiking boots that doesn't mean you should go a size larger than your normal shoe size.
Your thicker socks will compress in any portions of the boots that require them to. Additionally, given that one of your most important goals with hiking boot fit is preventing blisters, an extra size is likely to cause slippage and blisters regardless of how they feel in a casual in-store try-on session.
So, if you are the recipient of "bro-science" that says you should get boots one-size bigger ignore it. Focus on getting the right fit based on the information in this article instead and you'll be good to go.