How Hiking Boots Should Fit to Avoid Blisters

The first thing you want to do to prepare for your upcoming trip is to break in your new hiking boots. Not doing so can result in blisters, so here's how to break them in!

Breaking in a new pair of hiking boots can often turn into a disaster. Some boots are specifically designed to be broken in, rather than giving you a comfortable fit, right off the bat. And lastly, some boots just aren’t meant to be used for hiking at all, period. If you’re eyeballing a pair on the store shelf and thinking of trying them on, how should hiking boots fit?

Most of the things that you should practice are going to be difficult to do in the shoe store, such as mimicking the outdoor conditions or trying them on immediately after a hike. However, you can stick to the tried and true length measurements, wear your hiking socks, stick with the same brand, and check the heel and flex.

Hiking boots are going to have to last and they’re expensive, so you don’t want to walk out of the store with a brand new pair of $200 hiking boots only to discover that they essentially flay your feet as you hike. You certainly don’t want to get caught out in the wilderness with a blister bubble the size of Kansas on your heel either.

In this article, I’ll be covering the following:

Let’s put on our scuba mask and dive straight in, shall we?

Why staying loyal to a specific brand is important

woman walking on gravel wearing brown keen hiking boots
Image credits: Alexandra Tran

This is one of the most important aspects of picking the right hiking boots. The brand is important and if you’ve been wearing Keens and they have been enormously comfortable over the years, there is no sense in switching to Merrell. 

Keens aren’t going to change much in the structure of their design and neither is Merrell, so that’s something that you should strongly consider when you’re picking out a new pair of duds for the hiking trail. 

If you’re just getting into the outdoors life, however, things are a little bit different. One thing is for certain though, hiking boots are one of those things in this world where you get exactly what you pay for, so you don’t want to buy cheap.

Stick to premium brands because they design their hiking boots to not only last but to also give you the most comfortable boot you can find.

These are the brands where you should apply the most focus:

New brands release all of the time, but you should always exercise caution and see where things go, in terms of consumer reviews and ratings, before you pitch in your own small fortune. 

If you start off with Hi-Techs and absolutely fall in love, stick with Hi-Techs for the rest of your life unless they go and make some radical changes to their hiking boot designs. It’s all about what makes your feet happy and you don’t throw out happiness just to see what other emotion you can experience at the flip of a coin.

What you need to be aware of when choosing your new hiking boots

There are mainly three things you want to pay attention to when shopping for a new pair of hiking boots. The heel, how much toe space you’ve got, and whether or not you need a pair of insoles for extra support and comfort.

Before you’re giving the nearby hiking store a visit, you should also have a precise measurement of your feet. Just because you know that you wear a size 11 doesn’t mean that all manufactures design size 11s equally.

Here’s how to correctly measure your feet:

  1. Make sure you’re wearing your hiking socks
  2. Place your foot on a piece of paper on flat ground
  3. Put all your weight on that foot
  4. Have someone else carefully draw an outline of your foot
  5. Remove your foot
  6. Draw a straight line next to your foot on the paper
  7. Measure the length of the line and write it next to the line

You will take this piece of paper with you to buy your boots. If you want to buy your boots online, you need to find the exact sizing guide for that boot before you make your purchase. The idea is simply to match your outline and measurements to the sizing guide of the manufacturer.

It’s much better if you go to the store in person because then you can wear your typical hiking socks and try on the boots for yourself. It’s one thing to get a measurement and match it to the sizing guide and it’s quite another to get a feel for the boot yourself. 

It’s not as if you can get a perfect measurement in three dimensions, after all. What you have is your schoolhouse drawing of your foot, which is probably not far departed from a really subpar drawing of a stick figure, with a frowny face. 

When it comes to the heel and the toe space, no measurement is going to be as precise as the real deal. You also have to consider the insole as well and how it will feel on your foot as well as how much space your foot takes up inside the boot.

It’s pointless taking your old boots or shoes up there for comparison purposes because, for one, a shoe isn’t comparable to a boot and, for two, your old boot is broken in.

So get your feet in some shoes and pay attention to the things we’re about to cover!

What to check when taking on the boots for the first time

a pair of brown and black leather hiking boots
Image credits: Annie Spratt

This is the best way to find your next hiking boot, hands down. Actually trying them on and walking around in the store with them will give you as close to a look and feel as you can get. Remember, you will still have to break them in, and breaking in boots changes things.

The break-in process is rather hard to predict. While we can point you in the right direction as far as finding the right size hiking boot, we aren’t prophets, and the way your boots will fit in three months versus your trial period in the boot store is hard to say.

However, checking these four things will help you avoid blisters on your trip:

Let’s jump straight into what you need to consider in terms of the heel of your boot.

The heel

This is where the most blisters occur, as friction, heat, and moisture combine to wreak absolute havoc on your poor heel epidermis. You don’t want to feel friction on the back of your foot when you walk in it. Feeling friction means that your skin is rubbing against the inside of the shoe. 

You want your boot heel on lockdown and not moving up and down. There’s always room for a little bit of movement but anything drastic means you need to drop a size or find another boot. 

The width

Heel blisters are terrible and also the most common, but never underestimate the sheer agony and irritation of toe blisters and blisters on the sides of your feet. You want to have comfortable, snug boots. 

If you stand up and walk around in them and in ten seconds, you can’t feel anything from the ankle down, you should probably go up a size or get in the habit of bringing a hacksaw on your hiking excursions.

The length

Since you need someone to get near your foot and draw a line around your foot, you might as well bring them along to suffer your feet a little longer. Once your feet are in your prospective boots, have your friend place one find down the back of the boot heel, inside.

If they can’t fit a finger in between your foot and the boot material, go a size up. If they can insert their entire hand, down to the elbow, you may want to go a size down. Regardless, you should be able to fit an index finger in between your heel and the back of the boot when your foot is as far forward as it will go inside the boot. 

The insoles

Insoles are a matter of choice for most people. There are some who just can’t get a good fit in their boots and insoles are a necessity. Oftentimes, you’ll find that the manufacturer of your favorite boot also manufactures insoles. 

It’s definitely worth checking out, especially as you get older and the bones and muscles in your feet have a more difficult time after a ten-mile hump through the wilderness. There are a lot of benefits to insoles and if you wear them long enough, they practically meld themselves to the bottom of your boot. 

Dr. Scholl’s – mentioned above – makes great insoles, but they aren’t the only manufacturer of quality insoles and you can find some just about anywhere you go shopping for your hiking boots. If you buy them online, stick to the exact measurements we outlined above, just like you would for the boots. 

Final thoughts

When trying to find a perfect pair of hiking boots for your next trip, you want to first draw an outline of your foot and bring it with you to the store. Then try a bunch of different boots and keep the following four things in mind:

  • The heel: Is there friction between the shoe and my heel?
  • The width: Are they too wide, too narrow, or just perfect?
  • The width: Can I fit an index finger between my heel and the shoe?
  • The insoles: Do I need to buy insoles as well for added support and comfort?

If you consider all these things when looking for hiking boots, your new boots will feel like wings down the trail. Not only that, but they will last a long time as well which is also worth a thought when buying an expensive pair of boots.

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Thomas Godwin

Thomas Godwin is a writer and Marine Corps veteran with a degree in Creative Writing from the Full Sail University. He has been writing content for HeadlessNomad since 2021. Being a veteran, Thomas knows pretty much everything there is to know about the use of paracord, how boots should fit, and nature in general.