Looking for new backpacking books or hiking boots? Not sure what size to get or how the brand and model you are looking at will compare with the backpacking boots you have now? What follows is our best advice for sizing hiking boots without putting them on.
FIRST, SOME BACKGROUND ON HIKING AND BACKPACKING BOOTS
What is a boot “Last”
The last is the "form" the boot is sewn around. The size and shape of these lasts can vary greatly because each hiking boot company uses their own lasts. They use different lasts for men and for women (women’s boot lasts tend to be a bit narrower in the heel and all around), and they may even use different lasts for different models within the same gender. So it can't even be said with certainty that all Lowa boots, for example, fit the same way.
There is a generally-accepted truism that European lasts tend to run narrow, especially in the toe area. At CCOutdoorStore.com, we agree with this sentiment, but with some very important caveats. The biggest exception is for Zamberlan boots. While Zamberlan boots are designed and manufactured in Italy, their lasts tend to have more room in the toebox. Many people find they can fit quite comfortably into their “American” size in a Zamberlan boot because of this extra room in the toe box.
Narrow, Medium, and Wide-width Boots:
Many boot manufacturers now make Narrow, Medium, and Wide-fit boots. Vasque and Lowa offer varied width options for many of their most popular boots. As noted above, Zamberlan boots also have a wider toebox, so for some people this is enough to fit more comfortably than a traditional option. Some say that for years many of us have been walking around with boots that are just too narrow for us. Others maintain that American feet are generally wider than our counterparts in other parts of the world. We know one thing is definitely true - with so many different feet in the world, it’s amazing that hiking and backpacking boots have not always been offered in different widths!
NOW…. DOES THE BOOT FIT?
Because it’s so difficult to tell until you actually try them on, we recommend you come to our Vermont store or visit any local retailer to feel the boots you are considering on your feet.
We also know that not everyone can do this, so we have developed some brand-specific advice to help you choose wisely when ordering online. Check out our ever-evolving Boot Sizing information for Lowa Boots and Boot Sizing information for Zamberlan Boots pages. Or call us for info if you're deciding now!
CCOutdoorStore.com fully supports a “wear at home” return policy. In fact we highly recommend that our customers give their boots – especially ones they intend to hike or backback in - a good test wherever they are. We do ask that you are respectful, though, that if you need to return boots to us they need to be in new condition. How can you do that? Some ideas:
Check for general comfort: Walk around on clean floors or (better) rugs. Does the boot feel like it fits your foot reasonably well with no immediate pinching or rubbing? Remember your feet will swell a bit after hiking or backpacking, so make sure it's not too perfect first thing in the morning!
Find your toes (or try not to!): “Run” forward and stop short. Tap your toe behind you on a carpeted floor. Try to get your toe to mash up against the front of the boots. If they do mash – how much force did it take for you to do that? Imagine hiking downhill after a long day-hike. It's more like falling with your body and pack weight doing all they can to make your toes miserable. What will that feel like?
Test for heel slippage. Go up stairs and see if your heel starts to slip out of the boot.
Test fit for BOTH FEET! It is so incredibly common that people have different size feet that we're starting to think that boot manufacturers may soon sell one boot at a time! But until this happens (don't hold your breath!), we recommend you put BOTH shoes on. Feel them both for the same things above. If one shoe seems to fit a little tighter, that foot may be a tad bigger. We recommend that you buy for the bigger foot because we figure a tad loose on the smaller foot is much better than tight on the bigger one.
If it's still not perfect, don't stop yet! Check the lacing – get it nice and tight to prevent slippage (or a bit looser if your toes are feeling tingly). Consider whether an orthotic insert like Smartfeet might work. Smartfeet has some inserts that are designed to help the boot grab your heels better. Even a regular cushion insert from the local drugstore might give you some extra cushion and make the fit perfect (plus it gives you room to move if your feet swell after a long day or hiking or backpacking).
After doing all of the above, assess your new boots. Will your toes be safe from the downhill beating in your new boots? If not, send em back and get a bigger size! Will your heels float and cause blisters from rubbing? If so, consider an insert or getting a smaller size. Does it just feel funny all around and you can't imaging a size change will fix things? In that case, you may consider a different boot or a different brand altogether. And feel free to call us for some advice!
A NOTE ABOUT BREAK IN:
Do you need to break in your boots? With today's technology and design, break-in is much less of an issue than it once was. We recommend that if you're thinking these boots you've bought will be perfect but only after they've been significantly broken in, consider a different size or a different boot.
That said, all boots will certainly “break in” to some extent, especially boots made with leather uppers and leather liners. And you can break them in by force, too. We've heard of some boot fitters who will drape a boot over a chair nob and apply enormous amounts of pressure to “break” some more room into a specific area. Whether you need to do this depends on the profile of your specific feet. But if a boot feels tight all over, don't attempt to break them in! Go up a size!
It should be said that plenty of people take a great boot and spend a lot of time breaking them in to their specific foot profile. And they can’t imagine wearing anything else when out on the trail hiking or backpacking. Yes, of course it is possible to create the perfect boot for you. But life is short so we suggest trying your best to find a pretty darn good fit to start with!
WANT SOME MORE IDEAS? Here's another great resource for Boot Fitting Advice