Choosing the right pair of hiking shoes is rarely a straightforward process. Everyone has differently shaped feet, so what works for one person is not necessarily going to work for the next.
Here are the things that shoe fitters consider when fitting footwear, and the questions we ask to ensure you get a shoe that not only suits your needs but most importantly fits your foot.
So if you’re looking at buying a pair of hiking boots online or in store, read this first to get your mind ticking along with the sort of things you might need to consider.
Types of footwear
Low and mid cut shoes
Low and mid-cut shoes of a fabric or fabric/leather construction suit short day hikes, or for those looking to hike fast and light. They can be used for longer treks with heavy loads, but it’s important to note that while they’ll be much lighter on your feet, they won’t offer as much support at the end of a long day, and won’t last as long as a heavier high cut boot.
Low cut shoes are more suited to day hikes. Image: Salomon
High-cut boots are better suited to longer treks as they provide more support around the ankle and through the midsole. They are generally of a heavier fabric/leather or full leather construction. Some time is usually needed to break these in. These shoes will not be as comfortable as the lighter pair you might choose for shorter day hikes.
Foot volume should also be considered, i.e. how much your foot actually fills the shoe. Inserts can be adapted to accommodate volume issues but be sure to mention any previous problems you may have had with your feet as this could have an effect on which style is most suitable.
High cut boots will keep you sturdy on longer hikes. Image: Vasque
Eliminate styles that won’t fit your feet
A good fitting shoe should feel like it’s firmly wrapped around your foot, if you have particularly narrow or wide feet, ask a team member to direct you towards styles that will best suit (see table below showing the personalities of the boots and shoes we stock).
Foot volume also needs to be considered (how much your foot actually fills the shoe), inserts can be adapted to fix volume issues. Be sure to mention any previous problems you may have had with your feet, this could have an effect on what style best suits you.
The shoe should firmly wrap your foot. Image: Thermacell
When should I try shoes on?
The best time to try on shoes is at the end of the day, or after a long walk. Your feet are usually a little larger once the circulation kicks in, rather than first thing in the morning.
Try the shoes on starting with a size that you consider to be your normal foot size. Bring your own hiking socks or ask one of the staff for a suitable sock to try it with.
Don’t get caught up on the number as you may find yourself going up or down a size from what you consider to be normal. Shoe sizes can be very inconsistent between brands, and even between different models within the same brand.
As a guide, you should have approximately a thumb’s width of space between the end of your toe, and the end of the boot.
The sizes and fit varies between brands. Image: Merrell
How can I tell if they fit?
The shoe should feel like it’s wrapping around your whole foot comfortably, eliminating side-to-side slippage in the shoe. You should be able to wiggle your toes, and the shoe should not feel like it’s crushing your foot in on the sides.
Take your time to walk around the shop (Just a heads up here! We only have shoes in our Adelaide store, we currently don’t carry footwear in Brisbane) and utilise the stairs, ramps, bumps etc. to best imitate walking on an uneven trail. Your heel should fit snugly in the heel counter and not have an excessive lift. A small amount is normal, particularly in stiffer boots, but will settle down once they’re broken in.
Take note of anything that feels like it’s digging in or anything that is creating a hotspot on your foot.
About a thumb width at the toe makes for a good fit.
Choose your shoes or boots
Remember, only you can tell if the shoe is comfortable. Most of the time, the right shoe is the one that instantly feels comfortable from the moment you pull it onto your foot.
At Snowys, we recommend wearing the shoes inside at home for 1-2 hours before taking them outdoors. If you’re having any problems, and you haven’t spilt your dinner all over them, you can bring them back to the store for exchange or return.
If you’ve bought your boots online from Snowys and they don’t fit, get in touch with us and we’ll walk you through the return process.
Wear them at home to check before taking them outdoors. Image: Columbia
Frequently asked questions about hiking boots:
1. Do I need waterproof boots?
While a waterproof shoe is great in cold and wet conditions, they can be counterproductive in hot conditions. This is because, while the waterproof liner is breathable, it isn’t as breathable as not having it there at all.
In warm environments, a waterproof shoe is hotter than a non-waterproof model. This is important to know because hot feet are more prone to blisters. So you should carefully consider when and where you will be mostly using your shoes.
Depending on your adventures, you may need a waterproof model. Image: Vasque
2. What is a Vibram sole?
Vibram is an Italian company that manufacture the outsoles of shoes. The yellow Vibram symbol is an indication of a good quality sole. However, some high-quality shoes utilise their own brand of sole, which shouldn’t necessarily be considered inferior quality.
Vibram soles are known for their quality. Image: Merrell
3. What are the best hiking socks?
The golden rule for hiking/trekking socks is not to wear cotton. You should choose wool, synthetic, or socks with a blend of these fibres.
Good quality socks maintain a comfortable fit while providing support and cushioning. They also last much longer than cheaper varieties and those stitched from Merino wool or synthetic fibres have the added ability to ‘wick’ moisture away from your foot and will dry a whole lot faster.
The right socks make the world of difference. Image: Icebreaker
4. My mate wears a pair of Merrell Moabs, he reckons they’re great!
What works for one person, does not necessarily work for the next. Depending on your build and foot shape – you will probably find a different shoe that is just as suitable for you in the same circumstances.
Merrell Moabs – otherwise known as the ‘mother of all boots’. Image: Merrell
5. Do I need insoles?
The inserts that come with shoes provide cushioning and some support. If you have particularly high arches or a low volume foot, you may need to consider different inserts to make the shoe fit correctly.
You might want to add an insole to your shoes for comfort. Image: Sidas
6. What’s the best way to lace a hiking boot?
In my experience, if the shoe fits correctly, you should not need to do anything overly complicated with your lacing. That being said, there are some techniques that can be used to fine-tune the fit of your boots – head to YouTube and check ’em out.
You can try a few different lacing techniques. Image: Merrell
Did you know that shoes have personalities?
Yep, you read right. Most hiking shoe brands have personalities. Some are true to size, some are smaller or larger, some are narrow, some are wide. Knowing these personalities will help you choose a boot or shoe that compliments your feet.
Here’s our take on the quirks of all the different brands we stock:
Finding a pair hiking shoes that are comfortable and suited to the activity you’re going to be doing isn’t always simple. But if you consider the above before making your decision – you should be on your way to finding the perfect pair!
This article was updated for 2020.
Do you have any hot tips for finding the perfect pair of hiking boots? Let us know in the comments.
About the writer...
Trekker, surfer, climber, mountain biker, runner, camper. Participator in most things… master of none.