5 Things to Know Before You Buy Hiking Boots

Emily Woodhouse Gear, Living Adventurously, Practical Advice

Boot shopping. I hate it. Every time my walking boots break, I soldier on in shameless denial until peer pressure and ridiculousness forces me to buy a new pair.  That’s why three years ago, I was wearing a pair of boots with a piece of pipe insulation stuffed into the heel to stop it collapsing (do not try this at home).

Part of what I hate about new boots, and shoes in general, is that my feet are weird. The perfect fit seems to be impossible. But I’ve had leagues of blisters from ill-fitted boots to prove that it’s important.

So, if you’re like me and dread heading down to the boot fitting department, here’s a few tips to help you get the most out of your time there.

1. Go in the Afternoon

Nope, this isn’t just me putting it off even longer!

If you’ve been walking for any long distance, you’ll know that when you walk your feet warm up. When your feet warm up and that blood gets pumping, what else do they do? They expand. Like it or not.

Lie in nowbuy boots later

If you go for boot fitting in the morning, there’s a fairly high chance you won’t get as good a fit as you could.

Why? Gravity.

In the morning, your feet tend to be pretty cold. During the day, thanks (at least a bit) to our old friend gravity, you’ll end up with some more blood in your feet than if you’ve just jumped out of the house from horizontal.

Of course, if you do need to go in the morning, you can just make your feet warm. Do some exercise and get that blood pumping.

2. Decide what you want them for

Sounds simple doesn’t it. You want them for walking.

But that’s really not enough.

Do you want them for walking your dog on the dales? Or for ice climbing in Patagonia? You’ll need very different boots (and very different budgets).

Other than price, the main difference is stiffness. What people would call a ‘mountain’ boot, tend to have what’s known as a ‘B rating’. This is essentially a measure of stiffness from B1 (most flexible) to B3 (least flexible). But even B1 is stiffer than you’d ever need for a moors or dales walk. You might also hear them called ‘winter boots’ because they are designed with snow in mind.

A ‘summer’ boot, possibly also called a hiking boot, is more flexible still. You can bend the sole easily with your hands. Within this, there is a scale of seriousness (often linked with ascending price but not necessarily). Look at the stitching and how the sole is glued on to judge the quality.

3. Bring your current pair along

There is absolutely no shame in taking your boots into the shop. Except, of course, if you’re like me and have worn them mercilessly into the floor. Expect to have a good laugh with the shop assistant about that…


But, joking aside, a pair of boots you’ve worn in will really help the fitter to get a good boot for your feet. I always take mine in.

You can tell so much about your gait (the way you walk) from how and where the sole has been worn down. If you’ve broken the sole (me) or the upper has cracked at stress points (me again), this can also tell you a lot about your feet.

Chances are, the boots you have aren’t perfect and looking at where they’ve failed will help to make a better decision this time around.

Of course, you aren’t expected to know what’s up, but a good boot fitter should. They can read the problems and make educated suggestions, rather than just giving you the pretty ones to try. However awesome the boot looks, you’re going to hate it if it gives you blisters.

Oh, and don’t forget to wash the old ones.

And let them dry…

4. Bring a your usual socks too

Along the same lines, but socks can also have a huge effect on how your shoe fits. For instance, I went in to get a new pair of boots the other day (which prompted this post) and took in a random pair of my walking socks.

I was pretty surprised to discover they were way to thin for the boots I’d been wearing.

My rationale was my feet get really warm when I walk (duh), so I’d wear thinner socks to keep them cooler. But what I hadn’t realised was I’d accidentally stopped my feet from filling the boot. Ooops.

Sock and boot combinations are very important for happy feet. Particularly over long distances. I’ve yet to hear a definitive answer to which is best, but sometimes blister-free feet is the difference between one and two socks.

But just a tip – if you get smelly socks, you don’t have to wear them into the shop…

5. Take an Open Mind

It takes me forever to get a boot that fits. No joking. I’m talking in the range of hours not minutes. Almost everyone has slightly non-standard feet (read: damn weird), so you might not get lucky first time.

You might also have to sacrifice style points for comfort.

Trust me, it’s worth it. I have broken my feet into my boots (as opposed to vice versa) at least twice. The hills are not a fashion show, whatever outdoors shops will have you believe. What’s important is that the shoe fits. The rest is a bonus.

If the boot fits...

With that in mind, come prepared to listen to advice. While I was sitting having my boots done the other day, a teenager came in with his dad. The dad took a look at the shoes and had clearly decided which ones were going to fit before the boy had tried them on.

Now, maybe he was an outdoors expert, I don’t know. But you’ve got to know all the features of the boot and the foot before you can pick or dismiss without trying on. That is why you bother getting them fitted. The guy in the shop will know.

You or I, on the other hand, are far less clued up. I know the Salomons I wear have a wide toe box and a slim heel, because that’s what my feet do (kind of…). But La Sportivas over Merrels over Berghaus over flip flops? Nah.