While hikers may disagree on various features of hiking boots, and there is a lot of debate about the best materials, the best insole, the best lacing techniques, and so on, there is one thing that everyone agrees upon; hiking boots need to fit perfectly.
However, it isn't always easy to know what that perfect size may be. Everyone has had the experience of trying on a boot that feels perfectly comfortable in the store, only to have it be painful and create blisters later on the trail.
Experts often recommend buying hiking boots that are a size bigger than your normal shoe size, just to avoid this situation. But boots that are too big can create problems of their own. So what's the answer? Should hiking boots be a size bigger? Let's find out.
Reasons Why Hiking Boots Need to be Larger Than Regular Shoes
There are a lot of reasons why hiking boots may need to be larger than your regular shoe size. Let's look at them more closely.
Your feet get larger over the course of the day
You may have heard that most people are taller in the morning than they are in the evening. This is because, while sleeping, there is less vertical pressure on the body, and the connective tissues in the spine relax and expand.
The same thing happens in your feet. Over the course of the day, as your feet are bearing your weight and moving you around, they naturally expand under the pressure.
For many people, the feet also get larger during the day because body fluids react to gravity and tend to accumulate in the lower body.
For almost everyone, this combination of increased pressure and increased fluids means that the feet are bigger in the evening than they were in the morning.
Your feet get larger when you are warm
Whether you are warm from exercise, or warm because it's a hot day, that heat can make your feet get larger.
When your body is warm, your blood vessels expand to allow more heat to escape. This is most noticeable in your extremities, and particularly the soles of the feet. The hands and feet, where the skin is thinner, are especially good at heat exchanges and regulating body temperature, which is why many people sleep with one foot outside of the blankets.
When you are hot, your feet experience increased blood flow and get larger, and, when your feet are inside hiking boots with little extra room and decreased ventilation, the effect is more noticeable.
Your hiking footwear may not be the same as your regular footwear
When hiking, particularly in cold weather, you may be wearing specialized socks or insoles that you don't wear with your normal shoes.
Descents are more difficult
For casual walkers and joggers, going uphill is the hard part, and they catch a welcome rest on the way back down.
For more serious hikers and backpackers, descents are often the hardest part of a journey. When going uphill, we rely on the strength in the large muscles of the legs, which are built for this kind of exertion.
When going downhill, it can be harder to get secure footing, so we rely on the stabilizing muscles around the joints of the knees and ankles, which are smaller and more easily strained.
Going downhill is often done at the end of the day, when the feet are larger, and the body has often already worked hard during that day.
It's at the end of a hike, particularly when going downhill, that hiking boots need to provide the most comfort and support, and where a bad fit is the worst.
For all those reasons, hiking boots almost always need to be larger than your normal shoe size. However, when trying on hiking boots, there are ways to make sure you get the best possible fit, rather than simply choosing a larger size.
- Always try on new boots later in the day, when your feet are bigger
- Always try on hiking boots when wearing your insoles and cold weather socks, if you expect to be hiking in them
- And, if your feet are two different sizes, or if you are in-between sizes, go up half a size. It's always easier to put on an extra pair of socks, and take them off if needed, than it is to overcome a hiking boot that is too small.