Advice on buying walking footwear. Part 2: How to find the right size?
In these articles we aim to help you find walking footwear that is suitable for your activities and, most importantly, fits your feet.
What is shoe size?
This is a more complicated question than you might think and the answer can be very in depth but in most cases your shoe size only refers to how long your foot is and not its width or depth. There is a scale for measuring width but modern manufacturers rarely publish the width information for their footwear.
It is useful to start by measuring your feet but as you will already know, finding footwear that fit isn’t as simple as just measuring your foot and picking a pair of boots off the shelf. There are wide variations in footwear shape and size between different manufacturers and even different models from the same brand. These variations exist because there are different ways that the manufacturers can define the size of their footwear and there may be variations caused during the manufacturing process. In reality the size written on the boots doesn’t matter, what matters is do they fit your feet?
How should walking footwear fit?
It is critical that you have enough space in front of your toes to prevent hitting the front of the boot as you walk down hill, if you buy boots too short it can cause extreme discomfort and may batter and bruise your toe nails which is bad for your feet. It’s ok if you are just coming very lightly into contact at the front of your boots as you walk down hill but if you are pressing into the front hard its bad news. Walking footwear should also hold your feet well, you don’t want to be slipping around inside your boots as you traverse a hillside or lifting out at the heel as you walk up hill as this can cause blisters. Finding the balance between enough space and too much can be difficult.
How to tell if you have the right size?
There are many ways of finding the right size, here are two useful techniques. Remember size is really just a reference to length so we will start by getting that right first. The “finger down the back” technique is a very useful guide, put your foot in the boot but leave the boot unlaced, now stand up and slide your foot forward until your toes come lightly into contact with the front. You should be able to fit a single finger inside the back of the boot behind your heel, this should be a snug fit, you don’t want lots of wriggle space. If you can’t fit a finger down the back the chances are you need a bigger size.
A second useful technique is to take the foot beds out of the boots and lay them on the floor, stand onto the foot beds taking care to get your heel in the correct position at the back. Now look at how much space there is on the foot bed in front of your toes, you should have around 10mm to 15mm of foot bed visible, this is equivalent to the “fingers width” of space.
These techniques are useful guide lines but make sure once you have done these tests that you put the boots on, lace them up and spend some time walking around in them. Make a special effort to stand on a ramp or slope, facing downhill, and walk on the spot, remember you don’t want your toes to press into the front of the footwear.
What else to consider?
Once you’ve identified the correct length you need to think about width at the forefoot, width at the heel and space over the top of your foot. The best way to judge if this is right is by the way they feel but, if you’re unsure, use your hand to press the outside of the boot at the widest part and around the top of your feet to see how tightly you’re filling the boot or if there is excessive space. Ideally you will be filling the boot evenly with no hot spots of pressure or pinching, you should feel well held but not clamped vice-like.
If the footwear is the correct length but your feet are being pinched at the ball of your feet then don’t go up in size to get the width you need as you will get other problems, instead try a wider model of boot or shoe, try not to kid yourself that the boot fits just because they are your favourite colour!
Boot fitting can be a complex art but getting the right walking footwear for your feet will make or break your days in the hills. This article is just an introduction to the things to consider when buying walking footwear, if you are struggling to find the right footwear for you, we can give you the help you need with boot choice and size.
Backcountryuk.com Boot fitting specialists. Quality footwear and expert advice for the outdoors.