Why you should never buy hiking boots a size bigger

What size walking boots do you actually need? We’ve got the expert advice.

If you enjoy hiking, then finding the right pair of walking boots for you is of utmost importance – as any hiker who has hobbled miles with blisters will attest to the misery of uncomfortable shoes.

Fit is particularly crucial – especially if you’re planning on longer walks. If you’re in the market for a new pair, you might be wondering whether hiking boots should be a size bigger than your regular shoe size. It’s an age-old belief, but is it really true?

We consulted an expert to give you the best advice on how to buy a pair of walking boots that really fit.

Two pairs of hiking bootsCredit: Shutterstock / Jens Ottoson
The right pair of boots is vital if you love hiking

Should walking boots be a size bigger?

The answer to that question is a resounding no, according to Jeremy Stevens, footwear buyer at outdoor sports retailer Ellis Brigham Mountain Sports.

“This is a common misconception,” he tells us. “It is an understandable one though, born from the idea that you would need a thick sock to pad out an inflexible leather boot. In fact, hiking boots should be sized to fit properly without being too big.”

The lowdown on hiking boots

Good footwear should protect the 26 bones in each of our feet, and the boots we see in the shops today represent hundreds of years of evolution.

The walking boot as we know it started to be developed in the early 20th century as interest in walking for leisure increased. These boots were heavy, made of thick leather and needed hours of breaking in to ensure they were comfortable to wear.

But Stevens explains that boots today are very different. “Advances in footwear technology and design mean that hiking boots are generally lighter and more flexible than they used to be,” he says.

“The use of fabric and leather combinations together with a Gore-tex lining means you get a much more supple upper while keeping your feet dry.

“There are much softer foam midsoles too – hiking boots are more comfy all over. They will still offer you stability, support and grip, but with less foot fatigue.”

A pair of boots hanging over an edgetCredit: Saga Exceptional
Whatever boots you choose, try to keep them on solid ground

How do I find the right fit for my walking boots?

If we don’t need to size up for our boots, then how do we ensure they are comfortable? A good fit is vital, especially as walking boots are one of the most important items of equipment we need for a mountain hike. If they rub, cause blisters or cause other pain, then it could curtail your walk.

So what should you be looking out for? Once again Stevens has excellent advice.

  • The right boot will feel snug yet unrestrictive, with enough toe room and a feeling of comfortable support.
  • The boot should fit closely (but not tightly) around the midfoot, to hold your foot reliably in position. You want to minimise the amount of slippage inside the boot.
  • Up front, you need sufficient width for your forefoot to splay over time (your foot spreads slightly through the day, and as you walk).
  • You need around 1cm (3/8in) of space at the toes to make sure there’s no danger of you rubbing or bumping your toes, especially when walking downhill.

Try hiking boots on before you buy

Stevens strongly recommends visiting a shop to try on a variety of boots before buying, and he’s got some useful tips.

  • Wear the correct kind of walking sock when you try a pair of boots on, such as a light or midweight Smartwool
  • Walk up and down a ramp or a flight of steps, concentrating on the toes and the heel. You don’t want your heel to be moving up and down in the boot, as this will cause a hot spot or a blister.
  • It might be worth finding a shop which offers digital measuring (some Ellis Brigham stores have Sidas Feetbox Scanners) which check foot length, width, shape and arch height, and can help you choose the most suitable style for your feet.

Sizing varies between brands

Bear in mind that sizing can vary. Just because you are usually a size seven doesn’t mean you’ll take that size in a different brand.

Stevens says: “Getting the right fit is a bit of an art, which is where speaking to expert staff in a shop can make all the difference. They will understand not just the kind of boot you need for your chosen activity, but also which models are likely to be a good fit for your unique foot shape.”

Phillipa Cherryson

Written by Phillipa Cherryson she/her


Phillipa Cherryson is a senior digital editor for Saga Exceptional. Phillipa has been a journalist for 30 years, writing for local and national newspapers, UK magazines and reporting onscreen for ITV. In her spare time she loves the outdoors and is a trainee mountain leader and Ordnance Survey Champion.

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