Figuring out just how much toe room you need in your hiking boots is not something any hiker wants to take a gamble on.
Neglecting to allow for enough wiggle room for those toes can result in injuries, swelling, extreme discomfort and the dreaded blackened toenails.
So just how do you figure out how much toe room you need?
Luckily, there are some tried and true methods to figure out just how much room you’ll need in your boots to stay comfortable.
Dispelling the Myth of the Wiggle Test
One of the biggest rookie mistakes you can make is slipping your foot into a hiking boot, wiggling your toes and if you have enough room, making a purchase. While you DO want room to wiggle your toes in a hiking boot, there is much more to it than just that.
There are several tips, tricks and processes you should always employ when buying a new pair of hiking boots to ensure that the fit of this boot won’t get disastrously uncomfortable towards the end of your hike.
The Steps to a Proper Fitting
If you want to ace the test of a proper-fitting hiking boot, here’s the steps you want to follow to ensure you have just enough toe room to take you on the toughest trails.
1.) Bring the Trail Socks You Would Actually Wear
Hiking boots are not the kind of footwear that you try on with those nylon try-on socks. Instead, you want to wear the hiking socks you would actually wear on the trail, like these Darn Tough Hiker Full Cushioned Boot Hiking Socks.
The thickest pair of trail socks that you plan to wear on your trip is the pair you must bring with you to try on, especially if you’re planning on hiking in colder weather. You already know you’ll be bundling up, after all.
2.) Try on Boots at the End of the Day
The best and most accurate time to try on your hiking boots is at the end of the day, when your feet are naturally a little swollen from the days activities. Your foot can swell to almost half a size longer just from exertion, and they are guaranteed to swell a little on the trail. Your slightly-bigger feet will show you a more accurate fit in the evening than they will in the morning.
3.) Do the Toe-Tap Test
Once you’ve selected the pair that you want to call your own with your slightly-swollen feet and thickest trail socks, it’s time for the toe-tap test. With the laces of your prospective boot unlaced, stand and tap your toe firmly on the ground behind the heel of your other foot.
This should shift your foot as far to the front of the boot as it would naturally slide. Now reach down, and place two fingers behind your heel in the boot. You should be able to comfortably fit two fingers (side-by-side) behind your heel. If you can’t do this, you’ll need to size up.
4.) Seal the Deal with a Descent
Most outdoor shoe and apparel stores like REI will have a ramp available to simulate descents just for this purpose. Once your boot-to-be has passed the Toe Tap test, hop up on a ramp to test how your boot does when your foot and weight shift forward on a steep descent.
The trail you’ve chosen to hike will also influence this choice If you’ve picked a trail with mostly steep descents, like the Grand Canyon, you’ll probably want to go a full size larger to prevent bruises and injury. If your trail is mostly flat or full of ascents, a half-size will probably be sufficient.
Between the experts and fancy shoe fitting devices available at specialty hiking stores, you won’t have too much trouble finding the perfect hiking boot for you. However, here are some parting thoughts to remember when making the selection.
- Your hiking boot fit should have no big gaps or tight squeezes anywhere. If you start out with mild discomfort, it will get 10x worse by the end of your hike. Your initial fit should be comfortable.
- The space between your toe and the end of the boot should be at least the width of your thumb. Although rules of thumb (no pun intended) shouldn’t be trusted completely, this is usually a good starting point before administering several devices, tests and steps to narrow down the contenders.