Footwear Fitting Tips

Whether hiking steep terrain, running along a trail or enjoying a casual walk around town, shoes that fit correctly are essential for the overall comfort and health of your feet. The following tips and techniques are designed to help you get a good fit.

First, find your shoe size.

This may seem obvious. But feet do change size over time, so if you haven't had yours measured in awhile, it's not a bad idea-especially before you order boots or shoes online.

Have an experienced REI salesperson measure both of your feet using a Brannock device and use these measurements as your starting point. If one foot is larger than the other (which is quite common), fit your larger foot first.

Next, check the fit once you get your footwear.

  • Your feet naturally swell during a day's activity. It's best to try on shoes towards the end of the day when your feet are more closely the size they'll be after you've been walking for a while.
  • Check the initial fit. Seat your heels firmly into the heel cups of the boots, lace them up and stand up. They should feel snug around the ball and instep of your foot, but loose enough that flexing your foot forward is not uncomfortable.
  • Since most people have one foot that's slightly larger than the other, try on both shoes. Try to walk on both carpet and hard surfaces to get an idea of different surface traction. If possible, walk up and down an incline to check for foot movement inside the boots. Check for heel lift and toes touching the end of the boot.
  • Next, move up onto the balls of your feet. Now back on your heels. Do the shoes flex adequately with your feet? Are they comfortable? Don't be fooled that a shoe can be "broken in." Sure, a shoe will become "softer" with wear, but a good-fitting shoe doesn't need to be broken in.
  • You should be able to wiggle your toes inside the toe box (the front of the shoe). To see if you have enough room, slide your foot forward so your toes are just touching the end of the unlaced boot. In this position, you should have a finger's width (about ½") between the base of your heel and the boot. This will allow toes to spread to keep your feet stable and provide room for natural foot swelling; it will also prevent cutting off the circulation which leads to cold feet.
  • Your heel should stay in place. After lacing there should be no more than ¼" of movement in your heel. This will reduce friction that can lead to blisters and will prevent your foot from sliding forward as you walk downhill. If your foot feels like it's "floating" inside the boot, try a half size down.

Finally, address any fit problems.

High insteps, longer second toes, bunions, heel spurs—all these common foot conditions can cause annoying and painful fit problems. Most of these fit issues can be addressed fairly easily.

  • Insoles not only help to cushion and support feet, but also take up volume in a boot or shoe that's slightly large for the foot. Try using an insole if your heel is moving a bit or your toes are sliding forward slightly. Of course, supportive insoles also control side motion such as pronation and supination and can help reduce or eliminate fatigue, blistering and other motion-related fit issues.
  • Don't forget socks. They also help to take up extra volume in large shoes. Make sure you try on footwear with the socks that you intend to wear with them.
  • Various lacing techniques can resolve many fit problems. For example, the tightness and pinching caused by high insteps can be alleviated by skipping one or more eyelets over the top of your foot. The Surgeon's Knot, or crossing the lace three times, serves as a lock when you need one section of your laces to be tighter or looser than another and can be used creatively to get a good fit.

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