My hiking shoes on some grass looking out in the Columbia River Gorge.

How to Tell if Hiking Boots Are Too Big [8 Ways to Know]

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Hiking is all fun and games until you realize that your boots are way too big and you’re going to be uncomfortable for the rest of the day.

Womp, womp, wommmpppppp.

If your hiking boots don’t fit your feet properly, it can lead to discomfort, pain, and the dreaded blisters. Or even having to turn around early.

Which is why it’s so important to test them out before you head out on the trail to ensure that they fit you properly.

In this post, I’ll give you all the information that you’ll need to tell if hiking boots are too big or if they fit the way that they should.

Signs That Your Hiking Boots Are Too Big

There are many ways to determine the fit of your hiking boots, and it’s important to watch out for signs of them being too big.

Below are a few of the most surefire signs that you need a smaller pair of boots.

Your Feet Slide Around A Lot

One of the easiest ways to determine if your hiking boots are the right size is to check if your feet slide around in them.

When trying them on, walk around a bit and see if your feet stay in the same place.

When wearing a pair of boots, you want you heel to be “locked” in place, to avoid blisters and slipping.

If your feet moving around a lot, it could mean that the size you have on is too big.

Moving around could mean either from front to back or side to side.

Ensure that the laces are tied tight enough and then try again. If they’re still sliding, size down.

You Have Toe Pain Going Downhill

If you’re hiking downhill and find that your toes are repeatedly jamming into the end of your boots, they could be too big.

This goes along with your feet sliding around.

Two people wearing hiking boots while standing on an inclined rock.

If your feet have enough room to slide around in the shoes, going downhill will force them forward, causing them to hit the end.

This happens because your feel isn’t in that “locked” position, meaning it has the freedom to move.

This can create pain in your toes and also wear down the shoes at a faster rate.

Your Toes Have A Lot of Wiggle Room

While it is important for your toes to be able to wiggle around in your boots, you don’t want them to wiggle too much!

If you find that your toes are constantly moving around, the toe box may be too large for your feet.

The toe box is the area at the front of the shoe that houses your toes when you’re wearing the boots.

Your toes should have just enough space to wiggle a little bit and feel like they can breath.

You Find a Blister on Your Heel After a Hike

Finding a blister on your feet may not seem too alarming to you, as it happens often when you’re breaking in new shoes or on long hikes.

But if you’re getting blisters often on your feet after hikes or can’t seem to keep them away, it’s likely being caused by your boots.

Loose boots can cause rubbing on your ankles, which causes blisters.

This can be painful and extremely uncomfortable, especially if you’re hiking long distances.

Your Ankles Aren’t Supported

One of the main reasons that we wear hiking boots when on a trail is to support our feet and ankles.

Walking over sharp rocks, tree roots, uneven ground, and mud can cause our feet to move around a lot.

If you notice that your ankles and feet don’t feel supported in your boots after they’ve been laced, it could be because they’re too big.

There shouldn’t be gaps between your ankle and the supports on the boot when the laces are tightened.

You will need that added support in your ankles, especially if you’re going for longer hikes or are heading out for a backpacking trip.

You Trip Over the Boots

This one is fairly obvious, but you can tell that your hiking boots are too big if you start to trip over them when you’re walking.

This is not to be confused with tripping over rocks or tree roots. 😉

A pair of hiking boots resting on a rock with a blue lake and lots of trees in the background.

What I mean by this is that the ends of your boots are hanging further out than your toes go, causing you to trip over the extra material.

This can obviously cause you to fall and get hurt, which can easily be avoided by having the proper size boot.

Hiking in Them is Uncomfortable

When you were little, did you ever try on your mom or dad’s shoes and realize how uncomfortable it is to walk in them?

Or, have you ever grabbed the first pair of shoes you see to go check the mail and notice that they aren’t yours and you begin to walk like an elephant?

That’s what hiking in a pair of boots that are too big for your feet can be like.

It’s extremely uncomfortable and can come with consequences such as blisters, hot spots, and hurt ankles.

Tips for Choosing the Right Boots

There are a few things to consider and understand when looking for a new pair of hiking boots.

Here are my top tips for ensuring that your boots will fit properly once you get on the hiking trail.

1. Check the Boot’s Length

Ensuring that your boots fit the length of your foot is important so that your toes don’t slide forward and hit the ends.

One way to do this is to take the insole out of the boot and set your foot on it.

There should be about one finger’s width of space between your longest toe and the end of the insole.

My foot in a colorful sock on the insole of my shoe, checking if my hiking boots are too big.

The other way to test if the length is right for you is to determine which of your feet is the longest and put that foot in the boot.

(Yes, most people have one foot that is longer than the other, and this is the foot that you should use for this try-on.)

Stand up straight and have a friend or family member check for space behind your heel.

You should be able to slide one finger between your heel and the end of the shoe, but it shouldn’t be too easy to fit the finger.

The biggest reason for having a little bit of extra space in your hiking boots is that most feet tend to swell when you’re on them all day.

So you need room to ‘grow’ into them as the day goes on.

2. Check the Boot’s Width

The width of the boot is also very important because you want to ensure that your foot won’t be sliding from side to side.

Some people already know that they need a ‘wide’ shoe when they purchase, so if this is you, take that into consideration.

Slide your foot into the shoe and tighten them as you would if you were going for a hike.

If your feet feel like they can slide from side to side, they’re too wide for your feet.

My foot in a colorful sock on the insole from my hiking boot, checking the size.

And on the other hand, if your feet feel like they’re being squeezed and can’t breathe, this pair of boots is too tight for you.

You can also test this in a similar way to the length, by placing your foot on the insole when it’s taken out of the boots.

If your foot hangs over the edge of the insole, they’re too narrow, and if there’s a lot of room on the edges, they’re too wide.

You want to find a pair that comfortably fits on your feet without having to wrench on the laces to tighten them or wear them completely untied.

3. Ensure Your Heel is Tight

One of the most common ways that people get blisters when hiking is their heel rubbing against the back of the shoe.

This can easily be avoided by ensuring that your heel doesn’t lift up and down when you walk.

To test this, slip your feet into the prospective boots and tighten them as you would for a day on the trail.

Walk around on your toes to see if your heel stays in place or if it moves.

You can also walk up and down a set of stairs a few times to test the same thing.

If your heel moves, the shoes may be too big and you’ll want to downsize.

4. Try Boots on In-Store

As easy and tempting as it is to just order a pair of shoes online, it’s definitely not the best way to do it.

Head in to a real store to try on a new pair of hiking boots so you know they fit properly.

How are you going to be able to tell if the hiking boots are too big or too small if you don’t try them on first?

REI is probably the best place around to try on hiking boots, because they have experts to help.

Plus, you’ll need to break your boots in when you get home.

5. Wear Your Hiking Socks When Trying On

One of the best ways to ensure that you have a pair of hiking boots that will comfortably fit you on the trail is to wear your hiking socks when trying them on.

Choose the pair that you wear most often when on the trail, and use those in the shoe store.

Myself wearing a pair of blue and purple hiking socks.

Avoid those little disposable socks that stores provide and stay away from your everyday ear socks.

These will feel different than what it’ll feel like on the trail.

6. Walk Around in Them

We wouldn’t buy a car without test-driving it first, so why buy a pair of shoes without bringing them for a ‘test walk’?

Put the boots on and walk around the store for a while.

Try to find somewhere that has an incline to test out how they’ll feel on hills.

This is going to give you the best feel for what they’ll feel like on a hike.

Make sure that you’re wearing your hiking socks and that you have them tightened properly.

If they’re uncomfortable in the store (aside from what’s normal for a new pair of shoes), it’s very likely that they’ll be uncomfortable on the trail.

7. Try On At the End of the Day

As I mentioned early, most people’s feet tend to swell after being on them all day long, which is what happens when we hike.

But there’s a good way to test this and make sure that they won’t feel too tight after a long day on the trail.

Myself wearing hiking boots on a lawn of grass.

Head to the shoe store after you’ve been at work all day or after you’ve finished a hike.

This will allow you to try them on with swollen feet.

As weird as this sounds, it gives you the opportunity to ensure they’ll fit all the time.

8. Think of What Kind of Hiking You Do

There are many different types of hiking boots, each suiting a different kind of hiking better.

If you’re a day hiker, you might consider going with a hiking shoe (lower ankles & less rigid), rather than a boot.

Mid-ankle boots are also great for day hikers, who prefer to have a bit more ankle support. This is what I currently wear.

Backpackers or long-distance hikers might prefer boots with an even higher ankle (sometimes mid-calf) to carry their heavy loads.

While this doesn’t entirely help with the fit of your boots, it may help you decide which is best for your type of hiking.

How to Deal With Hiking Boots That Are Too Big

If you’ve already purchased your boots and are ready to hit the trail, but realize they are too big, there are a few things that you can do to help.

None of these are permanent fixes, and unfortunately, the boots might still feel too large, but they’re all worth a shot!

  • Tighten the laces as tight as you can to try to secure the boot to your foot better.
  • Wear an extra pair of socks to try taking up more space within the boot.
  • Use soft items such as tissues or cotton balls to stuff the places that have extra space such as the heels or toe box.
  • Use an extra insole to lift your foot higher and fill more space.
  • Use ball of foot pads to fill extra space within the shoe and make them more comfortable.

How Should Hiking Boots Fit?

Hiking boots should fit your feet snugly so that your feel doesn’t move up and down and your foot doesn’t slide around.

You should be able to slightly wiggle your toes and they should be sitting flat on the bottom of the shoe.

Your ankle should feel supported and your feet should be comfortable.

If your feet are sliding around, your toes are jammed or crossing, or your ankles don’t feel supported, you may need to try a different size.


Should Hiking Boots Be a Size Bigger?

While there’s no true answer to this question, many people do say that their hiking boots are a half size bigger than their everyday shoes.
I would say that what it really comes down to is what is most comfortable for you and what will allow just a little wiggle room.
If sizing up creates too much wiggle room to the point where your feet are sliding, size back down.

How Much Extra Space Should Be in Hiking Boots?

You don’t want too much extra space in hiking boots because this will cause your feet to slide around.
But you will want just enough for your feet to ‘grow’ (swell) at the end of the day.
Leave about a finger’s width of space between your heel and the back of the shoe.

Is it Better for Hiking Boots to Be Too Big or Too Small?

While it’s obviously not ideal for a hiking boot to be either too big or too small, but if you have no choice, I would go the bigger route.
This way, you can add an extra sock to get rid of the space and your feet won’t feel like they’re being squeezed.
If your hiking boots are too small, you could feel pain in your entire foot and especially your toes.

Is it Okay to Wear Hiking Boots That are Too Big?

There’s definitely nothing that can stop you from wearing boots that are too big besides discomfort.
You can wear the boots. And make it even more comfortable by trying a few of the tactics listed above under “how to deal with hiking boots that are too big.”

What Should I Do if My Hiking Boots are Too Big?

If you get out on the trail and realize that your hiking boots are too big, there are a few things that you can do to help.
First, try tightening the laces to see if they can fit more snugly around your feet.
Second, put on a second pair of socks to increase the amount of space taken up in the boots.
One of the last things that you can do is use items such as tissues to stuff in places that have extra space such as near the toes or heel.

How Can I Care for Blisters From Hiking?

One of the best ways to take care of blisters is to avoid them in the first place by understanding what causes them.
Shoes that are too big or too small, wet socks, socks that don’t fit, and too thin socks are some of the main causes.
If you find yourself with a blister, add a second pair of socks to stop the rubbing.
Moleskin is another great tool to keep in your hiking bag that acts as a barrier between the blister and the material causing it.
If you don’t have moleskin, just apply a bandage or two to the area.

Wrap-Up: How to Tell if Hiking Boots Are Too Big

Not having the proper-sized hiking boots can quickly turn a fun adventure into a miserable time.

Which is why it’s so important to use these tips and ways to tell if your hiking boots are too big to choose the right pair.

I promise that having shoes that fit you will make your days out on the trail last longer and be a much more enjoyable time.