How to Tell if Hiking Boots Are Too Small [7 Tips]

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Hiking is one of the best ways to get out, get in some good exercise, and see the amazing views that the world has to offer.

But what happens when you get out on the trail and realize that your shoes are suffocating your feet?!

This can make for an extremely uncomfortable and miserable day.

So how do you tell if your hiking boots are too small? In this post, I’ll tell you 5 ways that will let you know if you need a bigger pair.

Signs That Your Hiking Boots Are Too Small

The best time to figure out if your boots fit you properly or not is before you hit the trail, so I would recommend you look out for these signs beforehand.

Below you’ll find 5 good ways to determine if they’re too small or just right.

Your Toes Jam Into the End of the Boots

One of the most uncomfortable aspects of having a pair of boots that are too small is having your toes jam into the end.

Because there isn’t enough room for your feet to stretch all the way out from heel to toe, your toes will just hit the end of the shoe.

This can cause pain in the toes themselves as well as in the toenails.

Especially on downhills, you’ll almost feel like your feet are going to bust out of the front of your shoe.

This is definitely one of the most common factors in figuring out that you need to size up.

Your Feet Feel Like They’re Being Squeezed

The next most common factor is that once the laces have been tightened, your feet feel like they’re being squeezed.

You want to wear your hiking boots with the laces tied, not flopping on the ground.

So it’s important that there’s enough room in there for your feet to fit with the laces tied.

A person walking in a pair of hiking boots on a dirt path.

If the hiking boots are too small, your feet will feel almost suffocated and you won’t have any air flow to them.

You can attempt to loosen the laces, but even this might still not make that tightness go away.

Walking a few miles like this can cause some pain.

Hiking Hurts Your Feet

As I mentioned in the last sentence, these two factors (toe jams and tight laces) can cause your feet to hurt.

I don’t mean the – ‘I’ve just finished hiking 12 miles and my feet are starting to get a little sore’ -hurt.

I mean the type where you’re only a mile or so into the hike and both the tops and bottoms of your feet are yelling at you.

This can be a really good sign that you need a size bigger in order to make hiking fun and comfortable for you.

You Have Blisters at the End of a Hike

Blisters on your toes or the backs of your heels are pretty common when you’re wearing a pair of too small hiking boots.

Shoes that are too tight may cause your feet to rub more against the back of the shoe, causing blistering.

This can also unfortunately create holes in your socks if they rub hard and long enough (and I know you don’t want to lose those $20 Smartwools!).

Your Toes Don’t Sit Flat in the Boot

Another way to tell if your hiking shoes are too small is to see if your toes sit flat on the bottom of the shoe or if they overlap.

Wearing shoes that are too tight on your feet can cause your toes to overlap one another.

My hiking shoes on a dirt part of the trail that overlooks the Columbia River Gorge.

If you have long toenails (and sometimes even short ones!), you might find that your toes have fought with one another after a hike.

Having one on top of the other can cause those long toenails to cut the others.

It also can cause blistering, as your toes don’t have any air flow and they’re rubbing against each other.

Tips for Choosing the Right Sized Boot

When buying a new pair of hiking boots, it’s important to consider a few things before making a spendy purchase.

Follow these tips to ensure that you won’t need to make a return.

1. Check the Length of the Boot

The length of the boots you’re trying on is one of the most important factors in choosing the right size for you.

With the right size length, your toes shouldn’t do that awful jamming into the end anymore.

One way to check the length is to take the insole out of the boot, set it on the ground, and step on it.

Myself wearing a pair of hiking boots with my finger in the back to make sure they aren't too small.

If your toes are hanging off the edge of the insole, they’re too small and you’ll want to grab the next size up.

But if your toes are on the insole and you have about one finger’s width of space at the end, then you’ve found the right size.

A second way to do this is to step into the boot, stand up straight, and have someone slide their finger between your heel and the shoe.

If their finger fits without having to wiggle too hard, you’ve got the right pair!

2. Check the Width of the Boot

The next aspect of buying boots is checking the width.

Having a boot with too wide of a bottom can cause your foot to slip around, while too narrow can cause squishing of your toes.

The two main things to look for are toes that are overlapping each other and your foot squeezing to fit.

Again, you can take the insole out and set your foot on it to see if your foot comfortably fits on the insole.

If you’re having to squish your toes together to fit, you’ll need a wider size.

And if any of the rest of your foot is hanging off, I give you the same answer.

Ensure that your heel, ball, toes, and all parts of your foot are on the insole, and then try it on, to ensure that it’s comfortable.

3. Make Sure Your Toes Have Room

This goes along with the width of the shoes, but one of the most uncomfortable things is having toes jamming into the edge or squishing together.

Put your foot into the boots and make sure that they are comfortably sitting flat on the bottom of the shoe, not touching the end.

My foot on an insole on the ground to check if my hiking boots are too small.

You can also take your insole out and check to see that there’s a small space, about 1 fingers width of space, past your toes.

You’ll want that little bit of extra space for when your feet swell after a long day on the trail.

4. Avoid Buying Shoes Online

As online shopping continues to get bigger, we continue to be tempted to shop from the comfort of our own beds.

I totally get it. But with hiking shoes, you should actually go to the store.

Unless you’re ordering the same shoe for the third time (no shame, I do it too), you won’t know what they’ll really fit like.

Plus, there are experts at stores like REI who can help ensure you have the proper boot for you.

5. Wear Your Hiking Socks During Try-On

I find that wearing the socks that I wear for hiking when I’m trying on boots is super beneficial.

This way, you get to feel what they’ll actually feel like once you get on the trail.

Plus, you’ll get to show off those cute, patterned socks.

6. Walk Around in Them in The Store

Don’t just grab a box off the shelf and walk to the register.

Put those bad boys on and walk around to make sure that you actually like them before dropping $100+.

A person stepping on a rock while wearing their hiking boots with a pair of great socks.

Tighten those laces and walk up and down the stairs, around the aisles, and get a good feel for them.

It’s even good to stand on an incline so you know what they’ll feel like when going up or downhill.

This gives you the best possible opportunity to buy the best pair.

7. Try Shoes On At the End of the Day

After a long day at work or on the trail, our feet tend to be a little swollen.

So trying hiking boots on at the end of the day is one of the best ways to truly gauge how they’ll fit.

You’ll want a little extra space for your feet to ‘grow’ while hiking.

How Should Hiking Boots Fit?

A pair of hiking boots should fit your feet snugly, but not tight in any part of the foot.

Your toes should be able to wiggle around a little bit, but not so much that you can lift them up or move them.

Your heel should be ‘locked’ in place and not lifting up and down.

When the laces are tightened, you shouldn’t feel like your foot is being squished, but rather just strapped in place.

But at the end of the day, your hiking boots should be comfortable and you should be able to walk multiple miles in them without hurting.

(I mean, not counting the soreness that you typically have after exercising.)

You shouldn’t need to stretch your boots, but if you do, there are ways to do it.

How to Prepare New Boots for a Hike

It’s important to do a few things to get your boots ready before bringing them on the trail.

Below you’ll find a few ways to ensure that your hiking boots are prepared for you to take them out!

  • One of the best ways to ensure that your boots fit properly and that they will be comfortable to wear, you’ll want to break them in. This can prevent being uncomfortable on the trail as well as help you avoid getting blisters.
  • Start by wearing the boots on shorter and easier trails to get used to them. Then after you get more comfortable in them, start wearing them on longer and more difficult trails.


How Tight Should Hiking Boots Be?

Your hiking boots shouldn’t really be ‘tight’, but rather just snug on your feet.
You want them to fit on your feet without moving around or falling off, but you don’t want them to feel suffocated.
Just imagine putting the correct size lid on the correct size cup.
It should just fit properly without having to stretch it or push it too hard.

Are Hiking Boots Supposed to Be Tight?

Hiking boots should not be tight, but rather just snug fitting on your feet.
If they feel tight anywhere, they’re too small.

Should I Size-Up in My Hiking Boots?

Some people recommend sizing up when it comes to hiking boots.
This can be said because our feet may ‘grow’ half a size when we’re out on the trail.
But in the end, it just comes down to which size fits you best.
If your normal shoe size fits you, then go with that. And if you need to go up or down a size, do that as well.
Just remember to leave that finger’s width worth of extra space to allow for that swelling.

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

Neither having hiking shoes be too big nor too small is really the ideal situation.
But if there’s no choice, go for the slightly bigger pair.
There are more ways to deal with bigger boots than smaller such as adding an extra pair of socks or tightening the laces.
Shoes that are too small are just uncomfortable and can be painful.

What to Do With Boots That Are Too Small on the Trail?

Once you’re on the trail, there aren’t a ton of solutions for shoes that are too small.
You can try putting on a thinner pair of socks or loosening the laces.
If you have any blisters, put either a bandage or moleskin on the spot.
Aside from this, start your search for a bigger pair of shoes as soon as you get home!

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

Having the proper-sized shoe before hitting the hiking trail is one of the most important things you can do for yourself.

This will help you avoid blisters, sore feet, and wishing that you were back in the car.

Use these tips for how to tell if your hiking boots are too small when trying them on so you can make an informed purchase at the shoe store.

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