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Hiking is growing in popularity. Several studies reveal that there is a steady increase in the number of individuals who go on hiking or backpacking trips. With the demand growing, more shoe manufacturers are producing great shoes that cater to the needs of people who enjoy the thrills of the outdoors. However, despite these efforts, some segments of the market are still looking for shoes that cater to them best. For instance, there are those who couldn’t find a pair of narrow hiking shoes because most brands produce medium-width footwear.

It is understandable why hikers won’t settle for shoes that do not meet their demands for comfort, a pair of hiking shoes costs more than $100 a pair after all. The shoes that fit have a great role to play in a pleasant and enjoyable hike.

The importance of fit in a hiking shoe for men and women

Best narrow hiking shoes - May 2020

Good footwear is an essential piece of hiking equipment. Having a good pair of hiking shoes, hiking boots, or hiking sandals helps make hiking trips more fun. The secret to an enjoyable hike is wearing a pair of footwear that suits the shape and size of the feet. Since no two feet are alike, a thorough analysis of the foot is necessary.

Wearing ill-fitting footwear during hiking trips can be likened to wearing a torture device. Within a day of wearing them, blisters and bruised toes can form. If worn for a longer period, these shoes will result in bone deformities and other conditions.

The wrong hiking shoe doesn’t just torture a person for a few hours or days, wearing them for extended periods also lead to long-term or permanent foot and ankle injuries. Foot health experts encourage every individual to wear well-fitting shoes so as not to exacerbate common health conditions.

Since well-fitting hiking shoes greatly help, hikers invest time and money to get them. Beyond logos and brands, hikers must look into the fit of the shoes before buying them. Identifying whether you need a pair of wide, medium, or narrow hiking shoes is just the beginning of a painless trek.

The right fit

The internal and external forces and the manner which these affect the body is called biomechanics . The movement of the foot when walking affects other body parts, and without the proper support in the arches and heels, the body will overcompensate. When the body overcompensates, the person will feel pain in the heels, ankles, hips, and lower back.

No two feet are alike, but shoe manufacturers develop shoes that can cater to everyone for economic reasons. Apart from the standard size used by companies, the materials and construction of footwear also affect the way they fit the feet. To compensate, footwear brands also offer their shoes in half sizes so they can cater to a wider market.  

A simple and effective way to avoid injuries is to wear the right shoes. Shoe stores have staff who are trained to measure the right shoe size. These store personnel can recommend wide or narrow hiking shoes to meet the demands of different individuals. For a more thorough analysis of their feet, hikers can see a podiatrist, a doctor whose expertise is treating foot, ankle, and lower extremity disorders.

If you are shopping for narrow hiking shoes, look for a pair that fits you snugly. It should be tight enough that your feet won’t move inside the shoe when walking. There should also be enough space to wiggle your toes without them touching the front of the shoe. You also need to push your toes to the front and have enough space for two fingers on either side of the Achilles. The heel should also not lift while walking. 

Understanding your foot width

Do you need wide or narrow hiking shoes? How can you tell which type of shoe suits your foot? How different are people’s foot shape? The answer to all of these questions can be obtained by identifying the characteristics of your foot, especially the way its width influence the comfort of wearing footwear.

Avoiding uncomfortable shoes starts in understanding your foot type. Most shoe shoppers are only conscious of their foot length without considering that the width is also a huge factor to consider. Foot width is classified into normal, narrow, and wide.

People with wide feet may notice that their shoes always feel too tight at the forefoot. While this is not a cause for concern, some people opt to undergo wide feet surgery. There are also wide hiking shoes that give better support to individuals with wide feet while they are on the trail.

People with narrow feet experience the opposite as they feel that their shoes are too loose at the forefoot or the heel always slips. A quick solution they would often resort to is wearing multiple socks. If they are wearing laced shoes, they will tighten the laces so it will not slip.

People with medium foot width are blessed that most shoes are made to suit their feet. They have the easiest time looking for and fitting different footwear. They are also less likely to experience blisters and bone deformities brought about by ill-fitting footwear.

A study by the Center for Locomotion Studies of Penn State University  looked into the gender differences of adult foot shape and its implications for shoe design. It was found that the feet and legs of females are different in shape characteristics compared to males. The differences between the foot and leg shape between genders are found in the arch, lateral side of the foot, first toe, and the ball of the foot. The study also recommends that these differences must be taken into account in designing and manufacturing shoes.

In 2001, the National Shoe Retailers Association also noted that around 33 percent of American women have narrow feet. They added that Americans have longer feet, and finding shoes that can accommodate longer feet is difficult.  

According to the College of Podiatry, people’s feet grew bigger in the past four decades. This means that many men and women ask for shoes that are two sizes bigger than those that people asked back then. This fact even makes it more difficult for individuals with narrow feet to find shoes that fit them as shoe manufacturers would focus on catering to a bigger market segment.

All of these studies support a unanimous call for providing an extended line of shoe widths to cater to different individuals. This way, narrow-footed individuals can get narrow hiking shoes that will provide them better support. Although there already are narrow hiking shoes in the market, these are not as common as their medium or wide counterpart.

Anatomy of a narrow foot 

People with narrow feet either have very narrow forefoot or narrow heel. Those with narrow forefoot complain about having too much space left that the foot can easily twist and turn. People with narrow heels on the other hand, often experience their feet slipping which results in blisters.

An easy way to ensure the fit is to buy narrow hiking shoes that lace up or has an ankle or T-bar strap. These shoes can be fastened snugly, deliver a better fit, and emphasize the curve of the arch. Some lacing techniques for narrow feet also help improve the snugness of shoes.

Aside from the foot length, always consider the width of the foot so you would be enlightened whether your feet need wide, medium, or narrow hiking shoes. Check with a Brannock Device to see if your foot is medium, wide, or narrow. Shoe retailers also have helpful attendants who can recommend a couple of narrow hiking shoes that suit the specific needs of their clients.

Common problems experienced by people with narrow feet 

Having narrow feet may feel like a curse to some people as there are only very few brands that are known for producing shoes in narrow widths. A regular shoe often has too much space. It slips and slides, leaving the user with blisters.

Those with narrow forefoot also experience their feet sliding forward in their footwear. If they wear closed-front footwear, the toes will bump against the material which will result in bruising.

Another mistake that a lot of narrow-footed individuals are guilty of going a size smaller thinking that there will be less space. However, since they are sacrificing length over width, they might end up with bruised toes and blisters for struggling to fit into small shoes. If this is done for a long time, a person could develop hammertoes and mallet toes which are both deformities of the bones.

If you have narrow feet, using narrow hiking shoes is advisable. During hikes, you are exposed to the elements. There is also a great chance that you will be tackling rocky or slippery areas which  ill-fitted footwear can never properly support. A pair of narrow hiking shoes reduces the risk of meeting accidents on the trail because the feet fit them like a glove.

Understanding shoe sizing

You and a toddler could both be wearing a size 7, yet wisdom will tell you that his shoes will never fit your feet. Men and women could also both purchase size 10 shoes, and yet the guy’s feet will never fit that of the woman’s. Shoe sizes are a little confusing as these can look the same and still be different depending on the age and gender of wearers.

If you notice, most shoe manufacturers use a number and letter combination in sizing their shoes. The numerical shoe size tells us the length of the shoe. This is the distance from the heel and the longest toe. On the other hand, the letter indicates the shoe width.  

Men and women need to be careful in choosing their footwear sizes. Shoe companies use a different sizing chart for men and women. Children’s shoes, on the other hand, do not come in varying widths.

Knowing your shoe size is a vital step in finding a comfortable pair of shoes. Shoe manufacturers may deviate from the traditional sizing charts they are using so it matters that shoppers would double check their measurements first.

Shoe sizing across brands around the world

Did you know that people could have the same foot sizes but different widths? For example, three friends could all buy a size 10 men’s shoe and yet only one of them may claim to find the perfect fit. The other may complain that the toe box is a little too tight so walking in it is not comfortable. The other may also complain that there is too much space that the foot moves a lot in the shoe. Is it the shoe that is the problem then?

With the growing hiking and mountaineering market, shoe manufacturers are also starting to cater to the needs of people with wide or narrow feet. It shouldn’t come as a surprise to find wide and narrow hiking shoes in a retailer’s rack. Most outdoor enthusiasts are surprised to find that the smaller companies spearhead the production of wider and narrower shoe sizes. 

Shoe manufacturers use different shoe sizing systems that include the width of a foot. There is no uniform system in place for measuring and labeling shoe width, but there are systems that are commonly used by manufacturers. Here are some of the popular systems used by shoemakers all over the world:

  • Mondopoint system which uses millimeters for measuring the width.
  • In Europe, the Paris point, which is 2/3 of a centimeter, is used by manufacturers.
  • Other manufacturers indicate width as a letter or a combination of it taken from a table starting from the narrowest to the widest width.

-  Many shoes bear a number and a combination of letters from A, B, C, D, E, EE, EEE, EEEE, F, and G.

- In the North American system, the unlettered shoe bears a normal D for men and B for women.

- Some manufacturers use the letters N for narrow, M for medium or R for regular, and W for wide.

- The typical difference of the shoe width sizes in American, British, and Canadian shoes is 3/16 inch.

Some shoe manufacturers also offer extra narrow shoes represented by 2A or AA. This shoe is about 20 mm narrower than the medium width model. These extra narrow hiking shoes are best for people with very narrow forefoot and heel.

Buying narrow men's and women's hiking shoes 

Hiking is fast becoming a popular hobby. As revealed by a study, 47.2 million people in the United States went on a backpacking trip in the year 2017. There was also a steady growth in the number of people who went on hiking trips from 2008 to 2017.  As more people go out to enjoy outdoors, the demand for good gear and equipment also rises.

The quest for narrow hiking shoes that perfectly fit can be quite frustrating. Those who are just starting out will find themselves trying on different pairs before finally finding the right narrow hiking shoes for their feet. Those who have been hiking for a while now may already have an idea of brands that offer narrow hiking shoes but still end up fitting a few pairs before settling for the most comfortable one.

There are different options for finding a pair of hiking boots. One is to look at the existing sizes and styles from reputable manufacturers. Most wearers would use inserts to address the problem of having 

too much space. Others who want the perfect fit would have a custom fitted pair of narrow hiking shoes even if this is a little expensive.

Everyone has a unique foot, and in hiking, this is a primary consideration as hikers walk long distances for several hours or days. Whether you are considering getting a pair of narrow hiking shoes from reputable brands or want a custom-fitted pair, you need to make sure that you will be comfortable wearing it for a long time.

Experts from the National Pedorthic Services said that around 85 percent of all people wear shoes that are not their size which results in different foot conditions and injuries. To address the issue, they suggested these steps to find narrow hiking shoes:  

  1. Get properly fitted by an expert. A study by the American Orthopaedic Foot and Ankle Society revealed that 75 percent of women who participated in their poll had not had their feet measured in five years. Experts suggest that the feet should be measured by a qualified professional at least once a year.
  2. Wear socks when fitting hiking shoes, preferably, the pair you will be hiking with. Thick socks, which are ideal for hiking trips would naturally take up space so make sure to wear them when you buy new shoes.
  3. Choose the right style. There are not many shoe styles that suit narrow feet but lace-up or strap shoes can fit better than pumps and slip-ons. It also helps to choose low heels as high heels push the foot forward.
  4. Consider imported brands when looking for narrow hiking shoes. Experts noted that European brands employ design features that can work for narrow feet. They also noted that a lot of European shoes provide a better fit for narrow feet.
  5. Look for more shoe options in different shops. Don’t just settle on the narrow hiking shoes that a single store is offering. Shop around until you can find the best fit for you.

The sizing alternative

What would you do if shoe options are a little too big or a little too small for you? Some women may have a hard time looking for hiking shoes that suit their wide feet or some men may find it hard to purchase narrow hiking shoes that suit their narrow feet. Although there are differences in the foot shape of men and women, experts would say that you can consider checking out the narrow hiking shoes designed for the opposite gender. There may be designs from the male or female line that can address the fitting issues of some people. 

Shopping narrow hiking shoes online

Hiking footwear shopping is now made more convenient by online shopping platforms. While these actually make shopping easier, a great disadvantage is not fitting the shoes before paying for them. Here are  some tips to make your online narrow hiking shoes shopping fruitful:

  1. The top thing to do is to know your actual size and know its equivalent in different sizing systems. Looking for narrow hiking shoes is even more complicated because of the special considerations that narrow-footed individuals have to consider.
  2. It is advisable to make online shoe purchases for brands that you have already worn since it is easier for you to estimate the fit of the shoes you will be purchasing.
  3. Alternatively, shoppers can search narrow hiking shoes rankings pooled together by reputable sources.  These platforms help identify the strong and weak points of shoes thereby helping shoppers narrow down their shoe options. A variety of backpacking shoes are ranked by these sources to help shoppers in their quest.
  4. Identify the socks that you will be hiking your narrow shoes with. Clearly, you will need a pair of socks for a hike and its thickness will likewise affect the snugness of your narrow hiking shoes.
  5. Make sure that the seller has return policies. You may think the narrow hiking shoes are already perfect for you but once it comes to your house, you will realize that it does not fit you as expected. You can always return the product and have it replaced with a different pair.
  6. Return the narrow hiking shoes you ordered if necessary. If you think that the pair is not the best fit for you or if there are defective parts, always be quick to have it replaced.

A lot of people would say that buying shoes online doesn’t work but there is no denying that it is convenient. Narrow hiking shoes can be challenging to find so shopping online is a great alternative to spending days in shoe stores. Aside from the basic principles of shoe shopping, also consider other factors like the return policies of the shop. Do not believe that shopping for narrow hiking shoes online is impossible or unwise. 

Narrow hiking shoes Q and A

How do I know that narrow hiking shoes fit me well?

For narrow-footed individuals, the challenge of finding a shoe that accommodates the thin forefoot and heels, and high arches is a great challenge. When fitting narrow hiking shoes, make sure that there is just enough space for your forefoot to splay and for your heels to fit snugly.  

If the narrow hiking shoes still have much space left in the upper, consider getting a pair of extra slim or extra narrow hiking shoes. If they are a bit too tight, you may opt for a medium-width pair and use insoles and thicker socks to compensate for the space.

Is it wrong to go a size smaller to compensate for the space issue with my narrow feet?

A common mistake of many hikers is picking a shoe in a smaller size instead of choosing a pair of narrow hiking shoes. So many people fall for the idea that length is all that matters. Some are not aware that there are wide, medium and narrow hiking shoes at all. Obviously, length is not everything in shoe sizing.

The difference between narrow hiking shoes and medium-width shoes is the upper space. Medium-width shoes usually have the same upper room but with different lengths so wearing them does not resolve the space issue that individuals with narrow feet complain about. Narrow hiking shoes have less upper space so these are naturally tighter.

What makes narrow hiking shoes a good hiking footwear option?

There is an ongoing debate as to whether hiking shoes are a better option than boots. The two camps have their own opinion, laying out the pros and cons of each. At the end of the day, it all boils down to the preference of the hiker.

Narrow hiking shoes are usually made of nylon and are reinforced with suede and some leather. Most individuals love them because there is minimal to no break in time needed. Most of all, narrow hiking shoes are less expensive than their boot counterpart. 

Are narrow hiking shoes expensive?

Narrow hiking shoes are not as expensive as hiking boots. On the average, hiking shoes cost a little over $100 depending largely on the materials used and the technologies incorporated in manufacturing them.

Do all brands carry narrow hiking shoes?

Not all brands have narrow hiking shoes on their line. It is best to ask for the store assistant’s help when searching for narrow hiking shoes since they are more knowledgeable of the styles and sizes available. Experts also suggest considering European brands which have more features that can accommodate narrow feet.

What if there are no off-the-rack hiking shoes fit your feet?

A good but expensive option is to have customized narrow hiking shoes made. Despite the huge price difference between custom shoes and off-the-rack models, narrow hiking shoes custom made for people are guaranteed to fit better than anything else since their measurements and foot conditions are properly addressed.

Do inserts work fine if I skip narrow hiking shoes?

Inserts or insoles are used to help address space issues in footwear. Other people with narrow feet choose to buy medium-width shoes and depend on insoles to address the space problems. However, there is no one insole that can address all of the problems most narrow-footed individuals have. There are different types of insoles which are meant to address at least one fitting problem.  If you have multiple issues in wearing medium width shoes thereby prompting you to get more insoles, skip it and choose narrow hiking shoes instead.

What are other things that I can do to keep my narrow feet from slipping?

If your narrow hiking shoes still feel a bit too spacious, you can try a few lacing techniques for narrow feet.  A mix of insoles and these techniques can help you wear your shoes more comfortably.