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The importance of fit in a hiking boot

best narrow hiking boots
Best narrow hiking boots - December 2019

Finding a comfortable pair of footwear is a tricky situation for individuals with narrow feet. Their characteristically thin forefoot or heels make any shoes too roomy. In activities like hiking where precision of movement is crucial, there’s no negotiating narrow hiking boots for other footwear options.

Hiking boots always make it to the top of preferred hiking gears. Not only are they tough, they also help hikers carry heavy loads during their trips. Even if boots can come with a hefty price tag, they remain a coveted gear. However, the function, comfort, and overall satisfaction of wearing boots depend on how well they fit hikers. 

There are factors that affect the success of a hike, but there is nothing that can beat the torture that ill-fitting footwear brings. In principle, it is easy to say that narrow-footed individuals should get narrow hiking boots, medium-footed people should get medium-width shoes, and wide-footed ones must get the wide boot varieties. However, the truth remains that so many people wear the wrong shoe size for the reason that they are also not sure how their footwear should properly fit them.

A boot that fits perfectly makes the feet feel like it is not wearing any footwear at all. The toes should not touch the front of the toe box and there should be enough space to wiggle them. The boots should be snug and not tight. The wearer should not feel any discomfort or pain in some parts. Even after lacing, the boot should not press on the foot too tightly. 

A major problem narrow-footed individuals have is heel-slipping. The heels should be able to rise slightly from the sole when taking a step. However, heel slippage is not a good sign as this causes hot spots and blisters. 

There should be at least a finger width between the top of the toe and the top of the boots. Pushing the foot forward in the boots, one must be able to slide a finger between the back of the narrow hiking boot and the foot. 

Hiking footwear come in different shapes, sizes, styles, and brand names. Choosing the right pair is crucial to hikers as they wear them for long stretches of time. If a pair of hiking boots is not properly chosen, hikers will end up wasting hundreds of dollars on ill-fitting footwear or suffering from foot conditions for using them. 

How to find the right fit

Timing is key in finding the best fitting footwear. Anyone has heard the advice that the best time to buy footwear is during the afternoon or early evening. Some may believe that it is just another old wives tale with no hint of truth to it at all. However, experts have proven that the feet swell as the day progresses which makes it ideal to buy footwear at the end of the day.

When shopping and trying out narrow hiking boots, take a pair of socks with you. These socks should be ones that you will be hiking with. Narrow-footed hikers need to be reminded that they must wear only one pair of socks. Others compensate for the excess space by putting on more socks which do not really resolve the problem.

You need to try on the boots and walk around in them. Most stores have ramps where buyers can walk up and down to feel how the boots would support them during ascents and descents.

The right fit according to professionals

Foot measurement is a complex science. There are different aspects that affect foot size and shape. When shopping in shoe outlets, clients should not hesitate to have their feet measured. Store attendants are trained to consider different aspects when taking the measurement. With their help, finding a well-fitting shoe, whether it is a casual footwear or a pair of narrow hiking boots, becomes easier.

In addition to shoe size, a professional fit analysis also needs to include other aspects of the foot. If you see a professional, have your foot matched for the following:

  • Width. Some shoes are too narrow that they hurt medium or wide-footed individuals. Some narrow-footed people may have a problem with medium-width shoes because there is too much space in them. Identifying the shoe width spares buyers from the painstakingly long and tedious process of looking around and fitting shoes. If the buyer knows he is narrow-footed, he can directly check the narrow hiking boots on display instead of wasting time fitting every model available.
  • Foot shape. Any footwear is constructed on a wooden or plastic last. Buyers need a shoe made on a last that matches their foot size and shape. A shoe manufacturer that uses a wide range of last helps buyers find a good match. Buyers can ask if the narrow hiking boots are built on narrow last which ensures a better fit.
  • Arch length. Your foot flexes when you step forward and this is a crucial consideration when buying new footwear. Have experts match the flex point of your foot and the flex point of your shoe by measuring the distance from the heel to the ball of the foot. Considering the way that the shoe and the wearer’s foot work together provides great comfort and prevents injuries. Most narrow-footed individuals have high arches which means that they should look for narrow hiking boots with good arch support.
  • Biomechanics. The way that the foot strikes the ground, and the way that a person rolls weight across the feet determines the amount of motion control or support needed from a shoe. Professional fitters analyze the way a person walks or runs and matches him to a pair of narrow hiking boots with the right amount of support or motion control. 

Most reputable retail outlets have store assistants who were also trained to perform fit analysis on clients. Another option is to see a podiatrist and have a thorough assessment of your feet and the conditions that affect fit and comfort. Through the assessment of experts, you can choose narrow hiking boots that meet the demands of your feet. 

Foot width measurements across brands

Having the right fit is important to hikers. To think that shoe sizes are limited only to length is a huge mistake. Chances are, you are picking your shoes wrong all this time because you only consider the length when you should also be choosing footwear according to your foot width.

If you would notice, shoe sizes have numbers and letters. The letters A, B, C, D, E, F, and G represent different width increments. Typically, American, British, and Canadian shoe manufacturers use a difference of 3/16 inch between shoe widths. 

Different brands follow different sizing charts. The International Organization for Standards (ISO) uses ISO 9407:1991 – Mondopoint shoe size system. This is based on length and width in millimeters. Mondopoint sizes for length is very commonly used but the width fitting sizing system is also available. This is commonly used in winter sports footwear. 

In the United Kingdom and the United States, letter abbreviations are still very widely used. For women, width sizes are available in SS for extra slim, S for slim, N for narrow, R for regular, W for wide, and WW/EW/XW for wider sizes. Men’s sizes on the other hand, come in A, B, C, D, E, EE, EEE, EEEEE, and EEEEE.

Companies all over the world do not follow a singular sizing system. You can check with a store attendant if the footwear you are considering is ordered in a narrow size. You can also check the narrow hiking boots’ size and verify its length and width according to the sizing chart available in the store.

Characteristics of a narrow foot

Thinking that feet are all the same is a grave mistake. The truth is, different people have different foot sizes and shapes. A foot could be narrow, wide, or medium-width. Identifying the width of your foot is done using a Brannock Device or by having it examined by a podiatrist. 

Narrow feet are characteristically thin. Unlike those with medium or wide feet, most individuals with narrow feet feel that there is so much space at the forefront of the shoe. Some may also have a thin heel, so they always experience their footwear slipping at the heel.

Addressing this space issue, many narrow-footed individuals wear medium-width shoes and just wear thick socks or use different lacing techniques. While they may work short-term, it goes without saying that opting for the correct footwear like narrow hiking boots is a more sensible solution. Narrow footwear has less upper space thus, fitting thin feet nicely.

The problem with narrow feet

Narrow feet are narrower than normal or medium feet. This foot type requires footwear that is narrower than the standard sizes available in stores. Many narrow-footed individuals get blisters after hiking trips because the extra space leaves too much space that results in the feet to rubbing the shoes a lot. 

Most women have narrow feet since their natural anatomy is different from that of men. Cavanagh and Wunderlich of The Center for Locomotion Studies of Penn State University studied the gender differences of adult foot shape and their implications to shoe design. They found that men have longer and broader feet than women. The calves, ankles, and foot shape also differ in both genders. They highly recommend that footwear designs should be produced to cater to these differences. 

Narrow feet pose plenty of problems mainly because people purchase the wrong footwear. Ill-fitting shoes leave people with blisters. They also experience chafing. Many individuals also suffer injuries because of the looseness of the footwear they are wearing. These issues are especially a great deal for hikers since they are walking long distances. A good way to address and prevent these from happening is by wearing narrow hiking boots on the trail.

The difference between narrow and medium shoes

Because of economic reasons, companies produce shoes in standard widths and different lengths. This is based on the assumption that most people have normal or medium-width feet. This adds to the difficulty of finding perfectly-fitting shoes for narrow-footed individuals. Shoe shopping is not a very difficult science, it only demands an understanding of the size differences.

Basically, standard width shoes are proportional in size. The shoe increment is 1/16 inches for each size. This means that a narrow shoe is 1/16 inch smaller than the standard size. A wide shoe on the other hand, has 1/16 inch more upper space than the standard width shoe. Narrow shoes accommodate people with thin feet, narrow heels, and high arches. Wide shoes accommodate people with wider forefoot.

Extra slim or extra narrow shoes are also available. These are shoes that are 1/8 inches smaller than standard size models. These fit people with extra thin feet.

Finding narrow men's and women's hiking boots

As there is no uniform width sizing used by every shoe brand, finding narrow hiking boots can be challenging. It can be expected that narrow hiking boots do not bear a cheap price tag. Hikers search high and low to find which narrow hiking boots are worth spending their money on.

People with narrow feet need to find narrow hiking boots that are not too loose in the forefoot. This is a problem commonly experienced by narrow-footed individuals as their forefoot usually twists because of the looseness at the forefoot.

A very important thing to remember when looking for a pair of narrow hiking boots is the foot size. Seeing a professional at least annually to have the foot measured is the most crucial step to find the right pair. Knowing the exact foot size will make shopping a breeze for anyone.

When selecting narrow hiking boots, look beyond the numerical size, new features, and other details. You should always consider concerns that will be vital when you are out on a hike such as comfort, durability, warmth, weight, stability, water resistance, and durability. If you put on narrow hiking boots and they feel the farthest thing from comfortable, ditch them as they will make hikes unbearable.

If you are going to shop for a pair of hiking boots in a retail store, make sure that you have your hiking socks with you. Your socks should be considered when fitting a new pair of hiking boots because the thickness will also affect its overall feel. If you fit new boots with a different pair of socks, there may be differences in thickness which will affect its snugness.

The comfort of narrow hiking boots depend greatly on the fit, but ample cushioning also plays a great part. In finding the right hiking footwear, make sure that you are following ergonomic principles. Tongue padding helps improve the comfort of narrow hiking boots. As a principle, the stiffer the sole of narrow a hiking boots is, the more tongue padding is needed to counteract its rigidity.

Since narrow-footed individuals also experience their shoes slipping at the heel, they need to find narrow hiking boots that have internal ankle padding. The ankle lacks fatty skin layers but folds and flexes when moving. Hiking boots should have a secure fit around the heel and ankle so excess movement will be eliminated while both sides should also have padding to minimize chaffing.

The narrow hiking boots vs hiking shoes debate

There is an on-going debate whether narrow hiking boots are better than hiking shoes and vice versa. It is a question that many people ask especially if they want to enjoy their hike with the assurance that their feet are properly supported. Whether you are buying your first pair of narrow hiking boots or considering a switch to hiking shoes, it is a decision that greatly influences your hiking experience.

There are no wrong and right parties as the best way to figure out whether shoes or narrow hiking boots are better is by trying them out. You may read the pros and cons of wearing narrow hiking boots and narrow hiking shoes but there is nothing can dictate your decision better than actually trying them on.

Narrow hiking boots Q and A

Do all brands all over the world follow a standard shoe sizing chart?

Brands do not follow a standard shoe width sizing. A brand’s medium-width boots could be another brand’s narrow hiking boots. Even the same brands could have different width sizing depending on the last that they used.

Is it possible to get extra narrow hiking boots?

If you’ve shopped around and still there is no pair of narrow hiking boots that fits perfectly, maybe you need a pair that is much slimmer. Some shoe manufacturers offer extra narrow hiking boots which are about 20 mm narrower than the standard version. The reduced upper space will wrap the foot better.

How common are narrow hiking boots?

Compared with the wide version, narrow hiking boots are not as common. However, there is still hope for the narrow-footed individual as there are brands which carry a wide range of shoe width sizes. European brands, although they do not carry narrow widths, often feature narrower cuts. Check the offerings of these brands to find narrow hiking boots that suit your taste.  

Is it wrong to buy narrow hiking boots online?

Some people may warn shoppers about buying shoes online because of fitting problems. While it is true that there is nothing like actually fitting the narrow hiking boots before buying them, there is also no denying that online shopping is very convenient. Experts advice online shoppers to check the shoe store’s return policies before making any purchase so they will have no problems if the narrow hiking boots don’t fit right.