How to Tell if Hiking Boots Are Too Small (6 Easy Checks)

When looking for a new pair of hiking boots, one of the most important things you can do is ensure that you purchase the correct size. Every day people ask me for advice on how to tell if hiking boots are too small or too large.

I completely understand. No one wants to invest in boots only to discover that they hurt their feet after wearing them a few times. 

Luckily, I’ve purchased many hiking boots over the years and have learned the key things to look for when trying on boots in the shoe store to ensure that you don’t end up with a pair that’s too small. Keep reading to learn what to look for in your next pair. 

Quick Summary 

  • If your hiking boots are too narrow or have the wrong boot length, it will cause significant discomfort and pain to your feet. 
  • Hiking boots should fit securely on your feet but not have so much tightness they cause pressure or feel like they’re squeezing. 
  • The best way to ensure your boot fits is to perform a series of tests when you try them on and ensure that you break them in properly after purchase. 

How Tight Should Your Hiking Boots Be?

Although you want your day hiking boots to feel secure while walking, they should not feel super tight. If you try on your hiking shoes and they feel tight, it indicates they’re too small for you. 

Make sure you understand the difference between the boots feeling secure and feeling tight. A secure fit is what you want. A tight fit will only cause you trouble. 

How Do You Know If Your Hiking Boots Are Too Small? 

Some key indicators that your hiking boots fit too small include feeling pressure in certain areas, an insole that’s the wrong length, issues with toe spacing, and not having enough wiggle room for your foot.

You must recognize and address these concerns when boot shopping instead of dealing with them while out on the hiking trail. 

Here, I’ll discuss the main things you want to consider for each area of your foot. 


checking my boot toe size

Your toes should not extend too close to the edge of the insole. A good rule of thumb is to ensure a half inch of space. If your toes reach the edge or extend past the insole, you do not have the right boot length.

If the boot has removable insoles, it’s pretty easy to perform this test. Take the existing insoles out and stand on them to see how much room you have between your toes and the edges. 

Another good way to test if you have enough toe room is to wear the boots walking down a sharp decline. This action mimics your foot when walking on a trail, where you point your toes downward. 

I always shop somewhere with a ramp available for this purpose, and I prefer shopping for new boots this way. However, if I’m purchasing shoes online, I wear the boots walking down the stairs in my house to try and mimic the same effect. 

If you can feel the front end of the shoe with your toes as you walk down the ramp and you’ve tightened the boot laces, it indicates that you need to go up a size.

However, excess space can cause this problem. So if your toes hit the boot because your foot is slipping forward, the boot is too large.  

You can lose toenails if your toes hit the front of the boot too often, and that’s a very painful experience. 

Finally, if your toes overlap, you should take the boot off immediately and try another size. Toes that overlap indicates your hiking boots fit incorrectly. 

Middle Of Your Foot 

You should not feel pressure at any point on this area of the sides of your foot. If there’s any pressure on the midfoot, it indicates the boot is squeezing it too tightly.

On the other hand, you also don’t want too much movement either. If you can feel your foot wiggling freely in the boot, it leads to friction and rubbing, which can cause blisters.

Top Of Your Foot 

The top of your foot is another area where you want to check for pressure points. However, you can sometimes use lacing techniques for your boots or make adjustments in this area. 

Note that as your boots get broken in, your heels and toes will compress the insole, making this area feel a bit looser than you initially thought. Wearing a heavy backpack increases this possibility.   

I’ve had this happen before and find it easily manageable by adjusting the tongue or tying the laces differently, especially if the boots have a great fit everywhere else.

Remember that different boots will stretch more than others during the break-in period. Leather boots tend to stretch significantly, whereas nylon ones do not.  


one finger space between heel and back of my boot

My feet have a high arch, so I need to consider this area when finding the best hiking boot fit. You want to ensure good arch support even after you correctly break in your hiking boots.

As I discussed with the top of your foot, the heel and the ball created minor depressions as you walked, reducing the amount of support for the arch.

I have to buy boots where my arch makes slight contact with the boot so that when this shift happens, it doesn’t create so much vertical space that it doesn’t provide support. 


You don’t want to have too much space between your heel and the back of the boot. Too much space will make your heel slip while you walk and cause pain and blisters. To avoid this issue, purchase hiking boots with only a slight space in the heel area. 

When you tie the boots tight, your heel should have light contact with the back of the hiking boot but not uncomfortable contact that causes it to rub. A slight gap of a quarter inch of space should suffice. Stand upright in the boots to perform this test. 


A good-fitting hiking boot will give your ankle stability and support your lower leg. To achieve this balance of support and stability, ensure your ankle makes contact with the sides of the boots.

This area should have a gentle snugness but not so much tightness that it causes pain. 

You do not want the ankle area to feel too loose either, as too little ankle support due to extra space could lead to painful ankle sprains. 

What Can You Do If Your Hiking Boots Are Too Small? 

Unfortunately, if you find yourself with too small boots, there’s not too much you can do to fix the situation. The best thing is to replace your footwear with the right fit. 

However, if you’ve already worn them outside or can’t return them, you can try a few things to help alleviate the discomfort, especially if you still have many miles to go. 

  • Loosen the laces as much as possible without causing sliding. 
  • Switch to thinner socks to try and create enough room in the boots and make them more breathable. 
  • Treat any blisters or hot spots by bandaging them to manage friction and prevent them from getting worse.
  • Remove the insoles. 

Many hikers make the mistake of purchasing the wrong fit at one point, so don’t feel frustrated if it happens. I’ve purchased boots before that I thought were the best fit and ran back to the store to buy new ones after a few hikes.

It’s all part of the learning process, and before long, you’ll know how to properly recognize issues with the fit before you commit to buying the boots.  

Tips When Buying New Hiking Boots 

Here are some tips I give new hikers preparing to shop for boots.  

  • I recommend wearing thicker socks when you try on hiking boots. I always bring my favorite hiking socks I’ll have on during an actual hike. 
  • Remember that your feet will swell a bit as you walk. If your boots feel tight when you try them on, they will feel much tighter when your feet swell. 
  • Also, consider whether you wear orthotics, as those will take up extra room in the boot, and you’ll need to account for it.    

Should You Buy Hiking Boots One Size Up? 

Yes. Go a full size up when buying hiking boots. Boot size is different than your regular shoes, and you also need to account for the thickness of your socks, as you generally do not wear thin socks while hiking.

Also, try on boots at the end of the day if possible, so your feet have time to swell a bit.  

Of course, sizing varies by boot manufacturer, but I find that this suggestion makes a good general rule across hiking boot brands. 

Salomon and Merrell make great-fitting hiking boots for women and men in full-grain leather and synthetic options that most hikers find comfortable. 

What Are the Long-Term Effects of Wearing Small Hiking Boots?

Wearing small hiking boots can result in long-term consequences. Chronic foot pain and discomfort are common, while cramped boots can contribute to sweaty feet, fostering an environment prone to issues such as fungal infections and persistent discomfort.

Are There Pressure Points From Small Hiking Boots?

When wearing small hiking boots, pressure points can develop in various areas of the foot. Common spots include the toes, sides of the feet, heels, and the ball of the foot. These pressure points can lead to discomfort, blisters, and foot pain.

Catalin Geangos

Catalin Geangos

Catalin is a writer and outdoor specialist who has been traveling in over 35 countries so far. He loves spending time in nature, enjoying mountains and nature adventures, and ultimately inspiring people to travel more. In his time off, he is testing, analyzes, and reviews hiking and other outdoor gear and accessories.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *