how to fit hiking shoes. a sort of rant.

August 26, 2010

I worked at REI for three years in the footwear department. My lovely freind Kate was getting blisters on her feet, and after waiting several days for her to *ask* me what I thought, I went crazy and told her…

Blisters are almost always caused by wetness in the shoe, so lets start there. You want to wear smooth, not-unnecessarily bulky *wool* socks. I recommend “smartwool.” Expensive, but they will last forever (wash inside out, your sweaty feet are dirtier than your shoes). Do not wear cotton on your feet, or on your body, for any athletics, ever. Cotton kills. Some synthetics are as good as wool, but we’re just trying to copy what wool does. Wool can absorb 30% of it’s weight in water before it begins to feel wet (it traps the water inside the fiber), and it works like a wick, moving moisture from where it’s wet inside the shoe out to the cuff where it can evaporate. wool is also naturally anti-microbial, so it smells less.

Shoe fit. You should be measured and put in a shoe that is appropriate for the task (stiffer soles for softer surfaces, softer soles for hard surfaces). Grab the shoe at the ball of the foot and at the heel, and twist it. If it twists, it’s not a good shoe for exercise. Even street running shoes (most cushioned shoe that exists) don’t twist.

Simple fit test: Put the shoe on, loosen the laces a little and push your toes up to the front of the shoe so they touch the front. Do this with good socks on. While standing up, with weight on the foot in question, you should *just* be able to push a finger down between your heel and the back of the shoe. This means when your shoe is on correctly, with the heel snugged up to the back of the shoe, you have about that much space in front of the toes. Toes need room. Now lace the shoe up securely. This means you can’t put your finger up under the laces when they are tied. If your laces are sloppy loose, your shoe can’t do it’s job. You should be able to wiggle the laces a little with your fingers when they are tied, but not get a finger underneath them.

Okay, good close-fitting, non-bulky WOOL socks are on and shoes are on correctly, with heel at back of shoe and plenty of room in front of the toes and snugly laced. Stand up on your tiptoes, does your heel slip around? In a good stiff shoe you may have 1/4 inch or so of slip, that’s fine, But you should feel snug in your shoes. No slippage in the heel. Then walk around, doing the “mall shuffle,” or dragging your feet. If you can, walk down a hill. Your toes should never touch the front of the shoe. If they are touching the front the shoe is too small, or occasionally your laces are too loose and not holding your feet in place (laces have a purpose! Who knew?). Also, don’t kick anything. If you kick a mountain lion with your shoe, or slid to a stop at the edge of a cliff, I don’t care if your toes touch the front of the shoe.

There is one other consideration about your shoe. First, if it’s too big and your socks suck, then there’s your problem. . But if your arch has fallen (or your ankle has rolled in) a few things are going to happen. One: your foot is going to be longer because there isn’t a beautiful arch in it. It’s also going to be wider. This will cause you to buy a shoe that is too big, or if you happened to have bought the correct size shoe, when you get tired your foot is going to extend and your shoe is going to become too small. A foot with a fallen arch will also extend and contract with every step, causing the ball of your foot and (less often) your heel to rub against the shoe. This is where blisters happen. If your arch has fallen (extremely common – even mine had) you can fix this with a good pair of super-foot insoles. Crazy expensive, but I have them in all of my athletic shoes and I stand behind them 100%. You will need to know your true shoe size, and a to know your arch shape (flat, medium, high) to get a good fit with these. If you have a true arch, and are not flat footed, I recommend the purple color. It fits almost anyone.

Alright. I feel better now.

I say I felt better, but then I went crazy and made a youtube video, too. Yes, my first youtube video. Prepare to be bored by my terrible video skills amazed! video is here

By levanah