How To Know If Your Hiking Boots Are Too Small

It’s important that your hiking boots fit you perfectly. Anything else can lead to all sorts of foot problems, along with a general inability to enjoy your hike. To avoid these problems, you need to make sure you know if your hiking boots are too small.

Your hiking boots are too small if you feel undue pressure applied to various parts of your foot, and this can lead to pain on a hike. But don’t just think that the area for your toes is the only part to focus on. Instead, many other parts of the boot can point to you wearing the incorrect size.

Knowing your boots fit perfectly is good for not only your hike, but also your future health. Wearing boots that fit incorrectly can lead to many different issues. In the article below, we’ll go over everything you’ll need to know to figure out if your hiking boots are too small for your feet.

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

There are several tell-tale signs you should look for that will tell you whether your hiking boots are too small or not. But these signs may not be apparent the moment you put your boots on, because of the way your feet swell throughout the day and the progression of your hike.

Your Toes

One of the main areas where you will feel the squeeze of small hiking boots will be around your toes. This will generally happen at two different points. First, you will feel pressure being applied to your toes when you are standing in a neutral position. You may feel it either to the side of your toes or coming from the end.

Next, you will feel that same sort of pressure applied when you are walking down an incline. It doesn’t even have to be anything too severe, but at least at a gradient where your feet are naturally forced forward in your boots. If you feel that things are tight and uncomfortable in the toe area with either of these situations, then there’s a good chance your hiking boots are indeed too small.

Your Toes Overlap

Another key point is when you feel there is some overlap with your toes. This doesn’t necessarily mean one toe is sitting right over the other. Instead, it’s more a case of you feeling that your toes are unable to sit comfortably and flat inside your boot.

This means the toe box area is too small.Hiking boots often come with larger toe box areas than normal boots. This is due to the way your foot will move and come under different types of pressure as you hike a trail. It may be the case that a boot is fine from a length perspective, but if it has a narrow toe box and you have wide feet, then you may run into problems.

Look to have some ‘wiggle’ room for your toes. You should be able to move them without feeling any pressure. If your toes are pressed against one another, or to the top or sides of the toe box, then you will have difficulty with your hike and may get blisters or toe injuries.

You Feel Pressure

If you feel pressure on either the side of your foot or the top, it could be due to the boots being too small. This can, of course, be due to the laces, which is why you need to see how the boots feel without the laces. If there is still that sense of tightness around these areas, there’s a good chance it’s due to the incorrect size of hiking boot.

Pressure can be applied to any part of the foot, so checking how you feel over every part is important. Look at your ankle, the sides of your foot, the top, and your toes as the primary areas of concern. If you feel pressure in any of these areas, the boot may be too small.

Arch Support Doesn’t Line Up

Hiking boots come with specific arch support, but if the boots are too small, this support won’t line up with the arch on your foot. This results in your foot being pushed into a more unnatural position, and that alone will put undue pressure on different parts.

You should always feel that the inner support of any shoe fits perfectly with the natural curves and bumps of your foot. If you feel your foot is effectively thrown off its normal position in any way, find a different pair of boots to wear on your next hike.

No Space In The Heel

When we talk about space in the heel, we aren’t looking for a huge gap. That would mean the shoe is too big, and that causes other problems for you, since the boot would be moving around too much. However, if you feel your toes are being squashed together in the toe box, and yet there’s still no noticeable gap in the heel, then there’s no doubt your boots are too small.

What Happens If Your Hiking Boots Are Too Small?

If your hiking boots are too small, you may begin to encounter some pain throughout your hike from blisters or other foot injuries. However, the pain can also exist once you have finished hiking, thanks to the residual effect of wearing boots that are the wrong size.


You will often end up with pain in your feet if your boots are too small. This will only get worse as the hike progresses, due to your feet swelling throughout the day. When you have excess pressure applied to your feet, it will push them into more of an unnatural position. That then leads to your soft tissue having to deal with the problem, and soft tissue doesn’t deal well with undue pressure.

Of course, when your feet swell in boots that are already too small, then the problems you face only increase. At that point, the pain can become crippling, and you may lose pace because you need to take frequent breaks or have to abandon your hike altogether.


If your toes overlap or are pressed together and your boots add pressure on top, then be prepared for blisters to emerge. It can take less time than you expect for blisters to develop. Blisters are painful and they can appear on any part of your foot. Any part of your foot that has something, such as your sock or boot, rubbing against it repeatedly can cause a blister. All it takes is friction.


Inflammation can occur in various parts of the foot. Boots that are too tight can lead to an inflamed Achilles, or even the development of Plantar Fasciitis. With Plantar Fasciitis, you can develop pain along the sole of your foot from the heel toward the ball of the foot. The problem with inflammation is that it can take time to settle down. The pain can also be crippling.

Morton’s Neuroma

If your toes are being pinched due to the toe box being too small, then don’t be surprised if you develop nerve issues. This is when there is a thickening of tissue around a nerve in your foot, leading to pain and is known as Morton’s Neuroma. Wearing boots that are too small can be a leading cause of this painful condition developing.

Long Term Issues

Wearing hiking boots that are too small, and doing so on a regular basis, will lead to the possibility of developing long term issues. This can develop into something that cannot simply be cured by removing your boots and wiggling your toes or stretching the muscles of your foot.

Hiking once with boots of the wrong size probably won’t do much, aside from some initial pain and possibility of blisters, but failing to address the issue is a different ball game. If you continue to hike in boots that are too small, it can affect your ligaments and tendons, via the development of bunions and structural damage.

How Should Hiking Boots Fit?

Your hiking boots should fit snug on your foot, but not be too tight in any area. Hiking boots are designed to support you not only in the foot, but also the ankle. This is to help you on rough terrain, since it’s so easy to do something like roll an ankle.

A Little Bit Of Movement Is Good

Hiking boots should fit in a way where there is a small amount of movement available for your foot while walking. Now, we clearly don’t mean for there to be anything deemed as excessive when it comes to movement. That would mean they are too big rather than too small.

You need that small amount of movement to help you out when it comes to walking either up or down a slope. You need to push your foot forward when going downhill, as that is what will happen naturally. Also, a little movement means you don’t have the same pressure applied to your foot. That will mean you are less likely to feel uncomfortable.

Lacing Should Make A Difference

Because you should have some foot space in your boot, the lacing of your hiking boots will make a difference. There are different ways to lace hiking boots, depending on where you feel the shoe is not fitting you as well as it should be to protect you on the trail.

For example, the length of your hiking boots may feel fine, but maybe they are slightly too narrow when laced up. Different lacing patterns can still hold the boot firm but provide you with just enough breathing space for the width. The same applies if you feel the boots are slightly too tight close to the ankle. Once again, different lacing patterns can ease the pressure you feel.

The Overall Picture Of How They Fit

In general, you should immediately feel that there’s no pinching of any part of your foot, and that your foot and ankle feel supported. Hiking boots should not feel overly tight, but they should also not feel as if they move around too much. If you manage to strike this sort of balance, then you will see how much more enjoyable your hikes will become.

How Tight Should Hiking Boots Be?

Hiking boots need to be relatively tight to provide you with the support and protection you need for hiking on rough trails. However, there is a limit as to how tight they should be for your feet. A snug fit that is not so tight that you feel uncomfortable is what you’re looking for.

Hiking Boots Need To Be A Little Tight

Your hiking boots should not feel loose on your feet. That is often just as bad as when they are too tight, as that scenario will also cause various foot issues. Instead, your hiking boots need to be tight, but not tight enough they restrict your movement. There should also be no sense of pressure on your foot. If there is, you know you need to go up at least half a size.

What you should experience is that your foot is unable to move too much, and that you have more than adequate support going through your foot. The areas surrounding your toes and heels should have some more movement. This allows your foot to move in a natural manner as you hike.

Avoid Excess Pressure

Even though a hiking boot is designed to be a little tight, that does not mean there should be too much pressure. Avoiding excess pressure on any part of your foot is vital. Failing to do so leads to problems, so if you feel any pressure on any part, then something is wrong.

Think about any piece of clothing you may wear as a comparison. There’s a subtle difference between something feeling snug, and something feeling too tight to where it’s uncomfortable. It’s the same for your boots. A little tightness is fine, but too much may cause problems.

Gauging The Movement

We have mentioned this before, but there is a real balance between not enough movement and too much movement. If there’s no real movement, then it might mean you have too much pressure applied at different times. It might be fine on the flat areas of your hike, but as soon as you tackle some sort of slope, you run into all sorts of difficulties.

If there’s a lack of movement, it could mean you have to move up even half a size. If there’s too much, then going down half a size may be the answer. You want your foot to be able to move a little, but not so much that it rubs against your boot and you get blisters.

Hiking Boot Size Guide

Part of the problem people face is the sheer number of options when it comes to hiking boots. This is due to the array of hiking trails out there covering different distances, and changes in terrain. But no matter the type of boot you are looking at, buying the correct size is straightforward.

Measuring Your Feet

Get a sheet of paper and put it flat on the ground against the base of a wall. Next, stand with your heel against the wall, and then mark where the end of your longest toe is on the piece of paper. This is why you need to have the paper against a wall. It allows you to ensure your foot is in the right position when measuring. And don’t forget to measure the width of your foot as well.

You can then find guides online that indicate what the width measurement means when it comes to whether you have wide feet. There are different grades when it comes to foot width, and it makes a difference for the boots you need to wear.

How To Choose The Right Size Of Hiking Boot

Choosing the right size of boot isn’t too complicated, but it may take some time to find the pair that fits best for your next hike. There are a few key things you should concentrate on when choosing the right size of hiking boot, which we will go over now.

Go Up A Size

People generally know the size of shoes they wear, so it makes sense that we automatically go for the exact same size no matter the footwear. Well, that’s your first mistake. Not all footwear is created equal, and some brands run smaller or longer than others.

What we suggest is that you move up either half a size, or sometimes even a full size when it comes to hiking boots. This is because of the need to wear thicker socks and the way your feet will swell as the hike progresses. If you just opted for your normal size, they would feel fine at first, but by the end of the trail, you might be in agony.

Check The Heel

Besides going up a size, another tip is to check the heel area of your hiking boots. Make sure you can put your finger in between your heel and the back of the boot. You might have to squeeze your toes up the front end of the boot to achieve this. If that’s the case, then you are probably wearing boots that are around half a size too small.

Test On A Decline

If possible, test your boots on a decline, preferably one that’s steep. The aim here is to force some pressure toward the front of the boot and through your toes. If you go to an outdoor shop to buy your boots, you might find they have a ramp in store for this purpose. The aim is to see how much pressure is applied in the toe area when faced with this situation.

However, if you try this and find your toes are jammed into the front of your boot, even after you have tried making the laces tight, then it’s an indicator your boots are too small. Remember, Declines are something you will encounter regularly, so it’s best you make sure there’s no discomfort before you buy a new pair of hiking boots.

Remove The Insole

The insole is there for a multitude of reasons, from comfort, to warmth, to offering support to your foot. However, one tip to check if everything is the right size is to remove the insole. When you do this, put the insole down on the floor, and put your foot on top of it.

If you do this and you notice any area where your toes maybe touch the edge of the insole, then this can be another indicator your boots will be too small. There should be a gap around the edge of your foot and the edge of the insole for maximum comfort and protection.

When To Choose A Size Bigger

While we suggested that you should go up a size from your regular footwear when you buy hiking boots, not everyone agrees with this. However, there are circumstances where you should go with a bigger size so you will remain comfortable for the duration of your hike.

A Long Thru-Hike

If you plan on a long thru-hike, it means hiking daily, and that’s going to put a lot of pressure on your feet. Going up a size makes a huge difference in this instance. Your feet will swell and hurt, so you do not want any pressure applied to any part of your feet. Wearing hiking boots that are a size bigger will prevent this from happening.

If The Toe-Box Is Narrow

Some boots come with a narrower than normal toe-box, and this can become a problem when the rest of the boot fits perfectly. If this is the case, then look at going up a size. That will provide you with more room for your toes while not making a huge difference for the rest of your foot, especially if you wear thick socks.

Wearing The Same Boots Throughout The Year

Finally, if you intend to wear the same boots in both summer and winter, then a bigger size is best. This is due to the need to wear thicker socks in the winter. If your summer boots are a bit tight, then those thicker socks will cripple you in winter.

In addition, you may include a thicker insole when hiking in colder weather. A thicker insole changes how your foot sits in the boot. Once again, if it’s already a tight fit, then this could mean you are unable to wear the same boots in winter.

Final Thoughts

Your hiking boots are too small if you experience any pressure or pinching. Make sure there’s enough room in the toe-box and that you can place your finger between your heel and the back of the boot. Wearing boots that are too small can cause blisters and other foot injuries.