Doesn't matter how picturesque the trail's fall foliage is — you're not going to enjoy your hike if your feet are throbbing in pain because your hiking boots don't fit right.
What you wear on your feet during a hike is an important choice — one that should be thoughtfully planned out to avoid any injuries (like a slip-and-fall), blisters, and general discomfort. You might be walking on wet leaves, over uneven rocks, and dodging branches, after all.
Hiking-specific shoes are not only made to handle the elements and terrain, but also support your foot during the activity. To help you in the process of picking out the right pair, we reached out to ultrarunner, marathoner, and Merrell athlete Mirna Valerio.
First rule of thumb — when it comes to hiking boots, Valerio says that fit comes first.
"Is there enough room in the toe box for your foot to move around easily without the shoe being too big? Are there spots that rub against any areas of your foot? This is your first concern."
Your shoes should fit comfortably, but believe it or not, the time of day you shop for your hiking boots is also important.
"I am a firm proponent of buying shoes at the end of the day when your feet are at their most swollen," Valerio says. "As a hiker, you'll want your swollen feet to be comfortable as you build up your mileage and expand the types of terrain you hike on."
Of course, you'll want to know some of the sure-fire signs you bought the wrong (or wrong size!) hiking boots just in case: tightness, pain in any area of your feet, blisters, and general discomfort.
If you can safely head into a store — bonus points if it's one that specializes in outdoor activities — getting sized by an expert could help determine your true shoe size. Valerio says this will also allow you to spend time walking around in the boots.
"But if that's not an option, make sure you purchase boots a few weeks earlier than you need them to try them on and walk around in them," Valerio says. "This way, you'll have time to exchange them for a better fit if need be."
Online shoppers — you'll want to schedule in enough time for shipping and possible delays, too.
Valerio says that not all shoes need to be broken in, however, "your feet absolutely need time in the boots to get used to being in those specific shoes." So don't go from never wearing hiking boots ever to hitting a five-mile hike.
There are many different types of hiking boots, so you want to ensure you select the right kind. "Some are meant for light hiking over short distances. Some are more heavy duty and are built for longer hikes, and perhaps for backpacking. You'll also find waterproof boots in addition to boots built specifically for icy conditions such as the Merrell Thermo Cross. There are also hiking boots that function more like a heavy duty trail-running shoe (that come in both low and mid heights)," Valerio says.
Therefore, you should take the terrain of your hike, the length of your hike, and your personal needs into consideration when picking out a hiking boot. If you head into a store, be sure to mention all of this to the person helping you, too!