How Tight Should Hiking Boots Be? 9 Tips for Hiking Boot Tightness

Last Updated on 15/12/2022

How Tight Should Hiking Boots Be

In this guide, we explain how tight should hiking boots be and how you can test them to make sure you get a good fit. You will learn some essential tips on tightening hiking boots that will serve you forever.

Hiking boots should only feel tight once you lace them up. If you slip your foot in for the first time and they feel snug, that is completely normal. It is when you feel a lot of pressure around a specific part of your foot or when your toes feel pressed against the end that blisters can be expected.

When you try a new boot on, try at least 5 different brands if possible. I can almost guarantee that one or two of them will fit so much better than the others. The better the fit you get to start with, the more comfortable it is when you tie your boots up tight.

How Tight Should Hiking Boots Be?

Hiking boots will often feel a little tight at first. But if they feel uncomfortable when you try the on, more often than not, this will only cause you problems and sometimes get worse.

The best way to describe how tight hiking boots should be before you tie them up is ‘snug’. You don’t want your toes pressing into the ends, and your foot shouldn’t feel wider than the footbed. Similarly, you don’t want too much space between any point of your foot and the boot, as this will allow movement, which will lead to blisters.

Once you have a boot that fits you well, you can tighten it to perfection.

Leather Vs. Synthetic Hiking Boots

Hiking boots made from leather will naturally stretch out over time, and so a little bit more initial tightness should be tolerated. Synthetic hiking boots are designed to be more comfortable out of the box because they generally have less stretch than leather boots.

Should hiking boots be tight or loose

Where Do Hiking Boots Feel Tight?

There are certain places around your foot where you mindfully connect with them to feel how tight they are. What I mean by this is that you can work your way around your foot using your mind to determine how tight they are.


Your toes are the best indicator of whether your boots are too tight lengthways. If they push against the end of the boot, then try the next size up. If they are just barely touching, they may still cause blisters on your toes. Ideally, you want about 5 mm of space between your toes and the tips of your boots.

You can also feel tightness on your toes if they are squished together. This usually signifies a narrow boot, and you should look for something wider at the toe.


When you pull your bootlaces tight as you start to fasten them up, you should notice how this changes how they feel on the sides. What should happen is that they wrap around your foot, providing cushion and support without feeling like your foot is being squeezed inwards.

I have tried dozens of different hiking boots that felt too tight on the sides, and they almost always cause blisters. The best advice I can give on this is to get a boot that fits your foot on the innersole without too much overlap. When your foot is too wide for the footbed, it will naturally press up against the sides and cause blisters.

When you can pull your bootlaces tight, and it doesn’t squash your feet at the sides, you have probably found a pair that works for you. If the boot feels too wide and doesn’t feel snug when tightened, then the boot is probably too wide, and you should look for something a bit narrower.

Ankle and Heel

As you tighten your boot laces, when you reach the bend, you will reach two very important eyelets on your boot. These eyelets are the levers you create by tightening your laces as much as possible here. Really try and pull the boot onto your heel as much as is comfortable.

Tightening the ankle and heel of your hiking boots does a couple of things that impact your feet and legs throughout the day. Firstly, it stops your foot from coming out of your boot when walking through deep or sticky mud. But by locking your foot in position, you also relieve muscles throughout your feet and up your legs.

Because your feet don’t have to work to stay in your boot, the muscles in your calf and down into your foot can relax and don’t have to stay so tense. It is surprising how much leg fatigue this can save on a thru-hike.

how to test hiking boots for tightness

9 Ways to Test if Your Hiking Boots Are Too Tight

Here are some frameworks you can use to determine if your walking boots are too tight or not tight enough. Some of them are obvious, and others are hopefully useful to anyone. We also have some useful tips for snowboard boot tightness here that may translate to hiking boots.

Tie Them Up Correctly

Before you try and figure out how tight hiking boots should be, you need to make sure you are fastening them correctly. Never cut corners with this step, as you can suffer the consequences for hours before realizing your boots are too loose to be hiking in.

Start at the very bottom and make sure every section is pulled to the correct tension. You want to pull your laces tight until you feel the moment where it crosses into too tight and then stop just before that. Then as you work your way up, pressure must be applied so that you don’t lose any of the pressure you created further down.

Pay special attention to your ankle and heel to ensure they are tight. Walk about a little after your hiking boots have been tied to ensure they aren’t too tight or loose. If they are, make adjustments and then test again until you are happy.

Wear Thick Hiking Socks

When testing some new hiking boots, you should always wear a thick pair of hiking socks like you would be wearing on the trail. If you are picking a new pair of trekking boots with just a thin pair of socks on, then when it comes time to go hiking, you may find they are too tight with thick socks on.

Remember that the more you wear your boots, the more they will stretch out and conform to the shape of your feet. So if your boots feel too loose with a thick pair of wool socks on, then you might want to look for a size down or some narrower options like Salomon.

Wiggle Your Toes

Once your hiking boots are tied up correctly, and you have your hiking socks on then, you are ready to put the boot through its paces. If you haven’t already, give your toes a wiggle. Do they touch the tip of the boot? Do they rub against the liner of the boot anywhere? How much space do they have to wiggle? How tight should hiking boots be on your little and big toes? 

If you ask yourself questions like these as you test the space around your toes, you should be able to take note of any problems or if they feel good. 

Walk About for A Few Hours (indoors)

To really test if a new pair of hiking boots fit you well or if they are too tight, wear them around the house for a couple of hours with clean feet and a fresh pair of hiking socks. Most outdoor gear shops allow you to return hiking boots with no obvious signs of wear, and wearing them on the carpet keeps them as good as new if you are careful (and don’t have any puppies running around!).

If you can feel any small points of friction on your toes and on the sides of your feet, then I would suggest you avoid them. Try doing a few lunges, running up and down the stairs a few times, or test them however you like. But make sure that you don’t get any discomfort, as this will likely be amplified on the trail.

Tap your Toes

Standing up straight, tap the toe of your boot on the ground so that your foot slides forward as much as possible. Your toes will just touch the tips when you do this in a pair of well-fitted boots. If it is painful to do this or your toes have nowhere to go when you do this, then you might consider if your boots are too small.

When you tap your toes on the ground, what does your heel do? If it slides forward by an inch, then there is too much space inside your boot, and you should tighten your laces or get a smaller boot. You should expect around 1cm of movement from your heel when you tap your toes on the ground.

hiking boots feel tight on the toes

Stand on Tip Toes

Standing on your toes will give you a good idea of how the boots will feel as you climb or descend a mountain. The point you need to pay attention to is where your boot flexes and bends. I’ve had boots that pinch here, and it is often a red flag that there will be issues down the road.

With leather boots especially, it can take a while for the toe box section to soften up and can sometimes be a little stiff. Once you perform its test to assess how they feel, it might be worth seeing if you can retighten the laces at all.

Tap Your Heel

Just as you performed the previous tip-toe test. Do the same thing but with your heels now. Give them a good tap on the ground so that your boot is as far back as it will go. You may find that you can now retighten your laces to apply more pressure.

What you are looking for is how much your foot slides backward. A little is normal, but a lot signifies a boot that is too big or loose. After tapping your heels to the back of your hiking boot, give your toes another wiggle to see how much space has been created at the other end. Thorough testing like this means you don’t get any surprises after you make a purchase.

Walk Up And Down a Steep Incline

Many large outdoor gear shops that have a wide selection of hiking boots will have some kind of small apparatus to test your boots. In the US, this is often a steep ramp with a handrail on one side and a steep, uneven slope with a handrail on the other. These are amazing for testing how your foot will slide forwards and backward when hiking up and down hills.

If you have access to one of these mini-testing facilities, it basically accomplishes the heel and toe tests listed above all in one piece of equipment. 

Rotate Your Ankle

When your boots have been fully tightened around your ankle so that your boot is hugging your heel, draw a circle with your toes. What I mean by that is rotate your ankle in little circles to see how the boot reacts. Does it move with your foot or is there a lot of play? A lack of support when you wiggle your ankles may indicate there is more room to tighten your laces.

tight hiking boot adjustment

What to Do if Your Hiking Boots Are Too Tight

Depending on where your boots are too tight and whether they are causing blisters or not, you could try wearing a thinner pair of socks. You could also try manually stretching them out by warming them and using a boot stretcher.

Or an alternative method to stretch your hiking books out would be to freeze them with pouches of water inside. As the ice expands, it will stretch the material (hopefully without damaging them). The ice method is risky and really possible when the temperature drops below 30 degrees.

What to Do if Your Hiking Boots Are Too Loose

There are two things you can do straight off the bat if your hiking boots are too loose. The first is you can wear thicker socks or two pairs of socks to fill the space. The second is to replace your innersoles with something thicker.

Understanding how tight hiking boots should be also mean knowing when to replace an old stretched-out pair. If your boots are too loose because they are too well worn then you just need to replace them.

The Problem with Wide and Narrow Feet for Tight-Fitting Hiking Boots

Hiking boots are made to fit the majority of people. However, there are some people who have oddly shaped feet. For us, we have to try lots of different brands in multiple sizes to find one that works.

As someone with very wide feet, I used to have to order a size up. Then I discovered that certain shoe brands were wider than others and some boots even come in a regular or wide option. Meindl is a personal favorite for my foot shape, but KEEN and Lowa are also very comfortable. For narrow feet, you can try brands like Salomon and La Sportiva.

How tight should hiking boots be? We hope you will be able to answer that question after reading this entire guide. Thanks for stopping by.

Gear Assistant
Gear Assistant

This article has been written and/or edited by Andrew N. 20+ years of hiking, mountaineering, and camping experience, with access to all the latest outdoor gear.

Gear Assistant