Should Hiking Shoes Be A Size Bigger?

Sore feet are never any fun, but if you’re halfway into a hike and really starting to suffer, sore feet can ruin your vacation and put your health at risk!

That’s why one question that new hikers often ask is ‘should my hiking shoes be a size bigger than my regular shoes?’.

Choosing the right hiking shoe means something different to every person, but there are some simple guidelines that will make it easy to select the right shoe for your adventure.

Ultimately, your choice of hiking boot needs to support your feet and your balance for safety. Protecting yourself from injury is key, but your hiking shoes should hopefully be so comfortable that your focus is on the wilderness around you and not your sore toes.

Fit Is More Important Than The Number

Your shoe size is just a place to start when it comes to properly fitting a pair of hiking shoes. The most important factors when buying a pair of hiking shoes are:

1) Snug heel cup – When you lace up your boots, you want very little separation or slide between your foot and your heel cup as you lift your foot. The more slide there is, the more heat buildup you’ll experience and you’ll have a greater risk of blisters.
2) Loose toe box – You want more space at the end of your hiking boot than you need at the end of a regular shoe. In addition, you’ll need more height in the toe box to protect your toenails from bruising or smashing damage.

A man wearing walking boots
You need a snug heel cup and loose toe box in walking boots.

Consider Investing In Additional Support Or Padding

Everybody’s feet are different.

If you notice that you have to lace up your boots extremely tightly to prevent heel slide, but then your feet go numb during your hike, you might consider a heel cup insert.

For those with extremely high arches or very narrow feet, additional padding and arch support are a good investment. Such padding is generally quite personal, but you can find anything from a full foot insert with an elevated arch to a simple arch support that adheres to the inside of the hiker. Tired arches can lead from simple discomfort to serious conditions such as plantar fasciitis.

However, when adding arch supports to your boots, don’t forget to leave space for your toes to flex and move. If your arch feels good but your toenails get bruised up, you really haven’t saved yourself much discomfort.

If you’ve already got a history of plantar fasciitis, there are many hiking shoes with a good reputation for preventing a flare up. When starting out, be sure to plan in breaks and be ready to limit or alter your hike before the condition becomes unbearable.

Don’t Forget The Socks!

Hiking socks come in a variety of materials, from wool to poly products. However, hikers of many fitness levels encourage investing in thin socks that offer warmth and absorption.

Heavy, bulky socks may look cozy and comfy. Unfortunately, a heavy sock will alter how your hiking shoe fits and may lead to numbness. Additionally, the extra bulk may cause sweat build-up, increasing your risk for blisters.

Beware the “Break-In” Mentality

If you rely too much on getting your boots to fit in the “break-in” period, you may find that the shoe is actually breaking in your foot, instead of the other way around.

Hiking shoes often have a heavy, somewhat rigid soul and a leather upper. If the leather is especially stiff, it will crease instead of flexing and this crease can cut right across the bunion or knuckle of the foot.

A properly fitted hiking shoe may need a bit of mechanical help in the breaking in process, particularly where the toe flexes.

What About Swelling?

It’s true that our feet swell over the course of the day, particularly if you’re walking hard. However, over-sized hiking shoes can cause more problems than they solve.

Rather than investing deliberately in a pair that’s too large for you, do the following:

  1. If you’re prone to blisters, consider investing in double layer hiking socks. This sock design features a thin internal layer with a moisture wicking layer built into the sock structure.
    These socks are thin enough to prevent bulk but can protect blister-prone parts of your foot.
  2. Schedule breaks in the hike to loosen and re-lace your boots as your feet swell, particularly if you feel numbness coming on.
  3. For hiking in hot conditions or if you just have sweaty feet, keep an eye on them. If you’re feeling a lot of pain in one area or find blisters forming, you can add a piece of moleskin or molefoam to the boot to stop the blister formation and lessen the severity.


Quality hiking shoes should be adaptable enough to fit well in the morning and at the end of your hike. You don’t need to buy boots that are a size bigger just for this purpose.

Instead, purchase a pair that offers plenty of toe box space with a snug-fitting heel cup. Use your laces to adjust the size of the boot over the day and avoid bulky socks that can cause heat and sweat build-up.

Take the time to buy the right hiking shoe!