Why You Should Spend an Hour Getting Fitted for Hiking Boots

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We learned why choosing a pair of hiking boots isn’t something to be done lightly—or quickly. (Black toenails being just one reason.)


I can barely find an hour to squeeze in a new workout, a pedicure, or run an errand. So when I learned I had to surrender 60 precious minutes to getting fitted for hiking boots, I wanted good reason for it.

And after a brief discussion with Chris Butler that danced over such vivid topics as black toenails and hammertoes, I moved a few things around in my calendar to make it happen.

According to Butler, who’s a “foot guru” at EMS in Soho, you should set aside an hour to 90 minutes for a thorough professional fitting and consultation. (“Foot guru” is an actual job title, one bestowed to graduates of EMS’s fit-training program.)

It’s not just that you want to the make the most of the $200 you’ll likely spend on a good pair of boots. If they fit poorly, you’ll be less happy on the trail, be at greater risk of injury, and eventually end up with bunions, and the aforementioned hammertoes and nails that stay black for up to nine months a la Cheryl Strayed's toes in Wild.

The boot-fitting interview is a lot like going to the holistic doctor or facialist.

It’s a myth that hiking boots need to be broken in.

The first step of a good fitting is an interview: What kind of hiking will you be doing? Where are you going? Do you want your boots to be waterproof? (Useful in the northeast, but unnecessary and hot if you’re going out West.) Do you prefer a roomy or snug feel? (As long as the fit is correct, this is just a personal preference, though stiffer boots are generally more supportive and wider boots more comfortable.)

Then you’ll have your feet measured on a Brannock scale—the slide-rule-like device you probably haven’t seen since you were a kid—both seated and standing. Butler says it’s crucial to measure both feet in both positions. Not only can your left and right foot be different sizes, but your feet elongate when you stand—the average is 1.5 sizes bigger.

Once the fitter understands the size range of your feet, he’ll pull pairs to try on. Walk around the store and up and down the test ramp that should be there. Kick your toes into the floor. You’ll want your heel to not slide (which causes blisters) and your toes to never touch the front of the boot (which leads to nail injuries).

Most important, they should be comfortable. It’s a myth that hiking boots need to be broken in. (Though backpacking boots do.) If your new boots fit right, you can hit the trail the next day. —Ann Abel

For more information, visit www.ems.com

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