Blisters are synonymous with hiking; everyone will have suffered from one at some point or other, and probably suffered from the complaints of a companion who has had one as well.
We all know that the biggest cause of a blister is friction, but plenty of people still manage to get caught out. The thing is that, to prevent rubbing, it’s not just about making sure you are wearing the right size boots or that you’ve worn in a pair before a big hike, you also need to make sure that the boots you buy are the right shape for you in the first place.
How to Check If A Boot Fits
It's always worth visiting a specialist shop with someone who understands how to fit footwear properly when you're choosing a new pair of boots, but there are also a number of things that you can check for yourself.
What’s crucial is to check that your prospective pair feel snug right around each foot but without feeling tight anywhere. A good fit test is to put the boots on, sit down with the laces undone then bend your ankles forward without lifting your heel. Check to see if there’s just about enough space to move your finger forwards and backwards along the inner edge of each foot. If there is, that’s a good sign.
Once the laces are tightened you should have room to wiggle your toes. If there’s a slope in the shop, stand on it facing downhill with both feet together to check that your toes aren’t touching the end of the boots and that you can still wiggle them.
It’s also worth standing on the tips of your toes to check if your heel stays within the heel cup. It shouldn’t lift any more than one or two millimetres off the sole.
Is the Last Design Right for You?
If you’re trying on boots in your normal shoe size and they feel loose in sections or are tight in one or more areas, this means that the last design used for that particular boot isn’t quite right for the shape of your foot.
A last is a model, rather like an artificial foot, that’s either made from solid wood or plastic, and the shape of a shoe is fashioned around it. Different shoemakers and boot manufacturers all have their own unique lasts and these tend to vary slightly in size and shape. Although all lasts tend to be based on the average foot, people will find that certain brands fit their feet better than others and this is why getting boots properly fitted is essential.
No two feet are the same and it’s not uncommon for people to struggle to find footwear that fits perfectly.The good news is that some footwear brands, such as Hanwag, have started to produce shoes that are made from a variety of different lasts, so no matter what shape your feet are, you’ll still find something that gives that perfect, snug fit.
We’ve rounded up some of the common problems people have with hiking boots, and the types of last designs that can solve them.
A recent survey of 1,400 people found that 23 per cent of those aged 18 to 65 showed symptoms of hallux valgus. For the over 65s the proportion was even higher, at 36 per cent.
"Hanwag's origins go right back to 1921, when a young German named Hans Wagner started selling made-to-measure designs from his workshop..."
Hallux valgus, in case you’re not familiar with it, is the scientific name for a bunion. It’s when the joint of the big toe (or little toe) starts to protrude, stiffen, and potentially become inflamed. While frequent wearing of high heels is often found to be the cause, climbing and bouldering footwear can also be to blame.
Typically, people with the condition will resort to wearing wider shoes in an attempt to prevent discomfort, but in most cases this won’t solve the problem – if anything it will lead to blisters elsewhere on the foot.
To get the right boots that won’t be painful for those with bunions, it’s important to find a pair that have been made with a last that’s shaped to create extra width and height at the toe box. This is so that a toe that might be slightly raised doesn’t rub. Ideally, there also shouldn’t be any seams around the bunion area, only very soft materials.
Looseness Around the Forefoot
Blisters on the ball of the foot often come about due to boots that are too wide at the front for the wearer. On uneven slopes, with each step the foot is allowed to slide about, causing the skin to rub. Buying a smaller shoe size is not often the solution here as this could lead to pinching in other areas of the foot, instead look out for boots that are made using a narrow last. This type of boot will generally have a regular-shaped heel but a narrower front to ensure optimum fit around the whole foot.
Tightness Around the Forefoot
Those who have wider feet face obvious problems when it comes to hiking boots and shoes, noone wants to spend the day out on the hill in boots that are tight and uncomfortable. The solution for those with wide feet is to look for boots that have been made with a dedicated ‘wide’ last.
Specialist wide fit boots offer a proportional and anatomic fit, not by simply adding millimetres all around the foot, but by expanding the volume solely at the forefoot where the extra space is needed.
Ever get sore spots on the outside of your big toe even when you’re wearing your standard shoe size? This tends to be a common occurrence when wearing footwear designed for high and challenging terrain; shoes designed first and foremost for technical precision, with all-day comfort being slightly less of a concern.
Obviously, these kind of boots aren’t necessary for low level hikes and gentler trails so make sure you don’t go OTT when you choose your next pair of boots.
If you’re tackling relatively easy terrain, it’s a good idea to look for options that are made with a last that gives a slightly longer and higher toe box. This lets the big toe sit straighter, giving plenty of wiggle room and allows the foot to remain in a more natural position inside the boot. The main benefit of this type of last is that you won’t feel desperate to take off your shoes or boots by the end of the day.
VIDEO: A Look Behind The Scenes in Hanwag's Workshop in Germany
The Boots for You
Looseness around the forefoot? Try Hanwag’s Narrow Fit boots, currently available across a range of models including the bestselling Tatra II GTX.
Tightness? Try Hanwag’s Wide Fit boots, available in technical models like the Ferrata Combi GTX or everyday walking boots like the Banks II GTX.
Suffer from bunions? Hanwag has a specialist bunion fit which features on a wide range of models including the Alta Bunion and Belorado Bunion GTX walking shoe.
Going camping or for gentle trail walks and want greater comfort at the toes? A number of Hanwag everyday models like the Anvik GTX and the Aotea GTX are made using a StraightFit last.
The first ever manufacturer of alpine and trekking footwear, Hanwag's origins go right back to 1921, when a young German named Hans Wagner started selling made-to-measure designs from his workshop in Vierkirchen, near Munich. The company still prides itself on its continued practise of traditional bootmaking techniques.
Head to the Hanwag website to discover more about the brand's history and their unique design process.