How Should Boots Fit For Comfort and Protection?

Last Updated: May 5, 2021

I have a love-hate relationship with boots. I love the steel toecaps that protect me from having my toes crushed by my clumsy horse but, I hate the fact that I always end up with men’s boots that are too wide for my feminine feet.

I recently decided I’d had enough of clunking around in oversized boots, and I would find out how boots should fit before investing in a pair of survival boots.

We’re not talking sexy knee-highs or cowboy boots here – we’re talking about the boots that will save you from frostbite, snake bites, and rusty nails – the boots that you plan on using when the SHTF and its time to run for cover.

If you perform the following steps, you might feel like a complete idiot, but you’ll end up with boots that will provide unsurpassed comfort and protection in any situation.

#1 Measure your Feet

You may have been wearing size 9 boots for the past decade, but that doesn’t mean you’re necessarily a size 9 in every brand or style of boot.

To measure your feet at home, you’ll need the following items:

  • A chair
  • Two flat, solid objects (bricks or books will do)
  • Paper and pen
  • A tape measure or ruler
  • The survival socks you intend to wear with the boots.

Before starting, bear in mind that:

  • Our feet tend to swell during the day, so you’re better off measuring later in the day if you want a comfortable fit.
  • You’re likely to have one foot that’s slightly larger than the other – this is the measurement you should use when purchasing boots.

How To Measure Your Feet Accurately:

  1. Put on your socks;
  2. Place the paper on the floor;
  3. Sit in the chair with your foot flat on the paper;
  4. Place one book or brick behind your foot, so it’s just touching the heel;
  5. Place the other book or brick, so it’s touching your toe;
  6. Mark these two measurements;
  7. Move the bricks or books to either side of your foot, so they’re parallel to the widest part;
  8. Mark the width of your foot;
  9. Repeat the process standing.

Use the widest and longest measurements as your guide.

Refer to a boot sizing chart, like this one, to establish what size boots you need in your country.

#2 Try Before You Buy

Once you’ve decided on the brand you want to buy, try on the boot, focusing on the following:

Flex point

Boot flex point diagram

The flex point is situated at the widest part of the boot and is the part that naturally bends with your foot as you walk. If the boot’s flex point doesn’t align with the ball of your foot, where your toes bend it will cause discomfort, rubbing against your foot, or allowing so much movement that your foot slips around, and the toe box starts pinching.

Toe Box

Toe box on boot diagram

A pair of boots that fits perfectly will give you some room for maneuver in the toe box and allow for the natural swelling of your foot. A toe box that’s too small will compress your toes, potentially causing blisters and bunions.

If you have a little extra room in the toe box but, otherwise, the boot’s a perfect fit, don’t worry about it – sizing down to reduce that toe room will end in squashed toes, possible inflammation, and pain.


It’s practically unheard of to wear a new pair of boots without some rubbing and slippage at the heel. It’s just one of those boot things. In fact, if there’s no slippage at all, your feet will feel overly constrained, and the boots themselves will feel stiff.

If there’s too much slippage, however, it could be that the boot is either too long or too wide.

Before discarding the boots altogether, try pushing your heel firmly into the back of the boot before lacing them tightly. If there’s still too much movement, the boots may be too big, or you may be able to correct the slippage with a tongue pad.


boot width diagram

Finding boots that fit lengthways is usually pretty straightforward, and it’s often the width that causes the real problems.

Most boots will stretch over time but generally just a millimeter or so, so don’t commit to a pair that’s too tight hoping that they’ll improve with wear. Tight boots can compress the ball of your foot, causing inflammation and discomfort – something you want to avoid when running for your life.

Some companies make boots in a variety of widths, so you can opt for a narrower or wider fit as necessary. So, for example, “if your foot width is a 3 1/16” in a size 7 shoes or a 3 3/8” in a size 9 shoes, you have narrow feet,” whereas, “if your foot width is 4 1/16” in a size 9 shoe or 3 3/16” in a size 7, then you are considered to have wide feet.” (source)

Laces can also give you an idea of how well your boots fit. If you have to tighten the laces as far as they will go, you probably won’t be comfortable as the laces will now be raised, rather than pressing on your foot to secure it.

A boot that fits perfectly should feel comfortable and secure when tightened to leave a one-inch gap between each side of the boot. The video tutorial will give you a good idea of how to correctly fit your boots.

#3 Were These Boots Made For Walking?

Having boots that feel comfortable is all well and good if you’re planning on spending more time behind a desk than trekking through the countryside. Survival boots, however, need to be able to stand up to all kinds of terrain and long periods of wear.

Taking a dozen paces around a shoe store isn’t going to tell you much about a boot’s ability to deal with uneven terrain or bad weather, so a little more testing is required.

Wearing a pair of good survival socks, lace up your boots, and let the games begin! Yes, you’re going to feel silly and will inevitably turn a few heads in the process, but this is what you need to do if you want your boots to fit perfectly.

Ignoring the inquisitive stares, go through the full range of motions you expect to perform while wearing the boots. Lunging, standing on tiptoe, and walking on uneven surfaces will help you to find friction points within the boots when you are active rather than stood still.

If you do feel any discomfort or notice any areas of rubbing, check it out. It could be that the boot you’ve tried on is slightly defective, and swapping it for another pair of the same boots could be all it takes to solve the problem.

#4 Breaking In The Perfect Boot

Now you’ve been through the rigorous process of finding a pair of boots that fit it’s time for the fun part – breaking them in! Full-grain leather boots tend to be stiff when new and need to be broken in if they’re going to be of any use in a survival situation.

The best way to break your boots in is simply by wearing them as you go about your everyday tasks. Walking to the local store or wearing them around the house is a suitable first step.

Don’t leap straight into a ruck marching exercise – wait for a few days for the boot to soften and shape itself to your foot before really putting your new boots through their paces.

#5 How To Adjust Your Laces and Improve Your Paces

Changing the way you lace your boots can change everything about their fit.

If, for instance, you experience pressure on the top of your foot while going uphill, you can alleviate this by crossing the laces as normal for the first few holes. When you reach the natural bend in your boot, take the lace straight up to the next eyehole – this will prevent flexion from causes pressure on the top of your foot. Once you’re past the flex section, recommence crossing your laces again until you reach the top of the boot.

Changing the way you lace can improve comfort, fit, and increase the lifespan of your boots.

There are lots of different ways to lace your boots. Military boots may fit better using one style of lacing while a different approach can prevent heel lift in your hiking boots.

You can view the different approaches below.


In a survival situation, you want to be able to put your best foot forward and, the best way of achieving that is with a good pair of boots. Even if you have the best survival boots known to man, if they don’t fit, they’ll cause you pain and may result in foot deformities.

An awesome pair of survival socks may resolve some of your boot-fitting problems, but no sock in the world can make a tight boot looser, which is why learning how to fit your boots correctly is so critical.

Okay, so leaping and lunging your way around a shoe store for 10 minutes might be embarrassing, but it’s a lot less excruciating than surviving in the wild for months with a pair of ill-fitting boots.

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  1. Having 30+ years experience fitting (selling) all types of outdoor footwear, I’d add a couple of suggestions. First, most outfitters should have a ramp; stomp your way down it to make sure your toes don’t hit the front of the boot. If your supplier doesn’t have a ramp, use a carpet and, keeping the sole of the boot flat, scuff forward, again make sure your toes don’t hit the front. You should ask if you can try the boots at home, indoors. This is important as it take time for any boot to warm up to your foot’s temperature which is a critical part of fitting. A new boot you’ve worn for a hour will feel different than when you first put it on. A couple of other things to consider. Many boots can only be resoled with great difficulty. If the boot’s outsole wraps around the bottom of the upper the boot will be harder to resole (but generally will also provide more cushioning). Also, consider whether a waterproof (gore-tex or something similar) is what you want. Waterproof boots, contrary to popular belief, don’t breathe as well as boots you have to waterproof. Finally, and most important, your boot must fit your arch length. That metal thing used to measure your foot is called a Brannock Device. It measures your arch length, width, and overall foot length. Find someone who knows how to use one and get your feet measured. My street shoe size is different than my boot size so I don’t pay much attention to my “measured size.” But my arch length is longer than my indicated foot size so I know I have to consider that when buying any type of footwear. And measure both feet: they won’t be exactly the same.

    • My husband has a disability so all his shoes/boots have to be resoled. It’s a major pain in the butt and not many people do it well. As for testing boots, often walking up/down the store ramp isn’t enough. Instead, he tests them out for a week or so. If he likes them after that thorough test, we go and buy 3+ more pairs. Once you find footwear you like, you should stock up on it!

      Thanks for all your suggestions and tips. 🙂


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