The Schnee’s Boot Fitting Guide
By Rob Stiehl. Rob is an assistant retail manager and footwear buyer for Schnee’s and an avid outdoorsman in his free time.
For many people, the process of researching and selecting a new pair of technical footwear can seem quite daunting. Whether you are looking for a pair of trail runners, a new light hiker, or a serious backpacking boot, there are a few steps that can be taken to simplify this process and help to ensure that you are purchasing the right piece of footwear to make your outdoor adventures more enjoyable.
Step 1 – Pick your activity
The first step of the selection process is to decide what activity you will primarily use the footwear for and then focusing your attention on that category when trying different models. Common categories for technical footwear may include:
Although a sturdy trail-running shoe will often be supportive enough to handle some light hiking on the side, this is not what the shoe is designed for and may result in the shoe wearing out more quickly than normal. Similarly, a burly all-leather backpacking boot can be extremely durable and amazingly supportive when carrying heavy loads, but the increased weight and medium to low flexibility associated with these boots can make them slightly less comfortable on light trails or when you are trying to cover ground at a faster pace.
Step 2 – Measure for size
Once you have decided on which category of footwear you are interested in, the fitting process can begin. This is the most important step when buying technical footwear, and should be performed by someone well trained in boot fitting. Ideally, you want to have both feet measured and evaluated on a Brannock Device. However, Schnee’s online boot specialists can help you with the process. Most people have slight variances in the length, width, or shape of their feet, and this is important information for both you and the boot fitter to know to achieve the best possible fit. Also, be sure to have your foot measured with a quality performance sock in the proper weight or thickness that you would normally wear with the footwear you have chosen.
Step 3 – Not too tight!
When fitting technical footwear, one of the most important things to consider is getting the proper length inside the shoe or boot. Roughly an extra half-inch of space is crucial in order to protect your feet from bruising and blistering, and to accommodate any swelling that may take place.
To check the length in footwear with a hard toe such as hiking boots, stand in the unlaced boot and gently tap your foot towards the front until your longest toe is just touching the front of the boot.
You should now be able to easily fit your index finger directly behind your heel in the boot. This ensures that you have a “finger’s width” in the front of the boot to protect your toes while descending and this will also reduce pressure and friction on the heel when ascending.
As for the fit in the rest of the boot, you should be looking for a snug (not tight!) and secure fit from the heel of foot to the ball of the foot, and a slightly roomier fit in the toe box that will provide some wiggle room for your toes.
Step 4 – Test driving the boot
Now you can lace up the boots firmly and evenly, and test them on an incline board or ramp if one is available. If an incline board is not available, always wear the footwear on the carpet at home for a couple hours in the evening before wearing them outside. This will help to identify any tight spots or pressure points that should be addressed before taking your new investment to the trailhead.
A Word about Socks
Selecting the right sock for an activity can be about as complicated as finding the right footwear. Socks can be made from natural fibers such as wool or silk, or from synthetic materials such as acrylic or nylon blends. Socks also come in an array of thicknesses from ultra light to extremely heavy to accommodate different activities and climates.
Modern wool socks (such as 100% Merino wool SmartWool socks) are more comfortable than the wool socks of the past. Today, most wool socks are designed to be itch-free and washing machine safe. Unlike cotton or most synthetic materials, wool is extremely efficient at pulling moisture away from the foot while retaining its insulating properties despite being wet or dry. Wool works well in Gore-Tex® lined footwear and leather footwear because of wool’s ability to wick moisture at a slightly slower rate than synthetic materials, resulting in less moisture buildup inside of your footwear. One downside to wool socks is that it takes a bit longer for them to dry when compared to wet synthetic materials—frustrating when washing your socks in a backcountry stream or lake.
Synthetic socks are typically constructed from materials such as polyester, nylon, or acrylics that are very hydrophobic. These materials repel or “wick” moisture away from the foot at a very high rate, and absorb very little residual moisture from the foot. Synthetic socks are best suited for high activity use (i.e. running) and should be used with highly breathable footwear that will allow moisture to evaporate quickly. If you prefer using synthetic socks and are looking for one to use with Gore-Tex® or all-leather boots, try to find a sock that is a synthetic/wool blend such as the Thorlo Mountain Climbing Sock designed to move moisture at a slower rate in order to maximize the efficiency of the Gore-Tex® boot liner.
Aftermarket footbeds are an excellent addition to any type of footwear. Often referred to as “insoles”, performance footbeds can be used to increase the support or cushion of a shoe, and can greatly improve the fit of most shoes and boots. Many footwear companies utilize inexpensive, generic footbeds that are often made from lightweight EVA foam that will compress and wear out relatively quickly. Performance footbeds are typically constructed of a dense synthetic foam top layer that is reinforced through the arch with a sturdy nylon or plastic frame for increased support and durability.
New to the Schnee’s family of products is our signature Schnee’s Performance Footbed. This footbed will improve the fit and comfort of any piece of footwear and comes standard in the Schnee’s Bozeman hunting boot. Constructed with Permafoam and Poliyou™, and reinforced with a nylon frame, this insole provides cushion and support while conforming to the specific shape of your foot. Superfeet® is another manufacturer of aftermarket performance footbeds. Superfeet® offers a range of models that will add support and improve the fit of your footwear whether it’s a western boot, a hiking boot, or a ski boot.