New hiking boots seem tight - will they stretch with use?
June 9, 2010 9:36 PM   Subscribe

I've bought a pair of what I assume to be reasonably good hiking boots for a long trek/challenge I'm doing at the end of August - 100km in 36 hours or so, through the Australian bush north of Sydney (bush = forest, national park). Trying them out, eg. on a 12km walk at the weekend, they're quite tight across the toes. If I keep wearing them (generally around the place, and on longer walks) will they stretch over time, or should I buy a better fitting pair while I still have time to break them in?

They're Columbia boots, AU$130 reduced from $250 (add 10-20% for USD equivalent).

The trek is a fairly serious one - non stop (as in, not camping), very hilly, through remote areas, carrying everything we need, mostly on forest tracks and 4WD trails.

At the end of 12km walk I did on Saturday, my toes and feet were aching quite a lot because of how tight the boots feel. Ankles, calf muscles etc were fine. My feet recovered fully within a day or so, so I guess it might just be the fact that I hadn't walked 12km through the bush wearing these boots before.

But... I'd rather write these boots off and get myself a better/better fitted pair if people think I might have made a bad purchase in the first place. Money isn't too much of an issue - I'm happy to invest more in a better pair if it means less risk of pain/injury during the 100km trek.
posted by infinitejones to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (17 answers total)
Get a new pair. I mean, I haven't done a 3-day hike in about 10 years, but I did one once (Australian bush) in some badly fitting boots, and the blisters I got were horrific beasts from the deepest pits of hell. I'm a fan of buying boots that are a bit large, and wearing thick socks.
posted by Jimbob at 9:40 PM on June 9, 2010

If the boots are leather, they will stretch out a bit, but it does take some time. You need some flex in the toe of the boot, but new leather doesn't flex very well, leading to feelings of tightness across the toes. I wouldn't write them off after one hike.

If the boots aren't leather or are made up of all kinds of stuff sewn together, then it will be much harder to guess how they will change over time.
posted by ssg at 9:49 PM on June 9, 2010

Stick with cross country tennies. I wouldn't go with boots as they are heavy and every extra ounce you carry is magnified on something so strenuous. Also, good socks will make or break you on something like this- I absolutely love bridgedales. What about insoles? Do you have some orthotics or at least superfeet? They make a huge difference.
posted by TheBones at 9:49 PM on June 9, 2010 [2 favorites]

unless you are climbing scree fields or walking across razor-sharp lava I would seriously consider ditching boots altogether and using running shoes or light trail shoes. I've done a number of big trips in sneakers and would never consider going back.
posted by H. Roark at 9:51 PM on June 9, 2010 [2 favorites]

Have you tried getting some leather conditioner, working that into the toe box, and then wearing them around? Repeat for a few days, see if they're better.

If they're not leather, then you need new boots.

But, boots are totally last century. Get yourself some trail-running shoes. They're basically tennis shoes (trainers?) with big lugs on the bottom for gripping earthy surfaces. They're far superior to boots in most situations. However, you do have to be slightly more careful with your foot placement, because it's easier to twist an ankle with them if you're wearing a heavy pack.

I like GoLite's shoes, but their website is so douchey I'm afriad you're going to have to google it yourself--that, and I don't know if you can get them in Australia.
posted by Netzapper at 10:27 PM on June 9, 2010 [1 favorite]

Are they tight in front of the toes or on top of the toes? If they are tight in front I would get a bigger pair.

I prefer to wear boots as I often single track and are prone to spraining my ankles. I had a few scares on remote tracks when I thought I would not be able to walk any more. That said a good pair of boots should be tight around the ankles but not at the toes.

And seconding good socks.
posted by furisto at 10:28 PM on June 9, 2010 [2 favorites]

Nthing leather conditioner.

If you bought them at REI, they'll take them back with receipt, even after a serious 12km walk (at least, the ones I've dealt with explicitly said so). THAT is why I patronize REI.

If the toe box is seriously tight, you MUST NOT go on a big trip in them. You will be lame. Care to be ported out on a traverse?

An ex- of mine swore by a leather stretching product she got from shoe stores. Can't recall the name, but it would grant a little extra stretch. A little.
posted by IAmBroom at 10:41 PM on June 9, 2010

Another option: I believe if you take them to a cobbler / shoe repair outfit they can stretch them to you specifications. I did a quick Google search to reality-check this notion and this page agrees.
posted by kprincehouse at 11:07 PM on June 9, 2010

Response by poster: Thanks for the input everyone.

To answer a couple of questions - they're not leather, and they're tight across the top, not at the front.

We don't have REI in Australia, although from what people in this thread (and other threads) have been saying about it, I wish we did.

I do also have a pair of Merrell trail shoes with Vibram soles, which I actually wear as my everyday shoes. They are the most comfortable things I have ever put my feet into. I'd bought the hiking boots to get the ankle support - rocky trails, at night, I can imagine myself going over on an ankle very easily - so I guess it comes down to whether the risk of a twisted ankle outweighs the risk of the boots squashing my toes.

I've got 11 weeks to see what happens with the boots though - and having the Merrells I'm not completely without options.
posted by infinitejones at 11:16 PM on June 9, 2010

I have really wide forefeet, and I since few outdoor shoes come in variable widths, I sometimes have this problem. I have taken to skipping the lowest lace point to allow the shoe to expand a little in the toe box. You might try that.

Otherwise, I agree with netzapper that if they're not leather and they don't feel right, they probably aren't going to get any better.
posted by richyoung at 11:34 PM on June 9, 2010

Nthing swapping the boots. Uncomfortable over only 12km = real problems over longer stretch.

The rule of thumb with hiking boots is to choose bigger over smaller. Too tight in the toe box will lead to all sorts of grief. Make sure you have plenty of wiggle room up front too, to lessen the likelihood of losing toenails on extended downhills.

Re ankle support: Be forewarned that not all hiking boots offer good ankle support, so if this is important to you try holding the shoe by the sole with one hand and pushing the ankle/heel part of the boot laterally with the other hand from the outside about as high where your ankle would be. A boot with good ankle support should BARELY move, or preferably, not move at all. Try this test with the Merrills first; 100km in 36 hours is a very challenging pace and the less your shoes weigh the better. If you can get away with a trail shoe for this, I'd recommend it.

Also consider getting trekking poles for better support. Practice using them before your trek; there is a learning curve. They will reduce the likelihood of twisting your ankle, especially on downhills.

Sounds like a great trek -- I'm jealous. Have fun!
posted by Opposite George at 11:39 PM on June 9, 2010

Oh, and make sure you can snug down your shoes of choice enough to keep your foot from sliding around in them. This will prevent blisters (also consider ultra-lightweight liner socks under your trekking socks.) Your ideal shoes will allow you to do this while still having enough room in the toe box that your big and little toes are free to wiggle freely.
posted by Opposite George at 11:43 PM on June 9, 2010

Best answer: Where did you get these boots? In this situation you should go to a brick and mortar store and have a professional fit you. This also has the advantage of allowing you to try on multiple brands and sizes. Ideally the store you go to will have mock "hills" which you can walk up and down while trying on the boots so that you get an idea of how your feet fit in them while ascending and descending. You most definitely do not want your toes bumping the front of the boot when you descend; this is a sure route to hiking misery. Also the professional will ask you about what type of hiking you are planning to do, and, importantly, what amount of weight you will be carrying. Good sturdy boots are necessary when you're doing long journeys with serous (30 lb +) pack on your back because your feet and ankles need extra reinforcement to cope with the additional weight. Presumably that is not the case with your speed trek. So depending on how challenging the terrain is, you might be better off with something lighter. And finally, the professional will be able to discuss hiking poles with you, and whether you need them. They can be a liability if you have not gotten comfortable using them, so unless you plan to do enough practicing beforehand, as Opposite George mentions, you should skip them. They're also very useful for hikes when you're carrying lots of extra weight, as they allow you to transfer some of the burden off your feet and legs and onto your arms, but again if you're not carrying a lot of weight it really depends on how comfortable you are with them. In sum, if the choice is between the boots you have and the broken-in Merrells, pick the comfortable lower ones. But the best solution is to consult a professional.
posted by tractorfeed at 2:37 AM on June 10, 2010 [3 favorites]

I used to work in an outdoorsy store that sold boots and I fully agree with tractorfeed. I would not even go to REI if you had one; I do not think the staff is all that knowledgeable. Find an independently owned store that has been around for a long time.
posted by desjardins at 6:35 AM on June 10, 2010

I hiked and twice organized a fifty-mile nonstop supported hike in the White Mountains in New England when I was in undergrad, and once hiked the route without support, again without stopping.

The most important thing is that your shoes are comfortable and fit. It sounds like your daily trailrunner shoes will be perfect, since they'll provide some support but are already broken in. I would also strongly consider trekking poles. On "The Fifty," people that used trekking poles had a vastly higher completion rate than people who didn't, even if they'd never used them before and didn't touch them for the first 20 miles. For the last 20, you'll need them, especially on downhills.

Also, regarding blisters, an ounce of prevention is worth like 20 pounds of cure. Especially on a hike this long, at the first hint of a hot spot on your foot, take your boots off, let your skin dry off for a minute in the air, and then apply some duct tape directly to the skin, before a blister has had the chance to form. If you know those shoes really well, you could even pre-tape before the hike starts to prevent the blisters from the get go.

Good luck! Post back when you're done to let us know how it went.
posted by Aizkolari at 7:14 AM on June 10, 2010

Have you tried lacing looser over the toes than over the instep? This won't fix a toe-box that really is too small, but even on a boot that fits right, not doing it can still make them hurt. I have pair of stout leather boots I adore (3 pair, actually, so I'll never be without!), yet for descending, if I don't do the above, they will hurt.
Mine have speed-lace hooks and hold the differential tension fairly well; eyeleted boots might need a little help. If yours do, re-lace them with an overhand knot between the second and third pair of eyelets (or wherever will place it above the pressure point) to help keep the tension from evening out.
posted by TruncatedTiller at 1:57 PM on June 10, 2010 [1 favorite]

There are some good, creative lacing tips here. It's ostensibly for runners, but I can't see why it couldn't apply to boots/trail shoes as well. At least it got me thinking about the different ways you can use your laces, and that helped me out a lot with a loose heel.
posted by Opposite George at 9:28 AM on June 29, 2010

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