Boot Care and Lacing Techniques to Save Your Feet
Let’s talk about a sore topic in hiking: your boots. Or trail runners or barefoot shoes - regardless your feet do the most work and it's important to take care of them. Knowing different ways to tie and lace your shoes could be the difference between enjoying a high quality shoe or feeling like you’ve wasted your money. Getting the most out of your boot or shoe starts with finding the right fit, good socks and proper care to prevent blisters or pain.
Comfort on trail begins with your boot purchase - if the boot doesn’t fit correctly in store, breaking them in will not make them fit better. Select shoes that fit well in the store and you will have fewer adjustments to make and they will break in faster and more comfortably. Hiking shoes aren’t made like other ordinary shoes; they’re made to be flexed, soaked, stomped in and dusted. They’re made with less give than a traditional running shoe and can handle most things the backcountry has to throw at them. With that reinforcement designed in, high-quality hiking shoes require more time to break in than other types of shoe or boot.
Note: Avoid the ‘quick’ solutions for breaking in boots like soaking them in water and then going for a wet walk. Not only does it not work, it is needlessly rough on your new boots and your feet.
Caring for your gear properly can add years and miles to its life, and takes just moments to do after hiking. As excited as we can be to take our boots off after a sufferfest, avoid storing boots wet and muddy. Cleaning and drying your boots can prolong the life of any leather components and extend the durability of the soles, which in turn prevents wear and saves your toes. Though guilty of this myself, avoid drying your boots close to the fire. Direct heat can break down sealants and damage some materials - or even worse, melt your soles or laces.
Wear good socks to prevent most blisters. Wool socks are perfect for on the trail as they are fast-drying and provide that little extra layer of padding. When you are purchasing your hiking shoes, wear socks that you hike in to ensure your foot and thicker sock will both comfortably fit. Many long-distance hikers prefer to wear a thin, moisture-wicking sock or liner along with a full wool sock to prevent blisters from sweat or moisture.
To start, let’s review the kinds of knots you can use for different types of foot pains:
The Surgeon's Knot
A handy knot to know, the surgeon’s knot prevents laces from sliding and keeps your shoes tied. Helpful in many on-trail scenarios, the surgeon’s knot is good for when you need to be able to quickly loosen a knot such as for a bear hang.
To tie a surgeon's knot:
Instead of tying a square knot with a single loop (for a knot), or crossing laces once as you lace, wrap the laces around each other twice - simple over and under.
Pull the knot or laces tight
Heel-Lock Lacing | Heel blisters
If your feet are prone to slide around in your boot, using heel-lock lacing will keep your foot snug in your boot and prevent heel blisters. This lacing technique may at first seem more complicated than the others and best learned with a visual rather than read, but done correctly it can save your feet a world of suffering.
Without too much pressure to provide a snug fit, lace your hiking boot normally across the top of your foot - or in-step.
Find the hooks/eyelets at the base of your ankle, where your foot begins to flex on step. For most typical hiking boots, this is where the lace points change from eyelets to hooks.
Thread the end of one lace across like normal and connect it to the lower of your two hooks.
Take the opposite lace, and wrap it twice around the other lace to make a surgeon’s knot, across the top of your foot, before threading it into the lower hook and then across to the upper of your two hooks.
Take the first lace and wrap it around the second one twice across the bridge of your foot to make another surgeon’s knot before continuing to lace as normal.
Toe-Relief Lacing | Toe blisters, bruised toenails
Reduce pressure and rubbing on your toes by creating more room in the toe-box of your boot. This prevents blisters and gives more room to space your toes out while hiking.
Unlace your boots entirely
Begin re-lacing at the second row of hooks or eyelets rather than starting at the first row
Window Lacing | Pressure, swelling
If you’re experiencing swelling across the top of your foot or feeling pressure, use window lacing to relieve pressure and save your swollen feet. Done correctly, this lacing technique will create a window-like gap and provide space in your boot.
To tie a window lacing:
Figure out which eyelets/hooks are creating pressure or tightness
Unlace your boots to the of eyelet/hook set below the pressure
Rather than the traditional cross, re-thread the laces straight to the next set of eyelets/hooks, continue until above the pressure point
Resume crossing your laces as normal
In the event of a mid-hike blow out, blisters between your toes or crawling insoles, knowing how to repair or adjust your boot on trail is a valuable skill to have. Carrying duct tape in your pack (or wrapped around your trekking pole for easy peeling later) can help in the event of a delaminated sole or toe-guard failure. Having that little bit of tape could be the difference between safely getting back to the trailhead or going precariously barefoot. Carrying another lace in your pack is helpful, but if other types of line in your pack (tent line, drawstrings, tarp rope etc) can fit in the eyelets or hooks of your boots, you can fashion a makeshift boot lace easily in a pinch.
Knowing how to properly wear your hiking boot or shoe is critical to a safe hike, as simple and obvious as that advice may sound. Practice and try out different lacing strategies on your next hike and see if your toes are happier when you return to the trailhead.