Have you ever bought yourself a pair of boots labeled the exact same size as your favorite sneakers or running shoes, only to find when you put them on for the first time that they don’t fit?
Maybe the fit is only slightly off—it’s too snug in the forefoot or tight in the heel—but sometimes it can be a half size or even a full size off. What the heck?
Well, I’ve got news for you: shoe size isn’t always the same as boot size. Certain boot styles, in particular, will be noticeably different from shoes when it comes to sizing.
Sound confusing? Keep reading because in this article, I’ll explain the reasons why boot and shoe sizing can be different and tell you how you can make sure to always get the right size.
Why Are Boot Sizes Sometimes Different from Shoe Sizes?
Let’s be clear: shoe size can sometimes be the same as boot size, but not always.
There are quite a few reasons why boot sizes run differently than shoe sizes. Allow me to explain.
The Boot’s Measurement
Boots and shoes are built around a last, a wooden, high-density plastic, or cast-iron construction in the shape of a human foot. The last will provide a structure for bootmakers and shoemakers to wrap the leather and other materials around when building their footwear. Ideally, it produces a sizing as close to anatomically accurate and adequate as possible.
The problem is, there are a lot of different lasts in use. Hundreds, possibly even thousands. Every brand of footwear has its own last (or a few of them) that serves as the guide for constructing their boots.
Lasts are measured in “barleycorns” (yes, you read that right), an antiquated measurement that is equivalent to roughly 1/3”.
The measure of each last (in barleycorns) is multiplied by 3, then divided by either 25 for men or 23 for women. The resulting number is the corresponding shoe size.
Right off the bat, things go a bit haywire when comparing US vs UK sizes. That’s because UK sizes start at Size 0, but US sizes start at Size 1.
Some Shoemakers Measure Their Lasts Using a Brannock Device
But that’s not the only way sizing begins to diverge.
Some shoemakers and bootmakers measure the sizes of their lasts using a Brannock device, which looks like this:
When measured by a Brannock device, sizing usually ends up being about two barleycorns—or 2/3”—shorter than “traditional” lasts.
These two fundamental disparities in measurements explain why shoes and boots often end up being different sizes.
Shoes and boots built around lasts that are measured in the traditional manner can be noticeably different than shoes and boots built around lasts measured using a Brannock device.
The Boot’s Purpose
Some boots are built larger than other boots and shoes.
For example, work boots are built to accommodate a safety toe. However, the actual dimensions of a safety toe may vary from material to material. Steel safety toes are thicker and heavier than composite safety toes, which may be thicker than aluminum or celastic safety toes.
A pair of work boots will be sized larger to accommodate a safety toe, but the way the safety toe fills that extra space will vary depending on the toe design and materials.
Work boots are designed larger to allow for foot swelling caused by extended periods on your feet. They prioritize comfort despite swelling, offering a roomier fit to accommodate foot expansion. In contrast, dress shoes for occasional use don’t require extra space or the same level of swelling accommodation.
On the slimmer side, athletic shoes, like running shoes, aim for a lightweight build with minimal material usage. They are typically measured to fit your feet precisely, employing expandable materials such as polyester, nylon, and elastane to adapt to any foot swelling.
That’s why, if you place a pair of Size 13 running shoes side by side with a pair of Size 13 work boots, the boots will be noticeably larger both inside and out.
The Boot’s Construction
Many shoes and budget boots are built using cement construction.
To explain it simply, the upper is shaped around a last and attached to the sole using a cement adhesive.
Cement construction is the cheapest and most lightweight method of attaching the upper to the sole.
The problem is, once the cement begins to weaken or separate, there’s no repairing it. A pair of cement construction shoes can’t be resoled or rebuilt.
Shoemakers and bootmakers building longer-lasting and better-quality footwear will typically use either welted or stitchdown constructions.
The Blake welt is the most common welting method.
With the Blake welt, the leather upper wraps around the boot’s insole, then both are stitched directly to the outsole using a single stitch. This can only be done by machine.
The Goodyear welt is the toughest of the welting methods, but also the most labor-intensive (and thus expensive).
With the Goodyear welt, a canvas or leather rib is attached to the insole using adhesive, that rib, and the insole are both sewn to a strip of leather (the welt), and that welt is stitched to the outsole and midsole of the shoe.
Goodyear welt construction is incredibly durable and is the easiest to resole and rebuild, even by hand. However, it’s less flexible than other methods of construction, not to mention pricier.
Storm welts are a modified version of Goodyear welts.
While Goodyear welts use a flat piece of canvas of leather to form the rib, storm welts use material that rises up the side of the upper as well. This provides an extra measure of protection against damp. Essentially, it protects the inner stitching from being exposed to water.
Because of this, it’s typically used for waterproof leather boots intended to be used in wet and humid environments.
Stitchdown construction simply attaches the leather upper directly to the midsole and outsole without the use of a welt.
Some stitchdown boots will use a single stitch, similar to Goodyear welts. However, many use two stitches—one that attaches the upper to the midsole, then another that runs through the outsole, midsole, and upper.
How Construction Style Affects Sizing
With cement construction, the upper is wrapped around the last and glued in place to the midsole and outsole. However, with welted or stitchdown construction, the upper is sewn to the midsole and outsole.
During the sewing process, the threads can pull the layers of material together more tightly than expected. Boots built using stitchdown or welted construction typically have a snugger fit than cement-constructed boots for this reason.
The Boot’s Materials
Remember how I mentioned above that running and athletic shoes are usually built with lighter, more expandable materials? The synthetic uppers used for these shoes will have much more elasticity and stretch to fit your feet, resulting in a looser, more relaxed fit.
Some boots—such as hiking boots or boxing boots—are also made using similar materials. These tend to have a fit comparable to athletic shoes.
On the other hand, boots built using leather tend to fit much more tightly at first.
Leather is stiff and inflexible right out of the box, and only softens and relaxes with repeated use, exposure to your body heat, and pressure from your feet from within.
Leather boots may feel constricting or painfully tight at first and will only become comfortable—and feel like the proper size—once you’ve broken them in. Depending on the boot, the break-in time can be anywhere from one to twelve weeks.
Some bootmakers combat this problem by making certain boot models bigger.
The same brand makes both boots, but where the Classic Mocs are a more casual style, the Iron Rangers are a work boot and thus can accommodate the swelling that occurs over a long day on my feet.
But it’s not just the sizing that’s different between the two. The Classic Mocs use oiled and waxed nubuck leather, which breaks in and relaxes faster than the full-grain oiled leather used for the Iron Rangers.
One of the biggest mistakes you can make when boot shopping is wearing the wrong pair of socks.
Most of us wear cotton socks for everyday comfort and synthetic socks for sweatier, athletic activities.
However, boots are best worn with wool socks. Wool protects the leather, which creates more friction against your skin and can cause blisters. It also provides extra padding to reduce foot fatigue, wicks moisture away, and doesn’t sag or stretch.
They’re the right socks to wear over long hours in heavy, minimally ventilated leather boots.
The problem is that they’re also thicker than cotton or synthetic socks. That means that if you don’t wear them boot-shopping, you won’t get the most accurate sizing. When you bring your boots home and slip them on over your wool socks, they’ll feel too snug or tight, possibly even uncomfortable.
When trying on boots or shoes, always wear the socks that you’ll use when you wear them regularly. That’s the best way to ensure the most accurate fit and find the right size.
Made in the USA from Merino wool, these work socks really are something else in terms of quality. They feature compression through the arch and calf which helps your feet recover after a long day. Plus, because they're Merino wool, they're breathable and help reduce foot sweat.
Proper Boot Sizing Doesn’t Have to Be a Chore
The key to finding the right boot size or shoe size is to do your research!
Visit your local shoe stores, bootmakers, or workwear distributors, and get your feet into the shoes or boots you’re considering. That’s the best way to have a proper feel for how snug they are—both in length and width—as well as their weight, durability, and handsome good looks.
But what if you can’t find the boots you want in person, you ask? Shopping for shoes online is trickier, but it can be done…with more research.
Thankfully, most bootmakers will include sizing charts on their websites, as well as a gauge for reviewers to rate just how true-to-size the fit is.
You should be able to comb through reviews of the specific boots you’re considering and quickly find out if real-life users had issues with the sizing or if the boots fit as expected.
Those few minutes of research can save you a lot of time and money—and, best of all, spare you the discomfort of an incorrectly sized pair of boots.
Is shoe size and boot size the same?
For some brands, shoe size, and boot size will be the same. However, many manufacturers use different lasts (see the explanation above) for their boots than their shoes, or even change up lasts for their various boot models.
You can certainly approach the shopping expecting the boots you choose to fit roughly the same as your shoes, but make sure to read the reviews to see if the fit is true to size or if you need to size up or down.
Is shoe size the same as foot size?
Shoe size is slightly larger than foot size. Shoemakers and boot manufacturers typically add two barleycorns (or 2/3”) to your foot size. That way, the shoe or boot has enough room for your foot to fit snugly but still have room for your feet to expand over long hours walking or running.
Are boots the same as shoes?
What we call “boots” typically cover your ankles and part of your lower leg, while we consider footwear that stops below the ankle “shoes”.
However, some boots (namely chukkas) will often be cut below the ankles but are still considered boots, while there are shoes (namely, high-tops) that cover the ankles.