Boot fit can be surprisingly complex. Sometimes a pair feels perfect when you try them on at the store, then they magically grow a size when you’re out and about.
Maybe you have two different sized feet, so one foot sits comfortably in its boot while the other is sliding all over the place. This is why sizing up is often a better option compared to wearing overly tight boots.
The opportunity cost of exchanging sizes isn’t always worth it, like when you’re buying a pair online and can’t actually try them on. You might get an ill-fitting boot all over again and it’s back to square one.
That’s when you take matters into your own hands, with a little help from our friend, the insole.
How to Tell If Your Boots Are Too Big
If your foot slips around inside your fully fastened boot as you walk, the boot is too big.
A bit of heel slippage is normal during break-in, as long as it isn’t over half an inch. Significant heel slippage can cause chafing and blisters.
For slip-ons, you’ll have to exert some pressure to thrust your heel into the boot. If it slips in too easily, your foot won’t be secure enough.
You must have an inch of room in the toe box. This section of the boot isn’t actually the best place to determine if it’s too big. Most people run around in shoes that are too small for them.
Pressing down on the toe-box to ensure fit is an all too common practice, and it’s easy to misread the extra space as a sign to size down.
The ball of your foot is its widest part, and should sit securely on the widest part of the sole. There must be some room to account for swelling, which is prominent during warm days or if you’re on your feet for over six hours, but not so much that your foot is slipping left and right. If you feel bumps or seams inside the boot, it’s the wrong size, big or small.
On that note, make sure to try on new boots at the end of the day because your feet will be more swollen then than in the morning. Wear the style of socks you’ll pair with the boots to simulate its truest fit.
If you live your life in boots that are too big for you, your foot’s flexpoints will be off and it won’t bend at the break points it’s naturally designed to. This is a sure-fire way to get inflammation and plantar fasciitis.
What You Will Need
- Heel shields
- Double-sided shoe tape or thin anti-traction double-sided tape
- Shoe repair adhesive, like Shoe Goo (optional)
5 Steps to Make Big Boot Fit Better
Step 1: Walk Around and Take Note
Walk around in your boots and take note of any specific pain points. Where is there most excess room? What parts of your foot are most uncomfortable? Your right foot may have different issues than your left foot.
Step 2: Choose the Right Insole
Choose an insole based on your examination. For example, if there’s heel slippage, go for a mid to high volume insole to stabilize the heel. If the sides are particularly roomy, go for a wider insole.
Step 3: Insert the Insole and Walk Around
Place the insole in the boot and test for comfort and fit by walking around in them, fully fastened. You might have to trim the insole to get your desired fit.
If you’re lucky, this may be the last step. If it feels comfortable but slips out of place, use shoe tape to secure the insole. If there’s still heel slippage and rubbing, apply the heel shields.
Step 4: Pound the Pavement
Wear them around for a day or two before permanently securing anything to see if you need to make any further adjustments.
Step 5: Consider Permanently Securing the Insoles
If you want to permanently secure the insoles, you can use the shoe adhesive to do so. You can also glue the insoles down if the tape isn’t effectively holding it in place.
Best Insoles for Boots That Are Too Big: Tread Labs Insoles
Tread Labs Insoles give you a level of customization rarely found with over-the-counter insoles.
They’re made of two parts: A hard arch support mold that comes in low, medium, high, and extra high, and an interchangeable foam top that you can customize based on several qualities including firmness, arch support thickness, size (important for our purposes today), and more.
Tread Labs says that their Pace (used to be known as their Stride insole) is designed for pain relief. To put it simply, if your feet don’t hurt, you don’t go looking for insoles. If your foot do hurt normally, the extra firmness from the Pace insole will be very helpful, especially if you have flat feet or low arches.
They offer many models to address specific symptoms. For example, the Pace model is recommended for those seeking pain relief, and the flexible Ramble model is for comfort. You can simultaneously improve the fit of your big boots, while addressing the specific challenges unique to your feet.
The Ramble is my favorite insole that I've tried from Tread Labs. It offers plenty of cushion for the ball of my foot, and the extra flex in the mid-foot boosts the stability of my boot without affecting my arch too much.
Finally, Tread Labs offers a “million mile guarantee” which means the medical-grade arch support mold will last forever.
My Overall Thoughts on Tread Labs Insoles
What I Like
You can customize based on foot size, arch, desired firmness, and more, for a unique insole specific to your feet and boots.
The bottom part of the insole is a medical-grade arch support mold that lasts forever. When the top wears out, you can replace it without having to buy a brand new insole.
The combination pack comes with three top pads so you can mix and match with different boots.
What I Don’t Like
The number of customization options was overwhelming at first. It was difficult and time-consuming for me to narrow down which model to choose.
What Other Reviewers Say
These insoles get rave reviews, many claiming they provide comparable support to insoles custom fit by chiropractors. Naturally, reviewers also celebrate the over-the-counter price point. There are many positive anecdotes including one reviewer who mentions that his two-year lower back and hip pain gradually decreased since using Tread Labs.
There are a small number of reviewers who praise the insoles’ overall quality, but didn’t get their specific pain points addressed. The multiple custom options are ultimately beneficial, but with so many moving parts, it’s easy for people to order the wrong insole. It seems the few negative reviews are rooted in that there’s no user-friendly explanation tool to differentiate between their several models.
Tread Labs Insoles effectively improves the fit of boots that are too big because of their custom offerings. How a big boot affects your foot is different from how it will affect my foot. This attention to detail allows you to address your specific pain points.
The solid plastic insert featured in Tread Labs insoles offers much more support than any gel or foam product I’ve tried. The amount of customization you get, from arch height to flexibility, makes Tread Labs a must-have for anyone who has flat feet, plantar fasciitis, or just wants more comfort from their boots.
Make it Work
Boots that are slightly too big for you aren’t the end of the world. There are certainly more ways around them than boots that are much too small, at least with the right insoles and some gumption.
Of course, if you’re a size 9, no amount of heel shields and arch support will make a size 15 boot work for you.
If you’re moving up from a half size or a friend just slightly missed the mark with a gift, properly applying insoles can save you a lot of discomfort. This strategy is also helpful when you find a certain brand sizes its boots just a bit differently than you’re used to.
Is it OK to wear boots a size too big?
It’s OK to size up if you secure your foot in place with insoles or heel shields. It’s not OK if your feet are sliding around in the boot, your heels are slipping, and the flex points are misaligned. This causes blisters, inflammation, and plantar fasciitis.
Is it better to have boots too big or too small?
It’s better to have boots that are too big, as long as insoles and heel shields can still improve the fit. If they’re too big even for that, then they’re equally as damaging to your feet as boots that are too small, which can cause bunions and hammertoe.
Do leather boots shrink over time?
Yes, leather boots shrink over time. They can be “re-broken in” with a few days of wear. Harder leather will take longer.