How to Lace and Tie Hiking Boots
We sat down with expert footwear fitter Beth Henkes—who’s fitted more than 30,000 pairs of feet into hiking boots during her time working as a technical footwear fitter at a major outdoor retailer. We got her opinion on the best lacing and knot techniques for hiking boots. She broke down all the different methods, along with when and where to use each one.
First things first: Why use a lacing technique?
Of the thousands of hikers Henkes has assisted, she says that most are dealing with one of three issues:
- Heel slippage: This is when your heel pops up in the back of your boot as you hike. It can often be relieved with a surgeon's knot or a runner’s loop to help lock the heel into place.
- Sliding feet: Hikers commonly have problems with their feet sliding forward, especially on downhill treks. This is normally a fit issue, but a surgeon's knot can help mitigate this problem too.
- Dorsal foot pain: A technical way of referring to pain on the top of your foot, this is usually another sign that your hiking boots don’t fit right. (Or potentially that you have extensor tendonitis). Window lacing can help alleviate the pain until you can find better footwear.
Toe pain (which can include toe bruising or toenail lifting) is another less common, but equally uncomfortable, issue that hikers experience. When this occurs, it’s typically the result of poorly fitting boots rather than a lacing issue. However, there’s a temporary fix: Simply remove your shoelaces and start the lacing one eyelet set closer to you. This leaves the eyelets closest to your toes empty, allowing for a roomier fit up front. This method is sometimes called “toe relief” lacing.
Choose the right hiking boot
“A lot of people struggle with their hiking boots and think, ‘I need a better lacing technique.’ But what they actually need is a better boot that fits them properly,” Henkes explains.
Hiking footwear isn’t something you should skimp on, especially if you’re planning to be hiking on more technical trails. If you want to be comfortable out there, it’s worth it to invest in quality hiking boots that offer proper ankle support, good traction, and ample cushioning.
When making a selection, consider the type of hiking you’ll be doing and keep your location, environment, and experience level in mind. Hiking footwear comes in a variety of styles, so you need to understand the different uses, particularly when it comes to choosing between hiking boots and hiking shoes.
And whatever you select, make sure it fits right. Most people know their sizing when it comes to the length and width of their feet, but nuances like the height (known as “volume”) or the arch length can make a big difference too.
Henkes’ top piece of advice for all hiking boot-related issues?
“If you're able to get into a store to check your fit and make sure that your fit is correct, that is the number one thing you can do for yourself.”
The Surgeon’s Knot
“The surgeon’s knot is the golden knot,” Henkes says. “You can use it for so many things in so many ways, and it's incredibly easy to learn.”
To execute this knot, start at the bottom and lace your shoes up exactly how you normally would. When you get to the point where you want the surgeon’s knot, loop the laces around each other as if you were going to tie your shoes—but don’t make the two bows. Instead, loop the laces around each other a second time.
That’s it. You’ve created a surgeon’s knot.
If you want an extra-secure lock, you can loop it a third time.
Then continue lacing up the rest of your shoe. When you get to the top, tie the laces in a regular bow.
Most of the time, you’ll want to do two surgeon’s knots in a row on consecutive eyelets to lock everything down. For heel slippage or foot sliding, Henkes recommends placing them on the eyelets on top of your ankle, or just below it.
To do it, begin lacing the boot how you normally would. When you get to the spot where you want the window, go straight up with the laces instead of crisscrossing them. Continue straight up for as many eyelets as you need the relief, and once you’ve passed the point of difficulty, continue with the crisscrossing.
Henkes likes to throw in a surgeon’s knot at the beginning and the end of the window, although she says this isn’t mandatory—just a bit of extra security if you want it.
It works best with knit or synthetic hiking shoes that have an extra set of eyelets at the top (such as the Trailstorm Ascend or Plateau Venture).
To make a runner’s loop, lace your hiking shoes up to the last eyelets, leaving only the top eyelets unlaced, along with the “extra” ones that are right behind them.
Using these two remaining eyelets, make a loop in between them.
Do this on each side of the shoe.
Once you have a loop on each side of the shoe, crisscross the laces over the front and thread them through each loop.
Pull them snugly, and tie the shoe like you normally would.
“The runner's loop helps snug your foot into the shoe and makes it more secure toward the back of your heel, eliminating that foot pop,” Henkes explains.
Lacing technique FAQ
- How tight should hiking boots be laced?
- How do I tie my hiking boots to prevent blisters?
- Can you use multiple lacing techniques together?
- Should I lace my hiking boots all the way up?
- How do I tie hiking boots for ankle support?
- How do I tie hiking boots with long laces?
- How do I lace my boots without tying them?
- How do I lace boots military style?
- What is ladder lacing?
Q: How tight should hiking boots be laced?
Q: How do I tie my hiking boots to prevent blisters?
Q: Can you use multiple lacing techniques together?
Q: Should I lace my hiking boots all the way up?
Q: How do I tie hiking boots for ankle support?
“Lacing doesn’t really contribute to ankle support,” Henkes explains. “You could possibly create a little extra support with the runner's loop, but it really doesn’t take the place of a sturdy boot. People who need extra ankle support should look for stiff hiking boots.”
And that doesn’t just mean something that comes up past your ankle, she says. This is a common misconception.
“People assume that if it covers your ankle, it's a sturdy boot. But that’s not necessarily the case. The sturdiness is in the sole. Some mid hiking boots are actually less sturdy than shorter hiking shoes. The purpose of coming past your ankle is to protect you from the terrain, not to support your ankles.”
You can tell how stiff a boot is by simply twisting the sole, she says. The harder it is to twist, the better ankle support you’re likely to get.
The Sierra OutDry is a great example of a hiking boot with good ankle support.
Q: How do I tie hiking boots with long laces?
“Some people wrap them around the top, come behind their ankle, and then come back up to tie them. Some people double knot them. Others tie them regularly and tuck the ends of the bows into the top of their boot —this works as long as you don’t have a high-volume foot where the laces will create pressure over time.
“There's really no wrong way to do it. It's about finding what makes you most comfortable and keeps your boot from coming untied. That last part is important though. You don’t want to be tripping on your laces.”
Q: How do I lace my boots without tying them?
Q: How do I lace boots military style?
“I would never ever teach military lacing to a regular hiker,” she says. “It only exists because the military issues the same boot to everyone, regardless of their foot type, so they often don't fit properly and people need complicated lacing techniques so they don’t destroy their feet. But I think the only people who can execute it well are people who are actually in the military and have been doing it their whole lives.”
She says that the surgeon’s knot, window lacing, or runner’s loop can solve most of the same problems with much less frustration.