If you wear hiking boots and get blisters when you go hiking or if your boots don’t fit as well as you’d like, there are a handful of powerful hiking boot lacing techniques that you can use to dial in a good fit. Unfortunately, these lacing techniques have become somewhat of a lost art since well-trained boot fitters are so scarce.
However by learning these techniques, you can completely eliminate the painful banging of your toes against the front of your boots, heel lift which causes those painful heel blisters, and sore spots on the top of your foot where the laces are tied too tightly. If you experience any of these issues, you need to watch these videos!
The Heel Lock
For example, if you get heel blisters when you go hiking, it’s probably because your heel is lifting up when you take a step forward and rubbing against the inside of your boot. This source of friction causes a blister, essentially a friction burn, on the back of your foot.
However, can eliminate heel lift using a lacing technique that people call the Heel Lock. Rather than using the normal back and forth diagonal lacing most of us know, this lacing technique (shown in the video above) uses the open hooks (speed lacing system) on the side of your boots to create a pulley like system for mechanical advantage, letting you crank down the most resistant leather or plastic boots and firmly lock your heel in place.
I use this Heel Lock lacing technique in winter to tie my mountaineering boots and it works extremely well for eliminating heel lift. It takes a little practice to tie, but is definitely worth learning, and can be used with any boot, trail runner, or shoe where heel lift is an issue.
The Surgeon’s Knot
Another essential lacing technique is called the Surgeon’s Knot, which my father, a doctor, taught me when I was a young boy. It’s like the simple overhand loop that you normally use when tying shoes but instead of just going around once and pulling it taught, you go around twice or even three times, creating a friction-based lace lock which won’t slip loose when you let go.
Using a Surgeon’s Knot, it’s possible to isolate different parts of your laces from one another, creating areas that are tighter or looser. For instance, if you have a sore spot on the top of your foot above your arch, you could make the laces below it tight, lock them off with a Surgeon’s Knot, and then tie the area above the sore spot more loosely. The Surgeon’s Knot is shown in the second video above, along with the Heel Lock again.
Lacing windows are another useful, but counter-intuitive lacing technique that breaks traditions with the standard back and forth diagonal lacing we’re all familiar with. Instead of threading a lace diagonally, you thread it vertically to the next higher eyelet on the boot, creating a gap in the lacing that relieves some of the pressure on the top of the foot. This is good for people with high arches or who get sore spots on the top of their feet when their laces are tied too tightly (see the video above for a demonstration.)
The Myth of Well Fitting Boots
Unless you are willing to spend the money for a custom pair of hiking boots that are tailor made for your feet, you will probably have to adapt the fit of your boots using the lacing techniques describe here, augmented with one or more sock layers and insoles. This is the norm when it comes to fitting hiking boots and becomes more important the heavier and stiffer the boot is. Individual variations between individuals and even between feet (see Is One of Your Feet Bigger than the Other?) make it unlikely that you’ll find a pair of boots that fit both of your feet perfectly, hence the need to have multiple tools including these advanced lacing techniques in your quiver of boot fitter tricks.