When it comes to athletic footwear, the fit of a shoe is paramount above all else. Brand loyalty, for many, is either built or broken on how a shoe accommodates the foot, with some pledging an almost religious devotion to particular brands. But what constitutes as a "good fit"? For this topic, we'll address shoe sizing in the context of proper length, width, and overall security of the foot within the shoe, specifically from the perspective of running, x-training, and general walking shoes. While personal preferences may vary, and cannot be accounted for in this article, these are the generally accepted principles and guidelines our Fit Specialists follow when conducting an in-store fitting session.
I should preface by saying that a large number of our newer clients typically come in wearing the wrong size shoe. This is no fault of their own, as the vast majority typically have no recollection of the last time they had their foot measured. In many cases, these same clients come to us with on-going foot afflictions (bunions, bruised toe nails, hammer toes etc.), some of which may have been avoided had the shoes been fitted properly in the first place.
For shoe length, contrary to popular belief, your toes should not be touching the end of your shoes. Additionally, while some suggest buying shoes a half size longer than your measurement, I typically try to dissuade our clients from applying this kind of blanket formula, since not all shoes fit the same. Depending on the year, even shoes that are simple updates to familiar models can fit either a little bit longer, or shorter (looking at you, Asics), due to small changes in the design, so I typically encourage sampling a few different lengths until there is approximately a half inch of space between the end of the toe and the shoe's toe cap. The reason we typically leave this space is to relieve pressure on both the toe nail, and the joint itself. If you've ever heard of runners getting bruised toe nails, it's often because they've been running in shoes that are a bit on the short side. This isn't always the case, but for the majority of people a simple length adjustment should remedy the issue.
The width of a shoe is a bit trickier to fit, as most people associate a tighter fit with a perception of support. I typically hear this from soccer players, hockey players, rock climbers, and anyone who has been played sports that involve wearing much tighter footwear. When it comes to running shoes, you should look for a snug fit, where the mesh of the shoe is able to hold your foot in place over the base, but with only a bit of tension in the material, especially in the forefoot region. The purpose behind this is to accommodate the natural expansion of the foot as weight is applied to it, and to give the foot some room to swell, as it inevitably will after a run. For these same reasons, we have our clients stand and apply weight to their feet when being measured, and often recommend they come for a fitting session later in the day once their feet have swelled a bit.
In order to optimize the fit of a shoe for each person's unique profile, shoe companies will sometimes make width variants for select models, ranging from narrow to 2X-wide in select cases. New Balance is typically the brand most associated with wider shoes, however Brooks, Saucony, Mizuno, Asics, Merrell and several other major brands also produce width variants in some of their flagship models. In short, those with wide feet actually have some options to explore, a welcome change for many runners and walkers who have long compensated for the lack of wide options by going up in sizing.
Foot security and heel movement
The level of security your foot will experience inside a shoe will largely depend on the type of shoe we're fitting you for, and the materials used in the upper. For example, most people are a bit thrown off when the toe box of their running shoes aren't providing a vice-grip like hold on their forefoot (see the above section on widths), ultimately jumping to the conclusion that shoe isn't supporting their foot, and to an extent they somewhat correct. Often times, when confronted with this scenario, people will move their forefoot side-to-side in an effort to demonstrate the lack of hold the material has. What we need to remember, specifically in the context of running shoes, is that this type of footwear was not meant to support the foot through lateral (sideways) motion, but through linear movements, hence the ability to move the forefoot a bit more freely. Models that typically cradle the forefoot are found in the court/x-training segment, where lateral movements are anticipated as part of the user's activity regimen. These more stable models will often use more structured materials like leathers or synthetics to give the shoe a more secure feel.
Another aspect fitting often brought up is the acceptable amount of heel movement we can expect from our shoes. While the heel should be secure within the shoe, allow for a small amount of lost contact with shoe's insole. A few millimeters of lift should be an acceptable level of movement for most people, though the key point is moderation, as large amounts of heel play can lead to issues like blisters, and premature wear in certain regions of the shoe's liner (this can occur even with a proper fit, however excess heel movement can exacerbate the breakdown of materials).
For additional information on sizing and footwear, you can contact either of our Sports 4 locations:
149 Bank St. - (613) 234-6562
1371B Woodroffe - (613) 224-2424