Even if you were very selective when you bought your last pair of hiking boots or hiking shoes, there may come a time when you start to feel some slippage in the heel, blisters form regularly, or pressure points begin to develop on the top of your foot or in the toe box. Hikers are all too often exasperated with the thought of heading back to the drawing board with their hiking boots and hiking shoes, but luckily the lacing on hiking boots and hiking shoes has been developed by the manufacturers to be adaptable to all sorts of functional and comfort problems.
Hikers with narrow feet or flat feet are well aware that lacing hiking boots can make the difference between a lighthearted jaunt across a backcountry trail or a bothersome, tedious chore riddled with injuries like heel blisters. There are many different methods of lacing hiking boots, but you need only learn a handful to make sure your next hiking or backpacking trip is fulfilling and blister-free.
Blisters are often formed by moisture in the boot and by friction in an ill-fitting hiking boot. Heel blisters are most commonly caused by slippage, which is a word used to describe the rubbing between the heel and the bottom of the hiking boot. Moisture inside the hiking boot or hiking shoe can hasten up the process of blister formation. While design features like waterproofing and wicking are important to prevent this, the right lacing techniques can also help prevent the flow of water into the boot by providing a snug grip on the ankle, one of the most common places for water to enter a hiking boot or hiking shoe. Some of the most common hiking boot lacing techniques are the Surgeon’s Knot, Window Lacing, and Toe-Relief Lacing, while one of the most useful lacing techniques to know for hiking shoes is called a Heel Lock.
Read on to find out how to use each of these hiking boot lacing techniques and make sure your hiking boots continue to be a helpful tool on the hiking trail rather than blister-inducing menaces. The hiking trail is much less foreboding when you know your feet are well-protected after you know how to tie hiking boots.
Lacing terminology for hiking boots and hiking shoes
If you already know all the parts of your hiking boots, then there isn’t much more you need to know to understand our instructions for the various hiking boot lacing techniques we’ve mentioned. A few design features included on major models of hiking boots and hiking shoes have only one utility and that’s for lacing them up. It’s likely you’ll be aware of these things already, but knowing what they’re called will make implementing these lacing methods much easier and you’ll be able to impress all your fellow hikers with hiking boot terminology that shows you’re in the know. Let’s start with the parts of the hiking boot you’ll use most often when you lace or re-lace your hiking boot.
One of the most useful terms related to boot laces is “eyelet,” which is the name given to the holes that run along the side of the tongue of the boot, through which the boot laces are threaded when lacing the hiking boot. Knowing what an eyelet is not only helps with following instructions for various lacing systems, but it is also one of the parts of a hiking boot or hiking shoe that breaks most frequently. Indicating this malfunction will be much simpler if you can say the name of the part that is broken. It should also be edifying to know that eyelets that break most often do so because of an improper or improperly implemented hiking boot lacing technique.
“Lace hooks” are little metal fasteners that are usually above the highest eyelet on hiking boots and hiking shoes. It’s really handy to have lacing hooks included on your hiking boots for some of the lacing methods that offer a tighter grip on the ankle or prevent slippage and ankle blisters. Bear in mind that while some of the lacing techniques later on in this guide do call for tight lacing, there’s no need to pull so hard that the boot laces, eyelet, or lace hooks are in danger of snapping.
Lacing techniques for hiking boots
There are three hiking boot lacing techniques and one for running shoes that are all good for preventing slippage and relieving discomfort from pressure points while you’re out on the hiking trail and need to stop for a quick re-lace. Of course, they can be used at any time, but our purpose in this guide is to make sure you can stay out on the trail longer, so we’ll go through the lacing methods in order from most generally applicable to most useful in acute situations. A word to the wise: all of these lacing techniques can be supplemented with insoles for additional comfort and reduced slippage.
The Surgeon’s Knot
For maximum ankle slippage protection and a tighter fit around the ankle, the Surgeon’s Knot is one of the most tried and true lacing techniques for hiking boot and hiking shoes alike, although it does tend to work better on hiking boots than low cut hiking shoes because the majority of the lacing work in the Surgeon’s Knot occurs at the top of the boot. There is one binding knot that makes up part of the lacing process to successfully tie hiking boots with a Surgeon’s Knot, which is called the overhand knot, and one pseudo version that will lead to an incorrect Surgeon’s Knot, which is called a granny knot.
The overhand knot should be familiar to everyone as it is the first step to tying a normal pair of running shoes. Essentially, boot laces are wound together by connecting the ends of each one and then passing one bootlace through the circle thus created. “Overhand knot” as a term can be used to identify many common types of simple knots that aren’t great for heavy loads but are essential in their own right because they form the basis of many more complicated knots that can be used to support heavy loads for a long time.
The granny knot is often called a false knot because it doesn’t effectively attach anything to anything else at all. Any amount of pressure on one of the boot laces will undo this knot because the points of friction within the knot are opposed, meaning pressure from the hiking boot in motion will undo the knot. An important distinction should be made here between what we’re going to call a double overhand, where and overhand is made and then the same lace is passed through the original circle a second time, and a granny knot, where the ends of the boot laces are joined to form a second circle above the first overhand knot, and then another overhand knot is made in that circle. A granny knot is essentially an incorrect square knot or double overhand knot, so make sure you’re lacing up the right way to avoid a granny knot.
The Surgeon’s Knot is done by using both the granny knot and the overhand, or rather the double overhand, knot. First, tighten the boot laces all the way up the hiking boot from near the toe box to the top of the ankle. Make sure there is no slack anywhere and the tongue is snug along the top of the foot, as slack will undermine the security of the Surgeon’s Knot. Next, find the eyelet or lace hook that’s nearest your heel, where your foot begins to naturally lean forward.
The first double overhand knot should be tied just beneath this eyelet or lace hook and then the two ends of the boot laces should be run through that same eyelet or lace hook to fasten the tension of the double overhand knot. Repeat this process with the next hook or eyelet and continue to do so for the next hook or eyelet and all remaining lace hooks or eyelets. Once you reach the final lace hook or eyelet, finish the way you normally tie hiking boots.
Window Lacing is used to relieve uncomfortable pressure point along the top of the foot beneath the tongue of the hiking boot or hiking shoe. It’s fairly simple to achieve, basically like the factory default lacing that comes in the hiking boot but with one section skipped. Now, bear in mind this skipped section will exist wherever you need to put it based on where the pressure point is along the top of the foot. All you need to do is unlace the hiking boots down to the eyelet or lace hook just beneath the pressure point. Re-lace the hiking boot by running the boot laces straight up to the next lace hook or eyelet without crossing over the top of the foot.
From this stage you can either just continue lacing your hiking boot as normal or you can use a few double overhands or Surgeon’s Knots at various points along the way for a tighter fit. Window lacing is a really easy quick fix to alleviate pressure points along the top of the foot while you’re out on a hiking trail. Generally speaking, if you find yourself needing to stop and re-lace your hiking boots with Window Lacing over a long period of time, it could be indicative that you aren’t walking evenly on the bottoms of your feet or that you may have high arches or a high instep. If that’s the case, you may need specialized insoles or new hiking boots.
Toe-relief lacing for hiking boots
This lacing technique is similar to Window Lacing, but it’s used for pressure points that occur in the toe box, closer to the front of the hiking boot. If you are feeling some discomfort in the tox box, make sure it isn’t from heel slippage or an insufficiently snug tongue along the top of the foot. Either of these errors could cause your toes to ram up against the front of the toe box and that pain could be confused with a toe box that is itself too tight. It’s also a wise idea to make sure your toenails are always well-trimmed, as long toenails could also run up against the tip of the toe box and cause pain to the hiker.
In order to tie hiking boots up with Toe-Relief Lacing, you have to completely unlace your hiking boot. After you unlace it, remove the bootlace entirely from the hiking boot. Then re-lace it (sorry!) but skip the first set of lace hooks or eyelets. This will release tightness and hopefully resolve any pain caused by a pressure point in the toebox. If you think ankle slippage or a special characteristic like narrow feet, a high arch, or a high instep are to blame, try using the Window Lacing or the Surgeon’s Knot in tandem with Toe-Relief Lacing to get a better idea of where the problem is. If you find a need to use Toe-Relief Lacing, though, you should look into purchasing new hiking boots as soon as you get off the hiking trail.
The heel lock lacing method
For hikers who go down hiking trails quickly in hiking shoes, the heel lock method goes a long way in preventing heel slippage and providing a snug fit to keep rocks and other small debris from entering the shoe. To complete this lacing technique, start by lacing your hiking shoe in a criss-cross manner or any other manner of your choosing. Stop when you reach the eyelet closest to your heel. Do not thread the shoelace through the final eyelet yet! Once the shoelace is all the way crisscrossed over the top of the foot, take one end of the shoelace at a time and thread it through the final eyelet so that the shoelace comes out on the inside of the shoe. This will create two small loops on either side at the top of the hiking shoe.
Cross your laces and put them through the loop on the opposite side of the shoe, then pull them tight to create a snug enough fit that you feel comfortable and confident that no slippage will occur. After this point, you can tie the running shoes like you normally would. If you really want to get advanced, pair the Heel Lock lacing method with the Surgeon’s Knot, or if you have been having some painful pressure points pop up on the hiking trail, try Window Lacing or Toe-Relief Lacing. As you can see, any of these basic hiking boot lacing techniques can be used or paired with others as-needed in a given situation.
Hiking boot laces
While all of these lacing techniques are valuable in different situations, one important consideration is the construction of your bootlaces. Many factory-direct hiking boots, hiking shoes, and running shoes come equipped with standard lacing and shoelaces that are made of slippery synthetic material. That synthetic material might be the cause of your hiking boots coming undone on a regular basis. You’ll also want to make sure you have bootlaces with enough durability to withstand the tightness and tension involved in these and more complicated hiking boot lacing techniques. You can save yourself a lot of valuable time on the hiking trails by making sure you have the right bootlaces and the most effective lacing technique before you set off from the trailhead.
There are many lacing techniques for hiking boots, some that provide a more snug fit and prevent ankle slippage and others that are temporary fixes to pressure points and other telltale signs of ill-fitting hiking boots that could leave hikers with a nice collection of calluses to remember their time on the hiking trail. For a snug fit, try the Surgeon’s Knot, which uses double overhand knots to avoid ankle slippage.
To correct pressure points on the top of the foot, try Window Lacing, which will release some pressure in the targeted area on the instep. If you’re experiencing a pressure point in the toe box, near the front of the hiking boot, give Toe-Relief Lacing a shot, just remember that it’s meant to be a temporary solution and likely means you need a new pair of hiking boots when you get in off the trail.
Hikers who use low cut running shoes can try the Heel Lock lacing method to get the same snug fit and reduced heel slippage that hiking boot wearers get from the Surgeon’s Knot. But every hiker in every kind of footwear should always make sure that they have the right bootlace or shoelace that can both handle the tension of a complicated knot and not break while on the hiking trail. Finally, the bootlace or shoelace should be made of a material that isn’t so slick it comes untied, requiring a regular re-lace and interrupting your hiking experience.
These aren’t the most complicated lacing techniques out there, but perhaps now the world of blister-averting hiking boot lacing methods will open up to you. Either way, you can hit the hiking trails with less heel slippage, fewer painful pressure points, and an absence of blisters now that you know how to tie hiking boots.
Bonus tip: Watch this interesting video to see how hiking boots are manufactured!