This year, I started my boot hunt early. While Ambrose’s plan was always for us to take a road trip to Seattle some weekend in spring and have me look for boots then, I don’t think that’s going to work. We’ve done it before, and nobody had boots with toe boxes wide enough for my tastes. I tried on a few pairs at the local REI last fall, but nothing worked. I followed the clerk’s advice to start looking online.
The thing is, I used to think that I had wide feet, because most shoes that I tried on felt like they were squishing me. Even shoes that were relatively comfortable were small enough that I have had toenails try to grow into the neighboring toe. So even though I was always told that my feet aren’t wide, I knew something was not right. Turns out, the whole time I thought I wanted more width, I actually wanted a bigger toe box.
I need the part of the shoe where my toes go not to narrow up like so many shoes (especially women’s fancy shoes) do. I want a foot-shaped shoe, not a shoe-shaped foot! I want the widest part of the shoe to be within an inch of the very tip. I have never seen shoes like that in person, and so it made sense to start looking into online specialty stores that wouldn’t have a physical location within 1000 miles of where I live, if they had one at all.
And so, I’ve been engaged in a slow campaign of buying shoes online and then exchanging or returning them. So far I’ve purchased two different brands and three different boots. The first one I tried was by Mishmi Takin, the Jampui. I thought that perhaps this brand might have a wider than average toe box, though the photos on the site weren’t great at showing that area clearly for me. Alas, that boot’s toe box didn’t pass. The toes complained the moment I slipped them in, and that’s that.
When I emailed for a return label, the customer service person, who I think was also the owner, suggested that I try a different boot of theirs, the Kameng, which would be wider. I replied that I would try that, and he just sent me a pair, before I had even finished returning the original pair. Unexpected, but it did speed things along. Unfortunately, the Kameng’s didn’t work. The toe box was actually big enough, just barely, but the ankle was huge on me, and overall they felt too big.
I’ve been following the account of a podiatrist on Instagram who is a big advocate for barefoot shoes, and I happened to see a post of his that talked about hiking boots. I hadn’t considered that places that make those kind of barefoot style shoes might also make wide toe boxes to allow for an all natural toe splay. So my next try went to Xero Shoes. The Excursion Fusion, to be precise. I’m already planning on getting other shoes from them if I can find a boot that fits, because if I’m going to be wearing barefoot style boots for backpacking, then I need to make sure my feet are ready for that kind of work by wearing barefoot style footwear as much as possible.
I do already wear minimalist shoes for CrossFit, and I run in Altra’s that have zero heel drop, which is one hallmark of barefoot style. I have some adaptation to wearing this kind of footwear. But for what I’ll be asking of my feet on my trips this summer, I’ll need to be fully adapted.
IF, that is, I can get boots that fit!
The first pair of Excursions was a women’s size 8. Too narrow, right away I knew. If the toes rub when I first put a pair of boots on, it’s not going to get better. Based on what the website advised, I returned this pair and went for a men’s size 6.5. They were better, but not quite there. I’m returning them today, and I’ll be ordering a men’s size 7. Going a half size up works for me sometimes, and, to be honest, I really want a pair of these to work so I can start replacing all my other shoes with comfort.
But even if the Xero Shoes don’t work out, my next try will be with a similar company. Looking for the toe-splaying space and the zero heel drop; everything else is negotiable.