Before diving into our shoe sizing guide, it helps to know a little footwear terminology. Almost every shoe or boot is constructed with four major components, which we usually refer to in the description of each style.
The upper is the visible outer covering of the entire top of the shoe or boot above the sole, designed for visual appeal and the proper level of protection. It is usually made from leather or synthetic fabrics.
The insole is the soft inner layer of a shoe that contacts the bottom of the foot. Designed to cushion the foot or wick sweat, the insole may also be referred to as the "footbed."
A shank is found only in footwear that requires more foot stability, such as work boots and backpacking boots. This stiff piece is usually made of either nylon or steel.
Between the insole and outsole, the midsole is usually a thick, spongy layer designed to cushion or provide extra stability. It is often made of shock-absorbing EVA (ethyl vinyl acetate) in athletic shoes or more durable but less-cushioning polyurethane in work boots and backpacking boots.
The outsole is the bottom part of a shoe that actually contacts the ground. This layer can range from lugged rubber on a hiking boot to thick, smooth leather in a dress shoe.
Before you can understand why one pair of size 8's does not fit like all other size 8's, you have to understand how a shoe is built. Most shoes are mass-produced in factories all over the world, where different workers using different equipment work on different shoe styles. In fact, some footwear requires over 100 different production steps for completion. The result is that a size 8 running shoe from factory A may not actually end up being exactly the same size as a size 8 dress shoe from factory B.
Here's a very brief rundown on the steps manufacturers take to mass-produce shoes or boots in a factory. The process is similar with handcrafted shoes, except there is more attention to detail and no automation:
1. Machines stamp 3-D shapes into sheets of fabric ranging from suede leather to synthetic mesh.
2. Next, these fabric pieces are "cookie-cut" and marked or labeled to guide the stitching process.
3. The fabric pieces are then stitched or cemented together to form the shoe upper. After this step, the "shoe" still just looks like a rounded piece of fabric.
4. An insole is stitched into the lower sides of the upper and an insole board is inserted into the developing shoe.
5. The shoe fabric is shaped around the appropriately sized "last," which is a mold (usually plastic) that forms the final shape of the shoe. A machine forces the upper down over the last for a tight fit. The shape of the finished shoe is apparent at this stage.
6. Pre-cut forms of the midsole and outsole are layered together and cemented to the upper.
7. The finished shoe is removed from the last and inspected for defects.
As you can see from this process, the exact size and shape of the last is largely responsible for the final shape of a shoe. A size 10 last at one factory may provide a slightly different fit than a size 10 last at another factory.
Unless you're a 10-year-old who's starting to outgrow your last pair of shoes, you probably already know your exact shoe size. But even when you reach adulthood, your feet actually continue to grow larger and flatten out through the course of your lifetime. So it doesn't hurt to re-measure... you might have grown a half-size or more! It's very important to measure the width of your foot, too, since you can't try on shoes in advance when buying online.
A Brannock Foot-Measuring Device®, that funny metal instrument in shoe stores that looks like a combination between a ruler and a medieval torture device, is designed to measure the length and width of your foot to determine your optimal shoe size. This device is usually only used on children whose feet are still growing, since kids' shoe sizes change so rapidly. Yet adults need to occasionally double-check their own foot sizes.
Many shoe stores now leave a Brannock Device® available on the floor for customer use, so the next time you see one lying around take a few minutes to verify the length and width of your feet.
Here's how to use this measuring tool:
1. Remove your shoes but be sure to leave on a pair of fitted socks.
2. Heel-to-Toe Length: While standing up or sitting down with your feet parallel to the floor, place one heel firmly against the appropriately labeled end of the device.
3. Record the size indicated at the tip of your longest toe (the longest point of your foot).
4. Arch Length: Place your thumb on the ball joint of the foot (the inside part of your foot where your big toe meets your foot) and slide the arch-length pointer to where it is centered on the protruding ball joint of your foot. Record this size also (it may be different than your overall foot size, and is very important since shoe sizes are generally built based around heel-to-ball length).
5. Width: Slide the width bar against your foot and record your foot width (ranges from 3A to 3E). This is done by locating your shoe size on the moveable width bar and matching it up with the corresponding width measure.
6. Men have a medium width of D, a narrow width of B, a wide width of E and an x-wide width of 3E.
7. Women have a medium width of B, a narrow width of A, a wide width of D and an x-wide width of EE.
8. If the size falls between two widths, choose a wider width for a thick foot, a narrower width for a thin foot.
9. Now that you've got all three measurements (heel-to-toe length, arch length and width), compare the arch length to the heel-to-toe length. Choose the larger of the two measurements as the correct shoe size for your foot.
10. Repeat entire measuring process for your other foot, but remember to rotate the Brannock device 180 degrees first. Very few people have feet that exactly match one another, and you need to buy shoes based on your larger foot size.
The reason you want to measure your foot length two different ways is that your best shoe size is probably the longer of your total foot length and arch length. Also, it's good to know your foot width, since all widths are all clearly labeled at SierraTradingPost.com.
For men, D is a "medium width." For women, B is considered a "medium width." Higher letters indicate a wider foot, and lower letters a narrower one. Men have a medium width of D, a narrow width of B, a wide width of E and an x-wide width of 3E and up. Women have a medium width of B, a narrow width of A, a wide width of D and an x-wide width of 2E and up.
Despite the usefulness of a Brannock Foot-Measuring Device®, realize that whatever shoe size feels best is best. If the Brannock says you're a size 11 D, but you like the feel of a size 12 E, go with the 12 E.
We sell thousands of different shoe and boot styles under many different brand names. For this reason, we have a team of in-house footwear experts responsible for evaluating every new shoe style that comes in and giving it a size recommendation.
The process is simple, but important. We havedesignated fit models for each shoe size; these are employees whose feet have been deemed an ideal size 7, size 8, etc., and who would normally wear the type of shoes being evaluated. For example, an in-house runner with size 8 feet will try on all styles of size 8 running shoes; an in-house hiker with size 11 feet will try on all size 11 hiking boots. In this way, we keep the end user in mind when we're making decisions about fit.
Our fit models try on every new shoe and boot model that we sell to evaluate the length, width and overall sizing. Shoes are tried on in the afternoon, when feet are larger, and models wear the appropriate socks for the footwear style they're evaluating. For dress shoes, models wear thin dress socks; for mountaineering boots, models wear thick, insulated socks. If the shoe or boot fits wrong, the model will try on a slightly larger or smaller pair until they get the right fit. Based on their recommendations, we may list the shoe size just as the manufacturer does or recommend purchasing a larger or smaller size than the size you think you are.
In general, shoe and boot sizes do match the manufacturer recommendations. However, if a shoe size is uncomfortable on the first fit model, we double- and triple-check it with other in-house fit models... just to be sure we're making accurate recommendations. We also keep an eye on returns. If a pair of shoes shows a high rate of returns and "doesn't fit" is the customer's reason, we will even re-evaluate the shoe and offer new fit recommendations.
If at any time our shoe experts determine that a shoe does not fit exactly as the manufacturer claims, we add a "size note" at the end of the irregularly sized shoe. Here's what a size note looks like:
A size note will indicate to buy a slightly larger or smaller shoe than the size you expect to normally fit you.
Trust Our Recommendations!
We verify the size of every single shoe style we sell. We never simply offer the vendor's standard size information, because we want the shoes you order online to fit you right the first time. If the description of a pair of shoes on our website says "Runs small, order one full size larger," we determined this ourselves in an effort to perfect the sizing recommendation offered by the manufacturer.
When converting a foreign shoe size to your own shoe size, there are general conversion standards than can be applied. For example, you may have heard that compared to U.S. shoe sizes, United Kingdom sizes are one size smaller. Or that when converting Euro sizes to U.S. sizes, the rule of thumb is to subtract 34 for men or 31 for women. For example, you may think a women's Euro Size 40 would be a U.S. Size 9 (Euro 40 - 31 = U.S. 9).
These rules should not necessarily be applied when buying a pair of shoes from us. Nor should you generalize based on previous shoes you have bought. Even if you bought a pair of Euro Size 38 shoes before and they fit, the next size 38 shoes may not (even if they come from the same manufacturer). There are many possible reasons, including brand-specific standards, style anomalies and specific factory standards.
We custom-measure every style of shoe from every brand. If a conversion to a U.S. size is not clearly stated on the shoebox already, we offer our own custom conversion for each foreign pair of shoes. Even if the conversion is clearly stated on a shoebox, we display not only the vendor's own conversion for each pair online, but add our own suggestion (to order a larger or smaller pair) if necessary.
Since we verify the international size conversions or create original ones for all foreign shoe styles we sell, please use the conversion we offer on every applicable pair of shoes.
You may have to walk a mile in a man's moccasins before you can judge him, but you don't have to walk nearly that far to judge a new pair of shoes. Despite the common belief that new shoes won't fit right until they've been worn several times and "broken in," only heavy-duty hiking and work boots actually need to be broken in. Most shoes don't significantly stretch out over time, so they need to offer comfort and fit right out of the box.
If you try on a pair of shoes and find them uncomfortable or notice any discomfort zones when just walking around the room, the odds are you have the wrong size or shoes that are incompatible with your feet. Don't waste your time with shoes like these - simply don't buy them (or return them if you have already bought them). Again, this does not necessarily apply to rugged hiking boots or work boots, which usually do have a short break-in period. Even these boots should fit perfectly after being worn for several days, though.
• Be aware your feet are different sizes. Go with the larger foot when selecting a shoe size.
• Try on shoes in the afternoon or evening when your feet have flattened out and are their largest.
• You may want to go up at least a half-size in running and hiking shoes, to prevent bruised toenails from crowding at the front. Check out our guides to Running Shoes and Hiking Footwear for more information on selecting these types of footwear.
• Be sure to wear the appropriate type of socks with every pair of shoes or boots, and use these when trying shoes on.
• Try different lacing methods for an optimal fit if you have a narrow heel, extra-high arch, etc. (see diagrams below).
Even with a perfectly sized pair of shoes, you may not have a truly perfect fit. Creative lacing is one simple way to adjust shoe fit to prevent heel slippage, secure overall fit, or accommodate a wider forefoot. Here are several lacing suggestions to custom-fit your shoes:
Lock Lacing for Heel Slippage
If you experience heel slippage, lock lacing will help. Lace the shoe normally until the lace ends emerge from the second set of eyelets. Then feed the laces up each side and into the top eyelet towards the foot. Now cross laces over, and feed each under the vertical section of the other side. Pull and tie normally.
Loop Lacing Lock
This method of lacing is great to ensure a secure fit for any running shoe. After lacing, put each lace end back through the last hole to create a small loop on the top side of the shoe. Thread each loose end through the loop on the opposite side, pull and tie to create a tight closure.
If you have a high instep, this lacing technique might make you more comfortable. Start with normal lacing at the bottom, then feed the laces up each side of the shoe and cease to criss-cross. Once at the top, continue the criss-cross technique and tie for a secure closure.
Wide Forefoot Lacing
If you have a wide forefoot, consider buying shoes especially designed for this issue. You can also try this simple technique. Begin by feeding the laces up each side of the shoe and only use the criss-crossing technique towards the top. Tie for a secure closure.