When I go on hiking trips, I wear proper boots. However, when I lace them tight, my ankles swell terribly after a few hours and start feeling funny (bending the joint feels like touching a balloon). There is also light pain in the ankles while walking. After I remove the boots, the pain disappears, but the funny feeling doesn't. This is not a problem of ill-fitting boots, it happened with three different models. As far as I can tell, the only reason is the weight of the boot falling on my ankle every time I lift my leg for a step (probably connected with my gait).

I tried lacing them loose, and even leaving the low ankle hooks out. But this is a problem on rough terrain. When I am jumping down boulder rivers, or moving along an eroded karst face stepping on 5 cm wide ledges, I need lots of precision, and have to be absolutely sure that my foot won't move within the boot after I have landed on it, changing my balance. Also, ankle support is required on such trails, as a wrong landing with ankle bending can result in a complicated fracture which can't heal without loss of movement in the joint.

My normal lacing procedure (I learned it from a professional hiking guide) is to place the foot on the heel, the angle between the backside of the calf and the floor around 75°, the angle between tibia and sole at 90°. Then slightly tighten the laces in front, run the laces through the ankle hooks, then run them through the two hooks on the shaft and pull them to close the shoe, then knot. The boot feels OK this way, it isn't too tight and doesn't pinch. It feels as good as my sneakers, in which I can walk kilometers without any problems. There are no protrusions within the boot, nothing chafes, it is comfortable (and has been like this since day one - my current pair are expensive brand-name boots with memory foam and so on).

Any ideas what can I do to avoid the problem while keeping the boot tight enough?

  • 3
    I'm not convinced this is a lacing problem - but maybe a shoe-fit, or general circulation / ankle strength problem. Also, there is some debate as to whether massive ankle support is all that beneficial. I've seen lots of very experienced hikers in sneakers or Chaco type sandals. (Just be aware of where your feet are - and learn your limits)
    – Lost
    Sep 23, 2012 at 6:22
  • @rumtscho Have you been able to get rid of the ankle problem?
    – Wills
    Feb 1, 2015 at 23:22
  • 1
    @Wills I simply stopped lacing them as tightly. According to what I have been taught, now my lacing is too loose. But at least I don't get my feet out of service after a day.
    – rumtscho
    Feb 2, 2015 at 6:34
  • have you tried low shoes? (ankle support provided by boots is debatable and it's necessity is arguable at best. I walk days on with shoes, not boots, carrying food for several days, plus camp gear, on rugged terrain - slippery rocks, mud, water, snow sometimes - without problem)
    – njzk2
    Mar 30, 2017 at 19:42

5 Answers 5


It sounds like you need a way to keep the entire shoe tight while not tight directly over the bend in your ankle. There are Lacing techniques that can accomplish this.

The easiest would be to gap lace them with the gap in the spot where your ankle turns up. If this doesn't work I would also try the gap directly over the arch of the foot.

If you want a different option you could also try segmented lacing which generally accomplishes the same thing but is a bit easier to do and deal with.

  • 2
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  • 1
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  • @MaskedPlant: Thats an amazing link mate
    – WedaPashi
    Aug 14, 2014 at 6:09

It sounds like the problem that you're getting is that your ankles are swelling up too much. This could easily be caused by wearing boots that are laced too tightly. It could also be caused by other factors. It can be comforting to have a very snug fit when you're doing technical scrambling, but that's not always practical for long amounts of time. If you're feet are swelling up while you're hiking, and throbbing inside the boot, that's could cause orthopedic problems down the line.

You're trying to fine tune your lacing strategy, but I have two thoughts:

  • You may just be tightening your boots too much for your feet
  • Your boots may not actually fit (I have narrow feet, and I've found that when I'm forced to continually overtighten a boot, its really because the boot is just too wide).

Other thoughts:

  • What happens when you go on long hikes wearing running shoes?
  • What happens when you go on long hikes, but don't tighten your boots down quite so much?

I have a couple of suggestions -

  • Try experimenting with scrambling in looser boots. You may have more control over your feet than you realize, and you may not have to depend on quite so much tightness in the boot. (again, I personally found that narrower boots that fit my narrow feet feel much more secure than brands of boots designed for wider feet)
  • If you feel like you really need the boots tighter for short, specific sections of the trail, you could just tighten them down a little for that section, then loosen them up for long sections of regular hiking.
  • You could look into getting a pair of "approach shoes", like these: http://www.sportiva.com/products/footwear/climbingapproach/boulder-x You would give up some ankle protection, but if you're really doing lots and lots of scrambling, they may give you more precision in your footwork. If you want precision for scrambling, approach shoes will be the next best thing to full rock climbing shoes.
  • You could carry both boots and some other shoe (like approach shoes), and switch as you need to. More weight, and swapping shoes will slow you down, but its an option.

It sounds like you've tried lacing them tight, loose, and everything in between. Other than different socks, you might try the following when you tie your boots.

When lacing the upper portion of the boots, tie an overhand knot each time the laces cross. This will allow you to have a different tightness near the top of the boot than the bottom (near the ankles).

  • I know I have tried different types of tightness, but maybe I have my foot in the wrong position while lacing? I was interested to learn what position to lace it in.
    – rumtscho
    Sep 19, 2012 at 19:13
  • I like to lace while standing up, bending over to reach my feet. Both feet parallel to the ground and tibias almost perpendicular.
    – Felix
    Sep 19, 2012 at 19:59

Barefoot hiking has started taking off in Europe, the idea is that the boots won't chew up soft ground. You could try doing that for the ground you really don't need the ankle support for, and put the boots on for the shorter distances where you really need them. I would also imagine that if you're traversing terrain that requires the boots, you'll be moving differently than if you're traversing terrain that could be done without them, and the boots might not be designed for normal walking.


There is no such thing as "tight" or "loose" in hiking boots. The pair of hooks serves to isolate the tension on the foot section of the boot from the tension on the ankle part.

Thus try leaving the bottom part loose while tightening the ankle part. Try the reverse. Try both tight or both loose. All those have advantages and disadvantages.

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