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A Guide to Sizing: Why You've Been Buying the Wrong Size Shoe

Who me?

Statistically, 80% of men are buying the wrong shoe size. Yeah, that number surprised us too! Here at HELM we do everything we can to get sizing right on the first pass, and we've found that with a bit of conversation and some measuring tape, buying online doesn't have to be much different than stopping by the shop. Wearing the wrong shoe size can not only be problematic when it comes to comfort, it can also cause the shoe itself to break down more quickly. As passionate boot-makers, we want every pair of HELM to stick with you for years to come, so getting you into the right size is our top priority.

Here are five things you need to know to find your perfect-fitting pair.

 

No Two Feet Are the Same (Including Yours) 

Almost every single one of us has two different sized feet, so always size for your biggest foot. The length of your arch (distance heel-to-ball) is just as important as the overall length of your foot (distance heel-to-toe). If you have a long arch, you may need to go up a half size. An important factor for the long-term health of your foot itself is the alignment of your arch with the natural flex point of the shoe. In other words, your foot and the shoe should bend at the same point during wear. 

Your Size May Vary

Your foot size changes with age and can even fluctuate with weight loss or gain. For those of us over forty, it’s not uncommon to go up a half size in shoes every decade, not to mention that everyone’s feet go up and down in size throughout the day. An easy trick? If you’re trying on a shoe you plan to wear all day long, judge the fit at the end of the day when your feet are fully expanded.

A half size in shoes is only 1/8 of an inch in added length. Shoes size can vary for many reasons, from sports injuries to weight gain and age. It’s not uncommon to go up a half size if your feet or arch height begins to become more flat overtime. We often hear from marathon runners and pro athletes that their foot shape can fluctuate by a half size after prolonged training. Most people’s feet tend to become more flat as they get older. You may find sizing up can add a bit of extra comfort in the width without going to a true wide size shoe.

Note: since everyone has different size and length of toes, the amount of room at the end of the toe box in a shoe (especially tapered styles) is largely cosmetic.

  

How to Take Accurate Measurements

HELM uses Brannock US Mens sizing in all of our boots and shoes. Our sizes start at a Men’s 6 (Women’s 7.5) and go up to a size 16 in both D (standard) and EE (wide). The best way to figure out your accurate Brannock size is by using a Brannock device or physically measuring your foot. (Any footwear retailer should have a device on the sales floor.) Getting measured by a professional is certainly the best option, but you can also measure on your own at home.

If you’re at home, grab a piece of paper and a pen. Stand up with your foot on the piece of paper, placing equal weight on both feet. Lift up and flex your toes before placing them back down to ensure your foot is properly elongated. Now trace the outline of your foot with a pen or pencil. If you’re wearing socks, pull them tight and flush against your toes to get an accurate measurement. Since a half size is only 1/8” difference, getting your measurements down to the 1/8” or centimeter is essential to evaluating your precise shoe size.

With a tape measure and your traced foot outline, measure the length from your heel to toe and then the widest part of your foot (usually the ball of your foot area). Compare your measurements with the Brannock sizing chart here. Precision counts here and you'll see that even an eighth of an inch matters. The difference between full and half sizes comes down to just millimeters!

 

 

 

How HELM Styles Run 

Having your sizing measurement is the first step to finding your best fit and your Brannock size is the best tool to get you in the ballpark. That's not the only thing to pay attention to though. With each design profile running a bit differently, a few other variables can contribute to fit, like manufacturing and personal preference.

Our USA made styles (The Muller, The Railroad, The Marion) run true to Brannock sizing in both D and EE width. For these styles we always recommend buying true to size.

Our styles manufactured in Brazil run a half size bigger than Brannock in D and EE width. Start by sizing down a half size, but rest assured that as always our returns and exchanges are free of charge. We will keep working with you until we get the fit just right.

 

 

Boot Size vs Shoe Size

One question we filed often at the shop is: How do you compare boot size vs shoe size? It’s often more effective to compare across shoe type, rather than shoe brand. If you buy a certain shoe size in a cowboy boot, hiking boot, or running shoe, emailing us at contact@helmboots.com with your favorite brand and style can help us predict proper fit.

How should sneakers fit? Sneaker companies often recommend about ½” of length between the end of your longest toe and the end of the toe of the shoe itself. Your heel should not slip or slide in a sneaker. The construction is designed for impact and mobility. There is not a great deal of consensus or consistency in sizing amongst athletic shoe manufacturers. Sneakers are made all over the world and oftentimes the same company may produce any one style at multiple factories.

Unlike boot fit, where length at the end of the toe is largely cosmetic, length at the end of a sneaker is essential for fit. In boots, you just need enough length at the end of the toe to be sure your toe is not hitting the end of the boot when walking downhill. The most important factor with boot fit is whether the ball of your foot is aligning properly with the last. Shorter toe length or longer arch might mean taking more or less room at the end of the boot in terms of length. This is why proper foot measurements can be so necessary for establishing proper fit.

Note: HELM sneakers are sized to fit in line with a HELM boot. If you know your size or have been sized and properly measured in a HELM boot, buy true to size in a HELM sneaker. We also suggest going true to your regular boot size or a half size down from your regular sneaker size.

How should dress shoes fit? Perfectly, from the moment you try them on. Keep in mind your feet swell throughout the day and most people do not have the same size feet. In a dress shoe, you should not experience any crowding in the toe.

How should hiking boots fit? Snug everywhere. Size in a hiking boot is notorious for causing major issues if the sizing is off. Best practice is to try them on at the end of the day and go for a fit that is hugged all over, with a bit of extra room to wiggle your toes. There should be little to no slippage in the back heel. Unlike sneakers or cowboy boots, you should not be able to fit a full finger in the back of a dress shoe. The fit should feel hugged without any cramping or discomfort. HELM leather shoes will contour with wear. We line our shoes with high integrity hides. If the fit in a HELM feels good out of the box, you can expect a custom fit and feel after a few weeks of wear.

How should Cowboy Boots fit? Pretty similar to HELM. Cowboy boots, western boots, and work boots are designed to support extended time on ones feet. They’re made to be worn on the ranch or a job site and constructed to support your feet all day. The idea fit is hugged with ¼” of heel slip in a new boot. You should be able to fit two fingers in the back of the boot with your foot fully in the boot. Don’t be surprised if you size down by a half size from your sneaker or dress shoe size. Handcrafted boots tend to run on the larger side.

All HELM styles are unisex. Our shoe sizing is based on men’s size. Men’s shoes  and women’s shoes run differently. The primary difference in fit is the width. Standard width in a men’s shoe is a D. Standard width in women’s shoe is a B. Sizing down a half size in width can sometimes compensate for the added width, if your feet are narrow. We also recommend adding an insole to increase foot volume while still staying in a size that runs true to your foot length.

The Best Way to Try On

Always lace new boots and shoes all the way up to the top eyelet. The hide may be stiff, but it’s important to have your ankle in the proper position in order to accurately gauge fit. After taking the time to lace them, walk around for a few paces to get a good feel of where your foot is flexing in the boot or shoe.

Proper fit is more about alignment than length. When you bend your foot, is the ball of your foot lining up properly with the natural flex point of the shoe? The widest area of your foot (usually the ball) should be in alignment with the widest part of the shoe. Brannock has some great visual aids on this subject here.

In higher profile boots with 6 eyelets or more, approximately ¼ inch of heel “slip” is standard. Just remember that the amount of room at the end of the toe is largely cosmetic. The more your arch lines up with the shape of the shoe, the less unnecessary stress the design will endure over time.

We want you to have a beautifully fitting pair of HELM that you’ll enjoy for many years, and fit is the first and easiest step to ensuring that happens.

How to Tell If Your Boots Fit

We often like to see the way your foot moves and flexes in a boot to evaluate if the fit is optimal. You want the boot, in particular the outsole, to take on weight and stress where the shoe is designed to take on weight and stress. Gate, pronation, toe length, arch height, foot shape, injuries and special conditions are all factors in evaluating the best fitting pair of boots or shoes.

When you are trying on your new shoes, lace all the way to the top as mentioned above. Walk a few yards (we advise on carpet to be mindful of scuffing the leather soles) and take note of where the boot is flexing. The ball of your foot should be lining up flush with the widest part of the outsole (the widest part of your foot should line up with the widest part of the boot). Notice where the boot is creasing, if you are walking in the shoe and the crease in the toe area is flexing too far in front of behind, this is an easy visual cue to evaluate how your instep is lining up with the insole.

How to Stretch a Boot

There are a few different ways to stretch a pair of boots. We always say the best way to contour leather or stretch a boot is simply to wear it. Buy once, cry once…as the saying goes. High quality leather boots will break-in like a baseball glove. It often can take several months of consistent wear (at least 3 times a week) for the leather to fully contour to the shape of your foot. That said, if extra width is a concern in a new boot, or if you find you are in between widths (an E or a EEE), boots can be manually stretched using oil or cedar plank stretchers.

We offer boot stretching in store at our Eastside Austin location as a complementary service for all HELM customers. If you would like to learn how to stretch a boot at home, reach out to us at contact@helmboots.com and we are happy to book a virtual tutorial with our expert staff to walk you through the process. Alternatively, boot stretching is a service any reputable cobbler or shoe hospital in your area will be able to perform for a minimal fee.

If you experience a hot spot in your boot or are certain you need extra assistance in finessing the leather into the optimal contoured shape, cedar plank boot stretchers are an option. At HELM, we have two types of boot stretchers. We can stretch the vamp upward in height as well as stretch the toe box outward in width. We don’t typically recommend stretching boots at home on your own using a cedar plank stretcher, although the stretching devices are available for purchase on Amazon. Before you stretch a pair of boots at home, be advised the process requires a special leather stretching spray as a primer. The stretching itself also takes upwards of 48 hours per boot, per stretch. Best practice is to keep the cedar plank stretchers in the boot for three full days to allow the leather to fully contour. Stretching generally lends a half size in width to the boot.

The easiest way to stretch a boot at home is simply to condition the leather interior of the boot itself. When boots take on natural oil from your foot, the hide contours to the individual shape of your foot, ultimately resulting in a custom fit and feel. It’s always best to allow the leather to contour to the shape of you foot itself (rather than a generic cedar plank); however, the ease and comfort level of a break-in is highly individual to each user. It all depends on how readily your foot profile takes to the last profile of the boot. Keep reading for our favorite boot stretching oils and conditioners…

The Best Products to Stretch Boots

The best products for stretching boots at home all depends on your ultimate goal. If you’re wanting to make the leather significantly more supple and pliable, using a heavy shoe oil or grease will produce this result. If you’re simply looking to shave a few weeks of a break-in period or get your new shoes or boots ready to wear to an event (while still maintaining their fresh out of the box luster), Blackrock Leather N’ Rich is far and away our favorite conditioning product.

Blackrock Leather N’ Rich is the star leather conditioning product made in USA by a multi-generation family owned and operated company. We love Blackrock. We even use it on the vintage furniture at the shop. The formula features an all-natural ingredient list that will not irritate skin if in comes in direct contact with skin, i.e. through a sock. The consistency is Vasaline-like and only absorbs into the hide to capacity. You can’t overuse it and a light coat can be applied as often as you like. The product is buildable and gentle enough to be used daily as a conditioner. Use it on the exterior of you boots to keep your uppers healthy.

Boot Oil and Boot Grease are two options that offer greater contouring capacity when used in the interior lining of a boot. Be mindful when applying these products to the interior of your boots or shoes. Grease and oil will stain a hide if overused. If you do use too much and wind up with an oil spot, saddle soap will take excess oil out of the hide. See our guide for cleaning boots or visit Otter Wax YouTube tutorials for more on how to clean boots at home.

How to Maintain Your Fit

For the most part, boots only feel better with age. The more you wear high quality leather, the more it contours for a custom feel. Conditioning your HELM boots with Blackrock every size months is enough to keep your hides healthy, given you are in a temperate climate. Water damage and sweat can have an effect on the fit of your boots if left unchecked.

If you find you sweat for extended periods of time in a boot or live in a climate with repeated or prolonged exposure to snow, ice, or rain, investing in a boot wax and cedar plank shoe trees is a great way to maintain the proper fit of your boots over years of wear.

What To Do If Your Boots Get Wet

Water damages high quality leather. Plain and simple. No top quality leather boot or shoe will ever be completely waterproof or water sealed. Water resistance in high quality leather is established by the various oils and waxes hot stuffed into the hide during the tanning process. Each leather type and tannery features a proprietary blend of different oils and waxes, a special recipe. Adding an extra coat of mink oil or boot wax to the exterior of your boots or leather outsole will help to weatherproof your boots.

When boots are exposed to snow, rain, water or even sweat, it is important to allow the boot to properly dry. Best practice is to remove the laces of each boot completely and open the boots up as wide as you can. Keep the boots out of direct sunlight and allow them to dry overnight. Insert cedar plank shoe tress into the interior of the boot to remove excess moisture. Investing in 100% Cedar plank trees will protect your investment. Cedar is remarkably absorbent. The planks will pull water or sweat out of the hide, ensuring your fit and last shape is maintained even with exposure to the elements.

 

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