New boots can be a blessing and a curse. All hikers are familiar with the process.
You get a new pair of hiking boots, they feel awful for a bit, maybe give you blisters, and before you know it, they’re your favorite pair of boots. The bad news is that discomfort and adjustment are part of the natural hiking boot cycle. The good news is that there’s a lot you can do to make the process of breaking in hiking boots easier.
Parts of a Boot
Before we get started, however, it’s important to know some basic boot parts so you can orient yourself. Boots are not all that complicated, but you may not realize just how many of these pieces can contribute to heel slippage! Here are some of the boot parts we’ll be discussing:
- Insoles: The insole is the soft, internal part of the shoe where your foot rests. Properly fitted and shaped insoles are essential to a good fit. Many hikers and runners use additional insertable insoles to boost arch support, add cushion, and more.
- Tongue: The flap on top of the shoe or boot that goes underneath the laces. A worn-out tongue is an often-overlooked cause of heel slippage. If your boots are old, you may need to reinforce the tongue.
- Instep: Technically, the instep is the part of your foot that goes in the shoe. This is what’s generally referred to as the “arch” of your foot, although there are three arches total.
- Outsole: The rough, outer sole that touches the ground. Outsoles don’t have much of an effect on heel slippage, but an outsole that’s too heavy can exacerbate the problem.
- Eyelets: These are the metal circles that cover and protect the holes for the laces.
- Collar: The top edge of the back of the shoe. This is where you would attach a heel grip or insert a heel liner to alleviate heel slippage.
What is Heel Slipping / Heel Slippage?
Heel slipping, or heel slippage is one of the main reasons that a good pair of boots is essential for any hiker or camper. Not only can heel slippage be an uncomfortable experience, but it can also contribute to medical issues such as plantar fasciitis.
So what exactly is a heel slippage? To put it simply, heel slipping is when your foot slips out the back of your shoe or boot while walking. Often, the culprit is the heel area of your boot not being tight, worn-in, or well-fitted enough.
Thankfully, this can be fairly easy to fix, either by wearing the boots in more or by using some common tips and tricks as outlined below. First, however, let’s look into what causes heel slippage and why it’s so common with newly-purchased shoes.
What Causes Heel Slippage?
Heel slippage is an annoying problem that you can run into with any pair of new shoes. It’s more common, however, with stiffer shoes such as work boots, high heels, and cowboy boots. It can be especially annoying when this happens with your hiking boots!
After all, you’re relying on your boots to keep your feet safe and healthy, and a heel slip on the trail can be dangerous. So why do some shoes cause heel slippage? Essentially, the problem is that there’s not enough traction or pressure from the shoe around your heel.
This can be because the shoe doesn’t fit right, isn’t laced tightly enough, is made of low-traction materials, or even just because the boots need to be broken in.
11 Tips To Prevent and Fix Heel Slippage in Boots
Depending on the source of your heel slippage problem, the fix will be a little bit different. Thankfully, there are some easy tips and tricks to prevent your heel from slipping even while you wear a new pair of boots. You should rule out a few common shoe and boot problems first. To start with, check the sizing of your boots and consider adjusting your walking style.
1. Make sure you have the right size
The first and foremost thing to check if you start to experience heel slippage is to make sure you have the right size boot. It’s essential when buying a new pair of boots to get an accurate and snug fit. Not only will this prevent your heel from slipping out, but it can also prevent foot and ankle issues like plantar fasciitis as well.
It can be tricky to find the perfect fit! Different boots are shaped differently and your feet grow and change with different environmental conditions as well. One way to improve your chances, however, is to pay attention to both the length and width of your shoe size. If you need narrow soled shoes and end up with wide soles, you’re going to run into some heel slippage.
2. Adjust your walking style
This can be a good way to make wearing in a new pair of boots less of a pain. Simply try to walk heel-first rather than ball-first and this should alleviate some of the slipping. You should also pay attention to your walking style when buying new boots. Test them out by walking a bit to make sure they work well with your walking style.
3. Use a boot dryer
Not only will keeping your boots nice and dry help to prevent wear, mold, and the breakdown of the interior of your boot, it can also help them fit better. Just like putting certain clothes through the dryer to shrink them, drying your boots will tighten them up a bit.
It’s always better to use a purpose-built boot dryer to get the best results. You can, however, use a fan to dry out the inside of your boots if they get wet. Or, fill them with absorbent material such as balls of newspaper. Fully drying your boots will prevent the wear that can lead to heel slippage, so make sure it’s on your post-hike to-do list!
4. Use heel grips
If you’re sure you have the right size boot, and you’ve tried adjusting your gait and drying your boots, it’s time to get serious about tackling heel slippage. One easy-to-use option is a heel grip. This product, used in everything from work boots to high heels, attaches to the top of your shoe, providing a buffer between your heel and the back of the shoe.
Heel grips can also be used to correct for shoes that are too large for you if you’ve already made the purchase. This is similar to what a cobbler would call a “distance” but rather than being inserted into the shoe itself, the heel grip just attaches to the back.
Some people find them to be irritating and difficult to use, but a lot of people find them very comfortable.
5. Get non-slip insoles
You can also use insertable insoles designed to prevent your foot from sliding around in the boot. In fact, insoles can be great for a lot of purposes including arch support, cushioning, and gait correction. Be careful to understand the limitations of consumer products.
Only a podiatrist can address medical problems with orthotics. But the insoles available over the counter are great for simple fixes. Heel slippage is a great example. Just search for non-slip insoles, and make sure to get the right size.
6. Put in heel liners
You can also buy a similar product called a heel liner, which fits in the back of your shoe rather than at the bottom. Much like a heel grip, a heel liner creates a cushion between your heel and the back of the shoe.
This improves the traction and prevents slippage, and it also can help with blisters from too much foot movement inside the shoe. If you don’t want to buy heel liners or heel grips, you can use thick socks to a similar effect! More in socks in a moment.
7. Use lace anchors or better boot lacing.
One surprising source of heel slippage is loose shoelaces. You may not even realize the laces are loose, but if your heel keeps slipping out the back, finding a way to lace your boots more tightly can help a lot. Or, you can buy lace anchors to keep your laces from loosening as you walk.
There are many different versions of lace anchors, but they all attach to your laces and keep them from slipping through the eyelets. There are many different methods for lacing boots. Some, like the rabbit hole method, are especially good for stopping slippage.
Everyone has their own preferences, so try out a few different lacing styles to see which is the most comfortable for you. The rabbit hole method is relatively simple, so it’s a good place to start if you’re trying to adjust your lacing. Here’s what to do:
- Lace up the boots as you normally would, stopping before the top / extra holes.
- Then, pull both lace ends through one top hole.
- Take both laces and lace them through the other top hole.
- Finally, tie a bow as you normally would.
8. Get tongue pads
The tongue of your shoe or boot is one of the top spots for wear and tear. As the tongue gets loose and worn out, it won’t hold your foot quite as tightly to the bottom and back of the shoe. Tongue pads are a great solution to the problem.
You simply attach them to the bottom side of the tongue, and they push the heel backward and down. This can help prevent heel slippage by holding the wheel closer to the back of the shoe, but it’s also good for reinforcing a worn-out tongue generally.
You can buy tongue pads in a variety of styles and thicknesses depending on how much cushion you need.
9. Switch to non-slip socks
Despite what you might be thinking, it’s not always necessary to mod out your boots to solve a problem with heel slippage. Sometimes, it can be as easy as switching out your socks. Thicker socks can help provide more traction (just like a heel liner, heel grip, or any of the other inserts above) as well as cushioning to take up some space in the shoe.
So, if your boot or shoe is a little too big and you’re sliding around in there, get some thicker pairs of socks and see if they solve the problem before you try anything more involved.
10. Use double-sided tape
Here’s where the list gets a little weirder. For hikers and campers especially, you’re not always in a place where buying a heel liner would be easy. So these last couple of tips are for DIY solutions when you can’t get to the real thing. Still, it can be surprising how well some of these hacks work!
Double-sided tape is the first to try. If you have double-sided tape (especially the thicker kind for posters), just put a strip or two along the back wall of your shoe or boot. It will add some traction and cushioning to separate your heel from the back of the shoe. You can also buy purpose-made blister tape to add cushioning or prevent rubbing in your boots.
11.Use a little hairspray!
Finally, you can also use hair spray to increase the amount of traction between your foot and the shoe. Just spray a little on your foot or on the inside of the back of the shoe and you’re good to go! It may feel a little weird at first, but this really does work.
It was developed first by people who wear high heels, but it works just as well for hiking boots, work boots, and just about any shoe with a heel slipping problem.
How to Fix Heel Slip in Boots
With a little luck, the tips above will solve your heel slippage problem. If you need more than a quick fix, however, there are some ways to adjust boots or shoes to fit you better. Of course, it’s better to make sure you’re sizing boots accurately in the first place, but if you do end up with a pair that you’d rather adjust, you can have a cobbler install “distances” in the shoe.
You can sometimes get this type of repair performed at a shoe store, but not all of them have repair services available, so you may need to find a cobbler. In this case, the cobbler will install leather spacers in the back of the boot or shoe in order to push your foot forward. If you have very well-made boots and want to preserve the quality, working with a cobbler may be a good idea.
The most effective way to prevent heel slippage is to make sure your hiking boots fit right in the first place. It can be tempting to buy a pair of boots before you do all your homework, but make sure to have your foot measured, test the boots, and consider getting custom inserts to fit the boot to your foot.
All of this can help prevent heel slippage, but sometimes it’s just a necessary part of the boot break-in process. If you find yourself in the position, just try the tips above, and your boots will be secure in no time.
Bonus tip: Here are a few different ways to lace your boots for a snug and secure fit!