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How to Lace and Tie Hiking Boots

Below is an article from Columbia Footwear (How to Lace and Tie Hiking Boots | Columbia) outlining the best lacing techniques for your hiking boots. Check it out...

From surgeon’s knots to runner’s loops, here are the best lacing techniques for your hiking shoes


Whether your heel is slipping, your foot is sliding forward, or you simply like that extra snug feel when you’re exploring the great outdoors, you’d be amazed how much a proper lacing method for your hiking boots can improve your experience on the trail. A secure lacing pattern that can be easily tightened will prevent your boots from moving around, reduce foot pain, and improve comfort for your wilderness adventures. We sat down with expert footwear fitter Beth Henkes—who’s fitted more than 30,000 pairs of feet into hiking boots during her time working as a technical footwear fitter at a major outdoor retailer. We got her opinion on the best lacing and knot techniques for hiking boots. She broke down all the different methods, along with when and where to use each one.

First things first: Why use a lacing technique?

Before deciding on a specific lacing method, it’s important to ask yourself why you need it in the first place. Oftentimes, hikers in search of special tying techniques are experiencing foot pain, tightness, or other problems on the trail. Finding the lacing technique best suited to address those issues will maximize its effectiveness. Of the thousands of hikers Henkes has assisted, she says that most are dealing with one of three issues:

  1. Heel slippage: This is when your heel pops up in the back of your boot as you hike. It can often be relieved with a surgeon's knot or a runner’s loop to help lock the heel into place.

  2. Sliding feet: Hikers commonly have problems with their feet sliding forward, especially on downhill treks. This is normally a fit issue, but a surgeon's knot can help mitigate this problem too.

  3. Dorsal foot pain: A technical way of referring to pain on the top of your foot, this is usually another sign that your hiking boots don’t fit right. (Or potentially that you have extensor tendonitis). Window lacing can help alleviate the pain until you can find better footwear.

Toe pain (which can include toe bruising or toenail lifting) is another less common, but equally uncomfortable, issue that hikers experience. When this occurs, it’s typically the result of poorly fitting boots rather than a lacing issue. However, there’s a temporary fix: Simply remove your shoelaces and start the lacing one eyelet set closer to you. This leaves the eyelets closest to your toes empty, allowing for a roomier fit up front. This method is sometimes called “toe relief” lacing.

Choose the right hiking boot Although lacing techniques can help with many foot issues, the real culprit is often the footwear itself, Henkes explains. “A lot of people struggle with their hiking boots and think, ‘I need a better lacing technique.’ But what they actually need is a better boot that fits them properly,” Henkes explains. Hiking footwear isn’t something you should skimp on, especially if you’re planning to be hiking on more technical trails. If you want to be comfortable out there, it’s worth it to invest in quality hiking boots that offer proper ankle support, good traction, and ample cushioning. When making a selection, consider the type of hiking you’ll be doing and keep your location, environment, and experience level in mind. Hiking footwear comes in a variety of styles, so you need to understand the different uses, particularly when it comes to choosing between hiking boots and hiking shoes. And whatever you select, make sure it fits right. Most people know their sizing when it comes to the length and width of their feet, but nuances like the height (known as “volume”) or the arch length can make a big difference too. Henkes’ top piece of advice for all hiking boot-related issues? “If you're able to get into a store to check your fit and make sure that your fit is correct, that is the number one thing you can do for yourself.”

Lacing techniques Despite the fact that your footwear may need some adjusting, lacing techniques can nevertheless help a lot. Henkes has three favorite hiking boot lacing methods that she thinks work best:

  1. The Surgeon's Knot

  2. Window lacing

  3. The Runner’s Loop

The Surgeon’s Knot

The surgeon’s knot (shown above) is Henkes’ all-time favorite lacing technique—and one she recommends every hiker learn regardless of what may be ailing them. This knot allows you to secure your laces in place at whatever point on your foot that you choose, offering excellent versatility for a wide range of foot problems. “The surgeon’s knot is the golden knot,” Henkes says. “You can use it for so many things in so many ways, and it's incredibly easy to learn.” To execute this knot, start at the bottom and lace your shoes up exactly how you normally would. When you get to the point where you want the surgeon’s knot, loop the laces around each other as if you were going to tie your shoes—but don’t make the two bows. Instead, loop the laces around each other a second time. That’s it. You’ve created a surgeon’s knot. If you want an extra-secure lock, you can loop it a third time. Then continue lacing up the rest of your shoe. When you get to the top, tie the laces in a regular bow. Most of the time, you’ll want to do two surgeon’s knots in a row on consecutive eyelets to lock everything down. For heel slippage or foot sliding, Henkes recommends placing them on the eyelets on top of your ankle, or just below it.

Window Lacing

Window lacing (shown above) is Henkes’ second most-used lacing technique, and another one she recommends every hiker learn how to do. It’s meant to help alleviate pressure in spots where you’re feeling pain, creating a lace-free “window” over the sensitive area. To do it, begin lacing the boot how you normally would. When you get to the spot where you want the window, go straight up with the laces instead of crisscrossing them. Continue straight up for as many eyelets as you need the relief, and once you’ve passed the point of difficulty, continue with the crisscrossing. Henkes likes to throw in a surgeon’s knot at the beginning and the end of the window, although she says this isn’t mandatory—just a bit of extra security if you want it.

Runner’s Loop

Also called “heel lock lacing,” the runner's loop is another lockdown method meant to secure the shoe in place, particularly if your heel is slipping. It works best with knit or synthetic hiking shoes that have an extra set of eyelets at the top (such as the Trailstorm Ascend or Plateau Venture). To make a runner’s loop, lace your hiking shoes up to the last eyelets, leaving only the top eyelets unlaced, along with the “extra” ones that are right behind them. Using these two remaining eyelets, make a loop in between them. Do this on each side of the shoe. Once you have a loop on each side of the shoe, crisscross the laces over the front and thread them through each loop. Pull them snugly, and tie the shoe like you normally would. “The runner's loop helps snug your foot into the shoe and makes it more secure toward the back of your heel, eliminating that foot pop,” Henkes explains.

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