Optimal Shoe Fitting For Blister Prevention: Where To Start

by Rebecca Rushton

Having your shoe fitting well is your first and most important blister prevention consideration.

Too small and the contact pressure from the shoe upper makes it easier to get blisters, and sooner. Too big and your foot floats around. Toes can still jam into the end of your shoe causing blisters and other problems.

Either way, the magnitude of blister-causing forces is higher than it needs to be. All this can be avoided (or at least minimised) with a shoe that fits perfectly. 

how to fit shoes for blister prevention


Do you know how to fit shoes properly?

Optimal shoe fit for blister prevention revolves around length, width and adjustability.



The 'rule of thumb' is to have the width of your thumb between the end of the longest toe (usually the 2nd toe - but not always) and the end of the shoe upper. Measure this while you're standing (because your foot will elongate a bit) and make sure your heel is right at the back of the shoe.

If you're struggling with recurring blisters in your activity, such as during an ultramarathon, check the rule of thumb now; check it several times during the race; and check it at the end. If at any stage you don't have a thumb-width, your shoes are too small. You'll need to take another pair of shoes to change into. Because you're running in shoes that are too small for you - at that time.

If you wear boots and you cant feel the ends of your toes through your boot upper, take the insole out and stand on it. Have you got a thumb-width?

Rule of thumb
Rule of thumb



If you see your forefoot bulging over the sole of the shoe, it's probably too tight. On the other hand, you don't want too much width. If you tie your laces and the facings (the material the laces go through) are touching one another, you've got nowhere to go if your shoe stretches. It's going to get too loose. Again, check this while you're standing.

You can also take the insole out of your shoe, stand on it and see if your foot hangs over it.

Shoe width
Shoe width 



Proper shoe fitting isn't just about the length and width. You could have a perfectly sized shoe but if your laces are too tight or too loose, you've wasted your time. You might as well not have bothered getting the perfect sized shoes!

The whole reason we have laces is to optimise shoe fitting at all times. Only when the foot fits snuggly in the shoe does the shoe provide the support it's able to and help prevent injury, like blisters.

If your shoes are too loose:

  • First make sure you've used the last pair of eyelets - the holes your laces go through
  • Next try the lace-lock lacing technique (video below) - it's a winner
  • If that doesn't work, check Ian's Shoelace Site for a lacing technique that suits you

    At the other extreme, to avoid your shoes getting too tight, be prepared to adjust your laces as you go. Foot volume will increase with temperature and longer duration activity, even in the leanest and fittest people!



    The importance of shoe fit for blister prevention

    Perfectly fitting shoes won't always stop foot blisters. Richie (2010) cites three studies that have not confirmed optimal shoe fit as an effective blister prevention strategy and suggests factors other than shoe fit must be implicated.

    However, neglecting a good shoe fit makes it harder for other blister prevention interventions to be effective. My advice is to get professional help from a specialist footwear retailer to get the right shoe for the job and for your foot. And use your laces to maintain optimal fit.

    If you're still having trouble with shoe-fit, I want you to read this.

    Rebecca Rushton
    Rebecca Rushton


    Podiatrist, blister prone ex-hockey player, foot blister thought-leaderauthor and educator. Can’t cook. Loves test cricket.

    Leave a comment

    Also in Blister Blog

    How Easy It Is To Bring A Weightbearing Blister Back From The Brink
    How Easy It Is To Bring A Weightbearing Blister Back From The Brink: Lesson #3 From Adelaide 2019

    by Rebecca Rushton

    Weightbearing blisters can be devastatingly painful. Find out what you'll need to bring them back from the brink of disaster, and how to implement it. It's actually pretty easy.

    View full article →

    toe-prop made from felt
    Toe-props For Toenail Blisters: Lesson #2 From Adelaide 2019

    by Rebecca Rushton

    If your toes bend over and you get blisters under your toenail, you'll need a toe-prop. Find out how to make your own, or where to get them custom made.

    View full article →

    pre-race toenail care
    Pre-Race Toenail Care: Lesson #1 From Adelaide 2019

    by Rebecca Rushton

    While unkempt toenails aren’t the only cause toenail blisters, they are the most easily avoided. Find out about the importance of pre-race toenail care, and how to get it done.

    View full article →