Trying on shoes to make sure they fit

How Should a Shoe Fit? We've Got the Answers You Need

by Mark Paigen 5 minute read

Whether you choose a particular set of footwear for comfort, fashion, sport, support, or protection, you should always prioritize the perfect fit. Poor-fitting shoes cause pain and can lead to problems like ingrown toenails, calluses, corns, bunions, plantar fasciitis, and can even affect your circulation.

So, exactly how should a shoe fit?

The Basics ---

  • Different shoes are designed for different activities. Prolonged wear of the wrong type of shoe or an improper shoe fit can lead to pain and injury.
  • Always try on shoes when standing up, wear the socks you intend to wear with them, make sure there is adequate space at the front and back, and try to walk on various surfaces to see how they feel.
  • Choosing shoes made from breathable fabrics with the correct construction and arch support is essential, which may mean adding insoles for additional cushioning.
  • We recommend the Tread Labs Dash Insole Kit, which includes an ultra-firm carbon fiber arch support and three styles of swappable top covers to keep you comfortable in any shoe.

What you need to know ---

The average adult walks almost 75,000 miles in their lifetime. That's nearly 2.5 million steps per year and around 6,840 steps per day. Without correct shoe and sneaker fitting, every one of those steps could be contributing to long-term damage.

How to Find the Perfect Shoes

When shopping for new footwear, it's not as straightforward as simply asking yourself: does the shoe fit? Whether you're assessing dress shoes, sandals, or sneaker fit, you'll need to consider the activities you plan to do while wearing them, the sizing and examine the fabric and construction, too.

Consider the Activity

The question "how should a shoe fit?" largely depends on what you plan to do while wearing them. Let's take a deeper look into different types of shoes and their suitability for various activities.

Running Shoes

"How should sneakers fit for running?" is a common question. The athletic shoe that's right for you will typically depend on your running style and the arch of your foot. There are four different types to choose from:

Neutral Generic sneakersare designed for people who have a neutral or 'correct' running technique.

Minimalist – Designed to mimic barefoot running, minimalist sneakers have less cushioning and support. The theory is that they strengthen your muscles and promote better technique and cadence than regular sneakers.

Motion control – Specifically designed to cushion heavyweight, flat feet, or pronounced over-pronation (when your foot rolls inwards as you run).

Stability – Usually more rigid, stability shoes are designed to support the arch of your foot in the midsole and heel areas.

Sports Shoes 

Think running shoes and sports shoes are the same things? Think again. Sports-specific shoes all provide different features. So, how are shoes supposed to fit differently for various sports? Well, it's not necessarily about the fit, more about the design. For example, sneakers for court sports like squash and tennis will have more side support to account for various footwork movements. On the other hand, Cleats have thin walls and minimal padding to allow every part of a player's foot to get in contact with the ball.


Options like flip-flops are great for beach days but are only suitable for short-distance walks. The same principle applies to dress sandals. While generally made of sturdier materials, the soles are often rigid and designed for aesthetics over practicality. For more time on your feet, adding insoles or choosing a hardier option like Birkenstocks provide much better arch support.

Dress Boots and Heels

Boots tend to fit loosely and provide inadequate support, while heels alter your whole body posture and are often painful. The lower and thicker the heel, the more support your feet will have. However, neither are particularly comfortable for prolonged wear without adding insoles.

Finding the Right Size

Some shop assistants will tell you that shoes stretch to fit better over time. This can sometimes be true of width, but no shoe will stretch in length. So, how much room should you have in a shoe, and how should shoes fit when you try them on in-store? Here are our top tips for selecting the right size.

  • Shop for shoes in the afternoon because your feet naturally swell a little throughout the day.
  • Have your feet measured regularly, as your feet change shape as you age.
  • Wear the socks you intend to wear when you try shoes on.
  • Always try shoes on while standing up.
  • Ensure about half an inch of space between your longest toe and the end of the shoe.
  • There should be around 3mm/eighth of an inch between your heel and the back of the shoe.
  • Wiggle your toes to check for adequate space at the front.
  • Examine the sole for cushioning and protection from sharp objects
  • Look for telltale signs of a bad fit, including pinching, rubbing, slipping, and excess compression on the ball of your foot.
  • Ask about wider sizes. Buying a half size bigger won't help if your feet are pinching at the sides.
  • Walk around on both hard and carpeted surfaces. If you're testing how sneakers fit, simulate jogging or do a few squats.
  • Check the insides for seams or tags that could rub and cause skin irritations.
  • Buy based on comfort rather than size because measurements vary between manufacturers.
  • If you have slightly different sized feet, buy to fit the bigger foot.

Examine Fabric and Construction

Did you know that up to 30 separate parts go into making a shoe? Shoemaking principles may not have changed much since the 19th century, but the materials used, construction techniques, and science behind shoe design have certainly moved forward.

Laced shoes are easier to adjust and keep on your feet, and it probably goes without saying that shoes made of breathable materials tend to be the most comfortable. These factors aside, you should always look for shoes that have:

Torque – The shoe should twist slightly when you exert pressure at both ends.

A stiff back – When holding the base of the heel and the back of the shoe in different hands, you shouldn't be able to move the shoe side-to-side over the heel.

The perfect bend – The shoe should bend with you at the same point your big toe bends when you rise onto the ball of your foot.

Arch support – Arch length is measured from your heel to the ball of your foot, and ample support is essential. If the shoes you love don't have enough arch support, it's a good idea to add insoles for additional cushioning.

If The Shoe Fits, Wear It!

How should a shoe fit you? Comfortably and without pain or pinching from the moment you try them on. But no matter what footwear you end up with, you may still need to add arch support insoles for increased support and cushioning.

Tread Lab insoles provide options for people with ultra-high arches, flat feet, and everything in between. Our insoles are made from lightweight carbon fiber and come with a million mile guarantee. So, once you figure out what works best for you, you'll be good for as many steps a day as you like! Our Tread Labs Dash Insole Kit is particularly dextrous because it comes with arch support and three styles of swappable top covers to keep you comfortable in any shoe.

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