Lace Up! How to Lace Your Hiking Boots

How to lace up hiking boots

Why Boot Lacing is Important

About five years ago, I was hiking up a mountain in southeastern Alaska with a companion of mine. He had found a hidden meadow and we were going to visit it, rain or shine.

It rained…

The temperature was fifty degrees Fahrenheit and the rain, though light, soaked us through within an hour.

Exertion kept us warm and comfortable, however, as it took several hours of climbing to reach our destination.

We scrambled through mud, over fallen logs, and up rocky projections before we reached the meadow.

The sun didn’t shine on us, but a doe came within a few feet to gawk at the silly humans, and we both had the biggest grins you’ve ever seen.

Then we had to descend the mountain, over the rocks, over the logs, through the mud and the creek beds.

When we hopped into the truck to head back to warmth and luxury, our feet did not scream at us in pain. Both of us felt energized by the trip.

We had both made intelligent footwear choices, but even so, we had laced our boots properly and comfortably.

With poorly laced boots, the ascent would have been grueling, with feet slipping when traction was needed and constant breaks necessary to tie and re-tie knots.

A little preparation and you, too, can have comfortable feet even halfway up a mountain.

There are many ways you can lace your hiking boots. The basic purpose of laces is to provide friction to hold your boots onto your feet.

Poorly laced boots can cause pressure or rubbing, leading to foot pain and blisters.

Here are a few different techniques for lacing your boots.

Feel free to lace and re-lace your boots with different methods and techniques until you find one which works for you.

Lacing Methods


The standard lacing method is the criss-cross. The middle of the lace is at the very bottom of the boot, and the laces are crossed at each eyelet until the top is reached and the lace knotted.

This is a simple and effective lacing technique, but it has its issues.

Pulling the laces to tighten them at one point will tighten the lace all the way up and down the boot.

The constant flexing caused by walking can cause the laces to continue this effect, so after a mile your boot will fit differently than when you laced the shoes.

However, this method of lacing is compatible with techniques such as the surgeon’s knot, so it is very customizable.

Hiking Lacing

This method of lacing is specifically for hiking through brush, as it keeps the knot to the insides and away from sticks.

It also evens out pressure better than the criss-cross.

It is a little more complicated however, and is not compatible with as many techniques to individualize the boot to your foot.

  1. For a right boot with eight eyelets, start with the lace on the inside of the boot, coming out of the eyelets.
  2. The left end will be laced vertically and into the second eyelet, across the boot, then through and out the second eyelet on the right side.
  3. Take both laces and move them vertically two eyelets, inside, across, then out.
  4. Repeat until the two laces come out of the top two eyelets on the left.
  5. Tie off the knot there, it should be on the inside of your body when wearing the boots.

You will have to switch starting sides if you have ten eyelets, swapping sides for every two.

An even number of eyelets is almost required to use this method. If you have an odd number of eyelets on your boot, you may have to ignore the bottom pair and start one set higher.

Army Lacing

This method of lacing your boots crosses over on the inside of the boot instead of the outside, and so allows for the boot to be more flexible.

It still holds tight, and I have had good success with it for boots I’ve worn in the mountains.

It is apparently the method used by several European militaries and, since the crossovers are on the inside, there is less of a chance for the lace to get caught by the brush.

  1. If you have an even number of eyelets, start with the laces across the inside of the bottom eyelets, going out. If you have an odd number of eyelets, start with the laces across the outside, going inside.
  2. Whenever the lace is heading outside the eyelet, take it up one eyelet vertically and send it inside.
  3. Whenever the lace is heading inside the eyelet, cross the other lace and send it outside the eyelet.
  4. The laces will alternate crossing each other and traveling vertically.
  5. To tighten, put your finger on the bottom crossover and pull.
  6. Repeat as you go up the boot.

Lacing Techniques

There are a few techniques you can apply to almost any lacing method. These let you modify your footwear to match your feet and needs better.

surgeons knot lacing boots

via REI

Surgeon’s Knots

Sometimes you need more or less pressure in one area of the boot. To isolate that area, employ the surgeon’s knot (animated instructions).

When crossing the laces above or below the area which needs to be isolated, wrap the laces around each other several times before feeding them through the eyelet.

The additional friction will hold the laces in place and keep them from slipping.

Lacing Windows

This technique (video) has two benefits. It can relieve pressure above an area better than even a loose lace, and if placed directly in front of the ankle it can increase mobility.

The technique itself is simple: instead of crossing the laces, lace them vertically up one eyelet then continue your lacing pattern.

I use this technique myself as I like the additional ankle mobility, so on my boots the laces go directly from the fourth to fifth eyelet before crossing again. This technique is also good for people with high insteps.

Heel Lock

If you have trouble with your heel sliding out of place, try a heel lock.

It starts similarly to a lacing window over the ankle, except instead of starting to cross again after feeding vertically, take the lace down and through the vertical section on the other side before moving to the next set of eyelets.

The additional pressure will help hold your heel in place. This can help relieve toe pain from hitting the front of the boot.

A surgeon’s knot at the bottom may help keep this tight pressure from affecting the instep.

Toe Relief

Toe relief lacing technique

via REI

Another very simple technique. If your toes feel tightness from the laces, ignore the bottom layer of eyelets and start the laces at the second set.

A quick word on the final knot.

If you have trouble with the bow knot twisting to the side so the loops are trying to hang vertically, then you are probably accidentally creating a granny knot as the basis for your bow knot.

Swap which lace is going over the other for the very beginning of the knot and try again. If the loops hang horizontally this time, the bottom knot is a square knot, and it will hold much better.

Tying It All Up

So there you have it. Three methods of lacing and three techniques you can use to modify those methods to help your boots fit your feet.

Practice the different lacing styles at home and on short walks, and next time you go for a long hike, your boots may fit you better than ever. Happy hiking!

For more lacing methods, I recommend visiting Ian W. Fieggen’s website at Various techniques to customize laces were learned from old timers in the field.
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