Knowing the correct length and width of the foot is one of the first and very important steps in the process of buying barefoot shoes, especially when buying online. These are the values that we compare with the size charts to decide if the model is right for us.
The following article gives tips on how to measure your foot properly, how to use the size charts and how to choose the right shoe size based on what you have measured and how to identify the right fit when you are trying them on.
1. What measurements do we need?
Foot measurement is one of the first major things we encounter when buying barefoot shoes. If you have only ever bought shoes based on your ‘normal’ shoe size, this is not advisable with barefoot shoes (the internal lengths of different brands are not always comparable).
Adequate space in the shoe can only be ensured by an optimal choice of size, chosen appropriately for the length and width of your foot.
Barefoot shoes are therefore always bought on the basis of the measured length and width of the foot, which is compared with the values in the size charts.
Size charts may vary from manufacturer to manufacturer, and internal shoe lengths may also vary from model to model of the same brand (e.g. winter models with thick, warm linings may be shorter than spring sneakers of the same brand and size).
To select the correct shoe size, we therefore always need two values (see Figure 1):
- the values of the inner lengths and widths of the shoe from size charts
- the measured length and width of our foot
NOTE: Due to the different size charts, it is not necessary to wear the same size in all brands. For example, I wear a size 42 in most brands, but I also have shoes in sizes 41-44 which are no different in length, just the size is different.
In addition to knowing our foot length and width, we also need to know our foot type. Because our feet differ not only in length and width, but also in volume, toebox shape, etc.
2. Measuring shoes
Shoe measurement is usually not made by the end customer, but by barefoot shoe manufacturers and barefoot shoe retailers. Since the appropriate choice of size is directly linked to the values given in the size charts, an understanding of these values is also necessary for the end user.
The values given in the size charts are those that are compared with the measured values for the length and width of the foot.
Size charts usually give the internal lengths and widths of the shoe, unless the manufacturer states that these are recommended foot lengths (but such brands are rare).
The following is a brief description of the different ways of measuring shoes, usually given in size charts, and their advantages and disadvantages.
NOTE: There is no standardised method for measuring shoes, so each manufacturer may measure shoes slightly differently, which means that there may be slight variations. Some manufacturers have the measurement procedure explained in more detail than others. In the absence of an explanation, it is simplified to consider that the measurement refers to the vertical and horizontal value of the measurement of the length and width of the foot.
2.1 Shoe length measurement
The internal shoe lengths given in the size charts are usually measured in two ways:
- measurement of the length and width of the last
- using the Plus12 measurer
NOTE: Manufacturers may also measure shoes in other ways, so it’s always a good idea to check all available measurement information on their official websites.
With last measurement we usually measures the vertical distance between the midpoint of the heel and the longest point of the toe (Figure 1a), which in barefoot shoes is usually somewhere between the first and second toes (but some manufacturers may also measure the diagonal distance between the midpoint of the heel and the longest point of the toe instead of the vertical distance – Figure 1b).
Its disadvantage is that for certain shoe models, there may be discrepancies between the last measurement and the final value of the inside length in the shoe (due to the use of different materials, thickness of the lining, shape of the heel, etc.).
If the measurement of the internal length in the table was made with a Plus12, this will normally be indicated in a footnote to the size chart.
Plus12 is used by most EU barefoot footwear stores, which take their own measurements and create their own sizing charts.
The Plus12 measures the space inside the shoe from the centre of the heel to the longest part of the shoe (Figure 1b above). This distance is usually diagonal rather than vertical, as the longest part of a barefoot shoe is usually between the first and second toe. Values may therefore deviate minimally from the vertical measurement (approx. 1-2 mm, depending on the width of the shoe and the toe slope).
The Plus12 makes it easier to detect variations in the internal length of the shoe due to the thicker lining, but the Plus12 also has some drawbacks.
In particular, it is more difficult to account for certain heel shapes (e.g. if the longest point of the shoe is not at the bottom of the heel, but in the middle), and there is a greater chance of measurement errors due to the way the measurement is taken.
How do I measure the shoes with the Plus12?
The Plus12 can be used to measure shoes and feet in the home environment. It is particularly useful for children’s shoes and their feet.
The red tip at the end of the measurer simulates the height of a big toe, so it only measures up to a point in the shoe where there is enough room above the toes.
- Place the Plus12 in the centre of the heel of the shoe. Hold the Plus12 firmly in place with your hand.
- Move the red tip to the longest part of the shoe or to the point where you want to measure the distance. Do not push too hard into the material and make sure that the tape measure is straight and not bent.
- Read the inside length of the shoe in [cm] on the measuring tape.
NOTE: Barefoot shoe retailers usually quote the measurement in the longest part of the shoe, which is usually between the first and second toe. At home, you can take the measurement to the exact point you need. Manufacturers may also use other measurement methods, but they are not always known to us as the end customer.
It is not recommended to use insoles and measuring tapes for measuring internal length of the shoe. Insoles are usually not the same length and width as the shoes and can only serve to approximate the shape and length inside the shoe (usually the shoe itself is slightly wider than the insole, and the insole may be longer or shorter than the available length inside the shoe).
When to consider last measurements and when to consider the Plus12?
Personally, I like to check both measurements and compare them with each other. If possible, we check the measurements on different barefoot shoe websites that sell the model of shoe we are looking for.
If the differences between the measurements are bigger (approx. 3-4 mm and more), the Plus12 measurements should be taken into account, as they usually give a more realistic picture (especially for thick-soled winter boots, where the deviations can be bigger).
2.2 Shoe width measurement
We won’t go into too much detail about measuring the width of shoes, as the purpose of this post is not to confuse you completely, but only to point out the variations that can occur in the width values.
The differences are mainly due to the different measurement points and differences in the measurement of the diagonal or horizontal width value (see Figure 4a), the materials and the ‘problem’ of describing a 3D foot with a 2D value (two feet can have the same width but completely different circumferences – see Figure 4b and Figure 15).
Width values should always be taken with a small margin of error and allowance for minor variations in the measurements (approx. 1-3 mm). Sometimes a shoe may be a millimetre wider or narrower than the stated value.
Also, values between different brands are not always directly comparable (there may be small variations of approx. 1-3 mm) as the same measurement method is not used.
The measurement of the width of the shoe is usually taken at the metatarsal joints, such as:
- width measurement on the lasts (Figure 4a)
- measuring the width inside the shoe using a Clevermess (up to 8 cm wide) or similar device
- measuring the width of the insole, which is usually narrower than the available width – depending on the design of the sole (see Figure 4c)
3. Measuring feet
3.1 Foot length measurement
There are different ways to measure the length of the foot, but here are three of the most common:
- foot tracing
- measurement against the wall
- using the Plus12
The foot tracing method is one of the most commonly used methods for measuring the foot. It is always easy to measure the width at the same time as the length of the foot, and it is also useful when ordering customised shoes.
How to do a foot tracing correctly?
- Stand on a piece of paper with your feet pointing straight ahead. Stand (not sit) on the paper with legs straight and fully relaxed
- Do not do the tracing yourself, but have another person help you (as the position of the toes and the length of the foot may change when kneeling).
- Use a thin, sharp and short pencil and hold it perfectly vertical, as you want to get as close to the line of the foot as possible. An inaccurate outline may add too much length and width.
- Always make a tracing of both feet, as the feet can be of different lengths and widths.
When making a tracing, it is not necessary to trace every curve of the toes or the arch of the foot precisely. It is important to capture all the key points to make the measurement.
For a more detailed video demonstration of the foot measurement, see the Barefoot Universe Academy.
Making a measurement
Once the tracing is made, measure the vertical distance from the centre of the heel to our longest toe (making sure to measure in the direction of the foot/leg axis). This distance represents the length of our foot (see Figure 6).
We also draw an axis of the foot, roughly running from the midpoint of the heel to the midpoint of the second toe, as you can see in the photo below (dotted line).
For feet with the second longest toe, or where the first two toes are the same length, the axis of the foot coincides with the line of the longest part of the foot.
The width of the foot is represented by the line perpendicular to the axis of the foot, measured in the area between the 1st and 5th metatarsal heads in the horizontal direction (see Figure 6).
NOTE: There are several methods of measuring the length and width of the foot with a foot tracing. Which method to use depends mainly on how you measure your shoes, as this is the value you are comparing the length of your foot to. The vertical method can of course cause some minimal variations, due to different foot shapes, measurement methods, etc., but it is the easiest to use in practice.
Measuring against the wall
As with the contour method, measurements along the wall should not be taken alone, but with the help of someone close to you.
- The heel should gently touch the wall, with the foot pointing straight ahead.
- Hold the pencil vertically and draw a line along the longest toe.
- Now measure the vertical distance from the wall to the line we have drawn
- Remember to measure both feet, as they may be of different lengths
For a more detailed video demonstration of the foot measurement, see the Barefoot Universe Academy.
Using the Plus12 meter
The Plus12 can be used to measure both internal shoe lengths and feet length, but some caution is needed when measuring feet, as the Plus12 always ‘advises’ us of the inside shoe length we need (i.e. the value you need to look for in the size charts), not the actual length of the foot. So it already adds the recommended 12 mm of space in the shoe to the measurement.
How do I measure feet with the Plus12?
- We don’t do the measurement ourselves. Step on the Plus12 meter by gently touching the back of the Plus12 with your heel.
- Point the red tip of the at the longest toe. If you are measuring your child’s foot, hold the foot and make sure the toes are completely relaxed.
- Read the value on the Plus12.
In our case, Plus12 shows 206 mm. This means that the length of the foot is: 206 mm – 12 mm = 194 mm. In the size charts for an adult, look for shoes with an internal length of 206 mm (for children, the space for growth is added to this value).
NOTE: If we have taken the measurement accurately, we should get very similar results using all three methods (of course, if the foot has the longest second toe or the first two toes are the same length). However, in the case of the longest first toe, Plus12 measures the diagonal value, not the vertical value.
3.2 Measurement of foot width
The width of the foot can be measured in different ways, but for best comparability with size charts it is recommended to measure the width as the horizontal distance (perpendicular to the axis of the foot) in the region of the metatarsal joints (see Figure 9a), unless otherwise stated by the manufacturer (e.g. Tikki Shoes measures the width diagonally between the 1st and the 5th metatarsal heads – see Figure 9b).
The exact point of measurement is difficult to define (because there is no standardised method), but we try to cover the widest part of the foot at this point.
Due to all the factors influencing the measurement, the possibility of small deviations (approx. 1-3 mm) in the width must always be taken into account.
3.3 Measuring feet with hallux valgus
We measure feet with hallux valgus in the same way as feet without hallux valgus.
The length of the foot is measured as the vertical distance from the centre of the heel to the longest toe. The only thing to note is that the length/shape of the foot may change when the toes are placed back in the appropriate position.
The aim of any foot deformity is, of course, to get the toes back into position over time (with the right footwear and exercises), but the bulge in the metatarsal head area may still be more pronounced if the deformity was more severe.
In certain cases, minor adjustments can therefore be taken into account when measuring the width.
4. How to choose the right size using the size charts and printable templates?
As we have seen in the chapters above, there may be some variation in the measurements, but in practice the whole process of choosing the right size needs to be simplified a little.
Unless otherwise specified by the manufacturer, compare the measured foot length (vertical distance) and width (horizontal distance) with the values in the size charts.
This takes into account the space needed for the foot to move properly, as the correct size is one of the most important conditions for the foot to move functionally in the shoe. This means that we need the length and width of the shoe to allow our foot to extend and widen properly when we walk (when we put weight on the foot).
The correct size means that the shoe is:
- long enough to allow all toes in the pronation phase of the gait cycle (lowering of the foot arch and extension of the foot) to have enough space to actively participate in the push-off phase without being obstructed by the front edge of the shoe (toes do not touch/press into the front edge of the shoe while walking)
- of the appropriate width and toebox shape to allow the foot to extend properly during walking and the toes to participate actively in the gait cycle
4.1 Using size charts
The size charts usually give the internal length and width of the shoes, and sometimes the circumference of the foot. Exceptionally, some manufacturers may list the recommended foot length for a particular size in the tables, but these brands are rare.
Some brands use a single size chart regardless of the model, while others (e.g. Be Lenka, Shapen, etc.) define different size charts for each individual model to better capture differences between them due to different construction or thickness of materials.
Choose the appropriate shoe size based on the measured length and width of the foot by adding approx. 12 mm of toe space to the measured length (lower limit 10 mm) and approx. 3-4 mm to the width. For children, room for growth must be taken into account.
We do not compensate by reducing the length in case the correspondingly long shoe has too much volume/width. In this case, we need to choose a more appropriate model.
The foot measurement shown corresponds to a shoe size EU 42. The length is appropriate in both brands, but many models from the left brand (Groundies) are already too narrow for this foot.
When buying a shoe, we also look at the toebox shape and the width of the toe box, as well as the length and width of the foot. Although the width values in the size charts are given at the ball of the foot, the foot is the widest at the tip of the toes, so the shoe should be widest at this point too.
TIP: For those who want to know more about the different foot types, the link What is my foot type? explains which foot types we know, shows the different foot widths, instep heights, etc….
The Barefoot Universe Academy also includes:
- What to do if none of the shoes in the size chart is wide enough for my foot?
- What to do if we are between two sizes?
- What are the exceptions when we opt for less or more space?
- When can shoes be wider or narrower than the values in the size charts?
4.2 Using printable templates
Printable templates are particularly useful for sizing sandals, where the sole shape and where the straps are attached play a key role.
For closed shoes, based on the templates, finding the right size is more difficult (in particular they are not a realistic indication of the width of the shoe), but some manufacturers offer them anyway. For closed shoes, I personally only use the Wildling Shoes Fit Kit templates to determine the correct size.
5. Possible deviations in values
Due to the many factors that influence the measurement of shoes and feet, it is important to bear in mind that there can always be slight variations in the measurements (approx. 1-3 mm). At this stage, it is therefore also very important to try on the shoe and assess the appropriate fit, both in length and width.
Variations in internal length and widths are usually due to measurement errors, different measurement methods and points, the influence of foot shape, heel shape, material, etc., so it is important to bear in mind that when comparing foot lengths with size charts, certain simplifications are always made.
One of these is, for example, comparing the vertical length of the shoe with the vertically measured length of the foot. The method is not completely accurate, as we are not directly comparing lengths at the same point, but only the absolute difference in values (see figure left), but it is still accurate enough for practical use.
The most common reasons for deviations are:
- different shapes of heels
- how and where the shoe is measured
- the volume and width of the feet
- how the sole is manufactured
- the material of the shoe
You can find out how this factos affect the correct length and width in the shoe in the Barefoot Universe Academy.
6. Trying a shoe for the first time
Because of the possibility of misalignment, the correct amount of space should always be physically checked when trying on the shoe, as fit can be affected by a number of factors, such as:
- use of socks
- matching the toebox shape to the shape of the foot
- proper fixation of the shoe
- the amount of space above the toes
- the shape of the heel of the shoe and matching the shoe heel shape with the foot heel shape
- shoe material
- type of footwear
- foot functionality
Detailed guidance on determining the correct fit of a shoe, supported by numerous examples of appropriate and inappropriate fit, can be found in the Barefoot Universe Academy.
7. To sum up
The length and width of the foot are definitely the first values to keep in mind when buying barefoot shoes. Although there is no single method that all manufacturers use to measure the internal length and width of their shoes (so there may always be slight variations), you can still make your purchase a little easier if you follow these steps:
- measure the vertical length of the foot (unless another method is used by the manufacturer)
- measure the width of the foot in the horizontal direction (unless another method is used by the manufacturer)
- examine the shape of the toes and the volume of the foot
- compare the values with the sizing charts on the various pages and find the most suitable model for you
- check the final fit of the shoe (space in front of the toes, width, toebox shape and proper fixation)
Remember to always check what you are comparing with. What the values in the tables tell us and what we have measured.