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Backpacker Magazine – Online Exclusive

Got Problem Feet?

An expert bootfitter can help. Here's how Phil Burgess of Ski Stop in Westwood, MA, a certified fit expert, helped one editor overcome a chronic and debilitating fit problem.

by: Kristin Hostetter

According to the American Orthopaedic Foot and Ankle Society, 55 percent of women in the U.S. suffer from bunions, like this one (right), which cause painful tightness and friction in the forefoot. (Men also get bunions but at a much lower rate.)

A session with a certified American Best Bootfitters ( costs from $60 to $180 and takes only about 20 minutes. Aside from bunions, a professional boot-fitting can help alleviate pain from poor alignment, plantar fasciitis, heel spurs, shin bang and many other issues. Here, Burgess takes precise measurements of foot length, arch length, and width, using a Brannock device.

He places the foot atop an EZ Fit Custom Adaptable Insoles ($40, and traces the shape of the bunion. The insoles replace the standard-issue ones, and offer more support for the arches, so feet don’t collapse and cause the bunion to rub.

Burgess then has the customer lace up the boots, and he clearly marks the position and size of the bunion, so he can precisely locate it when the stretching begins. (Note: He also stretched the left boot to accommodate a much smaller bunion there.)

At this point, the customer leaves the boots (for about a week), and Burgess works his magic. He tries to closely replicate the customer’s foot using customizable metal forms that attach to the Ultra Cam, a heating and stretching machine. Note the bulbous shape in the center of the screen—that represents the bunion.

Burgess places the boot onto the form, making sure to lineup the bunion spacer with the center of the marking on the boot. The machine then warms and stretches the boot material.

It’s a slow process that requires patience. Stretching too hard or two fast can damage the leather and the waterproof membrane inside the boot. After anywhere from two to twelve hours, a noticeable pocket has been formed to accommodate the bunion and relieve pressure.

Burgess says “It’s amazingly successful. We have the best results with all leather boots that don’t have a rubber rand covering the problem area (because rubber rebounds when stretched), but we can also help customize the fit of any plastic ski or mountaineering boots. Got to to find a specially trained expert near you.

After getting her Keen Glarus boots stretched, our editor wore them for a week of backpacking in Tasmania, where conditions were challenging. She reports: “It was the best my feet have felt on a hike in several years. This really changed my experience for the better.

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