Thursday 30 April 2009

Footwear Fitting 2009: The Anatom Academy

Working in an outdoor shop many years ago I learnt how to fit hiking boots – check there was enough room to slide a finger down the back of the boot when the laces were tightened. If I could do this and the customer didn’t complain too much about pressure points and pinched toes then the boots fitted. Unsurprisingly this crude method – standard practice at the time - often resulted in aching feet and many blisters - for me as well others. Then in the mid 1990s I attended Phil Oren’s Fitsystem courses. These were a revelation. Phil had developed a method that actually resulted in footwear that fitted properly, a complex process involving foot examination, foot measuring, incline boards and, when necessary, stabilising footbeds and boot modification. I was impressed with the method and the attention to detail and delighted that outdoor shop staff were being trained in this way. It made a personal difference too. Once I added stabilising footbeds to my boots and shoes I came back down a size as my feet no longer elongated when I put weight on them. My feet hadn’t “got bigger” with age as I’d thought. Instead they’d become unstable. I also found that my knees no longer ached on long steep rocky descents – and they still don’t after another decade.

Phil retired around four years ago and his Fitsystem courses faded away. However Anatom, the company who organised them in the UK, set up their own Anatom Academy to provide fitting training for shop staff. I’ve just returned from attending one of the Anatom Level 1 courses and I must say I was impressed. The Anatom staff, who are trained pedorthists, have developed Phil’s system and added further topics such as biomechanics and gait analysis. The course is hands-on and attendees practise measuring feet with Brannock Devices and fitting Superfeet footbeds. The amount of information is somewhat overwhelming and I’m sure some people went home still trying to take it all in. There is also a longer Level 2 course for those who’ve taken Level 1 and Anatom do in-store training.

Anyone who has no problem finding boots or shoes that fit comfortably can ignore whether shop staff are trained in footwear fitting or not. The rest of us can greatly reduce the likelihood of sore feet and blisters by finding a shop with staff who’ve taken the Anatom Academy courses and who can fit footwear properly.

The picture shows Andy Blair of Anatom introducing the Level 1 programme to a group of outdoor shop staff.


  1. Spot on Chris

    I have been wearing my "Customfit" Superfit insoles since 1998 and I would never wear boots without them.

    Even with 'girly feet' I find that I can wear quite a few brands of boot that would otherwise be far too sloppy and cause zillions of blisters.

    On my 1673miles Lejog I suffered from just one tiny blister (from a creased sock) for just three days.

    They do it for me!

  2. Having just bought my third pair of boots in an attempt to find a good replacement for my old ones, I wish there were a list of stores who's staff are trained in this.

    I find virtually any pair of boots comfortable when I put them on in the shop, and they pass all the usual tests...but it isn't until I've covered 9 miles or so until I realise there are problems. This is a very expensive mistake to keep making! I've just bought a new set in desperation - only 3 weeks to go until my 1300 mile Jogle and I'm still trying to get the right pair of boots - not good!

    Thanks for drawing attention to this training going on - very good to know. Also, I agree wholeheartedly about the Superfeet insoles - I wouldn't be without them!

  3. Sophie, I'm sorry to hear about your problems finding boots that fit. There is a list on the Anatom website giving not just the shops but also the names of the staff who have completed the courses. You can find it here:

    LEJOG was my first long distance walk, many years ago.

    Good luck!

  4. I didn’t even know that feet would elongate when weight is placed on them. I think that sometimes, people who sell boots and other footwear have just not been trained properly. I was recently complaining about the level of service that customers get from shoe salespeople nowadays. However maybe they haven’t been trained to help their clients find the perfect fit.