Two things are probably at work here, Art. One, as we get older, our feet spread out a little as gravity slowly spreads the connecting ligaments and tissue in the foot. Im about a half-size larger, shoe-wise, than I was several years back, even though I am still exceedingly young, know how to use an iPod, and have on occasion sent text messages. Dude. Sup?
Old Faithfuls: Lived-in Backpacking Boots
Conversely, leather shrinks slightly as it ages, which is a shame. Wouldnt it be great if the leather stretched a little as our feet spread?
Anyway, what to do, short of having painful toe-shortening surgery? You can take your boots to a good shoemaker, preferably one with a lot of experience in boots (Dave Page in Seattle comes instantly to mind, as hes one of the best boot-repair guys on the planet). Hell have commercial-grade tools that likely can add a half-size or so to your shrunken boots.
Alternatively, there are some boot-stretchers you can buy yourself and try. The ProFoot Stretcher ($20), available from several websites, consists of a two-piece wooden wedge that slides inside the shoe. A screw device opens the wedge once inside the shoe, pushing it out and making the toe area larger. I cant say whether this is a sturdy enough device to really give hiking boots a good stretch, but it cant hurt to try.
Of course, all good things come to an end eventually, including hiking boots. Between the tendency of leather to shrink, and feet to expand, it might also be time to move to a boot thats a half-size larger. Sad, but true.
Check out this years more than 400 must-have gear items, including a comprehensive boots section, in the 2006 Buyers Guide.