Why Do My Hiking Boots Hurt My Toes? New Insights


After in-depth research about the reasons and possible solutions for ankle pains, I’ve decided to approach the issue from a different angle – the toes. This kind of pain accompanied most of my hikes, especially in those who included some serious descents. If you have been asking yourself: “Why do my hiking boots hurt my toes?” – you probably got to the right place.

A decent amount of reading and Youtube videos watching brought up some results.

Hiking boots hurt your toes because of inappropriate lacing, poorly size adjustments or when you are stepping directly down the slope. That could also be as the result of backpack overload or when you don’t take enough breaks. 

In this article, I will elaborate on the three categories and offer a few ways to overcome the annoying issue.

Inappropriate Lacing

Lacing your boots the wrong way may hurt toe and ankles, even when you choose boots which are on the right size. In general, there are two main parts to the lacing system in hiking footwear – the upper portion and the lower.

The border between the two is where the boot starts to curve, to adjust for comfortable walking. One common way to solve the issue is with the heel lock lacing.

There are two different ways to do so – one would be using the boots’ hooks and the other by creating two loops in the first holes.

Both methods, presented in the videos below, were meant to lock your heels in place. That, in turn, would prevent your toes from getting smashed in the toe-box during descents.

Another lacing technique would be creating two knots before the second holes, starting from below. That would prevent your lace from loosening during hikes and lock your toes in place.

Bad Adjustment For The ‘Longer Toe’

When buying a new pair of boots, we are usually told to keep ½ an inch distance between the boot and the tip of our toe.

We follow that order; however, we still get that pain in our toes after a long hike. In severe cases, black toenail may appear, which are suggestive for capillary bleeding.

But what have we done wrong? We did what we were told! Well, the advice I’ve written above is not entirely accurate. In fact, you should keep half an inch between your boot and your LONGEST toe. The condition I am referring to, and personally have, is Morton’s toe

That is merely the condition in which the second toe is longer than the first one. The prevalence of this differs between countries population and is roughly between 2.95% and 22%.

In a case you feet feature that kind of structure, you should take it into account and notify the shop workers who help you select the right shoe.

What they usually do is pressing the edges of your boots, making sure there is enough distance from your 1st toe. Yet, that wouldn’t be the right thing to do with Morton’s toe.

Rubbing Toes

As I’ve already mentioned before, one common reason for toes pain is smashing them in the inner part of your footwear.

That could be due to many reasons described in this article, yet, that is not always the case. Another scenario is when instead of smashing, your toes hurt due to rubbing. 

Both cases result with toes pain, although smashed toes are usually presented with a black toenail, where’s rubbing is often accompanied with blisters. 

The approach to that issue is also different. In a case you tend to develop blisters during your hike, I suggest you make a few preparations beforehand.

Make sure to pack up vaseline, blisters bandages and to wear synthetic socks. When blisters occur, wrap the area properly, and apply a thin vaseline layer upon your insole, at the toe box area. That, in turn, would reduce friction forces and ease the pain.

Stepping Directly Down The Slope

If you are planning on a hike which features a lot of descents, you should pay close attention to this one. The common mistake most hikers do when they go down a hill is stepping directly down the slope. 

Frankly, I understand that – it would make it much shorter and faster to go down this way. Nevertheless, when you do so, you put a lot of pressure on your toes, since they lead each step.

Stepping down this way would burden your toes with your entire body weight. Nevertheless, there are several ways to avoid that habit, starting with a zigzag walk. 

By hiking in zigzag, instead of directly stepping down, you will be able to descend gradually. This will distribute your body weight all across your feet.

Another way to ease the pressure would be stepping in a way your ankles meet the ground before your toes. This will allow your ankles to deal most of your body weight instead of your toes.

Moreover, you might consider using a pair of trekking poles to deal with toes pain during descents. With these, you will be able to move some of your weight distribution to your arms, so your feet suffer less.

Not Enough Breaks

Hiking could be intense, but frankly? It really shouldn’t be. I’ve noticed that on my first hikes, I was barely making any stops because I knew I had to get to my destination by sunset.

Not only my feet hurt a lot, but I also wasn’t able to enjoy the views. If you fall to this category, please try to get out of it. I really regret those hikes which, I felt, were wasted.

Everyone got a different fitness level, so saying exactly how often you should take breaks is barely possible. If you feel you burden your body with great walks – just make a few more, or even double the amount you used to make. 

Not only your body would benefit from this decision, but also your spirit. After all, enjoying the outstanding views of nature is what most of us start our journeys for.

Overload

An overweight backpack may absolutely be the reason for toes pain. Not only this, a heavy pack might cause backaches, blisters and stress fractures. Here is an article by me which explain how much your backpack should weigh (with 50 examples). I’ve spent a couple of days going through the data, and highly recommend that you read it.

I remember that one of the mistakes I’ve made during my first hike was packing too much. On that trail, I was carrying a 35 pounds backpack, which caused so many troubles I won’t even begin to describe.

Proper weight for a backpack shouldn’t exceed 20% of your entire body weight. For example, if you are a 140 pounds person, like me, you shouldn’t carry more than 28 pounds pack. 

Do not pack unnecessary things – try to plan up ahead what you would eat, drink and wear each day of your hike. Keep in mind that hiking boots themselves might be cumbersome. In this article, I’ve discussed on their average weight and what impact it has on your feet and back.

On that matter, It is also recommended to consider a lightweight backpack. A small pack, such as a 40 liter one or a carry on, maybe a reasonable choice. Also, make sure you carry a lightweight tent – do not bring a four-seasoned one if you could manage with a three-seasoned canvas.

Inappropriate Socks

As I’ve already mentioned before – poor socks choosing may cause toe pain, mainly due to rubbing against the insole.

When choosing socks which are too thin, your feet will be able to slip inside freely, increasing the chances for blisters and pains. Actually, I’ve dedicated a whole article which explains in which situations it is better to wear two pairs of socks while hiking.

That friction caused by thin socks may also contribute to the squeaking noise your boots may feature. Nevertheless, in some cases, it may be in your favor. Here is an article I’ve written on how to harden your feet to prevent blisters, in which I’ve discussed that topic.

In addition to that, thin socks do not provide enough padding, so your skin is more exposed and vulnerable. 

All these get me to the same conclusion – during hikes, thick socks would be more appropriate than thin ones. Moreover, there is a good chance two layers of socks are better than one since it is less likely to cause ankle pains. 

That is because the friction forces, which are one of the reasons for that kind of pain, reduce when wearing two layers.

Long Nails / Short Boots

If you notice black toenails frequently, there is a good chance they are just too long.

It doesn’t matter if you are he or she – when it comes to hiking long distances – you should clip your nails as much as possible. 

Not only these could cause bleedings and pains, but long nails may also break as well when under pressure. A broken nail is very likely to end your hike since the pain is just unbearable and consistent. Boots which are too small may also contribute to the nails issue.

As mentioned above, you should keep ½ an inch between the tip of your longest toe (which in several cases isn’t the 1st) and the inner part of your boot’s edge. 

Which Hiking Boots Hurt Less?

There is no straightforward answer to that since everyone has a different kind of feet. Two people feet may feature the same size; however, a different arch and width may cause two different sensations while wearing the same boot.

Yet, if you suffer pains mainly in your toes, you should consider boots which come with a wide toe box. One popular pair would be the Salomon X Ultra 3 Wide Mid GTX

This, in particular, was designed to accommodate women since the long nails they usually have. Nevertheless, the design is generally unisex and may serve men quite as right.

Another great choice would be the Merrell Moab 2 Mid Waterproof, which provide a high-quality Vibram outsole, in addition to a long mesh section at the upper part for ventilation. 

Although, I find it necessary to mention that there is no guarantee whatsoever when it comes to foot pains – ankles nor toes. The best way to know which boots hurt less is trying them on first, which can be done at the shoe shop.

It could also be that hiking boots are too snug for you, and perhaps you need an alternative. Hiking shoes, in opposed to boots, feature looser design and may also serve you when you whish to walk indoors.

On that matter, I’ve spent hours explaining why hiking shoes are actually necessary – I highly suggest you take a look at this, even if you already own a pair. 

How to Treat The Pain on The Hike?

In my opinion, the best way to treat pain on the hike is by taking a break. There is a reason you feel pain – it is your body’s way to signal you that something is wrong and in this case – that you shouldn’t keep on going.

Find the closest hotel or campsite and end your hiking section as fast as possible – so you don’t make any worse injuries.

Until you make it to the resting point, you may also try lacing your boots differently. One way to ease toes pressure would be the heel lock lacing that is mentioned above. 

The more fixed your ankle is, the less likely your toes would rub against the insole and cause injuries. It would also be wise to apply ice or anything cold on the hurting area so you may reduce swelling and inflammatory reaction.

Is it Related to Breaking in?

Yes, the two could positively be related – a new pair of boots are known to be stiff, and that it would take a while until they break in. 

The phenomenon is more likely to happen in boots instead of hiking shoes since they usually feature a decent amount of leather which take time to break in.

One section that also requires adjustment is the toe box, which is mainly responsible for toes pains. If you have just recently bought a new pair and experiencing pains of any kind, try giving it some time before giving up on them.

Should I Get a New Pair?

I don’t believe getting a new pair should be the first step you take. As I’ve already mentioned, there are different, cheaper ways to ease the pain.

You may get yourself trekking poles or perhaps embrace a different hiking pattern – especially during descents.

Nevertheless, if you suspect your boots are on the wrong size – I would most certainly advise you on getting a new pair. There is no substitute for proper size, and there is just no way to go around it.

Conclusions

There are different ways in which hiking boots may cause toes pain. First, they may be laced inappropriately. The best way to overcome that one is by performing a heel lock lacing, as described above.

When it comes to boots sizing, you should keep a ½ an inch distance between your boot and the tip of your longest toe, which is not always the first toe.

An inappropriate size may cause your toes to smash the boot’s apex when too small, or otherwise rub against the insole when too large. You should also make a few adjustments when it comes to lousy hiking habits, such as descending straight down.

Instead of that, you should make a diagonal descent or use a pair of hiking poles to ease weight distribution. It is also essential that you pick socks which are thick enough and that you clip long nails before the hike.

I hope that you’ve found the answer you were looking in this article. In a case you haven’t, let me know about it by leaving a comment below!

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