Why Do My Hiking Boots Hurt My Ankles? [7 Possible Reasons]

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So you’re out on a long, beautiful hike and you start to feel it; that obnoxious pain at the back of your ankles.

This is a problem among many hikers and those who wear hiking boots when they’re out on the trail.

There are many possible causes and even a few solutions that can be tried to see if you can find some relief.

In this post, I’ll try to help you find the answer to your question, why do my hiking boots hurt my ankles?

Plus, I’ll tell you some of those possible solutions so you get back out for a pain-free hike in no time.

Why Do My Hiking Boots Hurt My Ankles?

If you’re tired of being out on the hiking trail and then suddenly feeling that annoying pain in the back of your foot, I get it.

When I first started wearing hiking boots, I had the exact same problem, and it almost stopped me from getting on the trail.

Let’s go over some of the most common causes for pain in your ankles when hiking.

Note: These tips are for those who are feeling ankle pain that is not caused by a current or previous injury.

1. They Weren’t Broken in Properly

First and foremost, your hiking boots might not have been broken in properly, causing them to create pain.

Hiking boots are very sturdy shoes that are meant to provide a lot of support to your feet and ankles.

They’re typically pretty rigid and tough, which means that in order to comfortably wear them, you’re going to need to break them in.

If you just brought them home from the store, threw them on, and headed for the trail, that might be your problem.

My hiking boots that do not hurt my ankles because they were broken in.

If you haven’t properly broken them in, your feet could be paying for it.

The shoes will typically need a bit of time to soften up and fit to your feet.

Basic hiking boots might take less time and could be ready in a day or two.

But more rigid, leather boots could take up to a couple of weeks.

Below, in the FAQ section, I’ve added an explanation for how you should properly break in your boots to ensure that this isn’t the case.

2. They’re Too Small

Having boots that are too small can definitely cause some ankle pain because they may be squeezing your feet too tight.

One of the most important parts of hiking boots is the support that they provide, so if they’re too small, you won’t be getting that.

You could be walking on really uneven ground with boots that aren’t even properly doing their job.

This can cause pain because you need that support.

Boots that are too small also can cause rubbing on the backs of your ankles and heels which in turn can create blisters.

This can be treated by putting something such as moleskin over the blister or hot spot, but in the long run, it’ll just keep happening.

Finding out if your hiking boots are too small can be pretty easy and includes seeing if your feet feel squished.

If you find out that they are too small, you could try a shoe stretcher, but it may not work well because of how rigid hiking boots are.

You can also run into your local REI because they have experts that will be able to help let you know their thoughts.

3. They’re Too Big

On the other hand, if your hiking boots are too big, they can also cause issues with your ankles.

When your boots are too big, your feet will do a lot of sliding around, again, not getting the support that they need.

Without that support and the chance of them just flopping around, the boots are just going to cause more harm than good.

Especially when walking downhill or uphill, your feet may hit the fronts or backs of your shoes.

Your ankles may also rub the backs of the shoes, causing hot spots, blisters, and pain.

If your feet seem to be moving around a lot, you’re tripping over the boots, or you find a lot of blisters, they may be too big.

Overall, having hiking boots that are too big can be a recipe for disaster and should really be avoided if possible.

4. The Wrong Socks

This one seems a little bit silly, but really, if you aren’t wearing good socks for hiking, it can cause issues.

It mostly increases the chance of getting blisters and hot spots on the backs of your ankles, which is painful.

Socks that are meant for normal wear typically aren’t padded enough or don’t stay where you put them.

The Darn Tough socks that I wear on many of my hikes that protect my ankles.

Your socks could be slipping down into the boot, therefore allowing the back of the shoe to rub against your ankle.

If this is happening, read the FAQ section below where I give you advice on how to stop it.

Or, the boot itself could be rubbing a hole in the sock, also causing ankle pain.

I recommend wearing a pair of dedicated hiking socks such as Smartwool or Darn Tough.

These are built to be worn with hiking boots and have padding in the areas that they need to be padded in.

5. Not Enough Support

Having support in your hiking boots is really important and is one of the main reasons that people wear them as opposed to others.

When you’re walking on uneven ground, over rocks, and stepping on tree roots, your ankles will be twisting all over the place.

With the proper support in place, they won’t move as much and you’ll feel less pressure on them.

If you’re feeling like the ground that you’re walking on is a potential cause for your ankle pain, your boots could have too little support.

This could be caused by boots that are either too big or too small, ones that are past their prime, or just ones that aren’t fit for you.

Some people do great with short-style boots that have minimal ankle support, while others need that mid-calf size boot.

If you find that when you’re wearing shorter boots your ankles are hurting, it could mean that you mean more support from a higher boot.

6. Blisters and Hot Spots

Most of the factors for why your hiking boots hurt your ankles on this list could cause blisters and hot spots.

From the wrong socks, to too big or too small boots, to not breaking them in properly, unfortunately, it happens a lot.

Moleskin that can be used if you have blisters or hot spots.

You may be having ankle pain because a hot spot is developing on the back of your ankle.

This happens when something rubs on the skin, making it more prone to developing a blister.

Luckily, blisters can be treated pretty easily by using some moleskin or a bandage.

But if it happens repeatedly, you may need to change something with your boots.

7. Your Foots’s Shape

The last common problem for having hurting ankles on the hiking trail is just simply the shape of your foot.

A big reason that we try shoes on in the store before buying them is to make sure that they’re a good fit for us.

What works for someone else, might not work for you!

But even trying them on in the store doesn’t guarantee that they’ll feel just as great on the trail.

This means that unfortunately, the boot that you bought might just not work great for you.

It could be that your ankle bone sticks out further than others, you need more support, or your feet are two different lengths (this is common!).

Either way, this is something that can’t be changed, so you’ll need to just keep hunting until you’ve found “The One.”

Possible Solutions for Hurting Ankles

Now that you have a better idea on what might be causing that ankle pain that you’re experiencing, let’s go over some possible solutions.

Finding the Right Size

First of all, finding the right size boot for you is incredibly important to have a comfortable hike.

So if you see that your hiking boots are hurting your ankles, sizing could be a problem.

While you may have gone in and just grabbed your typical size, this may not have been the best bet.

Hiking boots and shoes can sometimes be sized differently and you may need to wear a different size than your everyday shoes.

This is why it’s so important to try them on in the store.

One thing to note is that sometimes feet can swell after a long day on the trail, so you should leve a little room for that.

You can read REI’s post about fitting boots here to help understand better how they should fit.

Use Moleskin

If you find that you’ve got any blisters or hot spots on the back of your ankles, give moleskin a try.

This soft, padded bandage provides a cushion for that spot and protects it from getting worse.

This can be a lifesaver when you’re in the middle of a hike and feel that pain onset.

I always keep one of these rolls in my hiking bag.

Try Different Socks

As I mentioned above, if your socks are slipping, being rubbed in the wrong spot, or don’t feel cushioned enough, try a new pair.

It could be causing pressure in your ankles if they aren’t cushioned enough.

I really love my Smartwool and Darn Tough socks because they have just enough cushion and they never slip.

Tieing Them Tighter

If there’s a potential that your shoes are too big for your feet, try tieing them tighter to make them more comfortable.

This might not be a long-term fix because if they’re too big, there’s not much you can do about it.

But at least temporarily, just tie them a bit tighter and see if that helps.

Re-Lace The Boots

Another thing that you can do with the laces is to try re-lacing the boots.

To give your ankles more support, begin lacing them as normal, and then add a knot at the base of the ankle cuff before finishing lacing.

A knot at the base of the ankle cuff of my boot to help with hurting.

This will hold the boots tighter on your foot, keep your ankle and heel from slipping as much, and will likely be more comfortable.

As with everything, this may not work for everyone, but it’s worth a shot.

Trying a New Pair

As much as it may suck to have to go back in and try out a new pair, sometimes that’s just what needs to be done.

I would leave this as a last resort and make sure that you’ve tried everything else before dropping more money.

But if you’re just not comfortable on the trail, you might just need to try something else.

Go into an REI and ask for help with a boot fitting to make sure you get a good pair that will fit you properly and be comfy.

If you do have to do this, try selling your gently used boots on Facebook Marketplace or through REI’s used gear program.


How Do You Break in Hiking Boots?

When you start breaking in your hiking boots, avoid those tips that tell you to soak them in cold water, etc.

These typically won’t work and are just temporary ways to stretch them.

Start by wearing your new boots around your house, with the socks that you’ll be wearing, and just get used to the feel of them.

Wear them outside a little bit, take your dog for a short walk, bring them to the grocery store, and just get them out and about.

These will help you get a really good feel for the boots without having to commit to a multi-mile hike.

After you’ve done this for a few days, bring them out on a short, easy trail that doesn’t have a ton of challenges.

Here, you’ll be able to note any problems such as tightness, pinching, or pain in your ankles.

After a few shorter hikes, head out for a longer one and see how those new boots do for your feet!

Tip: Don’t plan to add tons of weight to your pack right away because this will just hurt your feet even more.

How Should Hiking Boots Fit?

Hiking boots should fit on your feet snugly, but not be tight anywhere.

You should be able to slightly wiggle your toes, but your ankle should stay locked in place.

These factors are going to help to ensure a comfortable and supportive boot.

Why Are My Hiking Boots Hurting My Ankle Bone?

One reason why your hiking boots might be hurting your ankle bone is that they just are not the right fit for you.

Each person’s foot and ankle are different, and some of the boots may fit differently on different people.

Three people wearing hiking boots in a circle.
Photo by Emma Van Sant on Unsplash

The back of the boot may sit improperly on your foot and this could cause pain in the bone.

The best way to solve this is to just try a different pair of boots.

Another reason is that they are too small and your foot and ankle are being squeezed by the boot.

Why Do My Socks Keep Slipping in My Hiking Shoes?

Your socks may be slipping because they are too short or your boots are not tied tight enough.

First, try tieing your boots tighter to put more pressure on the sock to see if it stays up better.

If not, you may need to get a higher-length sock.

I like the ones that come up to about mid-ankle or mid-calf.

These tend to always stay up and I’ve never had issues with them slipping.

Having a specific pair of hiking socks also helps with this, because they are designed to stay on your foot during all of the movement that you do on the trail.

Why Do I Keep Getting Blisters From my Hiking Boots?

Blisters can be caused by boots that are too big or too small, your ankle sliding around, socks that are too thin, etc.

There are so many causes, but once you’ve got it pinpointed, you can treat it by fixing the main problem and preventing further blisters.

How Do I Prevent Blisters When Hiking?

One of the best ways to prevent blisters when hiking is to wear the proper socks and have boots that fit you right.

Boots that are too big or too small, as well as too thin of socks will cause blisters.

If you do find a blister, use some moleskin to prevent it from getting worse.

Is Ankle Support Necessary When Hiking?

Ankle support is one of the most important factors in choosing hiking boots.

Being on uneven ground and stepping over obstacles can hurt your ankles, so choose a pair with good support.

Wrap-Up: Hiking Boots Hurt My Ankles

There are many causes for hurting ankles when wearing a pair of boots, but some are common and can be fixed.

From boots that are the wrong size to just needing a new style, you should be able to find a fix for you.

Now that you have a better idea of why your hiking boots hurt your ankles, get out there and have a comfortable, pain-free hike!