A pair of hiking boots sitting on cement that may cause toes to hurt if they don't fit properly.

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

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Have you been having some toe pain while out on the hiking trail and can’t figure out what’s going on?

Walking with hurt toes can be extremely annoying and of course, painful.

So what can you do about it? Are there ways to fix it? And why do your hiking boots hurt your toes?

In this post, I’ll be going over a few possible reasons for pain in your toes while you’re on the hiking trail.

Why Do My Hiking Boots Hurt My Toes?

1. Your Boots Are Too Big

One of the first reasons that you could be having toe pain is that your boots are too big or just don’t fit properly.

Boots that are too big on your feet can cause your feet to do a lot of sliding around, therefore jamming against the sidewalls of the boot.

My hiking boots that I am wearing on a field of grass.

Especially as you walk either uphill or downhill, you may notice that your toes are jamming into the end.

You’ll then likely have a lot of pain in your toes or toenails because they are constantly being “stubbed.”

This is typically caused by boots that aren’t properly sized.

When wearing it, you should have just enough room to wiggle your toes and about 1 finger-width of space between your heel and the boot.

You can read my post here to help determine if your boots are too big.

2. Your Boots Are Too Small

On the other hand, your hiking boots may be too small for your feet, which can also cause toe pain.

Without enough room in the toe box (the area where your toes sit in the shoe), your toes may overlap one another, which can cause blisters and pain.

Overlapping toes might feel as if there’s something stuck in your shoe and you don’t have enough room to wiggle them around.

If you have toenails that are longer, it can also cause issues because those toenails could cut into your other toes.

Because your boots are too small, your toes may also be jammed into the ends of the boots, even when standing on flat ground.

To find out if your shoes are too small, read my post here.

3. The Wrong Lacing

Whether your boots are too big, too small, or fit just right, there could be pain caused by improper lacing.

Some people can get away with just the classic lacing techniques that our boots come with, while others need something different.

For boots that are too big, one of the most common ways to keep your foot from sliding around is to use a runner’s loop.

The runner’s loop creates kind of a pulley system that also helps keep your heel locked in place, preventing it from sliding forward.

Watch the video below on how to create a runner’s knot!

If your boots are too small, you may need to loosen the laces to prevent your toes from being squished together in the toe box.

A common technique used to lace shoes that are too small is by skipping the first eyelet or two to allow more stretching for the toes.

Unfortatunetly, you don’t want to do this long-term because your shoes may not be supporting your feet as well.

But temporarily, this can be really helpful! Watch the video below to learn more about this lacing technique.

4. Your Socks Are Bunched

Another common reason why your toes may hurt in your hiking shoes is that your socks are bunched up.

If you’re wearing socks that are too big for you or aren’t meant for hiking, this could be a problem.

Socks that are too big tend to really bunch at the toes or the heels, potentially causing blisters.

Three people wearing hiking boots while walking across a large pile of rocks.
Photo by Sean Brookes on Unsplash

Socks that aren’t meant for hiking oftentimes have seams in places that could rub on your feet and don’t have enough padding.

You should be wearing a pair of socks with enough padding to protect your feet but not cause them to be sweaty.

I recommend wearing a pair of socks from either Darn Tough or Smartwool because their socks are made for hiking.

They will stay in place all day long and won’t cause hurting toes.

5. You’re Carrying Too Much Weight

If you’re noticing pain in your toes or even in your entire foot, you may be carrying too much weight for the shoes you have on.

The heavier the pack, the sturdier and more durable the shoes that you’ll need.

So if you’re out backpacking with a really heavy pack, you’re going to want a pair of boots that can support it!

Carrying too much weight can cause your toes to jam into the ends of the boots because you’re working too hard for the load.

This can cause a lot of pain not just in your toes, but also in your ankles.

6. Your Toenails Are Too Long

I know that this one might seem kind of funny, but it can seriously affect your comfort level out on the trail!

Having toenails that stick out farther than the edge of your toe can cause pain.

These toenails may be jamming into the edge of your boot, therefore jamming back into your toe.

Another problem that this may cause is the potential cutting of your other toes.

If your toes are touching at all and a few of the nails are long, they may unfortunately end up cutting your skin.

This can also cause black toenails which just isn’t any fun at all.

A simple fix for this is to just keep those toenails trimmed during hiking season!

7. The Trail Has a Lot of Elevation Change

The cause of your toe pain may actually not have anything to do with your boots at all and may have everything to do with the trail!

Especially hilly trails can cause your feet to slide a bit forward, even if your boots fit properly and are laced right.

If most of the trail that you’re on is going downhill, this may be your problem.

Test your boots out on a flatter trail and see if the issue goes away.

While you can do things to prevent this (properly sized boots and heel lock lacing techniques), sometimes it just happens.

Solutions For Hurting Toes

Below you’ll find a couple of solutions that you can use to try and help your hurting toes.

Some of these may work for some people and they may not work for others.

You might need to test out a couple of them to see if you can find one that works the best for you!

Tighten Your Laces

The first thing that you can try is tightening your laces.

If your shoes are too big and your feet are sliding all around, you may just need to tighten them up to avoid that slipping.

This could be a good way to stop your toes from jamming into the ends of the boots or from slipping back into the heel.

You can also add a second pair of socks to make boots that are too big fit your feet better.

For a proper fit, your heel should be “locked” in place and your toes should just be able to slightly wiggle.

Loosen Your Laces

On the flip side, if your boots are too small, you may consider loosening the laces to allow more room for your feet to breathe.

Boots that are too small are hard to work with and you may find yourself just needing a new pair altogether.

A hiking boot with a lacing technique that loosens the toe box to relieve pain and hurting in the toes.

But, give yourself a chance and try loosening them to save money.

You can use the lacing technique in the video above to give more room in the toe box.

Re-Lace The Boots

As I mentioned above, if your toes are hurting, you may consider re-lacing the boots to try to relieve that pain.

The best option for replacing will depend on how your boots fit.

If they’re too big, try using a heel-locking technique such as a runner’s loop.

This will keep your foot from sliding around and forward in the boot.

If your shoes are too small, consider skipping a few eyelets at the start of the laces to allow more space in the toe box.

Wear the Proper Socks

Sock bunching is another common cause of toe pain, so wearing the proper socks can really help out with this problem.

If your socks have seams around the toes, avoid wearing them.

These can create pressure points which may turn into blisters or hot spots.

You should also avoid low-cut socks that might have a tendency to slip below your boot.

Get yourself a pair of socks that are specifically designed for hiking, such as Smartwool or Darn Tough.

These are designed to be worn outdoors and on the trail, so they won’t bunch up in your boots.

Get a Different Size

if you’ve tried everything and your toes still hurt, unfortunately, it may be time to invest in a new pair of boots.

If your boots aren’t the proper size, it can really do a number on your feet, causing constant pain, so it’s important to have the right size.

A person wearing hiking boots while standing on a rock with a mountain in the background.
Photo by Ali Kazal on Unsplash

I recommend heading into your local REI and having them help you with a boot fitting because they really know how to do it!

After all, they’re the experts.

And if you find yourself needing to purchase a new pair, you can list your old ones for sale on places such as Poshmark and Facebook Marketplace.

How Should Hiking Boots Fit?

When you’re searching for your perfect pair of hiking boots, it’s important to ensure they fit properly.

Not only will this provide you with the most comfort and support, but will also help prevent pain in your ankles, toes, or feet in general.

Your boots should fit snugly around your feet, but shouldn’t be tight anywhere, as this can be very uncomfortable.

Your toes should be able to slightly wiggle, and your heel should feel locked in place when walking.

Be sure to test them around the store to ensure that they properly fit you before digging out your credit card.

As I mentioned above, the employees at REI are amazing and can really help you ensure that you have the right pair.

FAQs: Toe Pain When Hiking

Should My Hiking Boots Be Comfortable?

Yes, your hiking boots should be comfortable because you’re going to be walking many miles in them!
It wouldn’t be very fun to be out on the trail in something uncomfy.
When you first bring them home, they may be slightly uncomfortable, But once you’ve broken them in, they should be comfy.

Do Hiking Boots Need to Be Broken In?

This question can be controversial as many people disagree, but yes, hiking boots should be broken in.
Some may need it less than others, but to ensure that you’re the most comfortable on the trail, break your boots in.
You can read more about this in my post here.

Should My Toes Touch the End of My Hiking Boots?

No, just like with normal shoes, your toes should not touch the end of your boots.
Leave about 1/2 inch of room between the end of your longest toe and the end of the boot.

Why Do My Toenails Hurt From Hiking?

Your toenails may hurt after going for a hike if they are being jammed into the end of your boots.
with boots that are too small or too big, your toes may make contact with the boot, causing pain.
They may also hurt if the nails are too long and are hitting anything.

Why Do I Have Pain Under My Toes When Hiking?

Placing too much pressure on the ball of your foot may cause pain underneath your toes when hiking.
Try not to have too heavy of a bag, especially with les-supportive shoes, and remember to take breaks often!

Wrap-Up: Why Do My Hiking Boots Hurt My Toes?

If you’re having toe pain while you’re on the hiking trail, chances are, you’re not alone.

There are multiple things that can cause these issues, and many of them can be fixed with some pretty simple solutions.

So if you’re wondering, why do my hiking boots hurt my toes, then you’re in the right place and I hope that one of these solutions helps you fix it.