Have you been where I’m standing? That point on the hiking trail where your toes just hurt so much you aren’t sure you can move another inch. I have, and I remember it too well (unfortunately).
The hike was going well, and I was feeling great that day. I made it to the top of the mountain, and then it really started. My toes were hurting more and more and more each step I took down the mountain.
What was supposed to be an enjoyable hike turned into a nightmare with blackened toenails, really ouchy toes, and swollen feet.
The cause of it all? I bought hiking boots without an ounce of consideration for how much toe room I need.
I’d like to spare you from such a painful experience, so learn all about how much toe room in hiking boots.
How Much Toe Room Do You Need in Hiking Boots?
You need 0.5–1 thumb or 1–2 finger widths of toe room in your hiking boots, so you need to buy hiking boots that are half a size to 2 sizes bigger than your normal shoes. Ultimately, your hiking boots should be snug and comfortable, and how much toe room in your hiking boots depends on the types of hiking boots, the terrain you hike, swollen feet, sock thickness, and if you can wiggle your toes.
Toe room in hiking boots is often a factor that isn’t considered when buying hiking boots. I made this mistake when I got my first pair of Merrells, and you know the rest of it. I simply assumed I could buy the same size hiking boot as I wear for my every-day shoes.
Looking back, I was quite lucky.
Hiking boots that don’t have enough toe space for your toes can cause even worse problems than blackened toenails, painful toes, and swollen feet. Other foot health impacts of too little toe space in a hiking boot include:
If any of these toe ailments are left untreated, it can lead to serious complications and hefty medical bills. These are things I want to avoid, and I’m sure you do as well (plus, toe ailments on a hike can ruin the experience).
6 Tips for Making Sure You Have Enough Toe Room in Your Hiking Boots
If you are scared and worried after reading what too little hiking boot toe room can do, don’t be.
I’ve got all the details you need to ensure you have enough toe room in your hiking boots and to prevent toe injuries.
1. Consider the Hiking Boot Size and Type
You may need more or less toe space depending on the type of hiking boot you buy and hiking terrain you go hiking on.
You don’t need as much toe room for flat terrain where there is a clear hiking path to follow. I generally buy standard hiking boots that are half a size larger than my normal shoe size for easy hikes.
The drawback with “less toe room” is that I can only wear thin socks with those boots.
But if you mostly hike on all kinds of terrain, where there are and aren’t paths, you should preferably buy hiking boots a full size bigger than your normal everyday shoes. This ensures you can wear thin or thick socks and have enough toe room for your little piggies not to feel squashed. This is what I do.
Some hikers prefer to buy hiking boots up to 2 sizes bigger than their normal shoe size.
No matter what size hiking boot you buy, also look at the kind of boot. Winter hiking boots have fur padding inside. So if you buy winter hiking boots at half a size bigger, you may not have adequate toe room, but then with summer hiking boots, that half an inch bigger size will be perfect.
2. Thin or Thick Hiking Socks
The hiking socks you normally go hiking with have a big impact on how much toe room there is in your hiking boots.
Thin socks mean you have more toe room, while the thicker your hiking sock, the less toe room you may have. Also look at whether you’re hiking sock – thin or thick ones – have a reinforced toe area. This requires extra space, impacting the toe room available in the boot.
For example, I like to wear thicker wool socks for long, strenuous hikes because the wool helps regulate my feet’s temperature, wicking moisture and sweat away. Wool socks also help my toes and feet to not get blisters, which is something I struggle with at the moment.
With the thicker wool sock, I need to make sure my boot’s size allows enough toe room so I don’t get calluses, blisters, and other toe ailments. So when I try out hiking boots at the outdoor shop, I take my hiking socks that I most often wear with me. I try the boots on after I put my hiking socks on.
3. Check Toe Room
Once I’ve got my hiking socks on and a pair of hiking boots, I check the toe room. While I can just press my finger down on the space in front of my big toe and front of the shoe with a pair of sneakers, for example, that isn’t possible with stiff leather hiking boots or those that feature reinforced toe areas.
So to check the toe room in the hiking boots, I slide my foot as forward as I can in the boots, until my big toe touches the front of the boot. There should be a space between my heel and the back of the hiking boot, so I insert my thumb or index finger to see how much toe space there is.
Ideally, I want to fit between one and two fingers inside, and then I know there’s enough toe space.
4. Do the Downhill Test
If the outdoor shop you are buying the hiking boots from has a ramp, take the boots for a test drive so to speak. Walk up and down the ramp, and especially note the toe room and how cramped (or not) your toes feel when you walk down the ramp.
While the ramp may not be as steep as what you experience in real life when hiking outdoors, it does give you an indication if you need more or less toe room.
5. Try Hiking Boots on Later in the Day
If you’ve been on your feet for most of the day, chances are they are a bit or quite swollen by mid to late afternoon. This is the time when I go to the outdoor shop if I need a new pair of hiking boots so I can try them on with swollen feet and my hiking socks.
Fitting the hiking boots later in the day and seeing how much toe room there is gives me a more accurate indication of toe room space.
I’m sure you may have experienced that your feet swell as you tick off those miles on the hiking trail. If the toe room was more than enough in the morning before the hike, by lunchtime on the trail, you wonder if there was any toe room to begin with (as your feet are swollen by now and you feel how achy your toes are).
6. Do the Wall-Kick Test
If there isn’t a ramp at the outdoor shop, you can also do the wall-kick test.
Gently kick a wall with the hiking boot on and use the tips of your toes as if stubbing your toes. If your toes can feel the impact or hurt when you kick the wall, then you know there isn’t enough toe room in the hiking boot. The wall-kick simulates walking downhill, so you’ll know if your toes will feel crushed when you hike downhill.
Final Thoughts on Toe Room in Hiking Boots
The next time you fit a pair of hiking boots, ensure you have enough toe room so you don’t have to worry about blisters, corns, ulcers, black toenails… and more when out on the hiking trail.
Follow the six tips I’ve shared to make sure you have adequate toe room in your new hiking boots – primarily giving yourself a half and one thumb’s width between your longest toe and the front of the boot.
The purpose of going on a hike is to enjoy nature and fresh air, not be miserable because we are in pain… especially when that pain is nearly 100% preventable. Check out our ultimate guide on hiking essentials to get you started on the right path!