Ask Me: How Do I Stop Getting Battered Toes When Hiking?


I know this is a really random question, but when descending mountain trails my big toes suffer immensely. Besides tying the laces up really tight, is there a trick to protecting them without losing a toenail or having them feel beat up?

Rexburg, ID

Hi Geoff,

That’s not an uncommon problem. It’s probably that your boots don’t fit quite right. Does your heel or midfoot move around at all when you hike? Does your heel slip even the slightest? Do your toes slam into the front of the boots?

If you have narrow feet or the boots are otherwise just kind of wide or big for your feet, and your feet slip even slightly, over the course of several miles your toes can take a beating—especially going downhill, of course. One way to check the fit is to see whether, when you tighten the laces up, those laces are snugged about as tight as you can make them; in other words, you wouldn’t be able to snug the laces tighter over the boot no matter what size your feet were. If you’re maxing out the lacing, the boots are too big for your feet.


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Long-term solution: Get boots that fit. Go to a shop where they know how to measure your feet and size boots correctly. Try on several different brands because they all fit differently, and by experimenting, you’ll find the brand that fits your feet best.

Short-term solution: Try custom insoles in your boots, replacing the typical thin, stock insoles that come with the boots. Decreasing the inside volume, to create a more snug fit, may prevent your feet from slipping. Also, I always carry some athletic tape when I’m hiking or backpacking, because it sticks to feet pretty well even when you get sweaty. As soon as I feel any rubbing or discomfort, I put two or three overlapping strips of tape over the spot. You could even preemptively tape around the toes that tend to get beat up before you start the hike.

Does that sound like it might help with your problem? Also, check out my “Pro Tips For Buying the Right Hiking Boots” and “7 Pro Tips For Avoiding Blisters.” See my reviews of backpacking boots and lighter hiking boots and shoes at The Big Outside.



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Thanks Mike! I appreciate the advice.

It usually happens when the toe slides and bangs into the front of the boot. I like the hiking boots I have so I am going to give the custom insoles and tape a whirl first.




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20 thoughts on “Ask Me: How Do I Stop Getting Battered Toes When Hiking?”

  1. Hi. For some folks, like me, the toenails rub the insoles of the shoe and that’s how irritation below the toenails occur. I believe that at certain points in the gait cycle that the toes are not extended or a neutral but are actually flexed and scraping the insoles. While I know what often occurs, I haven’t figured out how to fix it!

    • Hi Lisa,

      I think that’s not uncommon and I’m not sure whether this suggestion would help you, but you might look into getting metatarsal pads for your insoles. Have them stuck into place in a favorite pair of shoes at a shoe store that knows how to measure your foot and place the pads properly. I had that done for a different problem of my toes getting sore while hiking or running and the pads immediately remedied the problem mechanically by spreading my metatarsals. Maybe that will help.

      Good luck.

      • Thanks for responding. Good idea but I already have custom orthotics with the met pads due to metatarsalgia. They have been a lifesaver for my outdoor pursuits, but my toes continue to be argumentative and demanding of my attention. 😉

  2. Great Post, I have always had an issue with this. Once I found some boots that fit me good, I didn’t have this problem too much anymore.

  3. I’ve had the same problem with my toes getting beat up on the downhill. I have great fitting boots with custom insoles and I use a heel lock lacing technique but still had problems. I felt like my problem had to do with my gait and how hard my toes were striking. Now I cut the toe off a cheap pair of jell insoles and tape them underneath the toe of my orthotics to help absorb some of the impact of my toe strike when hiking downhill.

    • Interesting strategy, Cary, thanks for sharing that suggestion. I wonder whether your boots fit well for much of your feet, but less ideally in the forefoot. Trying on many different brands is the only way to ascertain that.

  4. No one has mentioned it, aside from the pedicure comment, but hikers must keep their toenails clipped. They need to be short enough that the toe itself takes the impact, not the toenail. This will help keep us from losing our toenails.

  5. You should try BodyGlide for your toes. I once tried to but it on only 1 foot to see the difference. After 12 miles, the one with Bodyglide was great and the small toes of the other one were slowly starting to hurt. I put it at the beginning of a hike and again at mid-hike. No more hurting toes.

  6. Useful information but I would also like to offer a suggestion.

    There are also techniques for lacing the midsection of your boots to help secure the lower part of your ankle to minimize the slipping toward the front of the shoe. Just Google “video of techniques to lace your hiking boots to prevent slipping” or similar wording. I’ve found some great ones and several years ago, I actually employed this technique to great advantage.

    • Hi Patricia, good suggestion. I sometimes find myself adjusting the lacing of my boots at various times during a hike, just to adjust to changing terrain and how the boots feel (also because laces may slowly loosen as you hike).

  7. THE blister prevention product to know is Tegaderm. It’s an ultra-thin, sticky, waterproof-breathable film used to cover surgical incisions, but 3M also makes it available at drug stores. When placed properly (no wrinkles, smooth edges on clean, dry skin) it won’t rub off throughout any but the longest day of hiking. It won’t leave an adhesive residue on your skin or cause “tape burns” like a lot of other adhesive products. The film is slick on the other side, so if something is moving around inside your boot, causing a hotspot, it will slide against that spot, lowering the friction and taking the heat out. My wife got notoriously bad heel blisters in any make or model of boot until I began pre-emptively taping them with Tegaderm. She has been blister free (100% blister free) since then.

    I promise I’m not a 3M rep… I’m pretty sure Tegaderm is patented and only made by 3M, but I wouldn’t buy any “similar” products. Dr. Scholls blister pads just rub right off, doing more harm than good. If you already have a blister, use 3M Nexcare bandages. They’re just Tegaderm with a non-adhesive pad. I always carrying larger Tegaderm films with larger non-adhesive pads that can be custom cut for any size wound, and they’ve come in quite handy with my accident prone 11 year-old son. He’s now 2/5 with backpacking trips needing stitches afterward.

  8. The book “Fixing your feet” was a lifesaver for me. The author even recommends getting a pedicure before a big trip. I tried that last summer, and it really helped. I also tape my toes when I’m going on a big downhill… they sometimes get cut by overlapping onto adjacent toenails.

  9. Another strategy is to adjust how tight the laces are for different areas of the foot/ankle. You can snug the laces moderately over the forefoot, then pass the ends of the laces over each other twice (repeating the first step in tying a bow twice, in the same direction), then snug the laces over the ankle tightly. This can give you more space in the front of the boot while keeping your ankle and heel firmly anchored.

    Having the ankle lacing really tight can get uncomfortable on rocky trails and may not be desirable for the entire day, but for long downhills, it can be worth the time to adjust/readjust laces.

    Postscript: I did this off and on for 20 years, depending on my boots at the time. About five years ago I finally found a boot brand that is ideal for my feet. So never give up hope on finding your perfect boot!

    • Thanks, Laura, that’s a good suggestion and a technique I’ve used with success, too. I’m glad you pointed out that it’s mainly for downhills; I almost always wind up re-lacing my shoes or boots when I start a long descent, even without having any problems.

      Another reader suggested on Facebook that it helps simply trimming toenails before a hike.