When I first started out hiking, I made a few rookie mistakes. One of these was that my hiking boots didn’t have enough toe room. The result? Blackened toenails.
My big toe specifically kept hitting the front of my boot when I hiked downhill. And let me tell you, it hurts a lot when your toes repeatedly keep bumping into the front of your boot.
I went to my local outdoor sport shop and asked for some professional help. What I learned about toe space in hiking boots was most interesting.
… And if you are worried about my toes, they’re fine now since my new hiking boots give them enough space!
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How Much Toe Room Should You Have in Your Hiking Boots?
How much toe room you need in your pair of hiking boots primarily depends on your comfort factor, so there isn’t a clear-cut answer. However, many hikers and experts recommend that there should be 1-2 finger widths, or about one and a half of a thumb width’s space between your toes and the front of your hiking boot. As such, you may end up buying hiking boots that are at least half or a full size bigger than what you normally wear. A key factor to buying your hiking boots in the right size with sufficient toe room is to wear your hiking socks, which are normally thicker than normal socks, when you fit hiking boots at the shop.
The Toe-Wiggle Test Myth
Many first-time or wanna-be hikers think that they can simply try the toe-wiggle test when trying on hiking boots, and if there is enough toe-wiggle room, buy the boots.
So yes, I do want to have wiggle room for my toes in my hiking boots, but simply ensuring there is space to do this isn’t enough.
I recommend that hikers need to properly fit their hiking boots to check for toe room. But how?
How to Determine If There Is Enough Toe Room in Your Hiking Boots
Finding out if I have enough toe room starts with properly fitting my hiking boots.
Step 1: Fit Hiking Boots Later in the Day
When I go hiking boot shopping, I generally go late afternoon or even early evening if the shop stays open a bit longer.
The reason I do this is that my feet tend to be swollen after doing many chores during the day, and this emulates what my feet do after having hiked a few miles.
Swollen feet take up more space, about half a shoe size, in the hiking boot. And boots that fit too tightly all around and that don’t have enough toe room only ensure I dislike my hike and my feet would then become sore before I’ve reached the half-way point.
Step 2: Wear Your Hiking Socks
While there are a variety of socks I can wear while hiking, I generally prefer a wool sock that’s thicker than my other socks. Wool helps regulate the temperature of my feet and it helps wick moisture and sweat away, ensuring my feet don’t develop blisters and feel comfortable for longer.
If I fit hiking boots with thin socks, the amount of room in the boots will be quite a bit more when compared to wearing thicker, woolen socks.
My socks also have a reinforced toe area, so this adds even more thickness there. Thus, when I fit boots for hiking, I make sure to first put on a pair of my trusted hiking socks, and then I try on the boots.
Step 3: Check the Toe Room
Most hiking boots are reinforced at the front so that when you “stub your toe” (or should it be boot here?) against a rock or you stumble over something on the hiking trail, your toes are protected.
This makes checking for toe room at the shop quite challenging as you can’t just press down and feel how much space there is.
Once I have the hiking boots on (with my hiking socks, of course), I slide my foot forward until my toes touch the front of the boot. I then check the space between my heel and the back of the boot, or I ask a friendly salesperson to lend a hand.
If one to two finger widths can fit in this space between the back end of the boot and my heel, I know that I have the right amount of toe room and this is what is most comfortable for me. If the space is less, I need to try on a bigger size boot, and if there is too much space, I opt for a smaller boot size.
Step 4: Walk Downhill
If I’m trying on a pair of hiking boots at the shop, I can’t exactly tell the salesperson I need to go hike and try them on downhill (even though I’d love to do this one day, just to see their reaction!).
The shop where I usually buy my hiking boots has a ramp, so while I fit the boots, I go for a little uphill and downhill test drive.
This gives me a good indication of how the boots will feel when I’m out and about on the hiking trail, going up and down a mountain. While it doesn’t quite take rough terrain into account, I haven’t yet found any problems since I know there is adequate toe room.
How Much Toe Room in Hiking Boots FAQs
Should hiking boots have toe room?
Hiking boots should have sufficient toe room. Experts recommend that there should be space for one and a half thumb widths to ensure your toes don’t touch the front of your boot, especially when hiking downhill. If there isn’t enough toe room, your toenails could turn black.
Should hiking boots be a size bigger?
It is recommended that hiking boots should be a full size or even half a size bigger than the normal shoes you wear. This helps ensure adequate toe room in the front of your boots, and with many hikers wearing thicker socks, the extra space in the boots is handy.
The Final Toe
Many hikers underestimate the importance of toe room in hiking boots, and I used to be one of them. The results were a painful hike, sore feet, and blackened toenails.
I have thankfully managed to avoid these after learning more about what is sufficient toe room when you hike in hiking boots. Now when I go shopping for new hiking boots, I go late in the afternoon for my fitting.
I make sure I wear my thick hiking socks that are comfortable and I measure how much toe space there is. I prefer going to a shop where there’s a ramp so I can “test” out my boots and how they feel walking down the ramp.