Why do my Toes hurt when Hiking

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Hiking is fun but when your toes and feet hurt it can give a whole new perspective on how far is too far and if the effort is worth the beautiful view or the accomplishment of achieving your goals.

In this article I am going to discuss why your toes are hurting when hiking and tips on how to resolve or prevent the problem.

According to Diane from Hiking for Her “your pack could be too heavy”

How heavy is your pack?

It’s possible that you’re carrying too much weight for what you’re wearing on your feet. It is also a possibility that your footwear is too heavy.

You can either change your shoes for example switch to boots with sturdy arches if you are not wearing it yet. If you however prefer to use trail shoes than you will have to carry less or change to light weighted gear.

Whereas Outdoor Herbivore Blog claimed that “you’re lacing technique for your shoes could play a role”

Incorrect lacing can cause your foot to slide forward on steep descents, causing your toes to bang into the front toe box and bruise.

There are different lacing techniques for example the overland technique will help hold your foot securely toward the heel of your boot to prevent foot sliding.

It acts as an anchor so that you can adjust the tension levels between your foot and ankle. This method also works if you have a narrow heel or your boots don’t fit quite right.

There are different lacing techniques for trail shoes and boots when going downhill.

Boots: There is the tie locking overhand knots between the eyelets or lace hooks. So lace overhand knots all the way up the boot.

I prefer the lacing up until the middle of the boot and than I double tie it and than lace it up further using overland knots and at the top I double tie it again,

Trail Shoes: The last eyelet of the shoe is usually a parallel set. Make a loop by threading the lace through both eyelets and bring the lace underneath the loop. Repeat for the other side. Tie the shoes as usual. This last loop is very important for preventing foot slippage, especially if you have a narrow foot or heel. Tightening in the loop provides improved tightening and stability.

Erik from Blackwoodpress believed that “you need to take frequent rest breaks”

Hiking in hot weather, uneven terrain, or over long distances your feet will probably tend to swell and throb some. This happens when blood flows to your feet in response to the microscopic injuries that occur every time you slam them into the ground. To counteract this effect Erik likes to take frequent “shoes off, feet up” rest breaks.

There is nothing like cold water on tired feet and I definitely recommend it as well, if you are close to a river and taking a break, take off those shoes and socks and relax them a little in the water. Just remember to dry them again before putting them back in your shoes.

If there is no water or you don’t want to get your feet wet, just put your feet up (elevate) a bit even if it is against your back pack so that the blood can flow in the other direction as well, this can help with swelling as well.

Rangetoreel suggested that “your experience level or hiking could play a role”

Naturally beginners are going to have a little of inflammation after a long hike. It’s just their body’s way of protecting itself after a long grueling hike.

There is also the technique issue as with all sports, technique plays a role in hiking as well. There is the before hiking training although hiking is an exercise it is always better to do hiking exercises before you go on that big hike. These exercise will not only help with your technique but enjoying your hike more. Here is my link to 3 easy exercises to do.

Do not ignore blisters and nail problems but for beginners make sure you apply heat and ice after a long day and take something for the swelling.

Mike Peattie mentioned that “hiking poles can also have an influence in hurting toes”

You can brace each step down with a pole, and vastly reduce the force with which you hit the ground.

Hiking poles are not just for old people in fact I would recommend them as well, I also use hiking poles especially going downhill, they not only help with reducing the force for my feet when hitting the ground but also for my hips and back.

To tell the truth, I sometimes use them going uphill. Hiking poles are wonderful when you have to walk on uneven ground for example crossing a river and moving from rock to rock or on small peddles.

Camping hiking necessities suggested “that untrimmed toenails could also be a factor”

If you keep big toenails, wearing fitting hiking boots is going to hurt them. They will be protruding to the front and that means that any time your foot slides forward a little, the toenails get into contact with the boot.

Therefore, keep the nails as short as possible. If you let them stay too long, they will be at risk of being pushed inward or breaking. Both experiences are painful. To prevent bruised toenails from walking, trim the nails.

It’s better to cut them in a round shape than to leave sharp edges.

From my research Socks play a big role as well and wearing the right socks can make the difference

It is important to remember that not all socks are equal!

Thinking about hiking socks I get that image of a thick Khaki wool sock. You know that one that has “hiking” written on the top of the sock. Just by looking at it, you anticipate the inconvenience to get it in your boot and the itching. Let’s face it, you bought the boot first, hopefully halve a number bigger to anticipate the socks…

You put in memory foam comfort insole because why use anything else than the best?

Now you have to get the right socks because if your feet move too much in your shoes, you can get blisters and your toes can hurt. Or if your feet get wet from sweating or swells too much because of the heat when hiking. Socks is the answer to most of these questions.

Hiking is fun and so should your socks be as well.

It is important to remember that this is about comfort but nobody said that hiking socks should be boring!

Good Hiking Socks should have the following 5 attributes:

1. Must be comfortable.

2. Must keep feet dry.

3. Must provide support against high impact areas like toes and heels.

4. Must have arch support to reduce inflammation.

5. Should be durable.

5 Attributes

What socks to get?

Fabric plays an import role:

Hiking socks are normally made out of wool because wool wicks moisture away from the skin, helping keep you cooler and drier.

Merino wool in hot humid weather doesn’t wilt or wrinkle like cotton and linen. Wool keeps its insulating properties while wet, which is perfect for sweaty feet. Hiking socks should keep your feet dry, as blisters love wet, hot feet in shoes.

You also get hiking socks made out of combination of wool and other fabrics like nylon and polypropylene. There is also hiking socks without wool and these socks normally has a combination of nylon, polypropylene. Or Lycra or even made out of bamboo.

As long as the hiking socks that you are using is not cotton than you should be fine. Cotton absorbs moisture and takes forever to dry in fact you should stay away from Cotton when hiking which includes clothes as well.

Take into consideration that you’re hiking socks are seasonal meaning you will use different socks in cool and wet weather than in hot humid weather.

Hiking socks can be thick or thin again this depends on the hike your are doing as well as on the season. Thin light socks are the best hiking socks for warm days or on short easy trails.

Mid-thickness socks are best for tougher hikes but where it is still reasonably warm.

Thick socks are the best hiking sock for tough hikes and colder temperatures.

Seamless is handy:

Hiking socks or for that matter all socks should fit comfortable on your feet. Putting your socked foot inside your boot you should not feel the seams.

There should be no friction on the inside of your boot. Seams are a guaranteed way for me to get blisters so I prefer seamless socks but I have this nice pair of socks that have seams so I turn the socks over so that the inside is outside. Works like a charm.

Good fit:

Hiking socks must fit and should provide support against high impact areas like toes and heels. Ever went on a hike and your lost a toe nail or your toes were blue and hurting? Not fun and easy enough to prevent. Heels take a lot of our weight and should be Cushioned even if you use an insole to assist with these problem areas.

Arch support:

Hiking socks should have arch support, meaning it should have a slight compression to promote blood flow and circulation and this will reduce inflammation.

Compression socks offer proper alignment and stability it helps with injury prevention and shock absorption. This is not just for people with flat feet.

Durability:

Hiking socks should be durable, it shouldn’t tear and should dry quickly. Hiking socks should be light and you should expect to get a few seasons out of them.

There are socks with guarantees out there and you should at least buy one pair to test it out.

You will notice that I did not put a price as part of my “attributes” because hiking socks can be expensive in comparison to other socks but this will be a buy your feet will thank your wallet for.

Don’t be stingy, there are hiking socks out there that is not so expensive and with a little of research you should find a brand that fits you and your needs.

Caring For Your Hiking Socks:

On the trail you can keep your socks clean to extend their life (and save your nose). Cleaning your socks will get rid of debris and bacteria both. This helps the sock live longer by preventing breakdown of fibers.

Additionally, a clean sock is a lot less likely to give you an infected blister. If you’re dealing with blisters keeping them clean is critical to staving off infection and clean socks mean happier blisters.

To wash your socks on the trail (or any garment, really) use a gallon Ziploc bag with a few drops of Dr. Bronner’s soap and a decent amount of water. Put a few pairs of socks in there and shake them vigorously until that water turns nasty colors. Dump the water, rinse the socks, and hang them from your backpack to dry!

A synthetic blend only sock has very little in the way of care, just wash as you would anything else and toss in the dryer.

Synthetics don’t suffer from pilling like Merino wool.

Taking in consideration the 5 attributes lets add “funky” to the mix.

What is funky hiking socks?

Funky socks or “fun socks” makes the world a better, kinder and more colorful place. It makes for great unusual gift and taking the “boring” out of giving socks for her or his birthday or even Christmas. (That’s a tip there, I know you’re welcome)

Funky socks can express your individuality, it is unique, cool and can even be crazy.

Funky Hiking Socks give a new perception to the concept of hiking socks, it can even be revolutionary.

Where can you find funky hiking socks?

Everywhere, this is about you as long as you take the 5 attributes of a good hiking sock in consideration.

However there are a few good places to look:

The Heatstuff store on Amazon has some nice colourful Hiking crew socks, they have moisture control, soft and has reinforced heels and toes.

Enerwear store has socks that are designed for the worst conditions, it is a wool blended sock with cushion support with reinforced heel and toe.

Versus has the nicest popcorn socks or even yellow and blue bananas socks. These socks have seamless toes, made from moisture wicking material, cushioned heel and toe and arch support.

Funky Hiking Socks

Heatuff Women's Hiking Crew Socks
FULL CUSHIONED SOLE
REINFORCED HEELS & TOES
MOISTURER CONTROL AND VENTILATION
Enerwear Merino Wool Blended Outdoor Walking Socks
MADE OF HIGH QUALITY WOOL
FULLY CUSHIONED
REINFORCED HEELS & TOES
EXTREME WEATHER
Versus Popcorn SocksFunky socksMOISTURE WICKING MATERIAL
SEAMLESS TOE
CUSHIONED HEEL AND TOE
ARCH SUPPORT

How to prevent or relieve your Toes from hurting while Hiking?

1. Make sure you have the correct shoes and lace them correctly as well.

2. Change the insoles of you’re hiking boots to a thicker or more durable insole depending on the hike you are going to take.

3. Take frequent rest breaks to save your feet.

4. Don’t over pack your backpack, weight plays an important role.

5. Practice the correct techniques when going downhill or when using hiking polls.

6. Buy the correct socks.

7. Trim your toe nails.

In this case I believe that prevention is better than cure unfortunately it could also be a case where you will just have to test what works best for you. I would suggest following the seven steps on how to prevent your toes from hurting and than just tweak them as you go on you’re hiking adventures.

Do you have any other tips for when toes hurt and have you ever hiked in a pair of funky socks?

Let’s have some fun!

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18 thoughts on “Why do my Toes hurt when Hiking”

  1. Hey Cornelia,

    What a fascinating and yet informative piece you have here on why toes hurt while hiking:)

    These are all perfectly good explanations that will certainly be useful. Personally, I know I need to pay attention to my toe nails as I’m guilty of not trimming them regularly. Yet, as you say, if they get too long and keep pushing against the boot, they are at the risk of being pushed inward or breaking which is painful.

    Again, lots of really interesting content here and by far my most favourite line of yours is, “It is important to remember that not all socks are equal!” 🙂 Brilliant!

    Cheers
    Femi

  2. Hi Cornelia, I am hiking quite a lot, and I agree very much with you. It is important to buy perfect shoes; otherwise, it is hurting very much while walking, especially on hard or stony paths. I always wear wooly socks, 100 % wool, that are really the best for hikers. Wearing a backpack, we need to have good shoes and socks. However, I had many times blisters or a bleeding heel, a reason to have always a bag containing wound patches and other materials to take care of wounds. Never forget these things. I love your article; you give excellent advice! Thank you very much!

    1. Hi Sylvia, thank you for taking the time to comment. You can’t go wrong with wool socks. You are right it is good practice to always have a first aid kit handy.

  3. I can’t agree more. Besides the proper shoes, socks play a big part in providing a comfort to your feet during your trails. I enjoy long treks and I can feel the difference when I wear a thicker sock compared to the really thin ones.

    I liked that you shared about lacing, because I had no idea that would be an important aspect as well. It is really about the small details! Amazing.

    Thanks for sharing this. Cheers.

    SAM

    1. Hi Sam, thanks for taking the time to comment. Yes, shoe lacing can play a big role and to think that if you are experiencing a problem it could be resolved with lacing your shoes differently.

  4. Hi Cornelia
    Nice article, I am a trail runner and avid hiker and totally agree with you that lacing is a fundamental aspect.
    I also ensure that I have proper socks so as to be comfortable; hiking often last for hours and having the inappropriate equipments can be very painful.
    Cheers:)

    1. Hi Arno, thank you for the taking the time to comment. Trail running is a lot of fun and having the right equipment makes everything more enjoyable.

  5. Hey Cornelia,

    Another great article. I read an article of yours a while ago that inspired me to arrange a hike with friends after our lockdown restrictions ease here in the UK. They are going to be easing towards the middle/end of April, so we have arranged out hike for May time.

    It’s great that I have came across this article because it will help us in taking care of our backpacks, boots and socks so our feet don’t get hurt. I will share this article with my hiking friends so they know exactly what to do too.

    I will let you know how our hike goes.

    Thank you for sharing and for the inspiration.

    All the best,

    Tom

  6. I love hiking and do go for trek however never really paid attention to footwears. This is such an informative post….I have never learned so much about socks and never knew they play such an vital role while hiking. Even the information you provided on “lacing techniques” to secure the foot was new to me.

    I have a question question for you: My toenails often turn black after hiking, is my shoe the reason for the same ?

    1. Hi Satz, thank you for taking the time to comment. Black toenails can often be because your feet are moving a lot in the shoe, meaning there is a lot of banging of the toe against the shoe especially going downhill. Overhand lacing should help with this as it secure the foot more and there is less movement in the shoe.

  7. I love wearing funky hiking socks! And, I must be getting older, because I love getting a fun pair of socks as a gift. I usually wear Smartwool socks, but I really like the bright colors of the Heatuff brand.

    My hikes are shorter these days since I have kids, but I do notice wearing quality shoes and socks helps my feet. For summer hiking, do you suggest still wearing the higher cut socks or do you have any lower cut socks you recommend?

  8. Hi Cornelia,

    Thanks for sharing these unknown facts that could be reasons for hurting toes while hiking.
    Hiking toe problems can sideline ambitious hiking plans and gravity, friction, heat, and pressure can affect a lot.

    Appreciate you for addressing this issue and sharing your detailed research content with us.
    Shoes/boots have a big impact on toes while hiking its important to wear suitable shoes that support and provide a tight grip to feet as it helps balance while hiking, surprised how even socks and their material plays a vital role.

    Your article has resolved all issues relating to hurting toes during hiking and made hiking much more enjoyable and risk-free.

    Great info. Thanks
    Cheers!

  9. Hi Cornelia,
    It’s great that I have come across this article because it will help us in taking care of our backpacks, boots and socks so our feet don’t get hurt. I will share this article with my hiking friends so they know exactly what to do too.

    Appreciate you for addressing this issue and sharing your detailed research content with us.
    Shoes/boots have a big impact on toes while hiking its important to wear suitable shoes that support and provide a tight grip to feet as it helps balance while hiking, surprised how even socks and their material plays a vital role.

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