by Diane Spicer
Hiking toe problems can sideline your ambitious hiking plans.
Gravity, friction, pressure, and heat all take their toll on your toes.
That's why you need the best tips for handling toe problems as a hiker.
Lucky for your toes, you've found them right here!
Ignoring your toes is not an option for a dedicated hiker.
But there's a small problem (or as many as ten).
Those long suffering little digits on the end of your feet have a very limited vocabulary.
They have no big voice, like a pulled muscle or sprained ankle, to capture your attention.
So instead, they whisper and nag, trying to tell you they're in trouble.
What tales are your toes telling?
To find out, let’s take a close look at the messages you should heed:
None of this is medical advice.
Use your own good judgment and visit your health care professional for good foot care.
It’s normal to have slightly swollen fingers, toes and ankles after a long hike.
Not fun, but you can deal with it using these tips:
But it’s not normal to have one or two toes which are more swollen than the others.
When this happens, your job is to figure out what those tender toes endured, and then fix it.
Whatever you do, don’t ignore a swollen toe.
Why create even more hiking toe problems by the wishful thinking mantra "it'll go away"? That never works!
If you have a blister by the end of a hike, it was created by the unavoidable triad of heat, friction and moisture.
Number One Rule
Jump all over a hot spot and eliminate as many factors in this triad as possible before you earn a painful blister.
Already have a blister?
Look at its location.
Has a blister formed on top of your toes?
Blisters between the toes also can be a sock issue.
Blisters on the sides of your feet, including your toes, are a trail footwear problem.
There is too much pressure and friction on your skin at that particular location.
Be scrupulous about emptying out your footwear before and after (and even during) a hike. You don't want troublesome trail debris trapped against your skin.
Do you know about WURU wool? It's from New Zealand sheep. It's cleaned up and oh so soft. You can wind around your toes to prevent blisters.
Sometimes hiking toe problems like discomfort are normal.
Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to distinguish between pain and soreness.
When you curl your toes, do you wince?
Or is it more of a tender feeling?
A toe with a distinctive pain pattern, on the other
hand foot, is a big red arrow.
It's pointing to something that you need to change or switch up with your footwear.
It can also indicate a bone problem or inflammation. That requires a visit to a podiatrist before you hike on it again.
Take a close look at your toes.
Compare the painful ones with non-painful companions on both feet. See anything unusual with the toenails or joints?
Athlete's foot, a fungal infection, will make your toes burn and itch. You may notice painful peeled and cracked skin, on one toe or on several of them.
Short, blunt cut toenails are the way to go for hikers.
Make it a habit to trim your nails before every hike. Nails grow quickly enough to catch you by surprise between day hikes, or on a long backpacking trip.
The color of a toenail can help determine the cause of the problem.
Yellowed, cracked nails are signs of fungal infection (onychomycosis).
It will take some time to rid your nails of these invaders,.
Once you do, make sure you have a brand new pair of boots or trail shoes so you don’t re-infect yourself.
It's also a great idea to disinfect your daily footwear, or replace it if possible.
A blackened toenail is a sign of bruising in the nail bed. It is caused by repeated trauma inside your trail footwear.
Luckily, the nail will fall off on its own, and you will grow a shiny new one.
That was the good news.
Losing and regrowing a nail will take a long time.
Regrown toenails are often lumpy, bumpy and weird looking! It may prevent you from wearing sandals in public if you’re squeamish about the appearance of your feet.
Don't try on used hiking boots without wearing your socks.
You don't want to inherit onychomycosis!
It will lead to big time hiking toe problems for you, and your trail partners if you share gear.
A callus is Nature’s way of protecting the delicate underlying nerves and blood vessels.
That thick layer of dead skin cells protects soft tissue damage by repetitive forces.
A hiker’s foot should develop these tough layers of skin after several hikes.
They develop at the contact points between skin and boot.
The more you hike, the more pronounced these raised patches of skin will appear.
You can smooth these calluses with a nifty little volcanic pumice stone.
But go easy!
You don’t want to remove these protective little bumps of dead skin completely.
Bromodosis is the fancy word for the odor emanating from your well loved hiking boots.
Blame it on the fact that you have more sweat glands in your feet than anywhere else.
This olfactory combination of food + microbial normal flora gives you Sweaty Boot Essence. Welcome to the hiking club!
But let's be clear here.
It's true that you can expect a certain amount of odor in your trail footwear.
But when your toes smell weird, and smell A LOT, you need to rule out fungal infections.
This is especially true if it the odor is from the toe area of one foot that is odiferous, scaly and uncomfortable. And it is noticeable both on and off trail.
Blame a funky smelling backpacking tent or gear locker on bacteria, too.
These are completely normal microbiological processes. So the word blame might not be correct.
To keep funky odors to a minimum:
Air out your gear every season.
Never store wet gear for any length of time.
It takes discipline to put away clean, dry gear but you're up to the task, I just know it!
If your toes are taking a beating on every hike, you need to spot -and fix- the hiking toe problems.
Which of these might be the explanation?
Your boots or trail shoes might not fit you right – especially if they’re brand new.
If you can't wait to get your boots off, that's a big clue about fit!
Back to the store they go!
That’s why it makes sense to buy from reputable gear stores like REI, with decent exchange policies.
If your feet and toes hurt during, and after, your hike, think about this.
It's possible that you’re carrying too much weight for what you’re wearing on your feet.
Consider more supportive footwear in a half size larger.Your foot bones can then distribute your weight better.
The flip side is to carry less and stay with the trail footwear you already have.
When your insoles wear out, your toes begin to bump against the front of your footwear.
It's because your heel is no longer in the right place.
If the soles and uppers are still in good shape, take out the old insoles and replace them.
Or buy more expensive insoles, like these.
They make insoles to give you more support in boots and shoes with non-removable insoles, too.
Hiking toe problems could be a lacing problem in disguise.
Experiment with new ways to hold your feet in place and prevent toe bumping.
Give your feet some fresh air at least once during a hike.
This also does some really nice things:
Plus it's a great excuse to put your feet up as you enjoy the hiking scenery you worked so hard to achieve.
Backpackers need to pay constant attention to their feet, for obvious reasons.
Daily foot hygiene can make a long backpacking trip enjoyable.
Neglecting your feet? Not so much.
Here are some tips for keeping your ten toes in good shape, along with everything else connected to them.
Use pre-moistened wipes midway through your day if you aren't near surface water.
Make time at the end of the day to inspect your toe and the webbing between them.
You're searching for places where dirt can get into your bloodstream.
Banged up, callused hiking feet are all part of the fun of being a hiker.
But you don't have to suffer with hiking toe problems.
A little proactive strategy based on these best hiking toe problem busters? Your toes will feel happy again!
And happy toes make happy hikers.
For more hiking self care strategies for happy trails, read this.
Hiking Toe Problems
About the author
Diane is the founder of Hiking For Her.
She’s been on a hiking trail somewhere in the world for nearly five decades.
She loves to share her best hiking tips right here.
Purchasing your hiking gear, clothing, and outdoor supplies through the links on this website means you pay nothing extra but Hiking For Her receives a small commission to keep the hiking tips flowing.
Only the best of the best is recommended! All the stuff I use myself!
About the author
Diane is the founder of Hiking For Her.
She's been on a hiking trail somewhere in the world for 5+ decades & loves to share her best hiking tips right here.
All rights reserved.
Photo credits: All photos on this website were taken by David Midkiff or Diane Spicer except where noted.
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