Hiking boots are considered as essential hiking gear because they offer better ankle coverage than regular sneakers, which helps prevent ankle sprains. They also offer midsoles that provide better support when hiking.
Although, one common problem we usually encounter when buying shoes is the size, and sometimes, buying the right-sized boots still makes our feet uncomfortable due to many other factors. However, there are ways to make hiking boots fit our size, and stretching the toe box is one of them.
A hiking boot’s toe box can easily be stretched at home with the right tools. To help you do that, we’ve summed up some of the simplest remedies you can use to solve this problem.
Choosing the right footwear for your hike is very important. Wearing the wrong footwear could lead to sore feet and blisters which will prevent you from enjoying your hike to the fullest. Lucky for you, we have a list of the best hiking shoes for men, women, and children all in one article.
The Fit of Your Hiking Boots
Your hiking boots should fit snugly in every area, which means you should not feel any tightness. They should also give you enough room to wiggle your toes.
Here are a few tips for choosing the right size of hiking boots:
- Know your size by having your foot’s width, length, and arch length measured by a specialist or using a specially calibrated fit device, which you can find in some stores. However, if you are shopping online, you have to measure your foot’s length and use the manufacturer’s sizing chart to find your size.
- Try your boots on at the end of a day’s activities. Your feet will normally be swollen and at their largest after a full day of activities, which can help you avoid buying hiking boots that are too small for you.
- Orthotics impact the fit of a boot. So if you usually wear some, bring them along.
- Make sure you wear socks that are comfortable with the type of shoes you use. It is best to choose synthetic fabrics instead of slow-drying cotton socks to avoid blisters.
- If you are buying your boots at a store, make sure you take the time to stroll, walk up and down the stairs with them, or find an inclined surface to walk on.
- Talk with a footwear specialist about odd bumps or seams, pinching on the forefoot, toes hitting the end of your boot on an incline, and your feet volume.
- When shopping online, it is best to consider brands that you’ve tried before since most manufacturers tend to use the same foot model for years. Thus, the sizing is likely to be similar.
- Change the way you lace and knot your boots to see changes in the fit.
- It is also wise to consider some aftermarket insoles or footbeds to enhance support, comfort, and overall fit.
- Break in your boots before your first hiking trip. Getting comfortable with your hiking boots and setting them right before your initial use is a step most people neglect, which results in many issues, including a feeling of tightness around the toe box. However, you can fix this problem by applying some of the methods listed below, although it is best to do that before your trip.
There are many tips regarding how a pair of hiking boots should fit. Some suggest that they should be a bigger size, while others say they should be the same size as your feet. Which tip should you follow? Should hiking boots be big or small? Read our article to learn more.
Stretching the Toe Box of Your Hiking Boots
Stretching the toe box of your hiking boots will improve its fit as well as make them more comfortable to wear. Here are some tips on how you can stretch your boots’ toe box.
Wear your hiking boots around the house
This method of stretching may take a few days, but it is the most commonly used method that doesn’t require you to use a shoe stretcher.
- First, slip on thick socks. Use two or more pairs if you can, and put on your hiking boots afterward.
- Walk around the house for 30 minutes and repeat as necessary.
Stuff your boots with sock balls
- Roll a few pairs of socks into small balls and stuff them into your boots until your boots are at maximum capacity.
- Leave the socks there overnight and repeat if necessary for additional stretching.
Wear thick socks and use a blow dryer
- Wear at least two pairs of thick socks.
- Put on your hiking boots.
- Turn the blow dryer on medium heat for 30 seconds.
- Blow dry your boots, focusing on the tightest areas.
- Keep the blow dryer moving to prevent overheating an area.
- Flex and bend your foot inside to loosen the boot’s fabric or leather.
- Once done, let your boots cool to prevent them from shrinking back.
- Repeat this process until you are comfortable with your boots.
- For leather shoes, remember to apply a leather conditioner once you’re done with all the steps to prevent the leather from drying out and cracking.
Use a Shoe Stretcher
A shoe stretcher is a pain-free and precise way to increase the size of your boots. With a simple turn of the handle, you can already achieve an even stretch. This is also a convenient method for anyone with limited time.
Using a shoe stretcher is an excellent method for an expensive pair of boots or shoes that you’d like to stretch without having to compromise its integrity or ruin the shoe.
Only a shoe stretcher can guarantee a uniform result, and problematic areas can be easily targeted using spot-stretching plugs that you can insert into the shoe stretcher.
Two basic types of shoe stretchers can be used in both the right and left shoe:
- A one-way shoe stretcher that stretches the width of a shoe;
- A two-way shoe stretcher that stretches the width and length.
How to use a shoe stretcher:
- First, apply a shoe stretch spray to relax the shoes’ fibers for easy stretching. The spray can also help your shoe stretch evenly and speed up this process. Choose a shoe stretch spray that can penetrate any materials, including leather.
- Insert the stretching plugs to target the problematic areas that cause corns or bunions.
- Insert the shoe stretcher in your shoe.
- Turn its handle until your desired amount of stretch.
- You should give the handle another full turn every 6 to 8 hours until the size is right.
- Lastly, leave the shoe stretcher in your shoe for two days, checking the shoes every now to see if the fit is right and to prevent your shoes from being overstretched.
Water and freezing method
This method is used because when water freezes, it expands. To perform it:
- Fill a Ziploc bag one-third or halfway with water and close it tightly. If you’re worried about getting water all over an expensive pair of boots, double the bag.
- Insert the water bag into your boot, making sure to mold the bag and fit it into every corner of the boot. Pay attention to the areas that are tighter for you, like the toe box.
- You can use more than one bag to completely fill your hiking boot.
- Put the boots into the freezer and leave them there until they freeze.
- Once frozen, let the boots thaw and take the bags out.
- Try on your boots. If they haven’t stretched enough, do one more round. This method can stretch your boots from half a size to a full size.
- If your hiking boots can get wet, like canvas-made sneakers, you can wet the entire boot, insert the water bags, and freeze the whole thing.
Keep the pack of Silica Gel
Silica gel can absorb moisture. So if you hike regularly and pass through water or may have to walk in a rainy environment, it is best to keep it inside your hiking boots to take away all the moisture and prevent your boots from tightening.
Use a shoe stretch spray
- Spray the inside of each boot with a shoe stretch spray.
- Wear your shoes around the house for about 30 minutes.
- Repeat if necessary.
Use a newspaper
Although this may seem like a surprising trick, it is helpful. To perform it:
- Roll or crush pieces of newspapers and stuff each of the boot’s toe boxes. You can recycle and use any paper.
- Leave them overnight in your boots and check the result the next morning.
- If nothing happened, repeat the process for a few days. Remember to fully stuff each boot to get the desired result.
Use Shoe Trees
While the methods above are really helpful, shoe trees are also beneficial to keep your hiking boots in shape and prevent the leather from cracking.
- Use cedar shoe trees if you are looking for moisture-absorbing properties and to make your boots smell great.
- Avoid shoe trees with varnished finishes as they cannot absorb moisture or deodorize.
- Unfinished wood shoe trees help your shoes dry properly and prevent them from rotting and breaking down due to the inner lining retaining moisture.
- Full heel shoe trees require the exact size as your shoes.
- Spring shoe trees are very flexible and can fit any shoe since they are adjustable.
- A round design won’t scratch your shoe’s upper inner lining.
Tips for using shoe trees:
- Insert the shoe tree after wearing your boots, but don’t leave it in for too long. The general guideline is to use them for about 24 hours.
- An unfinished wooden shoe tree can only absorb so much; that is why they also need to dry out. Otherwise, the moisture from the shoe tree can penetrate your boots.
- To maximize shoe trees’ moisture-absorbing abilities, especially in sneakers, place your shoes on their sides for an hour with the shoe trees in. This is helpful if they get soaked in the rain as it will help the leather soles expel as much water as possible.
- Remember to regularly check your shoes from the inside and take note of any changes.
Seek professional help
If none of the above methods works and you have money to spend, you can take your boots to your local cobbler. Cobblers are equipped with different materials and provide breaking-in services.
Just like any other hiking equipment, you need to properly maintain your hiking shoes to improve their longevity. To help you with this task, check out our guide on cleaning, drying, and storing hiking shoes.
Why do my hiking boots hurt my toes?
Hiking boots may hurt your toes due to poor size adjustments, a wrong lacing technique, or because you’ve stepped down directly onto the slope. It could also be because your backpack is overloaded or you didn’t take enough breaks. To learn more about this issue, read along.
When buying a new pair of hiking boots, you are usually told to keep half an inch of distance between the tip of your toe and your boot. Although you’ve followed that advice, you may still feel pain in your toes after a long hiking trip.In some severe cases, black toenails may appear, which is a result of capillary bleeding. Thus, you should definitely keep half an inch of distance between your boot and your longest toe.
Morton’s toe is a condition in which the second toe is longer than the first one. If that is your case, you should consider this detail and tell the shop worker who assists you in selecting the right shoe.
Improper Lacing Technique
Using the wrong lacing technique may hurt your toes and ankles, even when you chose the right size of boots. Generally, there are two parts to the lacing system, especially in hiking footwear. These are the upper and the lower portion. The separation between the two is where the boot starts to curve.
One common method to solve this issue is using the heel lock lacing method, which you can do in two different ways.
- Using the boots’ hooks.
- Creating two loops in the first holes.
Both methods are meant to lock your heels in place and prevent your toes from getting smashed in the toe-box during a downward slope.
Another lacing technique that can help with this issue consists of creating two knots before the second hole (starting from below). This will help lock your toes in place and prevent your lace from loosening during hikes.
Another common reason for toe pain is that your toes may be getting smashed on the inner part of your boots. This could also be a result of your toes rubbing. Either way, both scenarios can cause black toenails or blisters. In case you fear developing blisters, it is best to prepare by making sure you pack Vaseline, blister bandages, and wear synthetic and supportive socks.
For blisters, wrap the area properly and apply a thin layer of Vaseline on your insole and at the toe box area to reduce friction and ease the pain.
Stepping directly on a downward slope
If you are planning to take on a terrain that features a lot of descents, you should pay close attention to this issue. Hikers’ most common mistake, when they go downhill, is to step directly down the slope. Although it is much shorter and faster to go that way, when you do so, you put a lot of pressure on your toes. Stepping down this way could hurt your toes by burdening them with your entire body weight. However, there are some ways to avoid this habit, starting with adopting a zigzag walk.
Hiking in a zigzag instead of stepping down directly will help you descend gradually because it will distribute your body weight across your feet.
You can also step in a way that your ankles meet the ground before your toes to ease the pressure and allow your ankles, instead of your toes, to deal with your weight.
You can also try using trekking or hiking poles to deal with toe pain during descents and for your weight to be distributed to your arms.
Hiking can be an intense activity, and some people barely take any breaks as they want to reach their destination earlier or before it gets dark. However, taking no breaks during a hike will hurt your feet. Therefore, you should listen to your body and take breaks if you feel like you are putting too much burden on it.
An overloaded backpack can also be one of the reasons for toe pain. Not only this, but a heavy backpack may also cause blisters, backaches, and stress fractures.
The weight of your backpack should not exceed 20% of your total body weight. Thus, you should not pack unnecessary things and plan ahead so that you’ll know what to drink, eat, and wear on each day of the hike. Remember that hiking boots alone can already be heavy.
Poorly chosen socks may cause toe pain as they rub against the insole.
Socks that are too thin will make you slip inside the boots freely but will also increase the chances of pain and blisters. In this case, it is better to wear two pairs of thin socks. The friction caused by thin socks can also contribute to the squeaking noise your boots make. Although, in some cases, this is really not an issue. Additionally, thin socks do not provide enough padding, which makes your skin more exposed and vulnerable.
Thick socks, on the other hand, are way more appropriate than thinner ones, and using two layers of socks is better than one as it will less likely cause any pain.
Long Nails or Short Boots
You should clip your nails as much as possible, regardless of your gender, especially when you are planning a long hike. Not only do long nails cause bleeding and pain but they can also break when under pressure, and broken nails are sometimes unbearable during a hike.
Boots that are too small can also contribute to this nail issue. So, as mentioned above, you should at least keep half an inch of space between the tip of your longest toe and the inner part of the boot’s edge.
One way of improving your overall hiking experience is choosing a pair of hiking boots that fit you perfectly. Sometimes, even if your boots fit you perfectly, they can still be uncomfortable to wear. One way of addressing this problem is by stretching your boots’ toe box.
We listed many different ways on how to stretch the toe box of your boots. If one method does not work, there are other techniques that you can try to improve the fit of your hiking shoes. For the sake of your toes, we hope that you’ll be able to put the tips that we shared to good use.