Hiking boots are marketed as a cure-all for the best experience out on the trails. They are supposed to keep your feet dry and cool, provide great traction, and be very comfortable, so why do your hiking boots hurt your feet?
Your hiking boots likely hurt your feet due to either being an improper fit, too worn down, or not-broken in enough. These things will cause unwanted friction and hot spots that lead to foot pain and possibly even blisters.
I’ve been hiking for many years and I used to have foot pain during and after my hikes. I realized one day that my hiking boots were a bit too small which crammed my feet and lead to a lot of agony for my toes. Then I switched to a slightly larger new pair of boots and was pain free! I wore those into the ground and eventually those started to hurt my feet because of all of the wear and tear.
Below we’ll go over things you can do to pick the right hiking boots so you hike without foot pain and main considerations to have so you can confidently make the right purchase for your next pair of hiking boots.
How to Pick the Hiking Boots that Don’t Hurt
There’s a lot that goes into choosing the right pair of hiking boots, but these are the three main things I look at and tell my friends to consider before they make the purchase.
The first and most important thing you want to consider is the fit of the hiking boots. If you choose boots that are too large than your feet will be sliding around. This constant sliding motion will irritate your soles and heels. This will in turn lead to hot spots and possible blisters.
If you choose boots that are too small than your feet will feel constricted. As you hike on the trail your feet will sometimes swell. If you are wearing boots that are too small with swollen feet then you will constrict proper blood-flow to and from your feet. Also since your shoes are too small you will likely be jamming your toes when you approach downhill sections. When you are looking at hiking boots, try boots that are slightly larger than your feet to give your feet some space, but not too much.
The next thing you want to consider that will help your feet feel comfortable is if the boot provides enough cushioning. Across the various brands and manufacturers their cushioning will vary. Find hiking boots that feel like you aren’t wearing anything. They should feel comfortable and contour to your feet.
Over the years you can replace the insoles with new insoles that have fresh cushions. As you hike in your boots the constant steps will wear down the cushion. This could be a reason your current boots are hurting.
Another key consideration to have is to pick boots that provide good breathability. This is very important because your feet need solid airflow to stay cool and to stay dry.
If you have boots that are not breathable than it can cause a lot of problems. Non-breathable boots will trap in moisture from your sweaty feet. The trapped moisture will lead to softening your feet. As you are hiking there is a lot of rubbing and friction against the skin of your feet. If your feet are moist and being rubbed it can easily lead to blisters.
Now that you know three key considerations before picking hiking boots, here are some other common questions and issues people run into with their boots. You may have some doubts in your new hiking boots, but don’t worry you are not alone.
Are hiking boots supposed to be comfortable?
Hiking boots are designed to be very comfortable and help you make your way safely across various terrain, however not all hiking boots are created equal. A comfortable pair of hiking boots should be lightweight, made of breathable materials, and provide ample spacing for your feet. Lets go over the differences you can expect between various boot manufacturers so you can pick the right pair.
The hiking boots you’ve seen in the movies or that your grand parents used to wear used to be really popular, but they are likely some of the heaviest boots in existent. While they will protect your feet and provide traction, they will make your legs more tired and your feet even more tired.
When looking at new hiking boots, one thing to keep in mind is how much the hiking boots weigh. With new hiking technology each year, hiking boots are adding more benefits and shedding more weight. You can now buy a pair of lightweight hiking boots that have fantastic traction, are waterproof, and will feel great.
The old leather hiking boots used to be the standard, but now with so many new developments in materials for hikers, you can find hiking boots with breathable materials. This exterior material is important because it will allow good airflow to help your feet breathe. It will also help keep water from getting in.
When you look at hiking boots in the store they all look very similar from their side profiles. However when you look at them from the top down, you will notice some differences. The section where your toes go is called the toe-box. Manufacturers are now starting to create boots with wider toe boxes so that your toes have room to spread and not be crammed in to fit the contour of the boot. If you’re having issues with your toes getting log-jammed on downhills then look into boots with larger toe-boxes.
Another thing that you can look into is find hiking boots that are designed for wider feet. Not everyone has the same width feet, so manufacturers have adapted and made boots for wide feet. This will help with your feet being able to spread out naturally and breathe much better.
Do hiking boots hurt at first?
If you just bought a brand new pair of hiking shoes and are testing them out for the first time then yes they can hurt at first. The reason they will hurt is because the boots are not contoured to the curves of your foot. This will take time during the break-in period.
Depending on the hiking boots you bought, the breaking in period will vary. For all leather hiking boots it will take a few weeks for the leather to soften and contour to your feet. For the other lightweight trail boots those may only need a few short hikes to break in.
In order to break in your hiking boots you can wear them around your house or office, take them for strolls around the neighborhood or park, and go on short day hikes. I would definitely avoid taking them out on backpacking trips or long day hikes as you can experience great discomfort. Listen to how your feet feel as you are logging more and more steps on them. You will know once they are broken in when you stopped thinking about how your feet feel. It will vary from shoe to shoe.
How much room should you have in a hiking boot?
Picking hiking boots that fit can be a challenge. Each manufacturer boot length and width can vary for the same shoe size, so how much room should you have in your hiking boot? How much is too much or too little?
When your hiking boots are on, your heels should be at the back of your boot with very little room for movement. If you have too much room the your heel can be constantly rubbed by the back of your boot. This can lead to bad blisters on your heel. You want there to be minimal space, but not too tight against your heel, just enough so that your heel isn’t moving around too much.
Should toes touch end of hiking boots?
For non-hiking shoes it is normal to buy shoes that fit perfectly snug against your toes. This is fine because you are walking on flat ground around the city, at school, or in your office. However if you take those shoes on mountains and hills then you will regret that decision.
Toes should not touch the end of your hiking boots. This means that your hiking boots are too small. Your feet and toes will likely swell during your hikes, thus giving your toes even less room as you hike. When you make your way downhill you will immediately feel your toes jamming. This is not good for your toes and will be very uncomfortable.
Your hiking boots should have enough space for your toes to wiggle around. The distance from the top of the shoe to your toes should be a few centimeters. You don’t want too much space because that means your boots are too big. Just a few centimeters will help your toes have enough space as you make your way downhills.
Hiking boots can be very fickle things. Some pairs feel fantastic for people while others are completely uncomfortable. Through trial and error of trying various different types of hiking boots, you will eventually find the perfect pair that doesn’t hurt your feet.
Hiking boots also can feel great in store, but once you are out on the trails the experience can be completely different. So before you buy a pair of hiking boots be sure there is a good return policy for hiking boots that you have worn and hiked with. Good luck with finding the right pair of shoes and enjoy your hikes!