how to protect your toes while hiking downhill

3 Things You Should Do to Protect Your Toes When Hiking Downhill

Anyone whose been on a hike has likely experienced foot or toe pain. Whether you’re new to hiking or you’re a more experienced hiker, preventing toe pain is likely high on your priority list while hiking. Many people aren’t clear on how to prevent this toe pain (I know I wasn’t when I started hiking) but through some research and trial and error I’ve found the best tips to preventing toe pain while hiking downhill. 

Luckily, toe pain while hiking downhill is easily preventable.  A combination of the proper footwear, combined with preventative foot care, and a few easy hiking techniques can eliminate most toe pain while hiking downhill. 

Let’s dive into each of these in more detail so you can learn how to make your next hiking adventure toe-pain free!  

how to protect your toes while hiking downhill

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Protecting Your Toes While Hiking with Proper Footwear

Preventing toe pain while hiking downhill can often be mostly resolved by wearing proper footwear. This means not only having some good quality hiking boots (that work for your feet), but also pairing that with a high quality hiking sock. 

If you’re wearing a hiking boot that properly fits you with a sturdy hiking sock, it’s likely your toe pain while hiking will decrease significantly. 

Hiking Boot Features that Prevent Toe Pain While Hiking Downhill

If you’re looking to prevent toe pain while hiking downhill – what features should you look for in your shoes? First – make sure you’re wearing a hiking boot and not tennis shoes or work boots, or other footwear types. Hiking boots are made specifically for hiking, so they provide the right structure and support you’ll need on the trail. 

But, you may be wearing hiking boots and still having pain. In these cases, it could be that the hiking boot isn’t the right one for your foot due to its size or support. 

It’s common for hikers to buy hiking boots a half size or a whole size larger than they usually wear. Why? Because it’s important the toe box (the area where your toes sit in the shoes), is large enough so that your toes don’t hit the front when walking downhill and can accommodate larger toes due to swelling. Proper lacing of larger sized shoes keep them sturdy on your feet while having a large enough toe box to prevent pain (we’ll cover proper lacing techniques later in this article). 

The second main reason a hiking boot could cause toe pain is a lack of arch support. This is often specific to individuals, as people have different foot arches – so you’ll want to try on a few different boots and make sure you find one with the arch support you need. This ensures your foot is kept where it should be in the shoe and your toes aren’t becoming smushed in the toe box causing pain. 

My go-tos for hiking boots are Columbia boots, which I find have the perfect toe box and arch support for me (and a lot of my fellow hikers). You can grab Columbia hiking boots here for women, or here for men

Finding the Right Pair of Hiking Socks

You may have the best hiking boot of all time that fits your feet perfectly, but if you don’t have the right socks to pair that boot with you’re still going to experience pain. In my experience having the right socks is more important than having the right boot (surprising, right?). 

Whatever sock you choose must wick sweat (check the material – you want wool or merino wool), and provide cushion if you want to prevent toe pain. There are many different types of hiking socks out there – but my favorite socks (which have never caused me pain) are Darn Tough socks. They are a bit more expensive than other brands, but trust me, they’re worth every penny, especially if you’re looking to prevent toe pain.  And they come with a lifetime guarantee – so what more could you want?

You can find them here for women, or here for men

Once you have a pair or two of good quality socks, your pain will likely decrease. But, if you’re still having toe pain while walking downhill try wearing two pairs of socks while hiking. This can provide more cushion for your toes, and prevent rubbing and blisters due to friction against the shoe.  

protect your toes while hiking downhill

Protecting your Toes While Hiking with Proper Foot Care

Taking proper care of your feet is absolutely essential for hiking. Even short hikes can put some serious stressors on the feet and without proper preventative care, you can be in some pain. 

If your pain is due to the toes hitting the front of your boot while hiking downhill, then it’s absolutely essential you’ve trimmed your toenails before every hike. Even if you think they’re fine and have a few more days before needing a trim – if you’ll be hiking, go ahead and trim them. 

When trimming your toenails for hiking, be sure to trim them straight and not curved to the shape of your toe. This straight cut does two things. First, it makes you less likely to get an ingrown nail, and second it reduces the friction between the nail and the skin. Preventing both will reduce toe pain while hiking. 

If your pain is due to blisters, using foot powder before putting on your socks and boots can significantly reduce rubbing and prevent blisters. This may also be a good time to use the double sock technique mentioned above. 

Protecting Your Toes While Hiking Downhill with Hiking Techniques

If you’ve done all the proper foot care and are wearing all the proper footwear and still experiencing pain, using a few hiking accessories and techniques can reduce the toe pain you’re experiencing while hiking. 

These include using hiking poles, lacing your boots correctly, and hiking in a zig-zag downhill.

Using Hiking Poles to Prevent Toe Pain

People don’t typically connect hiking poles and toe pain, but they are actually connected. Using hiking poles on the trail  keeps you sturdy while hiking, and can partially prevent your toes from hitting the front of the boot. Hiking poles also take the brunt of the force while hiking downhill, thus reducing the force put on your foot and toes. This can significantly reduce pain especially when hiking downhill. 

How to Lace your Hiking Boots to Prevent Toe Pain

If you have the proper boots, but lace them incorrectly you may still experience toe pain. This is especially true if you’ve purchased a hiking boot larger than your typical size. Larger boots need to be laced correctly or you’ll cause more rubbing all over your feet while attempting to reduce toe pain. 

There are a few different lacing techniques to use – each targeting a different reason causing pain. The video below details 3 main lacing techniques to help with the most common foot pain problems while hiking. 

Hiking in a Zig-Zag Motion to Prevent Toe Pain

This is maybe the hardest technique to follow, because most of us don’t naturally hike in a zig-zag pattern. And, if you’re hiking on a completely flat and wide trail – this technique likely doesn’t make any sense. 

But, if you’re hiking on a sharp downhill, especially one that lasts for a while, then hiking in a zig zag motion can significantly reduce the force put on your toes and reduce the friction on specific areas of your feet that may be sore. 

Again, I wouldn’t use this as a primary technique – but if you’re at the end of a hike and just need to make it down the last mile of downhill trekking and your feet are killing you, then it may be worth the extra effort to hike in a zig zag to get to the end of the trail. 

Hopefully you’ve found enough information here to help prevent toe pain while hiking downhill. If you’re looking for more tips like these check out our hiking tips page for helpful tips for all your outdoor adventures. 

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