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Benefits of Wide Toe Boxes for Hiking

Posted By Marty Hughes, DC

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Comments
April 22 2015
Vincent Brouillet

I’m about to go on a long distance touring & mountain biking adventure. It consists of riding a bike (with flat pedals) loaded with camping gear & food up to 45 kg. All this up and down mountains, hills, through creeks for thousands of miles.

I started training months ago. I got normal Scarpa low hiking shoes for the purpose. But I now have sesamoiditis that is worse when the ball of the toe is compressed (either from tightening the laces or from taping or using arch support orthotics). I also have a stiff big toe. And my anterior knee can get sore. I used to tighten the laces because I thought I needed to be in better contact with the shoe …

Usual hiking shoes + orthotics make me feel out of balance. I struggle to go downhill feeling as if I’m wearing high heels! Or wearing moon boots!

I have rather flat feet, but I have very little to no pain walking barefoot. I’ve spent a week doing yoga and walking around the block barefoot. Using sandals is fine too; I can even ride my bike but with limited power output.

Is there any shoe that can handle pushing a heavy bike up a mountain as well as pedalling on flat pedals? I know it’s a very, very specific activity that combines hiking (mostly uphill because I can ride downhill), cycling, and camping. Bike riding needs stiff shoes, but my feet are used to more barefoot or natural walking.

I should have kept my old worn down running shoes; at least they were flexible and didn’t cause me troubles.

April 22 2015
Natural Footgear

Hi, Vincent,

Thank you for your comment. How exciting that you’re about to embark on such an adventure! (we’re a bit jealous) For these situations, you might consider Lems Primal 2 shoes (www.naturalfootgear.com/collections/mens-primal-2-shoes) and/or Be Real Shoes (www.naturalfootgear.com/collections/mens-be-real-shoes).

The Lems Primal 2 has a minimalist, zero drop design with plenty of room for toe splay in the toe box, and they’re quite durable as well. Many of our customers use them for long-distance hikes, daily gym use, and other activities that put wear on them, and we’ve yet to have any negative complaints concerning their durability. The sole of the Primal 2 is very ergonomic and responsive, which could work very well for the cycling and hiking combo.

Be Real Shoes could be an excellent option for you as well. They also have a minimalist, zero drop design with ample room in the toe box, but they have a slip-resistant dermi-sole rubber that could lend itself very well to hiking/biking in rocky terrain.

I hope this information has been helpful. Please feel free to contact us at info@naturalfootgear.com with any other questions or concerns. We’re happy to help however we can!

Kind regards,
Andrew Potter

May 31 2015
Stacy Harmon

I’m wondering if you can suggest a boot that would be appropriate for Kilimanjaro. I’m told it needs to be waterproof. I have a wide foot and high instep. I wear Altras for hiking around Utah, but they’re not waterproof. Thank you

June 14 2015
Natural Footgear

Hi, Stacy,

Thank you for your question. We find the Lems Boulder Boot (www.naturalfootgear.com/pages/lems-boulder-boots) to be suitable for vigorous hiking in most all conditions, even though it is considered water repellant rather than waterproof. Our very own Dr. Marty Hughes wore the Lems Boulder Boots on a three-week trek around the Annapurna Circuit in Nepal and found they performed beautifully for him in a variety of conditions.

If you are concerned, you can always try an aftermarket waterproofing spray (such as Nikwax) to give you that extra leg up against the elements. Give it a go before you begin your ascent, with which we wish you all the very best. Enjoy!

Kind regards,
Sarah K. Schuetz

June 01 2016
Peggy Lewis

I need riding boots with a wide toe box. I have a young horse who needs daily riding, and my toes are screaming. I also have to have protection from the horses stepping on my toes! Any thoughts?

June 01 2016
Natural Footgear

Hi, Peggy,

Thank you for your message. Though it doesn’t have toe protection per se, the Lems Boulder Boot might be an option for you:

www.naturalfootgear.com/pages/lems-boulder-boots

I’m unsure about where to find riding boots, specifically, that have a wide toe box. However, have you tried looking into men’s riding boots? In some cases, men’s models possess a wider toe box. You may also want to take out the liner (if there is one) to create some additional room inside the boot.

Wishing you the best in foot health, and please let us know if you find a men’s (or women’s) riding boot that works for you.

Kind regards,
Laura Trentman

August 02 2016
Ha Adolfo

Do you have any recommendations for wide toe box vegan (no leather materials) hiking shoes?

August 02 2016
Natural Footgear

Hi, Ha,

Thank you for your message and for checking out our article! The Lems Boulder Boot in black is vegan!

www.naturalfootgear.com/pages/lems-boulder-boots

This boot is excellent for hiking, as it flat, flexible, comfortable, and contains a wide toe box for your toes to splay naturally. Check out our Lems Boulder Boot Review video for more information:

www.naturalfootgear.com/blogs/product-info/17922536-lems-boulder-boots-review

In addition, if you like the feel of going barefoot, check out Luna Mono sandals, which are also vegan and foot healthy:

www.naturalfootgear.com/pages/luna-sandals

Kind regards,
Laura Trentman

August 02 2016
Tracy

Hi,

I am hoping I have come across a lifesaver in terms of my feet, or I should say for my one foot. For years I ran and did not know why my third and fourth toes would go numb; I just kept running. Fast forward to the past 3 years of my hiking almost weekly. I have high arches, and I believe my one foot has a Morton’s neuroma, or at least the symptoms of it. I have tried a variety of hiking shoes, even ones (Keen) with a wide toe box, and it did nothing. Do you have hiking shoes to compensate for my high arches and narrow feet? Please let me know.

August 02 2016
Natural Footgear

Hi, Tracy,

Thank you for your comment.

We have enjoyed using the Lems Boulder Boot for hiking. It’s got a fairly expansile upper, which is good news for folks with taller arches. You can check out our Lems Boulder Boot review here:

www.naturalfootgear.com/blogs/product-info/17922536-lems-boulder-boots-review

In terms of neuromas, we have found, in our experience, that a combination of Correct Toes, metatarsal pads, and foot-healthy footwear can help relieve or reduce the pinch and stretch forces that trigger neuromas in the first place.

Here are some resources that I think you may find helpful:

Neuromas & Natural Foot Health:
www.naturalfootgear.com/blogs/education/17888880-neuromas-natural-foot-health

What Makes for a Great Hiking Boot?:
www.naturalfootgear.com/blogs/education/78033413-what-makes-for-a-great-hiking-boot

Benefits of Wide Toe Boxes for Hiking:
www.naturalfootgear.com/blogs/education/17856304-benefits-of-wide-toe-boxes-for-hiking

Neuromas: Conventional vs. Natural Approaches:
www.naturalfootgear.com/blogs/education/17888868-neuromas-conventional-vs-natural-approaches

I hope this info helps!

Kind regards,
Laura Trentman

August 26 2016
Laura

Hello,

The Lems Boulder Boot is exactly what I’m looking for. Do you think they would hold up well for an Appalachian Trail thru-hike? As I read hikers journals I’m understanding that it’s a rainy trail and the weather conditions go from very cold with snow to humid heat. Lems Primal 2s fit like heaven on my feet and I would love to continue to support Lems.

So … thoughts on the Boulder Boot for an AT thru-hike? Thank you for this article! :-)

August 26 2016
Natural Footgear

Hi, Laura,

Thank you for your comment and kind words! I think the Lems Boulder Boot would be a great choice for an AT thru-hike. I’ve personally used them in Nepal, on the Annapurna Circuit Trek, in a variety of weather conditions. They can be a little slippery on snow, but an aftermarket solution such as this could be quite helpful for traction:

www.duenorthproducts.com/

The boots themselves are water-resistant, and you can use aftermarket products, such as Nikwax, for additional waterproofing. The boots are lightweight, work great with a variety of beneficial natural footgear, and pack really easily. All in all, a solid choice, in my opinion.

I hope this info helps!

Kind regards,
Marty Hughes, DC

December 15 2016
Rebekah Rich

I wear size 11 wide shoes and have a hard time finding anything other than completely flat sandals that are comfortable. Even typical wide shoes tend to pinch and be uncomfortable after a couple hours. I prefer to be barefoot and let my toes splay as they may! Even when hitting up all four Disney parks in Orlando in one day, I do better with flat sandals than any type of shoe. The only problem I run into is that my heels tend to ache at the end of the day. I am taking a 2-week sojourn in New Zealand with a lot of day-hiking planned and I (unfortunately) can’t exactly go barefoot. What type of shoes or boots would you recommend?

December 15 2016
Natural Footgear

Hi, Rebekah,

Thank you for your comment! I’m excited to hear about your trip to New Zealand. How fantastic!

In terms of that aching heel problem you mentioned, have you considered using something like a Tuli’s heel cup to help prevent or reduce the discomfort? It can be a pretty cost-effective solution to that problem for some folks:

www.naturalfootgear.com/collections/foot-pads/products/tulis-heel-cups

In our experience, we’ve found the following footwear to be great for walking or day-hiking:

Luna Mono Sandals:
www.naturalfootgear.com/pages/luna-sandals

Lems Primal 2 Shoe:
www.naturalfootgear.com/pages/lems-primal-2-shoes

Lems Boulder Boot:
www.naturalfootgear.com/pages/lems-boulder-boots

I hope this info helps! Enjoy your trip!

Kind regards,
Marty Hughes, DC

January 27 2017
Emily

I’ve always preferred to be barefoot inside and outside, mostly because I have wide toes and all shoes crush them. Since pregnancy, I’ve had awful issues with plantar fasciitis and have been forcing myself to wear shoes that are uncomfortable for my toes. Will these shoes be comfortable with plantar fasciitis? I’m not well informed about the minimalist shoe philosophy—does that mean there is no padding or arch support or anything?

January 27 2017
Natural Footgear

Hi, Emily,

Thank you for your comment and questions. Right off the bat, you may appreciate this video, which provides some background info about plantar fascia pain and what’s actually happening in those tissues when pain or discomfort is experienced:

www.naturalfootgear.com/blogs/education/17889080-plantar-fasciitis-or-fasciosis

Also, this video discusses some of the natural approaches to plantar fasciosis, including the selection and use of footwear that allows the toes to splay—the key to addressing most cases of plantar fascia pain:

www.naturalfootgear.com/blogs/education/17889116-plantar-fasciosis-conventional-vs-natural-approaches

Check out this page to learn more about our definition of a foot-healthy shoe:

www.naturalfootgear.com/blogs/education/17878244-definition-of-a-healthy-shoe

Most minimalist shoes possess at least some of the design characteristics we consider foot-healthy, but most do not possess all the features, so it pays to be aware of this when shopping for minimalist footwear. In our view, a truly foot-healthy shoe offers minimal yet sufficient protection for the foot and allows the foot to benefit from natural arch support. More about natural arch support here:

www.naturalfootgear.com/blogs/education/17888744-natural-arch-support

I hope you find this info helpful!

All best,
Marty Hughes, DC

January 27 2017
Sean

I’ve been looking for Wellington boots that have a wide enough toe box to accommodate Correct Toes toe spacers. Have you happened across anything that matches the above criteria? Thanks!

January 27 2017
Natural Footgear

Hi, Sean,

Great question! Unfortunately, I’m not currently aware of any Wellington-style boots that will work well with Correct Toes. You might consider checking out the Crocs product lineup to see if something might meet your needs. That’s my best advice at this point in time.

Kind regards,
Marty Hughes, DC

April 24 2017
Janet James

My husband and I are 6 months away from a Japanese Kumano Kodo Pilgrim Trail walk. I have trialed wide toe box hiking shoes with no success for my very wide feet with bunion/hammertoe problems […] I’m keen to try the Boulder Boots and probably some of the toe correctors too. Do I sound like a potential customer?

April 24 2017
Natural Footgear

Greetings, Janet,

Thank you for your message! I really appreciate you reaching out to us with your question. First off, congratulations on your upcoming Kumano Kodo trek! That will be a fantastic adventure, and I wish you all the best with your endeavor. Second, I think you’re really wise to be considering your trekking footwear so carefully. Footwear can make all the difference between an enjoyable, life-changing experience and a major sufferfest!

My big question for you is the following: Were the wide toe box hiking shoes you previously used widest at the ends of the toes, or at the ball of the foot? Most footwear that is marketed as having a wide toe box includes ample width at the ball of the foot, yet it still tapers as it moves out toward the ends of the toes. We know that the widest part of the foot should be at the ends of the toes (www.naturalfootgear.com/pages/foot-anatomy-101), so any footwear that does not accommodate this natural, splayed-toe configuration is going to impact the foot and toes in a negative way.

Other design elements in conventional hiking footwear, such as heel elevation (www.naturalfootgear.com/blogs/education/17883872-heel-elevation) (which you can see depicted in the image of the hiking boots above), can also contribute to foot and toe problems, including bunions (www.naturalfootgear.com/blogs/education/17856628-bunions) and hammertoes (www.naturalfootgear.com/blogs/education/17883488-hammertoes). To learn more about bunions and hammertoes and how footwear can impact these problems, my best recommendation is to sign up for our free email courses on these (and other) topics (www.naturalfootgear.com/pages/newsletter-courses). To learn more about what makes for a great hiking boot, please visit this article:

www.naturalfootgear.com/blogs/education/78033413-what-makes-for-a-great-hiking-boot

You had mentioned the Boulder Boot (www.naturalfootgear.com/pages/lems-boulder-boots) and toe spacers (www.naturalfootgear.com/collections/toe-spacers/products/correct-toes) as two possible types of footgear to use on your trek. I can tell you that I have personally used these products (in combination with Injinji toe socks (www.naturalfootgear.com/collections/toe-socks)) to hike the Annapurna Circuit in Nepal—a 2-3-week trek. I found this to be an excellent combination of footgear and got through the entire trek without any blisters, foot pain, knee pain, etc. Of course, everyone is a bit different in terms of how they respond to natural footgear, so it pays to give yourself some time before the trek (several months at least, I’d say) to let your body adapt to this more minimalist-type boot.

Had it been available at the time, the one additional piece of footgear I would have brought with me for the trek is the Due North Traction Aids (www.naturalfootgear.com/collections/tools-accessories/products/due-north-everyday-pro-winter-traction-aids). The boots were a little slippy on the snowy passes, but otherwise, traction on the trail was not an issue. I don’t believe you’ll be encountering any snow on your trek, but just so you know. The traction aids are terrific, by the way.

So, all in all, I think your footgear choices for the trek are really solid. And I do think you are a potential candidate for natural footgear, as long as you still have some mobility in your toes (i.e., you can still manually move your big toe so that it’s in line with its corresponding metatarsal bone and straighten any hammertoes), can be patient with the process of natural foot rehabilitation, and have full sensation in your feet and toes.

If this approach (i.e., using natural footgear) is the way you plan to go, I do suggest starting with the gear as soon as you can to get acquainted with how everything feels and the adaptations that will occur in your feet and lower body. You may appreciate our article that discusses how best to transition to minimalist footwear if you do opt to go with the boots (www.naturalfootgear.com/blogs/education/17888528-how-to-transition-to-minimalist-shoes).

If you have any additional questions, please do let us know! We’re happy to help out however we can.

Kind regards,
Marty Hughes, DC

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