Educational Articles

Benefits of Wide Toe Boxes for Hiking

Posted By Marty Hughes, DC

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The above content is for educational or informational purposes only and is not intended to replace or augment professional medical instruction, diagnosis, or treatment. Read full disclaimer here.

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Comments
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

January 25, 2018
Natasha

Hi there!

I’ve started hiking over the last couple of years. And I’m really struggling to find a shoe that works. My big toes are the longest toes and so I suffer from toe bang, making hikes a chore and dreaded. I have tried ankle boots as well to lock my ankle in and keep my feet from sliding forward. These just bruised my ankle and caused other pain. My shins and knees also hurt during and after hiking.

Will these shoes you’ve described help? Will a wide toe box help with toe bang? I’ve tried so many shoes and am getting desperate! Thank you!!

January 25, 2018
Natural Footgear

Hi Natasha. Thank you so much for your comment! In our experience, we’ve found that flat-soled footwear with ample room in the toe box helps quite a bit with the “toe bang” you’re experiencing. Conventional shoes and boots usually possess tapering toe boxes, as well as an elevated heel. These design characteristics cause your toes to be squeezed or wedged into the front of your shoes. In this foot and toe configuration, the repetitive impact experienced by your feet when walking long distances is amplified, so I’m not surprised to hear that you’re feeling discomfort.

Another simple item to help prevent the jamming of your toes into your shoes’ toe boxes is a tongue pad:

www.naturalfootgear.com/collections/foot-pads/products/tongue-pads

This little pad sits underneath the tongue of your shoe or boot and serves as a kind of “ankle bumper.”

If you need help with sizing for any of the models described in this article, be sure to check out the “sizing” tab on each individual shoe’s product page, as the sizing between brands and models usually differs a bit.

If you have further questions, please do let us know!

All best,
Andrew Potter

March 02, 2018
Kathleen Perez

Greetings, Dr. Hughes,

I recently began the transition to healthier feet through the use of Correct Toes. My question is: How do I know what a “wide” shoe actually is? I have been in extra wide women’s shoes, and sometimes I’ve purchased men’s shoes due to my foot width, but nothing has ever been ideal. My foot width when weight-bearing is 4.5" across the ball. With Correct Toes on, my toe splay is about the same. So approximately how wide in inches (or cm) is a “wide” shoe?

I want to wear my Correct Toes in shoes to go out and about, and I plan to make the transition to zero drop shoes with wide toe boxes. Thank you for your obvious dedication to optimal foot health and for any clarity you can provide on the measurement problem.

March 02, 2018
Natural Footgear

Hi, Kathleen,

Thank you for your question. And thank you for your kind words! We’re happy to hear that you’ve started using Correct Toes.

“Wide” is a relative term when it comes to footwear. No two sets of feet are identical, and so a shoe that’s wide for one person may be narrow for another. In general, though, a wide shoe is one that does not constrict any part of your foot, especially the ball of your foot or your toes. Basically, the shoe should be a protective covering that lets your foot move in a completely unencumbered way. For most people, a shoe is wide enough if they can comfortably wear Correct Toes inside of it without feeling any pressure from the shoe’s toe box on the sides of the toes.

Another way to determine whether a shoe is sufficiently wide for your foot is to perform the Shoe Liner Test. This article contains more information (including video demonstrations) about how to perform this important footwear test:

www.naturalfootgear.com/blogs/education/17914692-shoe-liner-test-pronation-explained

I hope this information has been helpful. If you have any further questions, please do let us know. We’re happy to help!

Kind Regards,
Marty Hughes, DC

March 04, 2018
Penelope Brown

I just found a pair of Topo shoes, men’s, which has a wide toe box. Trying to decide now if they suit me, but it seems hopeful. What bliss!

March 04, 2018
Natural Footgear

Hi, Penelope,

Thank you for your comment. In our experience, we’ve found that certain models of Topo shoes (the zero drop ones) are a solid choice for a wide range of athletic activities.

Please do keep us posted on your experience with the Topos!

Kind Regards,
Andrew Potter

March 04, 2018
Mark

Do you have a recommendation for a wide toe box boot that would be appropriate for backpacking? The pack weight is about 35 lbs.

March 04, 2018
Natural Footgear

Hi, Mark,

Thank you for your question. We have several footwear suggestions for you in terms of hiking with a loaded pack.

The Lems Boulder Boot is our go-to boot for multi-day hiking and adventuring. The sole is malleable enough to give you optimal ground feel, but strong enough to put up with quite a bit of wear and tear on more technical trails. Many people have backpacked long distances in the Boulder Boot, finding it optimal for a wide-range of off-road conditions. You can read more about the Boulder Boot below:

www.naturalfootgear.com/collections/mens-lems-boulder-boots

Another couple of great boot options are the Ahinsa Trekking Boot and the Feelmax Kuuva 4 Boot.

Also, the Xero Prio (www.naturalfootgear.com/collections/mens-xero-shoes) is a more minimalist option, and the Luna Mono 2.0 (www.naturalfootgear.com/collections/mens-luna-sandals) works quite well in warmer conditions.

Happy trails!

Kind Regards,
Andrew Potter

March 11, 2018
Anne

Greetings! I am interested in your shoes because I’ve had trouble finding hiking shoes or boots that work with my wide feet. I have bunions, which has caused both feet to spread out, and I need wider shoes, so the wide toe boxes of the shoes you offer sound ideal. I also pronate. Currently, I’m wearing a Saucony running shoe that is comfortable but obviously not a hiking shoe or boot. Also, I wear orthotics, so I assume that I can take out whatever insole is in your shoes or boots and replace it with my own orthotics? Can you suggest a model that might work for me? I hike about once a week in Oregon, in old-growth forests, so there is some climbing involved on very uneven ground, but nothing extremely strenuous. I have never been able to find a hiking shoe or boot that works for me. Thanks for any advice you can offer. Also, are your products returnable if they don’t work out? Finally, any advice on sizing? Thanks again!

March 11, 2018
Natural Footgear

Hi, Anne,

Thank you for your comment. We’d be happy to help you find something that suits your needs!

For most people, the Lems Boulder Boot is an excellent hiking option. Living in Portland, Oregon, I can tell you firsthand that the Boulder Boot works great for the wide variety of hiking terrain found in the Pacific Northwest. You can find our Boulder Boot offerings here:

www.naturalfootgear.com/collections/womens-lems-boulder-boots

You might also consider checking out the Topo ST-2. It’s a very versatile athletic shoe that’s great for a variety of activities. The tread works very well on and off the trail, and its wide toe box and foot-healthy shape allow your toes to splay the way nature intended. You can learn more about the Topo ST-2 shoe here:

www.naturalfootgear.com/collections/womens-topo-shoes

One final option is the Vibram FiveFingers V-Run. This toe shoe works really well for folks with wide feet, as its upper quite flexible and accommodating. Read more about the Vibram FiveFingers V-Run here:

www.naturalfootgear.com/products/vibram-fivefingers-v-run-black-yellow-purple

You should be able to wear your orthotics in both the Lems Boulder Boot and the Topo ST-2, though we’d recommend natural methods for strengthening your foot arches and checking excessive pronation. The following videos and articles discuss noninvasive options for addressing both considerations:

www.naturalfootgear.com/blogs/education/17888744-natural-arch-support
www.naturalfootgear.com/blogs/education/17861564-correct-toes-orthotics
www.naturalfootgear.com/blogs/education/17921600-who-should-use-orthotics
www.naturalfootgear.com/blogs/education/75219013-pronation-vs-overpronation

The following resources discuss natural approaches to addressing or preventing bunions:

www.naturalfootgear.com/blogs/education/bunion-reversal-strategies
www.naturalfootgear.com/blogs/education/17856712-bunions-conventional-vs-natural-approaches

We have a 30-day money-back guarantee on almost all products. You can learn more about our shipping and returns and money-back guarantee policies here:

www.naturalfootgear.com/pages/shipping-returns
www.naturalfootgear.com/pages/money-back-guarantee

To determine your best possible size in any of the products we offer, please do check out the info under the “Sizing” tab on the individual product pages.

I hope this info helps! Please do let us know if you have any further questions; we’re happy to help out however we can!

Kind regards,
Andrew Potter

March 30, 2018
Don Wycoff

Dr. Hughes,

I noted that you are a road cyclist. I have been using Vibram Fivefingers, flat pedals, and plastic cleats for cycling for about five years now. Are you aware of any cycling shoes with a large toe box. I have searched unsuccessfully for several years. Thank you.

March 30, 2018
Natural Footgear

Hi, Don,

Thank you for your comment! Tyler Benner of Venn Design in Portland, OR, is working on manufacturing a wide toe box cycling shoe. You can learn more about that project here:

www.venndesign.co/blog/2017/8/22/portland-handmade-bike-show

We’ve also started using and promoting Catalyst Pedals from Pedaling Innovations, which we’ve found to be the best flat pedal option out there. It’s longer than your average platform pedal, which allows you to use both ends of your main foot arch to recruit power. Check out our Catalyst Pedals Review article here:

www.naturalfootgear.com/blogs/product-info/catalyst-pedals-review

I hope this information helps. If you have any other questions, please do let us know!

Kind Regards,
Marty Hughes, DC

October 19, 2018
Gail Cassidy

I’m looking for a low hiking shoe that can accommodate a wide foot and high arch. I sometimes hike on uneven and rocky ground. Any suggestions?

October 19, 2018
Natural Footgear

Hi, Gail,

Thank you for reaching out to us with your question. Pretty much all the options on our women’s boots page would fit the bill. They are all foot-shaped to accommodate natural toe splay and varying arch heights, and they all possess flexible yet protective soles to enhance ground-feel and build strong and resilient feet. Please do give this collection of boots a look and let us know if you have any further questions:

www.naturalfootgear.com/collections/womens-boots

All best,
Marty Hughes, DC

October 22, 2018
Ceann

Hi,

I just came across your site and I’m glad I did. I just ordered a pair of Merrell Moab 2 Mid WP Hiking Boots and wore them for a hike in Yosemite. My little toe was very sore and felt squished. I purchased a half-size bigger than I usually do, but should I have purchased a wide? If I can’t return them for a wide version, what would you suggest?

October 22, 2018
Natural Footgear

Hi, Ceann,

Thank you for your comment. I’m sorry to hear about your sore feet and squished toes! Most footwear brands, if they do offer a “wide” version, add width at the ball of the foot, not at the ends of the toes, where you need the width the most. All the footwear—hiking or otherwise—that we promote on our site is widest at the ends of the toes to allow your toes to splay the way nature intended. Here are our foot-healthy footwear offerings for men and women:

Men’s Footwear:
www.naturalfootgear.com/collections/mens-shoes

Women’s Footwear:
www.naturalfootgear.com/collections/womens-shoes

Please do let us know if you have any additional questions!

Kind regards,
Marty Hughes, DC

October 22, 2018
Lisa

Which shoe do you think would provide slightly more “cush,” the Lems Boulder Boot or the Topo ST-2? Thanks!

October 22, 2018
Natural Footgear

Hi, Lisa,

Thank you for your comment. To learn all about our perspective on shoe cushioning, I recommend checking out this article:

www.naturalfootgear.com/blogs/education/34226629-the-shoe-cushioning-myth

Of the two options you mentioned, the Topo STs has a slightly greater stack height and springier sole.

Please let us know if you have any other questions!

Kind regards,
Marty Hughes, DC

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