How Much Toe Room Do You Need in Hiking Boots? (The Facts)

Injured toe
Written by Dorothy Tobias

If you have ever bought toe-pinching, bad fitting, or blister-inducing hiking boots over the years, you know that getting the size of your hiking boots right is important. Hiking boots are ideal for an adventure, and to ensure the trip is smooth, you need to choose shoes that allow enough toe room.

How Much Toe Room Do You Need?

As everyone’s feet are different sizes, there is no single answer to this. When looking to ensure that you’re buying hiking boots with adequate toe room, you need to consider the size of your feet, what sorts of socks you will be wearing, and the time of day, among other factors.

In this article we’ll cover the factors that you need to pay attention to when buying hiking boots to ensure you have adequate room for your toes.

How To Find The Perfect Fit?

While everyone knows that they need to ensure that they are buying hiking boots that fit them properly when you’re not certain what you should be looking for, this can be harder than it sounds.

Given the problems with injury, swelling, and overall discomfort, it is worth spending a little time looking at what you need to do to get boots that fit you perfectly.

Check The Fit

Let’s get the obvious one out of the way, when you’re looking to buy new hiking boots you should look to ensure that you’re finding boots that fill well! Shock horror!

While this seems obvious and something that no one would make a mistake with make sure that when you try on the boots your toes aren’t touching the front of the boots. A lot of the time people only focus on whether the big toe touches the front, but the other toes matter too.

Make sure that when you try on the hiking boots that your neither your big or little toes touch the front of the boot when you’re standing on flat ground. Even if it isn’t uncomfortable when you’re on flat ground, if they do touch the front then they are likely to get uncomfortable when you’re going for a hike over a long time.

Check The Insoles

Before you buy your shoes, you need to check their insoles. Most hiking boots have removable insoles to enhance your comfort. Remove these soles and put them on the ground. Now, put your foot on top and bend the knee slightly forward. It should leave a space of about 15 mm between the end of the insole and your longest toe. This will protect your boots and feet when moving or walking downhill.

Choose The Size At The Right Time

Over a long day, whether at work or when you’re out hiking, your feet will swell. This is a natural reaction to us having been standing up. However, this does have significant implications for us when we are getting new hiking boots.

When you’re trying on hiking boots, it is important to try and ensure your feet are in the same condition as they will be during the hike, this includes any swelling from a long day. The last thing you want is to have purchased hiking boots that are the perfect fit in the morning when you have just woken up but are awkwardly tight by the time you finish your hike.

The prevailing wisdom is to purchase hiking boots that are half a size bigger than you would normally. This will help to ensure that your feet will still be comfortable come the end of the day.

A better way of doing this is by trying on hiking shoes in the evening. This will help to ensure that your feet are the same size as they will be after a long hike. If your feet fit comfortably in the evening then this will likely mean that you’re sorted for the hike.

Carry A Pair Of Hiking Socks

Socks can also play a huge role in your shoe size. When hiking, you will almost certainly be wearing a thicker pair of hiking socks and if you’re not wearing similar socks then you might end up having a little surprise.

You need to wear hiking socks or whatever you would normally wear on your hike when choosing the shoes to prevent problems later.

After wearing these socks, try wiggling your toes and see if there is enough room for movement of your toes. Take time trying different sizes of boots and also take a walk while wearing them. If you notice discomfort, then it will worsen while you are hiking.

Take The Toe-Tapping Test

If you want to determine whether there is enough room in your hiking boots, you can also try this test. This test requires you to wear the thickest socks and swollen feet. First, you will unlace the boots before standing up. Now, bring one foot behind another one’s heel, tap it and ensure it is firmly on the ground. This will ensure the toes cover the maximum space in your shoes.

Now, use two fingers to hold the heel of the hiking boot. The shoe should accommodate both fingers comfortably side by side. If it fails, then you need to get larger-sized shoes. And if there is excess space after the fingers fit, then get smaller-sized shoes. After conducting this test, you will make a better decision.

Walk Down The Slope

One of the main times that you’re likely to have issues with the toe box of your boots is when you’re walking downhill. This is when your foot is going to be pushed forwards, and if your hiking boots are too small then you’ll find your toes pushed up against the front of the boot.

Wherever possible, it is good if you’re able to try walking down a slope when you’re trying on hiking boots to make your decision.

Some stores have test ramps that allow you to try walking up and down a slope to see how it feels. While we haven’t seen it ourselves, there are apparently some test ramps that also include an ice ramp to allow you to test the grip on ice. Interesting, however, less applicable for the sorts of tests we are trying.

Boot ramp

Carry Some Weight

When you’re out hiking, a lot of the time you’re going to be carrying a pack of some kind. While you may not think that this has any impact on the boots you’re wearing, a heavy pack can change your center of mass that, in turn, will change how you stand/walk.

While the difference may be insignificant when you’re standing in a shop trying on shoes, over a long hike this may become more noticeable.

If you’re able to wear a heavier pack while trying on hiking boots this will help to ensure you’re going to be comfortable when you’re hiking with a pack.

We’ve heard of some specialist hiking shops keeping stacks of old phone books to be able to use as weight when people are trying on hiking boots.

When Shopping Online

Shopping online is great for the convenience and range of choice you can have, but this can bring challenges with getting the right shoe fits. Most manufacturers’ do not have a universal sizing chart, and size 8.5/42 can mean different sizes in three manufacturers. Therefore, I recommend not relying on these charts.

Where possible look for brands that you’re already familiar with their sizing. This will help you to ensure that you get the right fit. While different brands don’t have consistent sizing, a single brand will be pretty consistent about their size across the range.

Can You Stretch The Toe Box Of Hiking Boots?

If you have purchased hiking boots that are too small for you, then you may want to know whether this is a lost cause or if there is anything you can do about it.

If they are only slightly too tight then you will be able to do something about it but if they are very tight then you might be stuck.

The main thing you can do to stretch them is by wearing them. We advise that you wear them for increasing amounts of time as that will help for the shoes to stretch slightly more and more each time without crippling your feet. Ultimately, this is very similar to how you would break in your hiking boots.

Drawbacks Of Ill-Fitting Hiking Boots

While no one goes out of their way to buy hiking boots that are the wrong size you may be tempted to just stick with them if you’ve spent a reasonable amount of money on them and don’t want to deal with returns. However, let’s briefly cover the problems with poorly fitting hiking boots, especially around your toes.


Regularly bashing your toe nail against the front of your hiking boot is likely to end up with your toe nails getting injured, which may result in them starting to look like the above or even completely falling off. This is very similar to what runners can experience after significant runs in poorly fitting shoes.

It can take a full year for your toenails to grow back, especially your big toe.


It’s essential to choose the right sizing of hiking boots to ensure you feel comfortable. You are the one who decides the best shoes, and you should now allow your preferences to get in the way of getting the right-sized shoes. The size is crucial to your comfort, and it will ensure your toes and toenails remain protected at all times.


Dorothy Tobias

Dorothy is a full-time writer, who loves traveling, good food, and understands the beauty of a night spent under the stars. She likes to discover new experiences wherever she goes and she feels most comfortable in her tent, with her favorite sleeping bag. Dorothy started camping with her family when she was 4 years old and remained loyal to the practice throughout the years. Today, she is an experienced backpacker and camper and knows everything there is to know about products in this niche.