How Much Room Does Your Toe Need in a Hiking Shoe?

We know a larger hiking shoe (one size bigger) is beneficial when hiking long distances. But without this rule (or guide), how’d you determine if this is the right size for your hiking shoe?

You should ask your toe.

There should be one thumb-width distance between your toes and the edge of your hiking shoe. It keeps you comfortable if your feet swell during a long-distance walk. Also, this gap will prevent you from accidental bruises and fractures.

The toes are the most vulnerable body part during a hike. You can’t afford to get them wounded during a walk because you’d be way out of reach for proper medical assistance. Thus, a proper-sized hiking shoe is a must for any adventure. But the proper size, not your regular size.

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Benefits of a bigger shoe—one with a thumb-width distance to your toes.

The no-brainer answer to this is to give your toe more room to wiggle. Like any other body part, keeping the toes in a constrained position for a prolonged period is hard.

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What if you keep them that way?

When your toes are continuously pressured, there’ll be less blood circulation around the toe area. This may create numbness or sometimes clamps. Although the numbness will disappear a few minutes after removing your shoes, it’s not desirable during a hike. You may want to stop for rest or to enjoy a moment, but not to relieve pain.

Also, when you wear a shoe with a tight toe box, you risk injuries more often. You may get bruises or fractures by accidentally hitting a rock or tree root.

This is usually fine if you wear a boot with a leather upper. But leather upper boots are usually backpacking boots. They are well suited for extended hikes with heavy backpacks. And they are priced a bit higher than hiking shoes.

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Thirdly, our feet usually swell after a long walk. It’s (usually) not something to worry about. And your feet don’t get swollen when you are wearing the shoe. But as soon as you remove it when you’re resting, it swells. Then you’ll find it hard to put your shoes back on.

When you struggle and manage to put them on somehow, it creates pain around the toe area.

More room in the toe area would give you some benefit. This is why you need hiking shoes a size bigger.

How to improve protection for your toes with more room?

Now that you have more space doesn’t mean they need to be empty. You can wear a gel toe pouch or caps inside your roomy shoes. They are so cheap ( ~ $10) but very effective in protecting your toes.

The toe protection gives an additional layer of safety. The gap alone is not sufficient to keep you safe in some accidents. This doesn’t have to be fatal. But your boots may not handle a sizable rock falling onto your foot.

Since you have toe protection, you can significantly reduce the damage while enjoying flexibility.

Although you can find so many waterproof shoes in the market if somehow your feet or socks get wet, keeping them in a narrow space would be super challenging. This may create blisters on your feet. But with a good pair of sweat-wicking socks, you can feel very comfortable if you have enough room in your shoes.

How to ensure your hiking shoe size is correct when you’re buying online.

We all know the best way to find a shoe size is to wear them and see. If you’re in a store, you can wear your hiking boots and walk around the store to see if it’s comfortable.

Fair enough, it won’t be too comfortable initially. Hiking boots with stiffer outsole need to be broken before you take them on extended hikes.

But now that you know you need a thumb-width gap, you can test it yourself.

It’s not true when you’re purchasing online. So how can you ensure the correct size?

If you’re an Amazon Prime member, you can try the boots before you buy. You can signup for a free 30-day trial here.

You can go for a size bigger than your regular shoes. This will help you with feet swelling and have enough space for your toes.

Otherwise, you can buy a wide-toe-box shoe instead of a regular one. The wide-toe version was designed specifically for this purpose.


When shopping for a new pair of hiking shoes, it’s good to ensure you have enough room in the toe box. An excellent way to test this is to measure the distance between your toes and thumb width. If there’s less than a thumb-width space, your shoe size is too small. You can remedy this by going up a size or buying a wide-toe box shoe version. Hiking shoes should also be broken in before taking them on an extended hike.

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