Why Do My Toenails Hurt After Hiking – You May Be Surprised with the Answer

Typically, you will see statements that toenails hurt after hiking because your toes ram into your hiking boots or shoes. This may be so in many cases, but there is yet another less obvious reason for the pain.

It is essential to maintain feet in perfect condition. So if you feel toenails pain during your hiking adventure, you might want to check your socks. I know for sure that this was the reason for the pain I experienced recently in the mountains.

My bruised toenails.
My bruised toenails.

My recent experience

So, I was on may way back from Pizzo Tambo in the Italian Alps, a beautiful 3000er close to Spluga Pass which is on the border between Italy and Switzerland.

For that particular climb I was using my new Nortiv 8 Armadillo 1 mid-cut hiking boots. This was the first time I was using them on a mountain, before that I was just testing them in some walks close to place where I live.

Using new boots in the mountains is always risky, you may end up with blisters and pain, and this can ruin your plans. So I was extra careful that time, had some stuff in the backpack to prevent blisters, and I was in general careful and paid attention to what was happening with my feet.

On descent, very soon after I started, I realized I had toenail pain on both feet. Now, this was surprising because these boots run wide for my feet, and they are actually half-size bigger than what I would normally want.

So my feet have plenty of space, and it looked impossible that the pain would be due to toes ramming into the boots.

Precaution measures

1. Shoelace knot issue

To understand better the statement about boots being wide on the front, it is important to stress the following. Before descent, I moved the shoelace knot to a lower position instead of making it on the highest eyelets. This is my usual strategy in such situations.

The reason for this is as follows. When we walk downhill, it is good to fix feet so that they do not slide and move forward in the boots. If such a movement happens, toenails would be pressing the inner front of the boots, and this would cause pain.

If the boot is not large enough or wide enough on the front, it will be much worse. So indeed, it is the boot to blame in most situations, it is easy to agree about that.

This is why I move the knot to a lower position, the ankle is then better fixed in place and forward movement is considerably reduced. The picture below shows roughly how this may look, this is a pair of my new Armadillo 2 boots, an upgraded yet incredibly affordable version of those mentioned above which I used on the mountain.

NORTIV 8 Armadillo 2 Boot.
NORTIV 8 Armadillo 2 Boot.

In any case, now you may realize why it is advisable to use boots and not shoes, such ankle stabilization is essential. You may move the knot even lower if your boots have hooks and not loops, this in the picture is just to demonstrate what I mean.

2. Two pairs of socks

No matter if the boots are new or not, my rule is to use two pairs of socks. This is my simple strategy that worked for decades, and I do not plan to change it ever.

It works like this: I use thin and short socks as the first layer, and thick longer socks as the second layer. Those thin socks should fit tightly around the feet and move together with them. So eventual friction is supposed to be between them and thicker socks. This reduces chances for blisters, at least from my experience.

Why my strategy did not work?

You have already seen that on that particular occasion, the strategy did not work. I was puzzled because it did not make sense. So I took a rest and decided to make an experiment: I removed the short socks.

Guess what? After just a minute or so of walking, I realized that the pain stopped. I think I know the answer on what was happening.

As I mentioned above, those short socks are supposed to be thin. Well, that time I used a pair that was a bit thick for its purpose. On the other hand, and more importantly, they were too small.

The reason behind this is that they were not new, so after being washed many times, they shrank and became smaller in size. It is not clear why this happened, one would expect this from wool socks, but those were synthetic.

In any case, being thicker than usual and smaller than usual, they did not allow minimal movements and spreading of the feet that must happen in any case, no matter if you go downhill or on a flat terrain.

So the socks’ fabric caused pressure on the toenails and this resulted in pain.


So now you know it, check your socks next time if you realize that you have sore toenails, this may be one possible reason. This holds even if you use only one pair of socks. If they are too small, you might have problems.

If you disregard the issue, you will have a dark-colored bruise under the toenail that will develop a few days after your hike.

Of course, a nail discoloration could also be due to fungal infections, but if you also have pain similar to what I described, it may be either about socks or about boots.

After the tour described above, I climbed several other peaks in the area, some in the same boots and some in my Salomon boots. But I used different short socks and did not have toenail pain again. This is why I am sure that socks were behind the problem.

For more texts of this type please check in the category Mountaineering here in the site. Thank you for reading. There is a comment box below so let me know if you have questions.

Me on Jalovec.Hi, I am Jovo, the founder of this OutdoorsFAQs site and several other outdoor sites. I have been mountaineering for almost 40 years already, and I have created this site to use as a reference for various questions that I receive in my sites. Being a theoretical physicist by profession, I tend to base my answers on facts and on my own personal experience.

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