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Toe Woes

How can I keep from losing my toenails during long backpacks?


I’ve had problems with toenail loss on my great toes. Recently I lost my left toenail after a six-day hike on the AT. My right foot was fine. A thru hiker says I need larger boots, but my toes don’t touch the end of the boot, so what is a good remedy?

Submitted by - Tony, Bogart, GA


Pressure on the top of your toes can cause toenail loss, too. There are several preventative options you can try. Longer boots might work. Wider boots might do the job just as well. Sometimes an arch support holds your toes farther back in your boots and with a slight downward turn that could relieve pressure. And, finally, you can try lacing your boots more snugly, especially before downhill terrain. I suggest you have your boots fitted by a pro, and be sure to tell that person your toe problem.  —Buck

1 Comment

  1. Jerry W Doyle

    It is most interesting to read all the comments. I’ve lost many toenails, mostly nails from the big toe, but also from other smaller toes, too. I must, though, disagree respectfully with many of the comments written by saying the problem toenails are due to “trauma” to the toes caused by repeated “wallops” to the toe cap area of the boot, specifically to the outsole and rubber rand. On a long day hike, and especially on a backpacking trip one sustains hundreds of “thumps” and “blows” to the boot toe cap area from raised tree branches lying underneath the trail bed, rocks sticking up from the trail bed, on and on. Think of a professional boxer who sustains repeated blows to the head. Eventually the boxer incurs some brain damage. It is no different with a hiker or backpacker whose toes sustain blow after blow over the course of a hike resulting in “trauma” to the toes that often start bleeding underneath the toenails. I have tried everything from wearing the best quality backpackers’ boots, cushioning my foot with the thickest pair of Merino wool socks inside a boot that is ½ size larger than my foot, and I can say to you that only one method precludes toenail damage: avoidance of blows to the toecap area of one’s boot.

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