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Prevent Black Toenails

I have been backpacking for 15 years and I have not been able to find a way to stop black toenails. Help!


I have been backpacking for 15 years and I have not been able to find a way to stop black toenails. I have changed my lacing especially going downhill, always trim toenails and had several different types of boots. Help!

Submitted by - Sue, Carlsbad CA


Such a chronic problem points to one thing: You have a narrow and/or low-volume foot, so you’re always sliding forward within the boot and bumping up against the toe box.

Aside from astute lacing and cutting those toenails, which you’ve already tried, there are a couple other solutions. But they’ll cost you.

Your problem relates to the fit of your boot. Assuming that you otherwise like your current boots, try supplementing them with an insole designed to take up excess volume and keep your foot stable, such as Superfeet Green (, $35) or heat-moldable Sole Signature Ed Viesturs (, $40).

If you’re not crazy about your boots, check out New Balance’s line ( They make several good mid to heavy duty hikers (the 1201 and the 1500) that come in AA widths, which are tailored toward skinny feet. (Note to fat-footed folks: They also make extra wide sizes!) Also, consider going up an extra half size from what your typically wear to give your toes some extra wiggle room.

In fact, if you haven’t had your feet measured recently with a Brannock device ( ), do it. People often assume they will remain the same size their whole adult life, but just as with waistlines, it’s pretty rare. In fact, when I started this job as head gear tester at BACKPACKER, I was a perfect sample size 7 (which was great because I fit into all the boot-makers’ pre-season sample). Fourteen years, two kids, and god-knows-how many pounds of pack weight later, I’m an 8. And I have bunions, but that’s another story…


1 Comment

  1. TM

    After selling footwear for 25 years I can confidantly add that most people put their feet into a shoe and just tie it up. The correct way to make sure your shoe fits, aside from Kristen’s advice, is to kick your foot backward to ensure it hits the back of the boot firmly. Then, lace as you choose. No one should every have space behind their heel or have their toes hit the end of theur boot. A side note: Many people don’t buy the correct width shoes, either. One way to see if your old shoes are the right width is to look a the insole, the part your foot stands on. If you can count places where four toes are leaving a mark–you have a problem. Kristin is right again when she warns that feet change over time. Have your feet measured. However, DO NOT believe that the same size always fits. Not all 9’s fit the same. Not even from the same company. If you have a boot that fits and want another that fits the same, find out what “last” it was built on. The “last” is the form shoes are built on. In theory, shoes with the same last shoudl fit the same. I warn though that “last” numbers are not readily available as they were years ago. I did recently contact KEEN SHOE CO., though, and they hooked me up with a ‘last” mumber and boots that were the same. It worked.

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