causes of toenail problems in Seattle hikersToenail damage, black toenails, and toenail loss are common problems in hikers who live in Seattle and elsewhere. While often seen as a badge of honor by hardcore trekkers, toenail damage can lead to ingrown toenails and longer term problems such as dystrophic or misshapen toenails and fungal toenails.

Causes of Toenail Problems in Hikers

  • Wearing boots that don’t fit properly – wearing boots that are too short or allow your feet to slide forward can cause your toes to hit the top of your boots when you hike. Toenails get damaged from the repeated pressure. The nail can lift off the nailbed causing a blood blister to form under the nail. Fungus can also get in where it can cause a nasty fungal toenail infection.
  • too long toenailsLetting your toenails get too long – when your toenails are too long pressure from the top of the boot can damage them.
  • Flattening of the arch – if your feet aren’t properly supported than your arch can flatten causing increased volume in your boots. Essentially your feet become too long for your boots causing your toes to hit the top.
  • Improper boot lacing – when boots aren’t laced properly your feet are more likely to slide forward, particularly when you hike downhill. This can be particularly problematic for hikers with narrow heels.
  • Socks that are too thick – wearing socks that are too thick will also increase the volume in your boots, allowing your toes to hit the top.

5 Ways to Prevent Your Toenails from Hitting the Top of Your Boots

The key to preventing toenail damage is to prevent your toenails from hitting the top of your boots. Here’s how:

how to buy hiking boots to prevent toenail problems in Seattle1. Buy the right boots

It all starts with ensuring you have boots that fit properly and are designed for the type of hiking you do. I’ve written an entire eBook on this subject called, “How to Buy Hiking Boots to Prevent Plantar Fasciitis”. While the book covers plantar fasciitis the information is still relevant for preventing toenail damage.

2. Use proper lacing techniques

In addition to getting the right fit, you can keep your feet from sliding forward by using specific lacing techniques. The following techniques can be a tremendous help:

  • Use the extra eyelet in your trail shoes

At the top of your trail shoes you should see two eyelets right next to each other. Use those two eyelets (on both sides) to create a loop over the top. Take the lace from the opposite side and pull through the loop. This will help tighten your feet back into your boots. See demo below.


  • Use a surgeon’s knot

On heavier-duty boots use a surgeon’s knot. Start by pulling all the slack out of the bottom of your boot. When you get to the top two hooks instead of simply placing them in the hooks, take your laces and wrap them around each other twice before cinching. See demo below.


3. Cut your toenails regularly

It’s essential to cut your toenails properly before you hike. Always cut them straight across but not too short.  

over-the-counter inserts4. Change out the boot insert or wear custom orthotics

Everyone can benefit from an over-the-counter insert when hiking. They’ll help keep your feet stable and your arches from flattening out. If you have flat feet or a tendency to develop heel pain or Achilles tendonitis, you’ll likely need custom orthotics.

5. Buying socks

When you buy your boots be sure to buy your socks at the same time. That way you’ll avoid getting socks that are too thick.

Get Treatment for Toenail Loss and Damage in Seattle

If you have a blackened toenail or your nail has fallen off here are things you can do when on the trail and once you get home.

If your toenail remains discolored or becomes white, you may have also developed toenail fungus. The only way to confirm its fungus is to get your toenails tested by your podiatrist.

treating fungal toenails with laserTreatment for toenail fungus at the Foot and Ankle Center of Lake City includes:

  • Laser treatment
  • Tolcylen which is a topical medication to reduce fungus and improve nail appearance
  • Daily use of a shoe sanitizer
  • A short course of oral medications

Learn more about our comprehensive toenail fungus treatment program here.

You may also be interested in the following topics for hikers:

toenail loss in hikersankle sprains in hikersprevent and treat foot blisters when hikingstopping heel pain in hikersstopping achilles tendonitis in hikers


Need Relief From Toenail Loss and Toenail Fungus in Seattle, Washington? Request an Appointment Now

Don't let toenail damage, loss, or fungus cause you to miss out on the activities you enjoy.

Complete the contact form on this page or call our office, the Foot and Ankle Center of Lake City, at 206-368-7000 to schedule an appointment with Dr. Rion Berg.

Most new patients are seen within 1-2 week's time. During your initial visit, Dr. Berg will spend up to 30 minutes getting to know you, your podiatry complaints, and your goals so that he can recommend the treatment best meets your needs. Don’t wait—contact us today.

North Seattle Foot & Ankle Specialist Dr. Rion Berg offers compassionate podiatry care for all foot and ankle problems to those living in Seattle Washington and the surrounding areas. Call us today at 206-368-7000 for an immediate appointment or request an appointment online.



Dr. Rion Berg
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A podiatrist in North Seattle treating families for over 40 years.
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