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Help with hiking boot fit for "problem" feet


I am a 58 year old woman with narrow feet, bunions, & managed plantar fasciitis. I’ve had sprained ankles in the past, so I prefer the support of boots. I also love to backpack: this past 42-mile backpack trip was multi-day & my pack weighed 28 lbs. I currently wear 3 year old Hoka’s. I love them, except this last trip in July I went from trail to Urgent Care for an infected toe, and subsequently lost two toenails. The year before I also lost a toenail. Obviously there’s a problem. I’ve been to REI three times since July buying & returning boots. Yes, I’ve been fitted. I’ve tried Oboz, Solomon, Kean, Merrell & Altra.  REI didn’t have Hoka boots (other than Speedgoats). I am going to order Hoka boots on-line. Should I order my regular size or 1/2 size larger? Are there any other brands recommend for problem feet?

7 Replies


I too have a love/hate relationship with my feet (tho mine are wide and flat) and been doing the "boot dance" for many years. I am 56, very fit, and hike frequently. However, one of the changes that can occur as we get older is that our feet can get longer and wider. Ligaments naturally stretch and this enlarges the feet. And if you have had a bad bone break in your foot (as I did this summer while long-boarding with my son - Yah, yah, I know about "too old" to be on a skateboard...) your body releases a hormone called Relaxin that can further the expansion of your feet (see here for an article from Cleveland Clinic - ). Blackened toenails are a sure sign that your toes are slamming into the front of your boots, likely and especially on the downhill. Do look into a 1/2 size larger, but beware - Make sure that you get a boot that will fit snugly enough around your heel area to avoid boot movement and blisters. I wore Keens for years, but recently, after my feet changed sizes (yes, the skateboard, I know, I know...) I picked up a pair of Lowas, 1/2 size larger, that allow me to really dial in the fit for various areas of my feet. True, they were almost three hundred dollars, but my feet have never been happier. To get an even better fit on the trail, I have an old sock trick: At the beginning of the day I will wear a thick wool sock with my liners, and by the latter half of the day (when my feet tend to swell up) I switch to a thinner wool sock and my liners. That way, my feet do not slide around inside my boots (1/2 size bigger) and all is well.

Hope that helps and good luck.



Hi @Joy

I'm so sorry to hear you're having some issues finding a pair of boots that fit correctly! @JBG has given you some great suggestions with regard to ensuring your boots have an all-around correct fit. Given your problems with toenail loss, I'd be inclined to agree that you should probably size up, as usually toenail loss is associated with impact at the end of the shoe, whether due to your toes hitting the end, or compression on the top.

Hoka's are known for being comfortable and cushioned due to the EVA foam platform contained in their shoes. But, like most running shoes, the average length of wear is roughly 300-500 miles depending on use and the physical profile of the wearer. You might be able to get more mileage out of boots like the Hoka Toa, due to the increased amount of rubber outsole, but even with a durable shoe or boot, frequent use over three years will wear the boot beyond it's normal lifespan.

It's hard to assess exactly what might cause something like toenail loss, but certainly wearing your shoes beyond their lifespan might cause new injuries or issues as the shoe loses its physical integrity.

As you purchase a new pair, remember that you want at least a thumbnail's length (from base of nail to end of thumb) of room in the forefoot after you've donned whatever sock you like for hiking. And, as @JBG recommended, considering testing the boot with a variety of sock weights at different points during your day, or your hike.

Finally, there's not really a particular shoe or boot recommended for "problem feet" because each foot is truly unique--the best boot is the one that fits you correctly. That said, you're protected by our 100% Satisfaction Guarantee should you try a Hoka boot and decide it is also not the right fit.

Hope this helps!

At REI, we believe time outside is fundamental to a life well lived.

@Joy hiking boot fit can definitely be tricky, and so personalized. I also have narrow feet, so I'll share 2 things that have worked for me, recognizing they may or may not work for you:

  • Even though I have slightly flatter feet, I always wear Superfeet (pink specifically) in my hiking shoes and boots, as I find they hold my arches up a little and therefore help lock my heel in the heel cup, thus minimizing my foot sliding forward on the downhill (and keeping my toes away from the front of the shoe/boot)
  • I currently wear the Salomon Speedcross for day hiking, or shorter backpacks with less weight, and the Oboz Bridger for longer/heavier backpack trips, both with insoles

Hope this helps!

At REI, we believe time outside is fundamental to a life well lived.

Thank you for your help! I just made a very big purchase, with a promise to my hubby that I return one pair before the end of the month 🤣: Hoka Stinson AND Lowa Lady Light, a half size larger then my regular shoe size. If there is any interest I’ll update this post. Joy


@Joy definitely interested - please keep us posted on what does/doesn't work!

At REI, we believe time outside is fundamental to a life well lived.

The two pair of boots arrived Thursday and they were nothing alike; really no contest between them (Lady Lowas/ Hoka Stinson). The Hoka’s are amazing: incredibly comfortable right out of the box, reminding me more of recovery shoes than hiking boots. I have been wearing them everyday since they arrived, just to be sure. I love them. This afternoon I am making the hour drive to REI to return the Lady Lowas. 


So glad you found a pair that you love! Thank you for circling back with us here in the community!

At REI, we believe time outside is fundamental to a life well lived.