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Why Do Hikers Lose Toenails (Protection Guide)

Have you ever gotten home from a hike and noticed that one of your toenails was missing when you took off your boots? If not, you should count yourself lucky. Losing a toenail, toenail damage, and black toenails are all common occurrences for hikers. While these toe conditions are considered a badge of honor among hardcore hikers, they can lead to a number of conditions and long-term issues like ingrown nails, fungal infections, and dystrophic toenails. But why do hikers lose their toenails anyway?

There are a few reasons you could lose a toenail during a hike, but they all damage your toenail while hiking. The main culprits for toenail loss and other forms of toenail damage are:

  • Wearing boots that don’t fit properly
  • Not trimming your toenails before you go on a hike
  • Not lacing your boots correctly
  • Wearing boots that don’t fully support the arch of your feet
  • Wearing socks that are too thick

As you continue to read this article, we’ll provide a more in-depth explanation of why hikers lose their toenails. Furthermore, we will provide you with numerous tips to help you keep your toenails intact and connected to your toes.

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Why Do Hikers Lose Their Toenails?

As previously stated, for hardcore hikers, losing a toenail or two is a badge of honor that they receive after a long and arduous hike. But, it’s very unhealthy and can lead to numerous toenail conditions like misshapen or dystrophic toenails and fungal infections. Hikers lose their toenails by repeatedly banging their toes against the tip of their boots. This toe banging most often occurs when the hiker is traveling downhill. 

Another reason hikers lose their toenails is due to a fungal infection. While it’s very uncommon for a hiker to lose their toenail during their hike due to a fungal infection, the infections you can contract may lead to losing a toenail or two down the road. Some ways you can contract a fungal infection on your feet may include:

  • Hiking with dirty boots
  • Hiking with wet feet
  • Hiking with dirty feet
  • Walking around your campsite barefoot
  • Hiking with wet socks
  • Hiking with dirty socks

The final contributing factor to hikers losing their toenails during a hike is long toenails. By not trimming your toenails, they’re more susceptible to damage, and the more damage your toenails take, the more likely they will fall off.

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How to Stop Your Feet from Sliding Around in Your Boots

The most common way to lose a toenail is by repeatedly banging your toes against the tip of your hiking boots. To prevent this, you’ll need tight-fitting boots, and you’ll need to lace them properly. 

Hiking boots are essential for the hobby, but having loose boots will let your feet slide around in the boot. And when hiking down a hill, your feet will be sliding back and forth in your boots and banging against the tip of your boots. With tight-fitting boots, your feet will have less room to wiggle around and thus will help protect your toenails. However, even with tight-fitting boots, you’re still susceptible to black toenails and toenail loss, which is why you’ll also need to lace your boots properly.

How you lace your boots when getting ready for a hike can make all the difference when you don’t want to lose any toenails. To lace your hiking boots, you can lace them like any other shoe or boot until you reach the halfway point where the laces and eyelets start to travel up to the top of the boot. Once you reach this point, you should add a surgeon’s knot to your laces. A surgeon’s knot is where you take the loose ends of your laces and wrap them around each other two or three times. Think of how you start to tie your shoes, but you wrap your laces around each other an additional time. The surgeon’s knot will add additional stability and act as a barrier that prevents your feet from sliding forward. 

After you add a surgeon’s knot to your laces, continue lacing your boots like normal. Remember to use all of the eyelets on your boots because they help increase stability for your ankles and feet. However, you can continue adding surgeon’s knots to your laces in between each eyelet if you want. Each surgeon’s knot will continue adding support to your boots while also helping keep your foot in place.

The way you tie your boots can also help prevent toenail damage. After putting your boots on, ensure your heel is firmly planted against the boot’s heel. Once your heel is firmly in place, tie your boot. Tying your boots like this will help prevent your feet from sliding around while hiking.

Finally, the socks you wear while hiking can help you keep your toenails intact. The best kind of socks for hiking are made of wool. They provide the traction that will help keep your feet in place inside your boots. They also help keep your feet warm, help your feet breathe, prevent blisters, and dry quickly. 

How to Prevent a Fungal Infection While Hiking

Contracting a fungal infection is another way you can lose a toenail from hiking. In most cases, a hiker losing a toenail from a fungal infection is mostly due to negligence. Fungal infections can only occur and prosper in certain conditions, as in a moist and warm environment. With that said, the best way to combat this is by keeping your feet clean and dry. 

When going on a hike, you should always pack one or two extra pairs of socks, depending on how long your hike will be. If you accidentally step in a muddy puddle or need to cross a stream, you’ll need to change your socks or risk a fungal infection. The sweat your feet produce can also create an excellent environment for fungus to grow. If you take our advice and get yourself some wool socks, they will absorb some of the sweat that comes from your feet and will need to be replaced with dry socks during your hike. Doing so will prevent an athlete’s foot, which is another type of fungal infection.

Another great way to prevent fungal infection on your feet is by wearing water-resistant or waterproof hiking boots. As the name suggests, waterproof and water-resistant hiking boots will help keep your feet dry if you happen to step in one of those muddy puddles on your trail.

Keeping your feet and boots clean is integral to foot health while hiking. Hiking with dirty feet is more common for people who are planning multi-day hiking trips. But it’s still preventable by using some of your water and a towel to clean your feet at the end of the day. Keeping your boots clean is as simple as washing and drying them the day before you go on a hike, and if you want to make sure they are as clean as possible, spray your boots down with anti-fungal spray.

Finally, applying baby powder to your feet and toes before you put on your socks and boots is a fantastic way to prevent fungal growth. Baby powder will absorb any sweat or moisture that it comes in contact with and will help keep your feet dry. 

Trim Your Toenails Before You Go on a Hike

Trimming your toenails is the easiest way to help prevent toenail damage. Use a file or some nail clippers, and make sure your toenails are in check. The goal is to keep your toenails shorter than your toe. Any overhang is going to increase the chances of your toenail falling off while you hike. 

Support the Arches of Your Feet

Most people have a natural arch in their feet, and if you’re not properly supporting them, your foot will slowly flatten while you’re hiking and widen your boots which will allow your feet to move around more. The best way to combat this is by purchasing over-the-counter boot inserts or custom-made orthotics. These inserts will help support the arches of your feet and provide a more comfortable hiking experience for you.

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Get Treatment for Missing Toenails and Toenail Damage

There are some precautions you should take before you go on your hike. Even if you have followed all of our tips to help prevent toenail loss, it’s still a possibility. So, to be safe, you should bring some Epsom salts with you. If you lose a toenail on your hike, you should combine the salts you brought with you with some water and soak your toe for 10 minutes. Doing this will help soothe some of the pain and draw out some of the blood. Furthermore, the salt will act as an antiseptic and prevent infections.

Most of the time, when a toenail comes off while hiking, only part of the toenail is ripped off. So, once you get home, you’ll need to remove as much of the nail as possible with some nail clippers. Then you’ll need to soak your foot using Epsom salts in warm water for at least ten minutes a day. If the pain in your toe increases over the next few days, or if you see red streaks or pus, you’ll need to see a doctor because these are signs of infection.

Final Thoughts

As a hiker, the health of your feet is very important. Without healthy feet, you won’t be able to enjoy your favorite hobby. With that said, keeping your feet and toes healthy is straightforward. Remember to wear tight-fitting boots and lace them up so your feet can’t slide around and bang against the tips of your boots. Also, wearing the right socks and water-resistant or waterproof boots will help keep your feet dry and fungus-free. Finally, remember to bring extra socks and Epsom salt, clean your boots, and clip your toenails before each hiking trip. If you lose a toenail during your hike, soak it in salt water to clean the wound and relieve pressure. Continue this treatment when you get home, and go to the hospital if you see any signs of infection.

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