Toenails Turning Black and Falling Off

Not sure why but I got a number of questions recently about toenails turning black and falling off after a big hike or backpacking trip.  It's not all that uncommon.  Usually a rookie thing that is easily remedied in most people.

The problem typically results from toe bang or when the toes, usually the big ones, are constantly and continually jammed up hard into the toe of the hiking boot or trail shoe over an extended period of time.  The nails turn black and fall off after a few days or weeks.  Not a big deal.  The nail bed is not all that sensitive and the nail eventually grows back.  Just make sure you keep the area clean and as dry as possible.

To eliminate the problem
  • keep your nails trimmed up but not too short or you will pay the price in the form of pain 
  • keep your feet in trail ready condition, meaning, get off the couch and hit the trail two or three times a week.  You have to hike regularly in the boots and socks you plan to use in order to be properly prepared for bigger challenges
  • lace your boots or shoes up tighter, especially on the bottom halves, for the major down hill portions of your journey to keep the foot from sliding forward and hitting the front of the toe box
  • use trekking poles to take some of the impact and pressure off of your feet, legs, hips
  • most importantly, tadpole, make sure that your boots or shoes are fitted properly by an expert.  This is the most common cause of black toenails.  Hint, most people buy too small.  Feet can and will expand/contract as much as a full size over the course of a challenging trip
  • Also, if this is a chronic problem for you and you have tried all of the above with no luck, try taping over and then around your nails to provide a little more support.  I like a 1 inch smooth faced nylon cloth tape for this purpose 
  • lastly, refer to John Vonhof's Fixing Your Feet for more information on all things below the knee


Wade Nelson

Sorting through the fads and fashion of the outdoor equipment industry to identify and promote the very best wilderness gear for high end recreational users, backcountry professionals and government agencies. 

We can be educated and persuaded but not bought, bullied or bs'd.  Hardcore Outdoor is dedicated to those who can't or won't turn back.


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