Why Do Hiking Boots Hurt My Ankles (Causes & How to Avoid)

Whether you’re an experienced or novice hiker, ankle distress can be a serious problem. And more often than not, your hiking boots are usually the primary cause of such pain and can significantly spoil the experience.

This is why it can be beneficial to find excellent and functional hiking boots. Let’s take a better look at why hiking boots hurt ankles and some advice for what steps you can take to reduce this discomfort.

Quick Summary 

  • Hiking boots can hurt your ankles due to poor fit, lack of support, stiffness, break-in period, or previous injuries.
  • Proper fit, good ankle support, and a flexible sole and ankle area can help prevent ankle pain while hiking.
  • If you experience ankle pain while hiking, consider using ankle braces or consulting with a healthcare professional for advice.

Is it Normal for Hiking Boots to Hurt at First? 

closeup of hiking boots of a person hiking on a trail

Yes, it is normal for hiking boots to hurt at first. Hiking boots are designed to provide support and protection for your feet while walking on rugged terrain, and they often require a break-in period to mold to your feet and become comfortable.

Once you’ve got your boots on, take a good walk around with them. As you “wear them in” you are constantly allowing them to adjust to your feet naturally, thus relieving pain.

In the long run, no pun intended, slowly but surely you’ll notice your foot starts to feel nice and comfy inside of your boot.

5 Common Reasons Hiking Boots Hurt Ankles

Woman with bandaged foot and ankle
Courtesy of Ben Schumin

1. Fit

An improper fit can be the most common reason your hiking shoes hurt your feet. If you don’t have enough room for your feet to sit comfortably in your boots, this can cause swollen feet after your hiking trip, squeezing, or pinching [1].

If your feet have too much room and they’re able to slide in and out of your boots without unlacing, this can cause rubbing, hot spots, and sometimes extremely unsightly blisters.

If your boot is too stiff or rigid, discomfort can happen as well. When walking on flat, even ground, this stiffness may not be so noticeable. This happens because the hiking boots restrict the natural movement of the foot and ankle, forcing them into an unnatural position.

Over time, this can lead to strain and inflammation in the muscles, tendons, and ligaments around the ankle joint, causing this pain and discomfort.

2. The Tongue is Not Seated Properly

tongue of north face boot

Every so often, the tongue of your boot can get dislodged. This can be for many reasons.

Here and there just look down and check the tongue of your boot while you continue your trek.

The tongue can glide over your toes and compress your foot while also pushing it to the opposite side.

This can be very uncomfortable and lead to improper ankle support, which can in turn cause injury.

3. Foot Shape

The shape of your feet can play a crucial role in finding the optimal fit for hiking boots. Having a flat or low arch can make your ankle roll inward or the opposite and put more pressure on the outer sides. This can cause unnecessary stress on the ankles and lead to pain or discomfort. 

Similarly, if you have high arches, your feet are less flexible and may not provide enough cushioning and support. For this reason, hiking may require ankle support.

Based on a study, tightly fitting boots or ones with inadequate ankle support may exacerbate these issues, causing sprains, strains, or even fractures [2].

Thus, it is essential to select hiking boots to fit that match your foot shape properly to minimize the risk of injuries.

4. Breathability

snow boot low breathability

Having poor breathability in your hiking boots can lead to various issues.

Some issues involve a buildup of moisture and heat around the feet, excessively sweaty feet, blisters, and of course, foul odors. 

Over time, this can also contribute to ankle pain, which can impact your ability to long hike comfortably for extended periods.

A poorly ventilated boot can irritate the skin, which can in turn trigger inflammation causing pain in the surrounding tissues and muscles.

These can all ultimately lead to more ankle pain, making it crucial for hikers to choose new shoes that provide ample ventilation and breathability.

5. Incorrect Lacing

Improper lacing of hiking boots can lead to a range of problems that can make hiking uncomfortable and even dangerous. If the laces are not adjusted correctly, the foot can move around in the boot, causing rubbing and friction that can lead to blisters or other foot injuries.

Proper lacing techniques can help prevent these issues and ensure a comfortable and safe hiking experience.

What Additional Factors Can Cause Ankle Pain?

Terrain and Hiking Conditions

climbing the Nuns Veil
Courtesy of Vern @ Flickr

The type of terrain and hiking conditions can contribute to ankle pain. Uneven surfaces, steep slopes, rocky trails, or prolonged descents can put excessive strain on the ankles, leading to discomfort.

Choosing appropriate footwear, such as sturdy walking boots or wear hiking boots with good ankle support, can help mitigate this.

Pre-existing Injuries or Weaknesses

If you’ve had previous ankle injuries or know you have weak ankles, it’s essential to listen to your body and take extra precautions while hiking.

I speak from experience as someone who’s had their fair share of ankle mishaps on the trail. Don’t push through the pain. Consult with a healthcare professional who can guide you on proper support options or suggest exercises to strengthen your ankle.

Taking proactive steps will not only help alleviate ankle pain but also ensure you can enjoy your outdoor adventures with confidence.

Foot Biomechanics

Your foot biomechanics, including issues like overpronation or supination, can affect the alignment and stability of the ankle. Improper foot alignment can lead to increased stress on the ankle bone and surrounding structures.

Customized orthotics or good hiking insoles can help correct biomechanical issues and alleviate ankle pain.

How to Stop Hiking Boots from Hurting Your Ankle

1. Try Before You Buy

buying and trying salomon hiking shoes from the shop
Buying and Trying Hiking Shoes From the Salomon Shop

When buying new shoes, if possible, try them on before you purchase a pair. Your shoe size can vary from shoe brand to shoe brand.

And not only can your size vary, but each one of your feet can be different in anatomy. This is why it is crucial to try the right pair that you like before buying them.

Another great thing about trying a new pair on first is if you have the socks you want to wear with you, you can try them on with the hiking boots as well.

This will give you a better idea of how they will feel on your feet. Your hiking boots should fit snugly yet comfortably with the allowance of enough space in the toe box.

For additional information see our articles on how to tell if hiking boots are too small or how to tell if hiking boots are too big.

2. Invest in a Sweatband

We know, it sounds a little unusual to suggest wearing socks and a sweatband to relieve foot pain but trust us when we say any kind of padding can be better than no padding.

If your boots don’t already have great extra support padding, then you might want to consider a sweatband. You can place it around your ankles.

Based on our firsthand experience, this not only can help to add extra support, but it may help keep this area dryer thus preventing blisters.

3. Stretch

person stretching on a mountain
Courtesy of Andrew Whalley

Stretching before a hike helps prepare the muscles, tendons, and ligaments around your feet and legs for the stresses that come along with hiking.

Focus on stretching your joints, calves, and hamstrings to help lessen pain while trailing.

Some effective stretching exercises you can try include ankle rotations, calf stretches, and backward heel raises that stretch the soles of your feet.

4. Choose Hiking Boots Made of PTFE

Going back to breathability; if you still want durability while also keeping your feet dry, choose hiking boots made from PTFE or polytetrafluoroethylene [3].

PTFE material membranes were created to promote ventilation from the inside out, by permitting moisture to escape. This ensures that your feet remain dry and comfortable, especially during intense heat and humid weather. 

Will Breaking in New Hiking Boots Put Less Stress on My Ankles?

wearing hiking boots every day to break them in

If you break in your boots it can help put less stress on your ankles because it allows the boots to mold to the shape of your feet, thus reducing tension and pressure points that can cause aching and pain. 

When hiking boots are new, the materials are often stiff and unforgiving, leading to rubbing and potential blisters.

By wearing the hiking footwear for short periods at a time and gradually increasing the time-worn, you allow the leather or synthetic materials to soften and adjust to your unique foot shape.

As per our experience, this also helps to loosen up any tight spots that might be putting pressure on your ankles. 

In addition, breaking in your hiking boots can help train and strengthen the muscles in your feet and ankles, as they are forced to work a little harder to maintain balance and stability in the new hiking footwear.

And hey, if you encounter any persistently tight areas, don’t forget the shoe stretcher which allows you to customize your boots to ensure a perfect fit.

Ultimately, by taking the time to break in your hiking shoes properly, you can avoid many of the problems that arise when you wear new or uncomfortable boots, including sore ankles.

Does Using Good Quality Socks Improve Comfort?

hiking socks and boots

Having good quality thick socks for hiking can significantly reduce friction and improve the comfort of your feet.

Because your feet can get sweaty and rub along the insides of your boot, wearing appropriate socks is essential for less discomfort. 

When choosing hiking socks, you want to make sure you’re not just buying a basic pair of cotton socks.

You’ll want to consider proper hiking socks which are usually made from wool. Other important factors include sock length, its cushioning, and of course, a proper fit.

Choosing wool socks with a good height can help reduce the stress of friction you can have against the collars of your boots and will keep your feet properly cushioned, nice, and dry during your trek.

What to Consider When Choosing Comfortable Boots for Hiking?

a pair of Columbia hiking boots with ankle support

Proper Cushioning

Cushioning, or shock absorption, is essential when searching for comfortable hiking boots.

When your boots come with shock-absorbing insoles or midsoles it can help cushion the impact of your feet hitting the ground, thus preventing an increased amount of pressure and ankle discomfort. 

EVA and PU or a combination of both are the most common materials used by manufacturers for padding the midsoles of hiking boots. Both types increase shock absorption and resist compression.

Proper Fit

Remember that even though the same shoe size works for most of your shoes, hiking boots are a little more complex when it comes to the way they fit your feet. That’s why, we suggest you try them on before you buy them.

Properly fitting hiking boots will go a long way with how comfortable they feel on your feet over time. High-top boots can help to lessen the effects of ankle stress, but at the same time, when there’s this fixation on the ankle, the knee tends to absorb more of that stress to compensate.


a pair of hiking boots lowa renegade gtx mid

Hiking boots are rarely wholly made of just one kind of material. When picking comfortable hiking boots, look out for materials such as GORE-TEX, synthetic, and nubuck leather.

These products are either lighter in weight or more on the flexible side. 

Synthetic material is commonly found in most boots today. Synthetic material is lighter weight, has more breathability, and is more flexible than traditional leather.

Boots made with GORE-TEX are flexible, breathable, and the most durable 2nd to leather.

If you can find quality women’s hiking boots made with nubuck leather, you’ll get material that is durable, waterproof, and flexible. Nubuck leather is traditional premium leather that has been smoothed to feel like suede.

Does All Hiking Footwear Cause Ankle Pain?

No. Not all hiking boots cause ankle pain. You can expect to find some that are more flexible to your liking yet still have the durability you’re looking for. 

If you want boots that add more support and stability then you’ll want to look for some quality ankle support hiking boots that have a high collar. You may also want to pick ones that have more padding for security around the collar. 


Do All Hiking Boots Need to Be Broken In?

Hiking boots made of modern materials may not require a break-in period, but traditional leather hiking boots usually do as the leather material needs time to adapt to the shape of the wearer’s feet and become more supple.

Should Hiking Boots Be Tight Around the Ankle?

The ankle area of hiking boots should have a snug fit to provide support and prevent injuries while hiking. This ensures that the ankle remains stable and secure while walking on uneven terrain.

Is Ankle Support a Myth?

Hiking with a bad ankle is possible, but caution is crucial. Take steps to prevent ankle injuries by wearing supportive hiking boots or trail runners. You should also limit the excessive ankle movement and opt for trails that are less demanding on the ankle joint.


  1. https://orthoinfo.aaos.org/en/diseases–conditions/tight-shoes-and-foot-problems/
  2. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6064070/
  3. https://www.machinedesign.com/materials/article/21837740/eptfe-keeps-athletic-shoes-dry-and-comfortable
Catalin Geangos

Catalin Geangos

Catalin is a writer and outdoor specialist who has been traveling in over 35 countries so far. He loves spending time in nature, enjoying mountains and nature adventures, and ultimately inspiring people to travel more. In his time off, he is testing, analyzes, and reviews hiking and other outdoor gear and accessories.

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