Black Toes 
Your boots seem to fit fine, until the last day coming out of the mountains. When you get back home, you notice your toes hurt and eventually the nails of one or two toes turn black. A couple months later, your ugly black toe nails fall off to be replaced by nice soft pretty pink ones. What happened? Basically, you smashed and bruised your toes repeatedly into the front of your boot for much of the downhill day. 

Are Black Toes preventable? Yes. Below are some basic suggestions -- 

Clip your toe nails. 


Your boots may need to be at least 1/2 size larger than you think. 


Make sure you have good arch supports 


Tightly lace your boots in the toe and mid section to keep your foot from sliding forward to the toes. 


Fail at any one of these points and you are likely to end up bruising your toenails and end up with the dreadedly ugly black toe. 

Some other comments on this issue may be helpful. 

You're going to be fooled into thinking your boots fit fine during average warm up hikes. Black toes happen when you are pushing your body to the max, not some simple "break in" hike. 


When you hike downhill for a prolonged time, your arches will 'flatten out'. This happens because of the stress of weight of your body and pack putting a lot of stress on your arches. 
With poor arch support in your boot, your foot will increase in size up to 1 size resulting in black toes from a too small boot that under other circumstances fits fine. This is also a cause of blisters. 


Many arch supports are marginal at best. 
Many boot makers skimp on good arch support in order to save an ounce or two in boot wieght as well as in cost. Also, not everyone has high arches and a flat support feels good to them. 


There are good after market arch supports. My favorite are "Second Winds". I almost routinely discard the arch supports of most every boot I buy and replace them with a good arch support before hitting the trail. I can't recall ever finding good arch supports in off the shelf boots. 


Check the lacing several times during the downhill hike and retighten as necessary. 
It might also help to occasionally place a half square knot in a few laces to slow the slippage of laces. 


The repetitive motion of hiking downhill will loosen up your laces over a couple hours so that your toes will eventually start to smash into the front of your boot -- especially with the slippery but pretty synthetic laces many boots have these days. 


Knowing all of this doesn't mean that I still haven't occasionally ended up with black toes. Where I fail these days is usually not checking the laces often enough during a downhill trek. Oh well, maybe someday I'll learn... 

Preventing Blisters 
When it comes to blisters on the trail, one should be aware that you are likely to end up treating the symptom, but not the cause, of the problem. In many cases the cause of blisters is a weak or undersized arch support and/or undersized boot. When you put 50 or 60 pounds on your back, the wieght will cause your arches to drop, making your feet bigger than they otherwise would be. The result of this is you end up with blisters with boots that felt fine on warm up day hikes. One can also end up with black and bruised toes. 

There are several preventive steps you can take. 

Boot selection 
Consider buying boots that are a half or full size bigger than normal. 
Avoid boots that have a sharp edge to the back heel. A sharp edged heel increases the movement of the foot inside the boot and therefore promotes blisters. The back of the heel should be rounded. 


I found that one of the ways to prevent some blisters was to pour a few drops of shampoo or dish soap on the areas where the blisters might show up. This provides some lubrication to keep the blister from forming in the first place. The soap will also speed up the breaking in of that section of the boot. I suppose vasoline might also work. However, soap mixes with water and sweat is still slippery at high dilutions. Soap will also seep into leather of a boot and over time may stretch that area to provide more room. 


You might get some real orthotics if you want to do it right. You might also consider, if the arch supports are weak, what else in the boot is weak... 
Some boot makers, in the race to have the lightest boot, put the cheapest arch support possible in the boot to cut an extra ounce or two. They might otherwise have a nice boot, but beware. 


I like to wear some inexpensive 'fluffy' acrylic socks. The socks will compress down and even wear away a bit where the boot is tight and rubs. Instead of blisters, you end up with socks that are thinner in a few spots. Basically, you end up with a sock that form fits itself to your boots. You can also easily monitor the hot spots before they show up as blisters by checking for thin spots. 


Change socks or dry them out mid day. 


If you are out on the trail and suspect your arch supports are failing you, cut a corner from your foam pad and duct tape it to the arch support to make a taller/bigger arch support. 
The problem with mole skin is that the cause of the blister is generally a tight fitting area that rubs. Adding some bulk to that area will generally only make it rub worse and create a larger area of wear. Some people duct tape their heel to prevent blisters. The reason this works is they have reduced the friction that causes the blisters. Most anything that reduces the friction will probably work.

 

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