a pair of feet wearing Targhee boots stands on a trail between trekking poles
a pair of feet wearing Targhee boots stands on a trail between trekking poles

Why Toes Need Wiggle Room

Here at KEEN, we spend a lot of time thinking about feet. We like to ask questions like, “What makes feet happy?” and “What are toes for, anyway?” We’re not foot doctors, but we are self-proclaimed foot nerds. After all, our feet are our foundation. They help us hike around the forest, climb on rocks, and stand upright with our hands free for giving high fives and clinking glasses.

Given how much we rely on our feet, it’s important that we treat them well. But did you know that many people wear shoes that are too small and/or too narrow? These too-small shoes force our toes out of alignment and can lead to toe maladies and posture problems down the road. So what does make feet happy? We’ll go ahead and give away the ending now. It goes like this: un-scrunched toes equal happy feet, and happy feet equal a happier body. When toes have plenty of room to splay out and wiggle around, the body feels more balanced and the spine is better aligned. Okay, that’s the end of the story. Now let’s get into the meat of this sandwich.

Why Do We Have Toes, Anyway?

You probably know how fun it is to wiggle your toes in the sand, but did you know that toes play an important role in the way the foot functions? (Warning, it’s about to get a little sciency). You have 26 bones in each foot, and 14 of those bones are in your toes. These intricate digits work hard to support your body weight, help you balance, and aid in forward propulsion as you walk. They’re also directly linked to the alignment of your spine. If the big toe isn’t straight (foot doctors call that hallux valgus or hallux varus), it can affect both your spine alignment and posture.

The point is, toes are pretty important. You can think of them like the roots of a tree (yes, you are the tree in this analogy). When they splay out naturally, the tree (that’s you) can stand strong and tall. When they’re squished or scrunched, your posture and balance is affected. Still don’t believe us? Test it out with this short exercise:

Step one: Take off your shoes and socks, and stand on one foot with all of your toes lifted off the ground. Note how it feels to balance.

Step two: Stand on the same foot with all of your toes resting flat on the ground. Do you feel more stable? We thought so.

a person wearing a pair of Newport sandals balances on a fence rail

And because we’re foot nerds (we did warn you) here are a few fun facts about toes before we move on:

• Fact I: Our big toes are a big part of what makes us distinctly human. Where other primates have flexible toes that help them climb trees, our toes are more rigid to help us walk upright.
• Fact II: When people (or animals) are born with extra toes, it’s called polydactyly.
• Fact III: Your big toe can bear almost double the weight of all of your other toes combined.

What Kind of Shoes Make Toes Happy?

Your toes are happiest in shoes that don’t try to make them into something they're not. They need room to spread out and wiggle around. This means that shoes with pointy, narrow toe boxes are not ideal because they squeeze toes out of alignment and can cause ailments like bunions, hammertoes, and plantar fasciitis. Shoes with roomy toe boxes (oh hey, like the ones we make!) simply give toes enough room to do what they naturally do — splay out. What exactly does that mean? Splaying out is what your toes do naturally when you walk around barefoot. Instead of being pressed together into the shape of a wedge, they spread out wide to align with the bones of the forefoot. To see your own toes splay naturally, try lifting and pressing your foot back onto the ground while barefoot.

What’s the Difference Between a Wide Shoe and a Wide Toe Box?

There are a lot of fit options out there, and we know it can get a little confusing. It’s important to note that there’s a difference between wide shoes and shoes with a wide toe box. Wide shoes have extra space all throughout the shoe to accommodate wide feet. Wide toe boxes have extra space at the widest part of the foot — the forefoot.

Meet the Famous KEEN Fit

KEEN Original Fit vs KEEN Contoured Fit

Since day one, we’ve made our shoes with happy toes in mind. Our Original Fit, which you’ll find on styles such as the iconic Targhee boot and Newport sandal, includes a generous amount of space in the forefoot so that toes can splay out naturally while you walk. This creates a wide and stable base at the foot and supports a naturally aligned spine. An extra bonus is that you don’t need to wait to take your shoes off at the end of the day to let them wiggle and wriggle around.

Let Them Splay

So go ahead, set your toes free. Let them wiggle in shoes that give them the space they need to splay.

a pair of bare feet relax next to a pair of NXIS hiking shoes

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