Updated: Dec 18, 2022
What is a wide toe box?
There is some confusion when it comes to a true wide toe box. The reason for that is because the shoe industry has set their own standards for a “Wide Width” shoe: D, E, EE, 2E, etc. With a wide width shoe, the entire shoe is a little wider, and the last is actually the same. The last is the sole or bed of the shoe. What really happens is the depth of the shoe changes, and allows greater volume of the foot.
The Shoe Last
The last is a roughly* foot-shaped form made of molded plastic, carved wood, cast aluminum, or 3D printed plastic. Why is the last called the last? The word ‘last’ comes from the old English word ‘laest,’ which means ‘footprint.’ The first shoe lasts were used by the Greeks and Romans all the way back to 400 BCE! Read more >>
*funny side note: “roughly foot-shaped form”. Rough is right, that thing is far from a foot shape. Another side note, I guarantee the Greeks and Romans had a true-to-life foot shaped last.
Initially, with your wide width shoe it may feel like they are wider because there is technically more space in the shoe for your foot to move around. However because the last of the shoe has not changed, that means the tapered toe box is still the same shape and all of your toes are still getting squished inwards.
How does this squishy toe box affect your toes? They have no fighting chance of a normal gait. We should push off through our 1st ray (1st and 2nd toe) as this is what powers our foot forward. When our toes are pushed inward our foot finds other ways of achieving this whether it's through 2nd–3rd metatarsals, circumducting around the motion, or shuffling with an overuse of hip flexors.
Beyond this, our transverse arch is incapable of doing its job. If our toes cannot splay apart from eachother, receptors do not turn on to say “hey, spread out and get soft” or “hey, tighten up and spring forward”. Now those muscles responsible for doing those things are no longer working. Our foot likely is stuck in either a soft, floppy state or a rigid, tight state.
Enter: wide toe box shoes!
Thank goodness for wide toe boxes as they correct all of the above problems. A wide toe box is the shape of a human foot, versus the shape of a traditional shoe. When our toes can splay, our toes essentially are now allowed to do their job, which assists the entire foot, which assists our entire gait mechanics.
If you have not yet made the transition to a natural toe box shoe, then when you get home and take off your shoe, look at your foot. Depending on how tight the toe box is, your foot will likely look just like your tapered toe box. Now imagine days and years worth of that shoe wearing. Your foot will stay that way.
How do you know if it is wide enough? Wide Toe Box Test:
Remove the shoe’s insert and put it on the ground. You can do one of two things:
1. Outline the insert, step on this outline you created and then outline your foot. That is a great way to really see where your toes fall and how they are 95% of the time going to be over the insert’s outline.
2. You can just step right on the insert and see for yourself if your toes are over the edge.
*note to tester: as mentioned above, if you do this right after being in a traditional shoe your toes may stay in their “shoe shape” position and fool you into thinking they’re a great fit! Try to splay your toes to the best of your ability when stepping on the outline or the insert. If you already wear toe spacers, then the shoe should be able accommodate them as well.
If your foot comes over the edge of your insert, then your toe box is not wide enough and you will benefit from a wide array of wide toe box shoes. All sorts of issues come from wearing narrow toe box shoes and include: bunions, metatarsal pain, dropped metatarsal heads, plantar fasciitis, etc.
Once you make the switch, you’ll never go back!
Check out my list of Katie Approved toe boxes: