Shoe Comfort

Does Toe Box Depth Matter? Truth About the Space Above Our Toes

October 8, 2020

The human foot has a lot of nerve endings in the toes, this makes it easy for your customer to feel something uncomfortable in front of their toes. How sure are you that the shoes you’re making are comfortable in this area? This article explains the importance of toe box depth, what types of shoes need the most toe box depth, and how to measure toe box depth using SmartLast.

Why is toe box depth important?

Toe box room is important so that customers have enough room for their toes to fit comfortably in the shoe. If their toes contact the materials of the shoe it can become uncomfortable and create blisters, ingrown toenails, or more serious problems. The type of materials used in the upper construction of a shoe can also make a big impact on the toe box comfort.

What types of shoes should have a good amount of toe box depth and why?

Hiking boots? Hiking boots need a few mm of empty space above the toes for optimal comfort. Toe box depths that allow for 1-5mm of space from the top of the toes to the inner lining of the hiking boot is a comfortable fit for any foot swelling and movement during elevation changes. More than 5mm gives too much room for the toes to move around and less than 1mm is not giving the toes enough room during activities.

Work boots? Work boots especially those with a steel toe should have a good amount of toe box depth and room. The safety toe shell of the shoe should have plenty of empty space above the toes to keep the foot comfortable. The ideal range of room between the top of the foot and the top of the boot should again be in the 1-5mm range. This will keep the foot comfortable and prevents the toenails from bumping into the hard shell.

Running Shoes? Most running shoes are made with a knit or mesh upper that is made to form to the foot like a sock. When you’re walking around and only wearing a sock, does there need to be empty space above the toes? Of course not. If your toes run into the sock the stretchy materials move with your toes, so there is no discomfort. Most of the most comfortable running shoes have 0-2mm of empty space above the toes. The SmartLast database shows that the average empty space above the toes is 2.6 mm.

Casual Shoes? Comfort and Fit of casual shoes are variable depending on the types of materials that are used in the upper. Similarly, Casual shoe test results are the most variable toe box depth ranges that are seen while using SmartLast. 1-5mm of empty space above the toes is acceptable with a stiff material such as leather or canvas. Casual shoes made of knits, mesh, or soft textiles follow the same guidelines as a running shoe with 0-2mm of empty space above the toes.

How is toe box depth and empty space above the toes measured?

Before SmartLast, we relied on subjective feedback for what was the most comfortable toe box depth. This results in inconsistent data, and it was difficult to recommend to brands how much to change their toe box depth. SmartLast is an easier and more precise way to measure toe box depth. The SmartLast foot has a gauge that extends from the top of the second toe to the top of the shoe. This measurement allows brands to make sure there is enough room in between the top of the customers foot and the top of the shoe. During product development brands use this measurement to be more confident in their choices for toe cap and upper designs.

Every day the understanding of “what makes a shoe fit comfortably” is growing. This makes it easier for you to make better shoes. When you’re ready for the most accurate shoe fit testing with SmartLast, please email