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Newbie with shin pain questions

Hi - newish hiker, please go easy, I'm sure some of my questions/comments will be stupid.


I'm considering hiking Kilimanjaro - have started getting some of the gear I'd need and wanted to find a better pair of hiking boots.  I currently have some Ahnu's that are very comfortable but don't have much ankle support (even though they are high they are very soft/flimsy).  You also feel every pebble you walk on and the sole has no stiffness; they're like hiking in bedroom slippers.  So while I think they might work for the first days of the trek, the summit conditions (I think from everything I've read) require something that would be a little burlier and also warmer since my feet are always cold.


After reading a million reviews and trying on tons of boots in stores (with help from people working but I'm sorry to say mostly they didn't seem very knowledgable), buying & returning a few different pairs that felt good in the store but not once I got them home, I finally found a pair that felt great.  The Zamberlan Vioz 996 GTX.  Admittedly overkill for most of the hiking I would be doing in my life and possibly including Kilimanjaro but I thought if they feel better than any others and they get great reviews on comfort, durability, etc. then I'd try them. 


The extra weight was noticeable but not a deal-breaker.  I loved the feel of sturdiness and the rocker sole felt like it propelled me forward.  No rubbing, no hotspots - my first hike was 7 miles (mostly flat - I live in a totally flat state) and I was blown away by how comfortable they were and that I didn't have any problems at all.


Two weeks later second hike was 9 miles.  A little bit into it my shin on my left leg started feeling bruised right at the front at the top of the boot.  So I loosened the laces and then throughout the hike I kept trying to re-tie them  looser and then by the end just knotted it around the ankle so the top part was not laced up at all and really my shin was barely touching the tongue as I walked.  And let me add the tongue is very soft leather and very padded.  I thought it weird that I didn't feel anything at all on the first hike but on the second I did with probably the same tightness of lacing or if anything only a tiny difference and also felt nothing on the right shin. 


Two days later third hike - 7 miles yesterday - I kept the left boot laced only up to the ankle and so I felt the left shin pain with every step but not bad enough to stop me.  Then, a little into that walk it started on the right side.  Same deal, same exact spot, tried re-tieing the laces differently, tried very loose only knotted at the ankle.  Still each step now on both shins was a little bit of agony.

There is no visible bruise (even though in general I bruise easily) but there is a very tender area on both shins about 3 inches up from my ankles.  When I got home yesterday I started googling "new boots, heavy boots, shin bruising" etc.  I thought it probably was a case of just needing to toughen up my body as well as slightly break in the boots so I'd need to just live through that for however many miles.  But also I wondered if there would be advice like oiling the tongues to soften them more or adhering some kind of pad on the area before putting them on again.


In my googling, shin splits came up a lot.  That's something I only thought runners got but I wonder if that's possibly what it is from starting out with heavy, very stiff boots that are so different than what my feet are used to (running shoes or sandals mostly year round).  And the different gait from my foot not bending at all within the boot when I walk.  Either way, bruised or shin splints it seems like letting them rest a bit and then starting out maybe not going as far right away (not that that's far!) might help.


I've read  a lot of posts that debate  whether big boots are necessary or good for feet.  I know a lot of people prefer low-top hikers or just trailrunners.  I'm worried though that that with the conditions at the summit of Kili that won't be enough and I'd like to make these boots work for that - even if I didn't wear them the whole week but only the last day or two. 

Does anyone have any words of wisdom?  I imagine I'll just need to keep trying at a slower pace, more gradual build-up of miles and see how that goes if it's a shin muscle or tendon issue.  If it's bruising (is that possible without a visible bruise?) I don't know if your shins eventually adapt to the (minimal) pressure if you keep trying to break them in.  I really hate giving up on these boots - they're so comfortable other than this shin problem.


Thanks in advance for any guidance.

with the normal cautionary language that it's folly to self-diagnose, even if you're a doctor, here is the Mayo Clinic's take on shin splints.  

a couple of anecdotal thoughts about bruising vs. shin splints.  i was a distance runner for 25 years (knees don't permit that any more) and hike a lot, in anything from flimsy five-toe shoes to full leather hiking boots to plastic mountaineering boots:

-you described some walks with significant mileage - a few hours per walk, every couple of days.  if that is a big increase in mileage, that's a cause of shin splints.  the only time i had shin splints was when i started running x-country in high school and added mileage quickly.  

-the way you walk can contribute to shin splints if you have flat feet, high arches, etc.  so, for some people, getting a pair of superfeet or custom orthotics can really make a difference.  

-you tend to treat bruising and shin spints the same.  Rest, ice, anti-inflammatories.  I'm no sports medicine doc, so you're better off asking someone who is.  But I suspect that is what you would hear.

-i would wear the new boots enough to break them in, but i would rotate those boots with other shoes frequently while you are training.  especially because upping the mileage with the new boots coincided with the shin pain. occasionally, i'll avoid trails altogether and carry a pack on relatively boring/flat dirt trails or grass fields in running shoes when my feet are starting to feel sore.  

-if the new boots did bruise your shins, it can take a while to heal.  it doesn't take much to re-injure when you're talking about repetitive motion over long distance.  the same for ankle bruising. my mountaineering boots (scarpa invernos) bang your shins, well-known and maligned for that.  once i was bruised, nothing really helped other than ice and rest.  after they fully healed, my shins were better able to deal with the boots, though i learned to lace them up a little looser.    


hope this is helpful.

Hi - thanks for the reply.  My guess (yes self-diagnosing again) is it wasn't bruising because within only a couple days the pain I felt on touching the area on either shin is almost completely gone.  So I do think it was some kind of muscle or tendon overuse.  I haven't put the boots back on to test whether my shins are fully healed yet but I'll wait a couple weeks before doing that (will be away for a while so can't hike anyway). 

The more I thought about it 3 hrs of steady walking in heavy boots WAS a lot compared to my normal activity level.  I'm used to at most 30 minutes on the treadmill and have a sedentary job.  So even though it didn't feel like a big exertion overall it was very different for my feet/legs. 

I plan to do what you said and rotate shoes and start again doing less miles and try working up to longer walks more gradually. 

Thanks again for your advice.

Great info and advice from Andrew!

I'll add this from my experience running on ways to strengthen shin muscles if you're not able to get outside. If you're in a seated position, keep your legs at a 90 degree angle and pull the front of your feet upward, while keeping your heels on the ground (imagine you're marionette and string at your toes are being pulled up). I'd do both feet, but no more than 10 or 15 seconds at a time as my shins would get tired and tight really quickly. The same thing can be done, but this time keep your heel and ball of your foot on the ground and only bring your toes upward.

This is info I've received from a PT from I'm not one myself, so don't take it as gospel. I think you've hit the nail on the head with trying not to overexert those muscles.

The last thing to remember is that it is best when all muscles work in unison. If some muscles are weaker, others will compensate and may lead to bigger issues down the line. Keep on walking, maybe cross train and bike, and hopefully you'll see things getting better and muscles becoming stronger!

Best of luck, Leslie!

Just to be clear: is the discomfort you describe from tissues deeper than your skin, or the skin layers?

  • If it is the skin, you have a sock problem.  The boots are chaffing the skin.  The affected area will appear reddened.

If it is underlying tissues, the causes are manifold. Some possible causes:

  • Rocker bottom boots may make you land forcefully on your heel and you advance your foot.  The resulting shock load will give you shin splits.
  • Rocker bottom boots require more effort to lift your foot so your toes clear the ground as you advance your foot.  Your muscles and tendons require more conditioning to deal with the effort.
  • Heavy boots place more burden on your legs - this is a conditioning issue.
  • Your boots may have poor ergonomic fit for your feet.  Orthotics may help, but seek help as this is not a DYI thing.
  • Or you may simply not be fit enough to comfortably walk for extended periods, regardless of the footwear you use - this is also a conditioning issue.



Thanks on the tips on strengthening shin muscles - I'll try those exercises.

I don't think it's a skin problem but rather it's the underlying muscles or tendons.  The rocker bottoms on the boots and the heaviness are, as you mentioned whomeworry, the issue I believe.  I'm just walking very differently in them than in other boots and/or trail running shoes I normally wear.  I'm definitely clomping down forcefully rather than lightly treading along.  So maybe it's a conditioning issue I can improve by gradually adding miles and being aware of how I'm walking.  I think the boots seem to fit very well so I'm guessing it's not an orthotic requirement situation.

I was just caught by surprise by this because it seemed like just nice little walks in the woods - I wasn't huffing and puffing - wasn't sore anywhere else.  So it seemed really bizarre to have shin issues.  But I didn't factor in what a difference the heavier, stiffer boots would make in changing my gait and using muscles differently.  I hate to think I'm not fit enough to walk a few hours but if that's the sad truth of it (in these particular boots!) I'll try to remedy that.

I really appreciate the feedback from you all.

You got it, Leslie...the boots are changing the biomechamics of your stride. Just take it easy and build up the miles slowly. As a rule, I only wear new, stiff boots around the house and yard here and there for the first 20 miles or so, until the flex points develop a little. Then around town for the next 20, and the I'll start hiking with them. It's a slow process, but it helps the boots form to your feet before you start putting more dynamic forces on them.

OK, that's even more gradual than I would've thought necessary so it's good to know.  I'll try at first just wearing them at work where I don't walk a whole lot.

Thanks again!


pillowthread said:

You got it, Leslie...the boots are changing the biomechamics of your stride. Just take it easy and build up the miles slowly. As a rule, I only wear new, stiff boots around the house and yard here and there for the first 20 miles or so, until the flex points develop a little. Then around town for the next 20, and the I'll start hiking with them. It's a slow process, but it helps the boots form to your feet before you start putting more dynamic forces on them.

 Agreed, this is what I do too!

Good advise here.

Going a little off topic, you might want to read my trip report for Kilimanjaro.

The posts above give some good information about building muscles and getting used to hiking distances in general. The advice about building mileage gradually is spot on. You say you live in a flat state and get some exercise with a treadmill. My wife goes for a walk "around the block" (about 6 miles) daily, but finds that if she does not go with me hiking the local hills at least once a week, the hills are a bit of a challenge. Question is how do you approximate hills in a flat state. One answer is using a treadmill that has adjustable incline and over time increase the inclination. A second answer is to go up and down stairs. You don't say what state and size of city. But more and more cities have tall buildings with 5 or more stories. Assuming the owners of the tall building don't mind some weirdo with heavy boots climbing up and down several stories every couple of days (some building owners are weird themselves that way), you could do some stair climbing every couple of days (don't take the elevator or escalator). Out here on the Left Coast we have plenty of hills, though many people in town take their noon hour hikes walking up and down the stairs (ok, most of us around here are strange that way - but we stay in shape).

Some comments on Kili that you might want to take into consideration - The trails on Kili are not all that steep, but they are rocky. So try to include rough and rocky trails in your hiking. This will help build the muscles that help support your ankles. The higher top boots don't so much actually support your ankles as by the feel signal your legs in using the support muscles and tendons which are to be used for each step.

You probably already know that by Tanzanian law, you are required to have a local guide, local cook, and local porters on your team. As a client, you are not allowed to carry more than 10 kilograms - just your lunch, water, and rain gear. The porters carry everything else. So you will not be carrying much of a load. Still, work your way up in the load you carry. Start with a couple liters of water (be sure you drink enough to stay hydrated - that makes a big difference as well, even in cold weather). Eventually you will want to be carrying 20 kilograms in your pack (fitting a pack is as important as fitting your boots), even though you will only be carrying 10 on Kili.

Oh, a note on getting your team together - use a local guide service in Tanzania. If you sign on with a US or Euro based guide service, you will have the travel and other costs for the company guides to pay for as well as your own (it is hidden in the fee you get charged). I suggest using Adventures Within Reach to act as the intermediary. They are in contact with Tanzanian companies and continually evaluate them. When my wife and I went to Africa, we spent a total of $10,000 for the two of us, including the air fare and a safari to the Serengeti, Ngorogoro Crater and more. A US or Euro based company will charge that much or more per person, plus you get to pay your air fare.

The vast majority of "turn-backs" are due to altitude sickness. On the "coca cola" route (Marangu), over 50% turn back (mostly due to the rushed rate of climb - a 5-day round trip summit and back - is far too fast). The "whiskey" route is 7 to 9 days, which provides a somewhat longer acclimatization time - only about 35% turn back on that route (officially called  the Machame route). The Shira/Lemoshu is longer, but easier to acclimatize.

On the footwear - actually, trail shoes are just fine (and a lot lighter). I used full grain leather hiking boots, but then I am used to using them for many decades. Although socks were mentioned above, I did not see mention of using liner socks. I use Injinji socks (toe socks) inside my wool socks as liners. This setup makes things a lot easier on the feet. A light hiking boot works well as well. One thing you want to consider is that after summiting, you return to high camp, rest for a couple hours, then go all the way down some 13,000 feet to camp for the night, then out to the exit gate. That's a LOT of downhill all at once. Almost everyone gets sore knees on that downhill (poles help, of course), unless they have done a lot of hill running.

Thanks again to all for their replies.  People are very helpful on this forum.

And Bill S, yes I have previously read your trip report (and just read it again).  In my research over the past 6 months I've read a huge number of Kilimanjaro trip reports...they are definitely valuable for planning. 

I have been using the treadmill on its highest incline and also a stair machine at the gym (different from an old stepper version, this is the one that's a revolving set of steps).  Both are challenging me but I've been happy at how my body has adapted - there is hope!  I agree that climbing real steps in buildings would be a better workout, especially with boots.  Here at work I can do that for our six flights and then possibly get a higher building to let me use their stairs.

Thanks for your other advice on the trip, too.  All words of wisdom from someone who's done it are greatly appreciated!  One thing I wonder about if you check back in - it sounds like you were not grouped with others but rather just had a solo trip with guide and porters.  Or maybe I misread that.  I'm trying to decide whether to book with a scheduled group (which would be max 10 people) or to book my own trip.  I think the camaraderie of a group would enhance the experience - but only if you click with the others.  The thought of being on my own -- well, it would be a sort of lonely time obviously but then there's no pressure of holding up the group or having to deal with a social dynamic that maybe is awkward.  None of my friends is remotely interested in doing this with me.

Bootwise, I'm thinking I'll take the heavy leather boots (after I get them and my shins broken in) and have them for the summit night if it's super cold and if not possibly just wear the not-as-heavy-duty boots I have for the other days. 


Hey Leslie,

I studied Athletic Training/Sports Medicine in college and I might be able to offer you a little bit of help. You've gotten some really good info so far!

I also know how painful shin splints are from having them myself and from actually tearing my shin muscle (by kicking field goals at one of the football practices I was working).

My advice on treatment is:

1) Stretch your shin muscles before you go out (a lot of people don't realize that you can do this)

2) You can take anti-inflammatory medicine such as ibuprofen to help treat them

3) Ice really helps when it is available. We used to take Gatorade cups (or any small wax paper cup) and fill them half way with water and freeze them, then peel away the excess paper and rub the ice directly on the shins in a circular motion (peeling back the excess paper as the ice melts). This incorporates massage and ice, which is great!

4) You can use tape to help prevent them :

5) You can also can try Biofreeze or IcyHot, etc...

6) Massage definitely helps

7) If it is serious enough, you may also want to consider going to either a podiatrist or a professional shoe fitter to make sure that the shoes that you have will work for the type of foot/gait that you have or that you don't need orthotics.  


In answer to your "solo" question, originally our plan was to be my wife and me. But after the safari, which we did before Kili, though many people prefer it the other way around, Barb's knee injury was acting up (torn ACL from a skiing tumble a few weeks before the trip). Normally, we (especially me) prefer to do trips by ourselves or with people we are very familiar with and have been on backcountry trips a lot. We have had too many trips (most recently our climb of Fuji) on which there were one or more people who were a super pain for one reason or another - someone who had little experience and was dependent on the rest of the group, someone who was "super macho" and knew everything better that anyone else in the universe, someone who held the rest of the group up or was demanding of everyone else, someone who was capable but insisted in having others do things for them since the rest of the world was his/her servant. Then there was "Crazy James" on Denali, who insisted on stopping to take photos every 5 or 10 paces all the way from the 7000 foot base camp to the 20,300 ft summit.

I have witnessed this in passing large groups and in groups I was guiding. On Kili, my "team" of guide, cook, and 3 porters got along well together. My only complaints were that the cook kept giving me more food than I could eat (very delicious food, though), and the porters insisted on doing all the work of setting up and breaking down camp (I was ok with them carrying the gear, though).

But you don't really have to worry about loneliness on Kili. On the trail with your guide, you will be enjoying the scenery and taking photos, lots of photos. In camp, there are lots of people to chat with during your down-time. Most of the guides are pretty knowledgeable about the area and nature (identifying the exotic plants and animals, pointing out the colobus monkeys, etc.) I am assuming here that you are interested in more than just putting one foot in front of the other all the way up and down the hill, hiking to the summit just so you can say you did it.

Oh, one thing about gear. Since the lower part of the mountain is rain forest, I can almost guarantee you will get lots of rain the first couple of days. I had my Goretex jacket and bibs, but found that with the high humidity, I was getting pretty damp with sweat. I would recommend having a good poncho that has snaps on the sides and a hood, and wearing that the first couple of days until you get above tree line. This will give good ventilation and keep you drier than a full rain suit. BUT have the Gtx parka and over-pants (side zip!!) for the higher elevations which are windier. It will be colder up there and less perspiration, plus the poncho will flap in the wind - hence full waterproof jacket and pants at the upper elevations out of the shelter of the trees that you will be in for the first couple of days. Remember, you will have close to 10,000 feet of gain, which means a temperature differential of somewhere between 30°F and 50°F between the gate and summit. And remember that you will have the required guides carrying the extra gear for you. That also means you can have one of the big DSLR cameras, which the guide can carry for you - you don't have to make do with one of the tiny point&shoot that are so hard to get pointed in the right direction.

Ashleigh - thanks for taking the time to share all of that great info!

My shins actually felt back to normal within a few days (this came up fast after 3 hikes and went away fast - I guess I didn't do as much damage as people who've "used" their shins more fiercely whether hiking, running or kicking field goals!).  I haven't gone back out in those boots again and don't plan to for a few more weeks until I get back from a trip where I'll be doing a lot of walking.  I don't want to risk any flare-ups.  But after that I'll gradually walk in them again and try the tips offered here.


Bill S -- ha, your description of difficult people was LOL-worthy.  That's exactly my fear so I think my instinct to book solo was correct.

Noted the poncho recommendation - makes sense, thanks.  For higher up I have a Patagonia rain jacket that's not goretex but rather their H2ONo technology. I checked with a rep that it was the same level of waterproof as GTX, not simply water-resistant.  They claim yes, it is the same.   I'd rather not have to buy another rain jacket if I don't need to - the next rainy day here I better spend a lot of time in it outside and see what happens.

H2No is fine.  it's fully waterproof, it blocks wind well, it's fully waterproof, and it allows some vapor/moisture to escape.  one could debate various membranes and coatings until the cows come home, but no need to get another jacket in my opinion. 

cool, thanks!  I've already had to buy several pieces of equipment so not needing another rain jacket is great. 

August 12, 2020
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