How to keep stones out of your shoes on the trail

Low section of hiker removing sock while sitting on rock at desert
Pebbles in your shoes can be a real pain when you’re hiking and running – try these 5 tips to keep your shoes free of debris (Image credit: Cavan Images)

Rocky, gritty trails sure are fun for hiking and running on, but it’s amazing how the tiniest scrap of detritus can instantly turn you into the Princess and the Pea. Pretty quickly, you need to pull off the trail and empty out your hiking boot or trail running shoe, which is a hassle at the best of times and a nightmare if you’re in a race or going for a personal best. Worse still, if you try to hike or run through it because, you know, the trailhead is only a mile away, you might end up with a nasty blister for your troubles. 

Part of your problem might lie in the way you walk, but since you can’t easily change that, the best way to deal with small stones in your shoes is to avoid them getting there in the first place, so try these five tips to keep your shoes free of debris.

Girl taking off shoes on hiking trail

The best way to deal with small stones in your shoes is to avoid them getting there in the first place (Image credit: Vitalii Karas)

1. Lace up properly 

First things first, you need to tie your laces properly and this one goes for both hiking and running. There are lots of ways to lace hiking boots, but if you have a good-fitting pair, meaning your heel doesn’t move around to much and you have room in the toe box, you can get away with lacing up tightly around your ankle which keeps your boots secure and also keeps those pesky pebbles out.

With running shoes, it’s best practice to use the extra lace hole to create a heel lock, which is a really specific and secure way of tying your laces. This not only prevents rubbing and makes sure you don’t lose your shoe in a bog, but should seal out most rocky intrusions.

A hiker tying their laces

First things first, you need to tie your laces properly (Image credit: Getty)

2. Swap your shoes for boots

If you’re doing a lot of hiking on rocky terrain while wearing hiking shoes or even trail running shoes, your choice of footwear may not be ideal. Hiking boots aren’t everyone’s cup of tea, but having footwear that comes higher up your ankle might fend off some bouncing stones as you walk. 

3. Wear hiking pants (and don’t tuck them in) 

This one isn’t so great for hot weather, but for hikers only, you can keep a lot of stray stones out of your boots by wearing hiking pants that are just a fraction long and wearing them over your boots, rather than tucked inside where they’ll be less likely to catch on rocks and bushes, but more likely to create a slide for unwanted gravel. Avoid hiking shorts altogether on gritty trails if it’s not too warm out.

Helly Hansen Switchback Trail Airflow boots in the field

Wear your trousers a little long and let them hang over your boots (Image credit: Ed Smith)

4. Use gaiters

It might seem like overkill for a short hike or run, but honestly there’s a lot of sense in wearing gaiters whether you’re hiking or running on pebbly terrain. Gaiters are like little skirts for your ankles and their only job is to keep debris out of your boots and shoes.

5. Use shoes with a sock-like construction

For trail runners, if your favorite path means lots of stones in your shoes, the next time you need to buy a new pair of trail running shoes, consider a pair with a sock-like construction. That means that the tongue is sewn into the upper, the cuff is narrower and the whole thing pulls on and fits more like a sock. We’ve tested loads of great shoes lately that have this design, such as the The North Face Summit Vectiv Sky, and even hikers can get in on this with shoes like the Danner Trail 2650 Campo GTX.

Julia Clarke

Julia Clarke is a staff writer for and the author of the book Restorative Yoga for Beginners. She loves to explore mountains on foot, bike, skis and belay and then recover on the the yoga mat. Julia graduated with a degree in journalism in 2004 and spent eight years working as a radio presenter in Kansas City, Vermont, Boston and New York City before discovering the joys of the Rocky Mountains. She then detoured west to Colorado and enjoyed 11 years teaching yoga in Vail before returning to her hometown of Glasgow, Scotland in 2020 to focus on family and writing.