The Definitive Buyers guide: How to Choose Walking Shoes
When you’re going backpacking, walking or going for a light hike, there’s a list of important equipment you need to take along with you. Items such as your backpack, proper clothing, and a fresh bottle of water. And yes, these are all important items we need with us on our adventure but we’re forgetting the most important body part: our feet.
You can dress in the warmest and comfiest of clothing, but if you’re not wearing proper shoes, your whole body will feel it. Without your feet, you won’t be walking anywhere. This is why you need a solid pair of walking shoes. But, that’s easier said than done.
There are thousands of different walking shoes on the market, some offering high-tech features while others are designed based on aesthetic. With the option to choose any shoe, it can be an overwhelming experience.
So how do you decide which one is the best pair of walking shoes for you? Well, that’s why you’re here. In this guide, you’re going to learn everything you need to know about walking shoes and what you need to consider before buying a pair.
Why walking shoes?
Like we said before, without your feet, you won’t be walking anywhere and this is really true. Your feet are the ones that have a direct impact on the ground, meaning, you need to make sure that they’re being properly supported with the right footwear.
Walking shoes are specific because they have features which make them lightweight, breathable, and more comfortable for fast-paced walking. Many of these modifications of the walking shoe are not included in other shoes such as running or trail shoes.
Though, many people think that they can interchange their shoes and wear a pair of hiking shoes when going for a walk around the town. But by doing that, you’re only hurting your feet. There are a couple of reasons as to why it’s so important to wear proper walking shoes.
If you’re not wearing the proper walking shoe, you’re opening yourself up to injury. Now, the injury may not occur right away, but over the course of time, it’ll develop into a major problem. Of course, you can have ankle sprains, corns, fractures, and bunions, however, there are other injuries which are equally as common, however, much more painful. These injuries include shin splints and metatarsalgia, which is pain in the ball of your foot.
If you’re walking on pavement, you’re putting a lot of pressure on your joints. Over time, this could do some real damage to your knees and feet. With a good walking shoe, you decrease the impact of your step by providing yourself with some cushioning under your foot. This reduces the pressure on your joints.
What most of us don’t pay attention to are the biomechanics of the human body. Every time our foot touches the ground, it affects a different part of the body. Therefore, a walking shoe will provide the foot with proper support so that other body parts don’t try to overcompensate in order to properly function. The overcompensation is what causes the pain in our knees, hips, heels, lower back, and ankles.
With a good pair of walking shoes, you’ll be able to walk for miles and miles without tiring. Thus, your shoes directly affect the distance and speed of your walk. If you’re in pain while walking, your entire walk will be affected. A proper walking shoe will promote endurance and not interrupt your walking routine.
Yes, you will have to pay a decent chunk of money for a pair of good walking shoes and though it may seem like a lot at that moment - it’s not. If you’re suffering from foot pain, you’ll have to go see a physiotherapist which is not comparable in price to a pair of walking shoes. Investing in a high-quality pair of walking shoes will not only save you the pain, but also the cost of having to correct your injury.
Most of us already have a pair of walking shoes, however, just because you have a pair doesn’t mean they’re helping you out. If you already have a pair of walking shoes take a look at them because you may be wearing the wrong shoe already.
5 signs you’re wearing the wrong shoe
Now, you may or may not already have a pair of walking shoes. If you do, that doesn’t mean you’re out of the clear. Remember, you want a pair of walking shoes that are tailored to you. If you’re not sure if your walking shoes are giving you the support and comfort needed, look at these foolproof signs that you’re wearing the wrong shoe.
You’ve been wearing your shoes for years
They may be your favorite shoes but here’s the thing, they need to go. Every time you wear your walking shoes, you’re wearing them down. If you’re walking around 10 miles a week in your shoes, then you should have them for no longer than 9 to 12 months. If you walk 20 miles a week in your shoes, then you need to change them within 4 to 6 months of use. The more you use them, the more you wear them out, thus, the less support you have.
You have blisters or bruised toenails
You should never have blisters or bruised toenails after wearing your walking shoes. If you do, this is a sign that your shoe is rubbing against your feet the wrong way. It could mean that your shoes are too tight or narrow in specific places which place pressure on your skin and joints. If you continue to wear these shoes, over time you’ll develop corns, ingrown toenails, and bunions.
Your toes graze the tip of your shoes
If you don’t have enough room in the toe area, you’re going to experience pain while walking. Your toes need enough room to wiggle around comfortably. Remember, when going shoe shopping, do it at night as your feet swell throughout the day.
Your arches hurt after
Your arches will hurt if your shoes are not fitting properly. When your shoes don’t have enough support in the arch area, the muscles below your feet will tense up in order to raise your arch. This can cause plantar fasciitis which is the inflammation of the plantar fascia tendon.
Who knew that finding a walking shoe could be so crucial to your daily routine. But the fact of the matter is that they’re the one thing that is going to potentially save your feet from preventable injury. Don’t believe us? Here are the 8 foot problems you will develop from wearing the wrong walking shoe.
8 foot problems you’ll get from the wrong pair of shoes
We all know that walking is healthy, but it also puts a lot of pressure on your feet. You may be thinking that your five-year-old pair of walking shoes are fine, but what you’re not seeing are the injuries that can and will occur by wearing the wrong shoes.
No, this condition isn’t only for athletes. Athlete's foot is scaling, itching, and burning in between the toes or on the sole of the foot. This is caused by a microscopic fungi which grow in warm and moist areas. Thus a warm, sweaty sock is the perfect spot for them to thrive.
If you have a lump on the side of your foot, typically on your big toes, then it’s probably a bunion. A bunion is formed when the base of the toe is forced out of its normal position. Bunions are typically painful and can easily become inflamed.
If your shoes are too big or too small, your socks can rub up against a sensitive area on your foot. What happens then is the body reacts by developing a fluid-filled sac which is a blister. They’re very sensitive and painful when walked on.
If you have flat feet or high arches, any sort of activity can cause inflammation and soreness in your plantar fascia ligament. This heel pain can form into plantar fasciitis.
The body always has a way of protecting itself. When the skin is constantly rubbed up against, it builds up a hard layer of skin cells to fight against the irritation. The skin forms these round bumps called corns. They’re usually on the top or between toes.
The plantar fascia is a thick ligament that is attached to the heel bone and supports the arch of your foot. This painful condition, plantar fasciitis is when the ligament receives repetitive trauma to it. This can be caused by ill-proper walking shoes, heel spurs, weight gain, long durations of standing, and intense exercise.
Shin Splints are the pain along the edge of your shinbone which is a stress fracture. This is caused by long periods of exercise, incorrect footwear, and switching workout routines too quickly.
This is caused by the misalignment of either the toe joint or muscles in the foot. Instead of your foot lying flat, it causes your toes to curl up. This is usually seen in people with diabetes. In addition, it’s also a sign that your shoes are too short for your feet.
None of these conditions sounds fun, yet they’re all avoidable by getting the proper footwear. So, now that you know what can happen without the right walking shoes, it’s time to figure out how to choose the right shoe. But why can’t you use your running shoes to go for a walk? What’s the difference between these shoes then? How do walking shoes differ from running or walking boots? These are all good questions you’re asking. You’re going to find out the answers to them now.
Walking Shoes vs Running Shoes
When we looking at walking shoes, we assume that they’re all the same. But, when you look closely, you’ll notice that they’re actually different. So, what’s the difference between walking shoes and running shoes? Let’s find out.
Now, you can see in the names that they’re different but when you look at a walking and running shoe side-by-side, you can’t really see much of a difference. Walking shoes differ from running shoes as they focus on how people move when walking and when running.
Our bodies, when either walking or running move differently and need different support. Walkers will strike the ground with their heel first and then roll into the step. Whereas runners will strike the ground midsole. So what does this mean?
When someone is a runner, they’re going to need a shoe which softens the impact when their foot hits the ground, providing them with more heel stability. In comparison, walkers don’t need that type of support. In addition, a walking shoe must be flexible at the forefoot area or else the foot will not roll into the step naturally which will result in shin splints.
Walking Shoes vs Walking Boots
You know the difference between a walking shoe and a running shoe, but what’s the difference between a walking shoe and a walking boot? Well, there are a couple of huge factors which separate the walking shoe from the boot. First of all, walking shoes are a lightweight option in comparison to walking boots.
When you’re wearing walking shoes, the trail you’re on is typically flat with a minimal climb. Whereas walking boots will be able to take you up through a climb since they’re heavier and designed with more traction. Though, this stability of the walking boot comes at a price. The walking boot isn’t as flexible as the walking shoe because it’s designed to provide you with more ankle support.
Now, you may be thinking that ankle support is a good feature to have and you’re right but the amount of ankle support depends on the terrain you’re hiking. If you’re walking around the city park, you don’t need ankle support. But if you’re going to be hiking over rocky and unstable terrain then the ankle support will come in handy and provide you with more grip.
Naturally, if you personally would like more support while walking and don’t mind the weight, then a walking boot is a good choice. However, more often than not, a walking shoe is ideal for relatively flat walks as they’re lightweight and breathable.
Types of walking shoes
Now that you know the difference between walking shoes, walking boots, and running shoes, you should know that walking shoes usually fall into three different categories:
These are lightweight walking shoes which are designed for people who aren’t looking for motion control. In other words, they have less support.
If you’re a long-distance walker, then you’ll need walking shoes with a decent amount of cushion. These walking shoes will provide you with the extra comfort for those long walks (longer than 5 miles).
If you need some stability but aren’t interested in a walking boot because of their heaviness, then a stability walking shoe will do the trick. They’re ideal for those who don’t suffer from severe balance issues, but rather for those that are looking for just a little bit more motion control.
Now that you know the types of walking shoes, it’s important to know some of the features that come with them. Not all walking shoes offer the same features, hence why you need to take your time when looking for the right pair for you.
Factors you need to consider
When buying shoes, you’ll want to take in a couple factors before deciding on a pair. These factors are based on your personal preferences, so there’s no right choice but rather it’s based on what you need.
Who would have thought that your walking style will influence the type of walking shoe you choose? Well, it’s actually true. The way you walk will help you decide the kind of walking shoe you need. If you’re a casual walker, then you’ll have plenty of options to choose from. If you’re walking mainly on pavement then you’ll want to opt for either a casual walking shoe, a multisport or a running shoe. However, if you’ll be walking on dirt or natural paths, then you’ll want a light hiking shoe or a trail runner.
If you’re planning on going for a walk while it’s raining then you’ll need to consider getting yourself a waterproof walking shoe. In this case, you’ll probably want to aim for a trail-running shoe. These shoes are typically designed with waterproof uppers. Though, when it’s hot outside, waterproof liners do cause breathability issues. So think about it.
Flexibility and support
You want a shoe that’ll be flexible enough yet, will still provide you with the necessary support during your walks. Not enough support means you're open for injury but at the same time, if the shoe is too rigid, it’ll cause discomfort. You need to find your happy-medium.
When it comes to any sort of apparel, weight is always an issue. If you’re planning on walking for fitness purposes, then you’ll want a lightweight shoe with decent support as you’re going to be using them a lot. Lightweight walking shoes are ideal for either pavement or treadmill use. If you’re going to be walking on trails, then you’ll need a sturdier shoe.
When you’re walking, your muscles and joints are receiving direct impact from the ground. Though walking does cause less impact than running, so if you have poor joints, then walk, don’t run. In addition, walking shoes provide extra cushion under the balls of your feet to reduce impact.
Knowing the Shape of your Feet
When you’re buying a walking shoe, it’s not custom fit to your foot. In reality, everyone’s feet are shaped differently, ranging in various shapes and sizes. When choosing a walking shoe, you want to make sure that you pick a shoe that won’t cause you pain and discomfort. The best way to select a shoe is to understand the shape of your own feet. You want the shoe to fit your foot, not the other way around. So, by knowing your own two feet, you’ll be able to select a pair of shoes that fits you.
Your arches are extremely important parts of your feet. The bones, muscles, tendons, and ligaments are highly entwined in order to form the arches under and on the sides of your feet. The purpose of arches is to distribute your body weight evenly through your feet. Hence why your arches are flexible and spring-like. They assist in helping your body adapt to various terrains when walking. Now, you want to choose a walking shoe that supports the type of arch you have. Not sure what type of arch you have? Well, arches are usually divided into three categories:
Low-arched feet/flat feet:
Low-arched feet or more commonly known as flat feet are a huge problem for people. Flat feet aid in muscle stress and joint problems as your feet fall inwards causing your body to misalign. If you have flat feet, you’ll want a walking shoe with a straight last and motion control to help you straighten and stabilize your feet. A last is the shape of the sole and the footprint.
This is when your feet aren’t flat but they’re not high-arched either, rather, they fall somewhere in between. In this case, you’ll want to look for midsoles that are firm. You’ll also want straight or semi-curved lasts. In addition, you’ll want moderate rear-foot stability for some motion control.
If you have high-arches, it may be a contributing factor to joint and muscle strain since your feet are not able to absorb shock very well. If you are an athlete, you may already notice this. You’ll want a walking shoe that provides you with plenty of cushion since you don’t have enough natural shock absorption in your feet. Also, try a curved last as that may help as well.
Width and length
You want to make sure that your walking shoe is neither too wide or too tight as this can lead to painful blisters and calluses. You want to make sure your toes have enough room to wiggle comfortably, however, not to the point where your entire foot is sliding around in your shoe as that will cause hammertoes and bunions. Essentially, you want a shoe that’ll gently hug your foot. That way, your feet can walk around freely, pain-free.
If you’re not sure about your foot type, then there’s a way you can easily find out. When trying to figure out what foot shape you are, do this small trick. Take your foot and dip it into the water. Then, take it out of the water and step on a piece of cardboard. Make sure that you step on the cardboard evenly, so that you get the right footprint of your feet. Look at both footprints. If you’re able to see most of your footprint, this most likely means you have a low arch. If you don’t seem much of your footprint, then it most likely means you have high arches.
The Anatomy of a Walking Shoe
Walking shoes come in various styles with some offering basic features and others going towards more high-tech specifications. Of course, these features are also based on your budget as well. Though, you’ll be able to find a decent walking shoe, maybe without the fancy features, however, with a solid basic foundation. Which, at the end of the day, is all you really need. The anatomy of the walking shoe is important to know so that you see what features you need to focus on.
This is referring to the upper part of the shoe. It’s usually made of either leather, suede or a mesh mix.
The insole is the padded base that goes right under your feet. You’re able to pull it out if needed. It’s also known as a foot bed. They’re usually made of EVA foam as it gives you an extra cushion. Of course, insoles can differ depending on the shoe you choose. You can also insert your own insoles which are customized to fit the shape of your foot.
Every walking shoe has its own sole depending on what the walking shoe is designed for. Most walking shoes are made of a rubber compound which provides you with better traction and stability. Though, lightweight soles are also available for walking shoes. They provide you with less grip but are more flexible. In addition, there are also some walking shoes which have the same soles as walking boots. These soles will provide you with more stability and traction.
The midsole part of the shoe is placed between the outsole and inner sole. What this does is act as a cushion and shock absorption. Plus, it also protects your feet from sharp objects. It’s usually made of EVA or Phylon. EVA is lightweight and comfy material to walk on while Phylon is denser and ideal for long-distance walking.
Heel and Toe Bumpers
These features are designed to protect your heels and toes from terrain which is either rocky or natural. This not only protects your feet but also increases the lifespan of your shoes. Heel and toe bumpers are not featured on all walking shoes.
The Great Debate: Leather vs non-leather
Now that you know the anatomy of a walking shoe, it’s important to also understand the fabric used. Walking shoes are typically made with either leather/suede or fabric upper. They can also be a combination of the two. When a walking shoe is made with suede and mesh upper, they’re more breathable and lightweight than leather walking shoes. Whereas leather is the heaviest material and adds the most weight to your walking shoe.
Leather shoes are typically more durable and are naturally waterproof when comparing it to the fabric material. But, like we just said, this does add weight to your shoe and cause them to take longer for you to break them in. Naturally, there are some fabrics which are waterproof, this is just something you need to check on when trying on shoes. So, which one is better? Leather or non-leather? Well, let’s break it down for you.
Leather Walking Shoes
- They’re easy to clean
- Highly durable and long lasting
- Are able to handle rough terrain
- They fully protect you from the elements
- They’re not as breathable as fabric walking shoes - not ideal for summer
- Are more expensive than fabric walking shoes
- They’re traditionally heavier
- They take longer to wear in
Fabric Walking Shoes
- They’re lightweight
- Harder to clean than leather
- They’re highly breathable, ideal for summer
- They don’t give you as much protection, thus, they’re not ideal when walking on natural or rugged terrain
- They’re usually less expensive than leather
- You don’t need to wear them in
So now you have an idea of the type of shoe you’re looking for and the material that you’d like your shoe to be in. You may be at a store right now, trying to figure out which shoe is the right one for you. Well, there are a couple things you can test out when trying on a walking shoe. These small quality tests will help you figure out if that shoe is the one you need.
How to Choose the Right Shoe
So, now that you know the differences between shoes and the factors you need to consider in a walking shoe, there are a couple of tests you can do at the shop to make sure that you chose the right pair. You want to put the shoe through a small quality test when you’re trying it on. Make sure you do the following:
Check out the heel
You want to make sure that the heel is no more than an inch higher than the sole under the ball of the foot. You want to ensure that there’s no flare.
Grip the shoe in both of your hands and twist it
Place the shoe in your hand and twist it, making sure that it’s easily bendable at the ball of the foot. You don’t want it overly flexible in the middle of the arch.
Place the shoe on the ground and touch the toe
While wearing the shoe, put your foot down on the ground and touch your toe. You want to check that the toe is lifted slightly off the ground and then when you poke it, they move.
If possible, walk down an incline
if possible, try to test the shoes when doing down on an incline. This is the best way to see if your toes touch the front of your shoes. Make sure that the shoes are properly laced up if so, they shouldn’t be moving much forward.
If possible, walk uphill on stairs
Now, if your toes are fine, you’ll want to check out the heel. Like stated above, the heel should be no more than an inch higher than the sole under the ball of your foot. In addition, you’ll want to test it for heel lift. If your heels are lifting off of the insoles, then when you’re walking you’ll get a blister.
The next time you’re shoe shopping, use these tips as a way to test the quality of the shoe. If they don’t stand up to this simple quality test, it’s not the walking shoe for you. It’s crucial that your shoe works for you and not the other way around.
At first, you probably thought that choosing a walking shoe would be as easy as walking into the shoe store, pointing at the pair you like and buying them right then and there. We wish it was that easy! But in all seriousness, you need to take shoe shopping seriously as your future pair of walking shoes are going to be your foundation for all your walks. Follow this guide and really test out the shoes you’re thinking of buying.
Consider the features you’d like to have and of course, the features you need. Once you narrowed down your options, go for the shoe that truly fits you the best. Yes, of course, you want a shoe that’s going to be trendy and have some style but you can find a shoe that’s stylish and supportive at the same time.
Is your rainwear keeping up? Over time, rainwear loses its ability to repel water. Check out my guide to caring for your rainwear: Durable Water Repellent (DWR) Care.