Put on your walking shoes; walking is the way forward. Let’s go.
Wait a minute – that’s not so easy. Confession time! The shoes that I’ve worn more or less every day for the last three years have completely had it! Time to buy a new pair. Shock, horror. Are you like me and despair when you look at those shops full of exercise shoes? How do you choose a good pair of walking shoes?
New walking shoes all look sort of similar and I’m sure that choosing them just by their colour isn’t the right method. So I’ve been doing some homework and put together some of the common-sense things to look for. Hopefully, when you or I go out shopping for shoes, we’ll have an inkling of how to choose a pair that makes us want to take our feet off the sofa and out of the door for an invigorating walk.
Here are 13 tips that could help you find the perfect pair.
1 As Flexible as Your Credit Card?
No, this isn’t about how much they cost! But like a credit card, you need your walking shoes to be flexible in the right places.
To make walking easier, you need them to be flexible and bendy at the point where the ball of your foot rolls forward and you push yourself off your back foot. Pick up a pair you like the look of and flex the sole to see how and where it bends.
If it’s stiff, put it back on the shelf and look at the next one. At the same time, you don’t want shoes that you can fold in half, in either direction. That’s not supportive enough. Remember that you’re Goldilocks and it needs to be just right.
2 Walking on Air, Cushioning You Against the Cost
A good layer of cushioning helps to distribute your weight evenly, protecting your joints all the way from your ankles through your knees to your hips and lower back.
That layer not only gives you a cushion for your joints, but it could be just the cushion you need against all those medical bills. When you don’t have the right shoes, you can rack up huge bills with osteopaths, chiropractors, physios and doctors.
Look for cushioning both for the heel and for the ball of the foot. (Running shoes have less cushioning for the ball of the foot than walking shoes do.) Insoles with foam, gel or air cushioning help you to walk further. Walk further and you save your health (and your spending on medical bills).
3 What Does the Heel to Toe Drop Do For You?
Now, heel to toe drop is a factor in shoe design that had completely passed me by. So, here’s what it is; It’s the difference between the height from the ground between your heels and your toes inside your shoes. It’s related to the depth of cushioning and where it is placed in your shoe.
Barefoot shoes, such as the Vibram shoes, have a zero mm drop. That means your heels and toes are at the same height. (And by the way, so do platform shoes which generally add an even amount of height to the whole of the shoe.) Wedge shoes, such as espadrilles, can add a drop that rivals high heels and is measured in inches rather than millimetres.
The highest drop for trainers, sneakers or running or walking shoes is around 12mm. With more cushioning against the harder running footstrike, higher drops are used on surfaces such as roads, while lower drops tend to be favoured by trail runners.
The height of a heel to toe drop can really help with certain foot conditions, such as plantar fasciitis. Go to a specialist shoe shop or to a podiatrist who can advise you what might help your condition. Meantime, here is a good article that explains the basics.
4 Underneath the Arches: Do You Need Support?
Many experts recommend arch support, especially for those with flat feet, to prevent common foot problems such as plantar fasciitis, heel spurs, and ankle sprains. Look for shoes that elevate your heels, have support for the arch of your foot and good cushioning.
You may find this study helpful about the types of support for different conditions. Again, if you have problems, go and get advice from an expert.
5 Don’t Be Like Achilles: Look After Your Ankles (and the other parts of your feet)
The second place you need support is for your ankles, especially if you do a lot of hiking or walking on rough terrain where it’s easy to turn your foot over and hurt your ankle. That’s why some people choose to wear hiking boots where the uppers extend up your lower leg, protecting and supporting the ankle bone and the Achilles tendon.
Shoes with lower uppers often have those little collars round the back of your ankle to protect your heel and Achilles tendon by keeping your foot set securely into the heel section.
If you have any problems or any kind of foot pain, go and see a podiatrist as they can prescribe special supports called orthotics or advise you about the best shoes for bunions, corns, hammer toes and more.
6 Stability in a Shaky World
Another factor to consider is how stable your shoes are. Stable shoes keep you walking steadily all day even on rough terrain. Look for heels that have a wide base.
It’s important if you have low arches or if you overpronate. (Overpronation means you tilt your foot inwards as you walk or run and wear out the inside edge of your shoe more than the outside edge. Underpronation or supination (people who tilt their feet outwards) wear out the outside edge.)
Stable shoes have extra support in the midsole section. It may be a wedge, a bar, or other structural support that stops the shoe twisting and keeps your foot aligned.
You might also choose stable shoes if you’re on the heavy side as they are designed to cope with more load and so may provide you with more wear.
7 Get A Grip on the Sole of Your Walking Shoes
Now look at the sole of your shoe. In addition to flexibility and durability, you also want it to have good grip.
I made a huge mistake with a lovely pair of fashionable ‘walking’ shoes. I couldn’t wear them if it was the slightest bit wet because their lack of grip had me sliding around on even rough paving stones. And walking up hills in the wet was like the labours of Sisyphus!
Look and see if the shoes have a nice, complicated raised pattern and rough texture on the sole that encourages the shoe to grip.
You may want them to be waterproof which gives you the choice of rubber, polyurethane (PU) and its upgrade to BPU, Ethylene Vinyl Acetate, (EVA), thermoplastic rubber or PVC. Comfortingfootwear.com gives you more information on the advantages and disadvantages of each type of sole.
8 The Upper Part
When you walk, your feet get hot and they sweat. So look for a breathable upper part to your walking shoes. Consider whether you want them waterproof or whether you can cope with them just being water resistant.
Water resistant shoes can be fine for a short walk in the rain but for serious hiking in bad weather, you’ll need them to be completely waterproof. The choices include gore-tex, synthetic leather, rubber and PVC. You can find walking shoes that are breathable and allow sweat to escape without allowing water in.
Some people still go for the comfort of real leather. Leather isn’t generally completely waterproof. It tends to absorb water over time. They can remain waterproof provided you care for them properly. (But more and more people find that hard work these days.)
9 Wringing Joy out of the Colour and Look of Your Shoes
Now you may think that it’s frivolous to be citing the colour of your shoes as a factor in choosing good walking shoes. But there is a serious point here. If you choose shoes you love, you’ll be far more likely to get out there and use them for walking.
Some years ago, I bought some shoes which had bright orange go faster stripes on them. I bought them because I needed a new pair of shoes that day and they didn’t have my size in the ones I preferred, (grey with sky blue go faster stripes). I acknowledge that they were great shoes for their purpose. But I HATED them. Every time I put them on, I disliked them, and it started me off on my daily walk with a bad impression.
One secret to exercising well is to wring the last drop of joy out of it and that includes spending those few moments when you put on your shoes and lace them up, enjoying how they look and feel. It gives you a psychological boost and rewards you for taking action to go out walking, even before you’ve started.
10 Weighing up the Options
Naturally enough, walking shoes are best if they are comfortable. You might expect the lighter the shoe the better, but a bit more weight than in running shoes gives you more stability for walking. It’s good if that weight is structured in the midfoot area where it supports the heel to toe action of walking.
You don’t generally want to go for heavier boots for walking unless you’re going for extended hiking in rough terrain or you live somewhere where the weather is often bad. (I wore tougher, heavier boots walking around Moscow in winter where there was often deep snow and ice on the pavements. Local women often wore high heels!! I was in awe of their skills.)
But keep an eye on the quality. Cheaper shoes are often light weight and comfortable to begin with, but they often don’t offer enough support to be good walking shoes. Nor do they last very long. The insole crumbles, the sole gets holes and the fabric of the upper can start to fray.
11 If the Shoe Fits
When you’re out walking, the last thing you need is shoes that you make your feet hurt. It’s essential to get shoes that fit you properly. You need shoes that hold your foot in place, which means keeping your heel against the back of the shoe.
If your heel slides up and down in the shoe, you’ll get blisters. (Been there done that.) That’s one reason to try on shoes wearing the socks that you normally wear for walking.
If your feet slide forward, your toenails bump against the front of the shoe and your big toenail might turn black and then come off. It’s painful and takes quite a while to regrow. (Been there, done that.) It’s especially important that your feet don’t slide forward if you’re going down steep terrain.
12 Finding the Wiggle Room
While you need your heel and ankles to be snug and secure, you need plenty of room at the other end for your toes to wiggle. Make sure that you have at least a finger’s (some people say a thumb’s) width of space between your toes and the end of the shoe, together with a wide toe box. That’s the right amount of wiggle room. Wide shoes are particularly important if you have bunions or hammer toes.
Also, they need to be broad enough to allow the widest part of your foot to be in contact with the insole with a little bit of room to spread if you get hot. But not too wide or you’ll develop calluses from sliding around inside the shoe. Go shopping in the afternoon when your feet are spreading a bit and take the socks that you’ll wear when you go out walking.
Check out the way that the shoes do up. Laces are the usual but if you don’t like tying bows because they keep on coming undone, then try shoes with straps and a buckle or better still, Velcro straps which you can easily adjust if your feet swell as you get hot.
13 Durability: How Far will Your Shoes Walk?
Experts tell you that if you walk regularly for around 30 minutes or more a day, you’ll wear out your walking shoes in about 6 months. Others say it takes between 300 – 500 miles of walking. If you walk more, they’ll wear out sooner. It’s not the only factor. It also depends on what they’re made of.
I’m sure that top athletes check their shoes regularly and chuck them away after 6 months. But I don’t know a single person who buys new shoes that regularly. Two or three years is more like it. One friend of mine still uses a pair that are 8 years old. I’ve just replaced my pair after 3 years of wear. I think that you can keep them going if they’re clearly standing up to the treatment you give them. Some people are much harder on their shoes than others.
Checking the fit regularly is always a good idea though. Your movement patterns and lifestyle change and your feet do too. Your foot changes shape because of weight loss, weight gain, injury, medicines, illness, ageing and other reasons. So you need to check the fit of your shoes every few months to see if they’re still doing their job properly.
With regular checks, you’ll notice whether the soles are cracking or the insole is wearing through. You can use your common sense to judge whether they’re still comfortable and providing you with the right support. But the time will come when you need to invest in a new pair.
Pick Your Perfect Pair of Walking Shoes
It’s such a treat buying new shoes. They make you more cheerful and more likely to get out there and test drive them! It’s fun choosing a different colour. And it’s more than delightful to feel that extra bounce from the new cushioning. It makes you realise that your old shoes really had given you their best days.
So, time to pick your perfect pair. Use the tips above, go to a running shop – tell them you want walking shoes and they’ll be happy to help you. If you can, get a gait analysis and some expert advice on which shoes are best for YOU.
With the proper shoes, you’ll enjoy your walking so much more. It’s less effort to get out there and enjoy this wonderful world of ours. You’ll come back in refreshed, bouncing with energy and looking forward to your next walk.
So what are you waiting for? Time to get out walking.