Good walking shoes for fitness or travel have design characteristics similar to those found in running shoes, trail-running shoes, light hikers or multisport shoes. It's mostly their casual styling that sets them apart.
Running shoes lend themselves particularly well to walking because they are well padded, lightweight and very breathable, which makes them more comfortable for walking at an up-tempo pace. They often have built-in motion control, cushioning or stability technology—nice modifications if your foot type has any of these needs. For more information, see our article, Running Shoes: How to Choose.
That said, in most cases, many shoe types can be worn as walking shoes if you know what to look for.
Walking Shoe Considerations
Walking style: If your approach will be more casual, your options are wide open. Pick a shoe style that most closely matches where you'll be doing most of your walking. On pavement? Pick a running, multisport or casual shoe. On nature paths or dirt roads? Go with a trail runner or light hiker.
Flexibility and support: To gauge a shoe's appropriateness for use as a walking shoe, try these tests:
- Pick up a shoe by the heel and toe and bend the toe upward. Does the shoe bend at the ball of the foot or at some random point halfway along the arch? It should bend under the ball of the foot.
- Twist the shoe sole from the heel to the toe. Does the sole feel like a wet noodle, or is there some resistance to twisting? As a walker, you want to feel light to moderate resistance.
Cushioning: Walking causes less impact to your feet than running does. As a result, a true walking shoe doesn’t require as much cushioning in the heel as a traditional running shoe provides. Walking shoes often focus on providing cushioning under the ball of the foot.
Waterproofing: Will you go out even if the weather is bad? A waterproof shoe will likely be important to you, so a trail-running shoe could be a good option. Trail-running shoes often have waterproof uppers, plus sturdy soles and ample support features. Some people prefer shoes without waterproof liners, especially in hotter or drier climates, because of their increased breathability and quicker drying times.
Shoe weight: If fitness is your goal, look for the low weight and support of a running shoe. (Remember, running shoes are designed for linear motion. They’ll work fine for walking on pavement or a treadmill. Just don't use them for any activity that requires abrupt side-to-side motion or quick lateral cuts.)
Walking Shoe Fit
Fit trumps all other considerations: technology, reviews, fashion or recommendations from friends. A proper fit will keep you from getting bruised toenails or heel blisters. You won't regret buying a shoe that fits you well.
A good fit can be defined as snug everywhere, tight nowhere and with enough room to wiggle your toes. Try the following two fit tests:
Walk down an incline. As you descend the incline, stomp and scuff your feet. Try to get the tips of your toes to touch the front inside of the shoes. Assuming you've laced the shoes snugly, the shoes shouldn't let you move that far forward. Shoes stretch and widen slightly with use over time. If your toes can already touch the front of the shoes when the shoes are new, try on a different pair.
Walk uphill on stairs. If the shoes pass the downhill test, try them on some stairs. Walk up a few flights of stairs, two stairs at a time. You should check for heel lift. If your heels are consistently lifting off the insoles more than about 1/8 of an inch, this may be a heel blister waiting to happen.
If you're unsure, you might try socks with more heel padding or substituting an aftermarket insole. It's important to stop or minimize the up-and-down movement of your heels inside the shoes. You can take 10,000 footsteps in a typical day, and that repeated heel shifting can cause blisters.