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How-To Choose the Perfect Walking Shoes

Walking is one of the simplest and most accessible forms of exercise, but many people overlook the importance of wearing the right walking shoes. Without proper footwear, you’re at a greater risk for acute injury and long-term foot issues. To prevent that from happening, we put together this guide on finding your perfect walking shoes. Specifically, we’ll cover topics like the significance of investing in the right walking shoes, why proper footwear matters, and the key differences between walking and running shoes.

By understanding your foot type, sizing your shoes correctly, selecting the right features, and learning how to care for your shoes, you can optimize your walking experience and enjoy its many benefits to the fullest.

Understanding Your Foot Type

Understanding your foot type is the first step in finding the right walking shoes. Each person has a unique foot structure, including different arch types and pronation patterns. By identifying your foot characteristics, you can choose shoes that provide adequate support and stability.

The Wet Foot Test: How to Determine Your Arch

One way to determine your arch type is by performing the "wet foot test." Follow these steps:

  1. 1. Wet the soles of your feet or dip them in a shallow pan of water.
  2. 2. Step onto a piece of cardboard or a paper bag.
  3. 3. Step off and observe the footprint left behind.

Based on the shape of your footprint, you can determine your arch type:

Normal (Medium) Arch: If you see about half of your arch in the footprint, you have a normal arch, meaning your weight is evenly distributed throughout your entire foot. It’s the most common arch shape among healthy individuals.

Low Arch (Flat Feet): If your footprint shows almost the entire sole of your foot, you have a low arch or flat feet. People with low arches tend to overpronate, meaning their feet roll inward excessively, which can cause ankle issues, especially if you walk regularly. However, you can prevent injuries with strength and gait training.

High Arch: If only a thin strip connects the heel and ball of your foot in the footprint, you have a high arch. Those with high arches often underpronate (supinate), causing their feet to roll outward. Again, this can cause ankle issues with regular walking, though it can be managed with strength and gait training.

How Pronation Impacts Shoe Choice

Pronation refers to the natural inward rolling motion of the foot as it strikes the ground during walking or running. Understanding your pronation pattern is crucial in selecting the right shoes:

Neutral Pronation: If your foot exhibits a normal arch and a moderate inward roll, you have neutral pronation. Look for shoes with balanced cushioning and stability features.

Overpronation: Flat-footed individuals tend to overpronate, with their feet rolling excessively inward. This can lead to instability and potential problems like shin splints or plantar fasciitis. Look for shoes with motion control and stability features to correct overpronation.

Underpronation (Supination): Those with high arches often underpronate, causing their feet to roll outward. This can result in insufficient shock absorption and increased stress on the foot and ankle. Look for shoes with extra cushioning and flexibility to support underpronation.

Now that you understand your arch shape and pronation patterns, you can find your perfect walking shoe that provides ample support, stability, and cushioning.

How to Size Your Walking Shoes

Knowing your arch shape and pronation pattern is a start. But without properly-fitting walking shoes, you’ll end up injured eventually. Let’s start with a few sizing basics.

Measuring Foot Length and Width

To start, you need to measure both the length and width of your feet accurately. Follow these steps:

  1. 1. Place a piece of paper on a flat surface and position your foot on it.
  2. 2. Use a pencil or pen to trace the outline of your foot.
  3. 3. Measure the distance from the longest toe to the heel for the length.
  4. 4. Measure the widest part of your foot for the width.

Once you have your measurements, refer to a shoe size chart to determine your size. Keep in mind that sizes may vary slightly between different shoe brands, so it's always best to try on shoes before purchasing.

How Socks Affect Sizing

When sizing your walking shoes, consider the type of socks you will be wearing during your walks. If you typically wear thicker socks for added cushioning or to keep your feet warm during the winter, measure your feet with those same socks on. It's recommended to try on shoes with the socks you plan to wear to ensure a proper fit. Furthermore, you should try shoes on in the afternoon or nighttime, as your feet swell throughout the day, meaning they’re larger at night than in the morning.

The Thumb's Width Rule

Another useful guideline is the "thumb's width rule." After putting on the shoes, make sure there is approximately a thumb's width of space between the end of your longest toe (usually the big toe) and the front of the shoe. This allows room for natural movement and prevents blister formation from your toes hitting the front of the shoe.

Selecting the Right Shoe Features

Now that you have your ideal size, it’s time to consider exactly which features you need to support your feet on long walks. These will vary depending on the shape of your arch, gait, and pre-existing foot conditions, so what may work for someone else may not be the right fit for you.

Material and Breathability

The material of the shoe greatly impacts its comfort and breathability. Look for walking shoes made from breathable materials such as lightweight canvas or mesh. These materials allow air to circulate, preventing excessive sweating and keeping your feet cool and dry during walks.


One of the primary functions of walking shoes is to cushion your feet, specifically your heels, from the impact of walking on hard surfaces, like concrete roads and sidewalks. As your heel strikes the ground, it must support your entire body weight. And though it may be fine to walk short distances barefoot, your heel isn’t built to support 100+ pounds for miles at a time.

Look for walking shoes that offer adequate cushioning in the midsole and heel areas. Different shoe brands may use various cushioning technologies, such as gel inserts, memory foam insoles, or air pockets. Try on different shoes to find the level of cushioning that feels most comfortable for your feet.

Traction and Sole Type

The outsole of your walking shoes plays a crucial role in providing traction and stability as you walk along uneven roads, sidewalks, and trails. Look for shoes with a durable and slip-resistant outsole, especially if you plan to walk on various terrains. Deep grooves and patterns on the sole can enhance grip and prevent slips and falls. Additionally, consider the type of sole based on your walking environment. For example, if you often walk on wet or slippery surfaces, choose shoes with a rubber or non-slip sole.

Arch Support and Stability

As we’ve discussed quite a bit already, arch support is the quintessential element of a properly-fitting shoe. The goal is to minimize pronation in either direction. Look for walking shoes that offer adequate arch support, especially if you have flat feet or high arches. Some shoes may feature built-in arch support, while others allow you to insert custom orthotics or insoles for enhanced support and stability.

Shoe Weight

The weight of your walking shoes can impact your overall comfort and performance. Generally, lighter shoes are more comfortable for longer walks or extended periods of wear. However, keep in mind that heavier shoes may offer more stability and durability. Consider your personal preferences and the type of walking activities you engage in when selecting the appropriate weight for your shoes.

How to Tie and Wear Your Walking Shoes

Though most people tend to lace their shoes the standard way, experienced walkers and runners know that different lace techniques provide more comfort and stability. In this section, we’ll guide you through the science behind lacing, techniques for different foot shapes, and tips for breaking in new walking shoes.

The Science Behind Lacing

Believe it or not, there is a science to lacing your shoes. The lacing technique you choose can affect the fit and feel of your walking shoes. Here are a few common lacing methods:

Standard Criss-Cross Lacing: This is the most common lacing technique, providing a balanced and secure fit.

Heel Lock Lacing: This technique helps prevent heel slippage by creating extra tension around the heel area.

Wide Foot Lacing: If you have wider feet or experience discomfort in the midfoot area, this lacing method can provide extra room.

Narrow Foot Lacing: For those with narrow feet or experiencing excess space in the shoe, this technique helps to tighten the fit.

Experiment with different lacing methods to find the one that suits your foot shape and provides the most comfortable fit.

Techniques for Different Foot Shapes

Different foot shapes require different techniques to achieve the best fit. Here are some techniques for common foot shape issues:

High Arches: If you have high arches, consider using cushioned insoles or orthotics to provide additional support and reduce pressure on the arches.

Wide Feet: Look for wide-width sneakers that can comfortably accommodate the width of your feet. Additionally, use lacing techniques that provide more room in the midfoot area.

Bunions: If you have bunions, opt for shoes with a roomy toe box to alleviate pressure on the affected area. Avoid shoes with narrow or pointed toe boxes that can aggravate bunions.

Narrow Heel: Use lacing techniques like the heel lock method to secure the heel and prevent slippage.

Breaking in New Walking Shoes: Do's and Don'ts

When you purchase a new pair of walking shoes, it's important to break them in gradually to avoid discomfort or blisters. Here are some do's and don'ts for breaking in your new shoes:

Do: Start by wearing your new shoes for short periods, gradually increasing the duration over time. This allows your feet to adjust to the new shoes.

Do: Wear your new shoes around the house or on shorter walks before taking them on longer walks or more intense activities.

Don't: Avoid wearing your new shoes for extended periods right away, as this can cause discomfort and increase the risk of blisters.

Don't: Don't forget to listen to your feet. If you experience persistent pain or discomfort, consider adjusting the lacing or seeking professional advice.

How to Take Care of Walking Shoes

If you take 10,000 to 20,000+ steps per day, your walking shoes will wear down faster than the rest of your shoes. So to prolong their lifespan, and avoid having to replace them every other month, follow these simple tips.

Cleaning and Storage Tips for Longevity

Regular cleaning and proper storage can help keep your walking shoes in good condition, especially if they tend to get dirty from the rain, dirt, and other debris on your daily walks. Here are some tips to follow:

Cleaning: Remove any dirt or debris from your shoes after each walk. Use a soft brush or cloth to gently scrub away stains. For tougher stains, especially for white shoes, you can create a mild solution of water and gentle soap and spot clean the affected areas. Avoid using harsh chemicals or submerging your shoes in water unless specified by the manufacturer.

Drying: Allow your shoes to air dry naturally after cleaning. Avoid using direct heat sources like heaters or dryers, as they can damage the materials. Stuff the shoes with crumpled newspaper or shoe trees to help maintain their shape and absorb moisture.

Storage: Store your walking shoes in a cool, dry place away from direct sunlight. Avoid storing them in plastic bags or airtight containers, as this can lead to moisture buildup and potential odor issues. Instead, use a shoe rack or allow them to breathe by keeping them in a well-ventilated area.

When to Replace: Signs of Wear and Tear

Even with proper care, walking shoes will eventually wear out and lose their effectiveness. It's important to recognize the signs indicating when it's time to replace your shoes. Here are some common signs of wear and tear:

Visible Sole Wear: Check the outsole of your shoes for signs of excessive wear. If the tread is worn down and the sole appears smooth, it's time for a replacement. A worn-out sole can compromise traction and stability.

Lack of Cushioning: Over time, the midsole cushioning of your shoes may lose its responsiveness. If you notice a significant decrease in cushioning or feel more impact during your walks, it's a sign that the shoes are no longer providing adequate support.

Visible Damage or Tears: Inspect your shoes for any visible damage, such as tears, holes, or separation of the upper from the sole. This can compromise the shoe's structure and lead to discomfort or instability.

Persistent Foot Discomfort: If you experience consistent foot pain or discomfort that is not alleviated by proper lacing or insoles, it may be a sign that your shoes no longer provide the necessary support or have worn out.

Keep these signs in mind and periodically evaluate the condition of your walking shoes. Knowing when to replace them will ensure you always have footwear that supports your feet properly and reduces the risk of injury.

Advanced Tips for the Avid Walker

For the avid walker looking to take their walking routine to the next level, there are some advanced tips and considerations to enhance your walking experience. Whether it be something as simple as walking your dog or navigating uneven trails, there are nuanced tips for everyone.
man walking his dog

Adapting to Different Weather Conditions

As an avid walker, you may encounter various weather conditions during your walks. Here are some tips for adapting to different weather scenarios:

Rainy Days: Invest in waterproof or water-resistant walking shoes to keep your feet dry. Consider wearing moisture-wicking socks to prevent discomfort from wet feet. Additionally, be cautious of slippery surfaces and adjust your walking speed accordingly.

Hot Weather: Opt for breathable shoes with good ventilation to keep your feet cool. Choose moisture-wicking socks to help prevent sweat buildup and minimize the risk of blisters. It's also important to stay hydrated during hot weather walks.

Cold Weather: Choose walking shoes with insulation to keep your feet warm. Layer your socks or opt for thermal socks for added warmth. Consider using shoe covers or gaiters to protect your shoes from snow, slush, or rain.

Specialized Shoes for Hiking & Trails & Speed Walking

If you're an avid walker who enjoys hiking, trail walking, or speed walking, you may need specialized shoes to reap the full experience. Here are some considerations for each activity:

Hiking: Look for hiking shoes or trail walking shoes with sturdy outsoles and added ankle support. These shoes are designed to provide traction on uneven terrain and protect your feet from rocks and debris.

Trail Walking: Consider trail running shoes that provide a balance of stability, cushioning, and agility. These shoes have durable outsoles and protective features while remaining lightweight and flexible.

Speed Walking: For those who engage in fast-paced walking or competitive speed walking, specialized speed walking shoes offer lightweight construction and flexibility to enhance speed and efficiency.

Pairing with Orthotics and Insoles

If you require additional support or have specific foot conditions, such as plantar fasciitis, you can install orthotics or custom insoles into your shoes to provide the necessary comfort and stability.

Consult with a podiatrist or foot specialist to determine if orthotics or insoles would benefit you. They can recommend the appropriate type and help you find the perfect walking shoes that accommodate them.

The right pair of walking shoes will carry you for hundreds of miles and aid on your journey towards a healthier lifestyle. We’ve delved deep into the intricacies of foot anatomy, the science of shoe sizing, and the art of shoe selection. It should be evident at this point that properly-fitting sneakers are a necessity if you wish to be comfortable and preserve your long-term foot health. So as you shop for your next pair of walking sneakers and lace them up before heading out the door, remember that every foot is unique and thus requires a unique solution. Whether you're a casual stroller or an avid hiker, may each step you take be supported, cushioned, and aligned to perfection.