Undoubtedly, the most important piece of equipment you’ll need for walking is a pair of walking shoes. It’s important that you find a pair specifically designed for walking rather than strapping on some running shoes or leisure sneakers.
Walking shoes typically fall into one of three categories.
- Cushioned shoes offer greater comfort for those who walk long distances (over five miles at a time).
- Performance trainers are lightweight shoes that are great for those who don’t need motion control.
- Stability shoes are for people who don’t have severe stability problems but would benefit from added motion control.
No matter how great a shoe looks, it won’t do you any good if it doesn’t fit correctly. To ensure this, find the best athletic shoe store in your area where the serious runners go. Personal trainers are often a great resource for these. Be sure to keep an eye out for stores that offer foot analyses. This alone is a strong indication that they’ll be able to find a shoe more anatomically suited to your foot.
Walking shoes differ from running shoes in that each addresses how a person moves. Walkers strike first with the heel and roll through the step. Runners, by contrast, strike in the midsole and need a built-up heel to soften the impact as well as a flared heel for stability. Walkers need neither of these things.
To find the right pair of walking shoes, put each candidate through the following quality test:
- Look at the heel. It should be no more than an inch higher than the sole under the ball of the foot, and there should be no flare.
- Next, grip the shoe in your hands and twist it. Not only should it twist latitudinally, but it should also easily bend at the ball of the foot and not the middle of the arch.
- Finally, set the shoe on the floor and poke the toe. If it’s well designed, the toe should be slightly off the ground and rock a little when poked.
If you overpronate (walk so that your foot tilts too far inward toward the arch), you may need to find a pair of motion control shoes to compensate. This is especially true if you are heavy or have other mobility issues such as a weak knee or hip.2 While motion control shoes tend to be heavier, they offer firmer support and can help balance the gait when walking.
If in doubt, have your gait analyzed at the shoe store. If the pronation is particularly severe, you may need to either get a custom pair or find an orthotic insole able to provide the support you need.
When searching for the right walking shoe, don’t get hung up on labels. If you find a flexible, flat shoe with a minimal heel drop, it may be perfectly well suited for walking even if it’s labeled a running shoe. Similarly, there are many walking shoes that have all the bells and whistles but are anything but flexible and flat.
To make the right choice, always place function before fashion. Sure, you want to look great, but it’s more important to find something that makes walking a joy. You can usually find a great pair for between $60 and $120. Anything more and you’ll be paying for style.