Best walking shoes - November 2018
Walking is a physical activity that almost everyone does multiple times a day, on a daily basis, be it for running errands, doing chores, working, getting fit or just going from point A to point B. Any footwear may be used for walking, but the question is, is it comfortable? There are shoes primarily designed for walking, and these have unique features that make it easier for the wearer to walk or stand for long periods without feeling any discomfort.
The purpose of a walking shoe is to provide a comfortable, yet stable platform. The upper should offer adequate support and flexibility. This type of footwear may also employ motion control or stability features that aid people with foot and gait issues to walk around comfortably.
It’s easy to confuse walking shoes with sneakers, workout shoes, or running shoes. They look the same to the untrained eye, but there are significant differences in the way they are constructed. Each shoe is designed to meet the specific needs of the activity it was created for.
Walking shoes are meant to distribute the user’s weight during the heel-to-toe transition evenly. They allow the foot to smoothly roll forward, from the heel to the ball and the toes, without the user losing balance.
Things to consider in your future walking shoes
Just like any type of footwear, walking shoes need to be comfortable for both short and extended periods of use. It should also have features that help to keep your feet protected, comfortable and relaxed.
Brands employ different types of materials in the upper units of their walking shoes to meet the various needs of wearers. Some pairs use a single piece of soft fabric or leather, while others feature varied combinations of mesh, textile, leather, and synthetic materials.
The material in the upper unit of walking shoes is supposed to be pliable to assist the natural flexibility of the foot. But it should also have some firmness to it to keep the foot sufficiently supported.
It is also essential for a walking shoe to be breathable. If it is entirely covered in leather, make sure that it has vents or perforations as these will allow the foot chamber to stay ventilated. Those who prefer a more open construction of the upper could opt for models with larger perforations or with more mesh material.
The collar of the walking shoe should have padding on it. This structure supports the Achilles tendon and prevents the chafing of the skin. It also stops the back of the foot from sliding out of the shoe.
The midsole of walking shoes is characterized by its bounciness. It allows for better shock absorption to prevent straining the joints and muscles of the lower extremities. Though most materials used in the midsole are soft for shock attenuation, they do not readily compress, delivering a steady platform for the users.
Most walking shoes feature a removable insole. The insert is usually molded to conform to the natural shape of the foot and provide arch support. Users can also replace it with custom orthotics to achieve maximum comfort.
Ideally, walking shoes should be replaced every 6-9 months, but that depends on how much you use the trainer for walking. If users walk around 4-5 miles a day, then in 6-9 months, the walking shoe would have traveled about 1,000 - 1,500 miles and will show signs of deterioration in some form or another. Either the outsole gets worn out, or the midsole is starting to compress or disintegrate, and parts of the upper may begin to unthread or detach.
To prevent injuries, always make sure that the walking shoes are in great condition. Regularly check the walking shoe for any signs of degeneration. If portions of it are starting to detach or unravel, it would be best to no longer use it.
The bones of the foot form an arch which is strengthened by ligaments and tendons. Its purpose is to support the weight when the person is in an upright position. There are different types of foot arches: neutral, flat (flexible or rigid), and high. The type of arch has an impact on how a person walks.
Neutral-arched feet. The natural movement of the foot during the walking gait cycle is called pronation. When the heel touches the ground, the foot slightly rolls inward as the weight shifts to the ball of the foot. The weight is then spread out across the ball before it is transferred to the toes, ending with the toe-off. This type of motion is inherent to people with neutral arches who can wear walking shoes with regular support without experiencing foot fatigue, pain or discomfort.
Flat but flexible feet. People with flat feet tend to overpronate. In other words, their feet roll inward too much during the middle of the gait cycle. Overpronation can cause a variety of foot issues such as shin splints, plantar fasciitis, bunions, heel spurs, to name a few. Flat feet are categorized into flexible and rigid. People with flexible flat feet have flexible arch tendons. The arch is only noticeable when a person is on their tiptoes; the arches lay flat on the floor when the person is standing upright. Consumers with flexible arches will not need walking shoes with arch support.
Flat and rigid feet. As for the rigid flat feet, it is the result of inflexible bone structures in the foot and no arch is seen even when the person is on their tiptoes. Individuals with rigid flat feet will need a walking shoe with stability or motion control features that would prevent too much in-rolling of the foot.
Motion control walking shoes utilize midsoles that are generally stiffer all throughout the sole unit to reduce or prevent overpronation. Stability walking shoes are more flexible than the previous type and incorporate technologies that prevent overpronation such as stability or medial posts. Severe overpronators may benefit more in using motion control walking shoes since the midsole is firmer and is less likely to cause rolling in of the foot.
High-arched feet. This type is easily discernible since there is a clear space in between the ball and the heel. Consumers with this type of arch tend to supinate, which is when the foot rolls outward because the weight of the person rests on the lateral sides of the feet. People who supinate may feel better wearing cushioned neutral walking shoes since the soft platform will prevent outward foot rolling and provide more shock absorption to the arch area. Trainers with flexible midsoles can also help supinators correct their gait and prevent injuries.
Finding the right fit for your walking shoe is crucial to the overall health of your feet and legs. Buying something too loose can result in the footgear slipping off at the most inconvenient time. Conversely, purchasing a walking shoe that is too tight results in foot problems such as bunions, callus or corns.
A correct-fitting walking shoe should be snug yet non-restrictive at the rearfoot to keep the heel steady and comfortable. However, the toe box should provide ample space for the toes to splay naturally throughout the walking session. Brands like New Balance, Skechers, Ryka, Saucony, and Brooks offer their walking shoes in a range of width profiles. Depending on the model, these options include Narrow, Wide, and Extra Wide widths for both men’s and women’s versions.
Getting the right walking shoe size is also very important as this could easily make or break your walking experience. Keep in mind that brands use different lasts when making their walking shoes which results in different sizing and fit schemes. Also, the materials used in the upper as well as the padding, or lack thereof, may influence the choice of the size.
The shape of the toe box can also affect the sizing and the fit of the walking shoe. Shoes with pointed toe boxes will feel snugger at the forefoot compared to round or square toe boxes. Consumers may choose a shoe with a wider profile, but if that’s not available, the next option is to get a size up.
Walking shoes vary not only in their design and construction but also in weight, so choosing which type to get is a matter of preference. Some people enjoy the feel of walking shoes that are very lightweight. Others prefer a shoe that has some weight in it as it makes them feel grounded.
Common technologies in walking shoes
Most walking shoes use a built-in or removable memory foam cushion. This material is made of polyurethane (PU) foam that has been altered by adding chemicals. They make the material more viscous and denser than other foams, allowing it to conform to the shape of the foot and deliver maximum comfort. It also returns to its normal shape after use. The ability of memory foam to adapt to the shape of the foot ensures a customized fit every time it is worn.
When you are walking, the heel strikes the ground first. Specifically, the center of the back of the heel. Walking shoes usually feature a beveled heel, which means the edge of the heel is rounded, it is not a straight edge. It helps to soften the heel strike by allowing the heel to roll forward smoothly.
Walking shoes have more cushioning on their upper compared to other types of footwear. The reason for this is that it supports the ankle, prevents discomfort in this area, and keeps the heel from slipping out of the shoe while walking. By keeping the fit in the ankle snug, friction is reduced, and chafing is prevented.
Walking shoes require flexibility in the ball area since this is where the foot flexion happens. To know if a walking shoe has flexibility in this area, look at the outsole. There should be horizontal grooves running across this section. These are called flex grooves, and as the name implies, they contribute to the flexibility of the forefoot.
Stability and motion control add-ons
One of the few brands that use special technologies in their walking shoes to deliver stability and motion control is New Balance. These technologies include the Rollbar and the SBS Stabilizer.
The Rollbar is a posting system made of a molded plate that goes under the heel and connects the medial and lateral posts to reduce rearfoot movement.
The SBS Stabilizer is similar to the previously mentioned technology, but instead of two posting systems, it only has one on the medial side of the heel and is anchored to the outsole. It prevents severe overpronation.
Frequently asked questions about walking shoes
What to look for in walking shoes?
Finding the right walking shoe may be affected by a lot of factors such as weather or climate, the general terrain of the area, and thickness of the sole unit, to name a few. People who live in regions with warm weather will need well-ventilated walking shoes. The upper should be made of light materials such as mesh, knit or jersey. Those who live in cold areas will find walking shoes with leather or suede upper to be more appropriate. While those living in a rainy area will need walking shoes that are designed to provide traction on wet, slippery ground.
The amount of cushioning on the midsole is also a factor. Some people like walking shoes with thick sole units, while others would much prefer minimalist types of walking footwear. In the end, finding the right walking shoe solely depends on the personal preference of the user.
When to buy walking shoes?
A person’s foot expands considerably as the day progresses. It would be wise to purchase a walking shoe late in the afternoon, when the foot is fully expanded, to be able to obtain a suitable size and fit.
When to replace walking shoes?
Ideally, walking shoes should be replaced after 6-9 months of use. But there are also other factors that should be considered such as how often the footwear is worn, if there are early signs of wear and tear, or if the midsole has compressed and is no longer effective in providing shock absorption.
What is the difference between running shoes and walking footwear?
Walking and running require different body mechanics and, thus, call for a different type of support and cushioning.
- Shock absorption. Running is more brutal to the lateral side of the heel as this is usually the point of impact. A runner’s heel absorbs about 2 - 3 times of the person’s body weight because the foot lands on the ground harder. In walking, the foot strike happens at the center of the back of the heel, and it is subjected to only 1 - 2 times of a person’s body weight. That's why running footwear is designed to be prepared for harder impact in the heel.
- Cushioning. Walking also evenly distributes the person’s body weight across the foot, rolling from the heel to the toes at a slower pace. In running, the heel bears the brunt of the impact and runners spend only a brief moment on the balls of their feet and toes. This foot-to-ground interaction is the reason why the construction of walking shoes and running shoes are different. Typical running shoes have thicker midsoles than walking shoes because of how hard runners land on their feet. Walking shoes are typically cushioned evenly while running shoes often have more padding in the heel since it is the initial point of impact.
- Coverage. The uppers of these trainers are also different. Most running shoe uppers are made from light and breathable materials since running can generate more heat in the foot. Mesh ensures that the foot chamber is well-ventilated. The uppers for walking shoes come in various materials such as leather, mesh, suede, synthetic, knit, jersey, and more.
- Arch support. Walking shoes also have greater arch support compared to running shoes since the arch is what takes on most of the weight of a person with each step. The arch support either comes built in the shoe or in the form of a removable insert.
What makes walking shoes different from workout shoes?
Another type of footwear that may be confused for a walking shoe is a workout trainer. Daily workout shoes tend to have more supporting structures that keep the foot firmly in place during both forward and lateral movements. They also have better ankle support to prevent the heel from wobbling during dynamic workouts. Additionally, workout shoes use a cushioning platform that has the right amount of softness and density. It needs to be flexible to accommodate plyometrics and sprints, but hard enough to keep the foot steady during squats and lifts.
Some walking shoes do offer side panels for reinforced lateral support, but most of the time, they only serve to add style. The most important movement that walking shoes need to accomplish is the smooth heel-to-toe transition, not side-to-side movements. Unlike other training shoes, walking footgear employs technologies that ensure a smooth and well-padded forward movement. Thus, prolonged walking on the firm sole of workout shoes can result in fatigued feet.
Are walking shoes the same as sneakers?
A casual sneaker could easily be mistaken for a walking shoe. Fashion sneakers come in a vast variety of shapes, sole unit heights, and upper designs. They mostly go with casual wear and are oftentimes used to make a fashion statement as they tend to be more aesthetically appealing compared to walking shoes. Some sneakers receive the DNA of popular sports footgear silhouettes. However, not all technologies associated with the original shoe are present, taking a back seat to style.
Unlike sneakers, walking shoes prioritize comfort and functionality over fashion. While sneakers could still provide a comfortable footbed, a pair of dedicated walking shoes is designed to deliver support and stability on top of comfort. Sneakers are usually neutral and do not offer arch support or technologies that could help alleviate foot issues such as overpronation or supination.
What is the difference between walking shoes and hiking footwear?
Walking shoes and hiking footwear differ in design and functionality. Walking shoes are lighter, more flexible, and mostly fall below the ankle which means they don’t offer too much ankle support. They are also built with moderate durability and do well when used on flat surfaces. The midsole of a walking shoe is soft to absorb shock but still provide steadiness. Their upper unit may be made of water-resistant materials, but there are also breathable options made from light materials.
Hiking footwear is relatively heavier compared to walking shoes because it utilizes materials that are more durable and thicker. It also provides more cushioning because it is meant to be used for extended periods and on rough terrains. Hiking boots usually cover the ankle to deliver better support when traversing uneven surfaces. Their midsole may be reinforced with metal plates to prevent the arch from overly stretching to avoid the development of plantar fasciitis. Its upper may use water-resistant or sometimes even water-proof materials.
Though some people may prefer using walking shoes for hiking because it feels lighter on the foot, it may not last as long as a hiking shoe would because it is made of softer materials. Also, the traction on the outsole of hiking footwear delivers better grip because they are meant to withstand all sorts of conditions.
How do I take care of my walking shoes?
Depending on the materials used, keeping walking shoes clean is relatively simple. If a walking shoe is made of leather or synthetic material, a simple wipe down with a clean cloth will suffice. A damp cloth may help remove dried up mud. Special polishers may also help in prolonging the life of the leather.
Walking shoes that use mesh, knit or jersey for the upper may be gently washed by hand and air-dried. It is not advisable to use a washing machine or a clothes dryer as the heat and tumbling action may bring damage to the footwear.
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