One of the benefits of walking is that it doesn’t require a big budget, but investing in a good pair of walking shoes is key. Here are some tips to help you get the best fit.
Try shoes on late in the day
Feet can swell up to 8% throughout the day.1 So, try shoes on in the afternoon or at the end of the day when your feet are swollen from use.
Bring your socks
Always try shoes on with the socks you plan to wear for your walking workouts. (If you wear orthotics – specially designed inserts – be sure to bring those as well).
Measure your feet
It’s natural for your feet to change in length and width over time. Our bodies absorb 2-3 times our weight as we walk. Over time, the ligaments and tendons that support the arches of our feet become worn from use. Our arches slowly collapse, which causes our feet to become longer and wider.2 Be sure to stand while having your feet measured because the full weight of your body will expand your feet, which will give you the most accurate measure for choosing your shoes.1
Consider these 3 things
- Arch type – How high the arch of your foot is can affect how you walk. The arch of your foot can be
- Neutral (also called medium or normal)
- Low (also called flat feet).
To learn your arch type at home, you can use a wet foot test.3
- Gait – Your gait is the way you walk, and importantly, how your foot strikes the ground. As you walk, you can –
- Overpronate : Overpronation occurs when your foot collapses too far inward onto the arch each time you step. This is common for those with low arches or flat feet.4 Look for a shoe designed for stability and motion control.5
- Neutral foot strike: As you walk, your foot typically rolls from heel to toe with a slight inward roll (pronation), which is normal and helpful, allowing the foot to absorb shock and mold to the surface of the ground.6 Your arch naturally supports your body weight under a normal load. Look for a shoe with a firm midsole4 and equal amounts of stability and cushioning.5
- Underpronate – Underpronation occurs when your foot strikes too much on the outside of the foot and doesn’t have enough of an inward roll.4 This is common for those with high arches. Those with feet that underpronate are less able to absorb shock.6 Look for shock absorption in a shoe with plenty of cushioning, a softer midsole, and more flexibility.5
- Lasts – Lasts are the solid forms over which shoes are molded. The arch of your foot will typically determine the type of last (shape of the shoe) you require. Lasts come in three shapes, which can be identified by looking at the sole of the shoe:
- Straight – A straight last is often best for low arches or flat feet and overpronation7,8,9
- Semicurved – A semicurved last is often best for neutral arches and those with a neutral foot strike7,8,9
- Curved – Curved lasts are often best for high arches and underpronation7,8,9
You can see examples of types of pronation and shapes of shoe lasts here.
Try different brands
Keep in mind, every shoe manufacturer uses a different basic shoe shape (last) – some shorter or longer, some wider or narrower.10 Since we all have different feet, what works for one, might not work for another. Try different brands to assess what’s best for your feet.
Choose a specialty store
Specialty stores often have employees that can help you assess your foot size, arch type, and gait, and direct you to shoes that provide the cushioning, stability, comfort, and flexibility you need.8 Some specialty stores will let you return shoes after a week or two of wear if they aren’t meeting your needs. Ask for the store’s policy on returns.
Try on several pairs of shoes and lace up both shoes. Walk around for a few minutes. Take as much time as you need to be sure you’re comfortable in the shoes before purchase.
If it’s not comfortable, it’s not an option
Long gone are the days of breaking in athletic shoes. They should feel comfortable right away. It can be tempting to buy a shoe for its look alone, but if it’s not comfortable, you may cause long-term problems.
Measure from the longest toe
Be sure there’s about ½ inch of room at the front of the shoe between your longest toe (not necessarily the biggest toe) and the front end of the shoe.
Choose the shoe that fits your largest foot
About 60% of adults have one foot that’s longer and/or wider than the other.11 If you have a wider foot, ask for shoes in wider widths. If your feet are a full size or more different from one another, consult your doctor or podiatrist.
Be sure the heel cup is stable
Your foot should not slip up and down or side-to-side at the back of the shoe. It should fit at a comfortable depth without rubbing.9
Bend the shoe
“At the end of each stride, your foot bends through the ball of your foot just before you toe off.”12 For this reason, the sole should bend slightly at the ball of the shoe, to allow for this natural roll of the foot from heel to toe. Holding the shoe by the heel, press it against the floor at the toe to be sure it bends slightly. Next, hold the shoe at the front and back and try to bend it in half with slight pressure. The shoe should NOT bend under the arch where support is needed.7,12
Replace your shoes when needed
The American Podiatric Medical Association recommends replacing your walking shoes every 600-800 miles or every 6-8 months.13 This is a general guideline, so be sure to check your shoes for wear or discomfort. If they’ve become uncomfortable or lost shock absorption or stability, it’s likely time for a new pair.
“Don’t cut corners on your shoe budget; buying shoes is the only real expenditure necessary for the sport, so treat your feet well.”10
Athletic shoes can be expensive, but investing in the right pair of shoes can save you from problems later. The way we walk can affect not only our feet and ankles, but also other parts of our body like our shins, knees, hips, and spine.1,6 7 Take good care of your body by investing in good shoes.
- Weatherford BM, Irwin CK. Shoes: Finding the right fit – American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons. https://orthoinfo.aaos.org/en/staying-healthy/shoes-finding-the-right-fit. Published April 2019. Accessed April 19, 2023.
- Nicolosi N. Shoes getting tight? Why your feet change size over time. Cleveland Clinic. https://health.clevelandclinic.org/shoes-getting-tight-feet-change-size-time/. Published September 19, 2022. Accessed April 19, 2023.
- Mayo Clinic Health System. Determining your foot arch. https://www.mayoclinichealthsystem.org/-/media/national-files/documents/hometown-health/2019/determine-your-foot-arch-type.pdf?la=en&hash=4138E8975488D0075B78FF0BA2E0FD1F. Published 2018. Accessed April 19, 2023.
- Weber M. How to determine foot arch type. Mayo Clinic Health System. https://www.mayoclinichealthsystem.org/hometown-health/speaking-of-health/how-to-determine-foot-arch-type. Published March 23, 2022. Accessed April 19, 2023.
- American Podiatric Medical Association. Which running shoe is right for you?: Tips for healthy feet: Patients. https://www.apma.org/runningshoes. Accessed April 19, 2023.
- Walden M. Supination (foot biomechanics). Sportsinjuryclinic.net. https://www.sportsinjuryclinic.net/treatments-therapies/foot-biomechanics-gait-analysis/over-supination-foot-biomechanics. Published February 15, 2023. Accessed April 19, 2023.
- Nesbitt L. How to buy Athletic Shoes. The Physician and Sports Medicine. 1999;27(12):133-134. doi:10.3810/psm.1999.11.1130.
- Coburn JW, Malek MH. NSCA’s (National Strength & Conditioning Association) Essentials of Personal Training. Second ed. Champaign, Illinois: Human Kinetics; 2011. Excerpt retrieve from https://www.nsca.com/education/articles/kinetic-select/six-essentials-to-safe-participation/, April 17, 2023.
- Christensen B, Edwards JU. Walking: Select the right shoes. North Dakota State University. https://www.ndsu.edu/agriculture/sites/default/files/2022-09/fn603_0.pdf. Published August 2022. Accessed April 19, 2023.
- American Academy of Podiatric Sports Medicine. Walking and your feet: Choose proper walking shoes. http://www.aapsm.org/walking.html. Accessed April 19, 2023.
- Priority Podiatry. Is it normal for one foot to be bigger than the other? https://prioritypodiatry.co.uk/2021/06/11/is-it-normal-for-one-foot-to-be-bigger-than-the-other/. Published June 11, 2021. Accessed April 19, 2023.
- Public Broadcasting Service. America’s walking: Picking the right walking shoe. https://www.pbs.org/americaswalking/gear/gearpicking.html. Published 2002. Accessed April 19, 2023.
- American Podiatric Medical Association. Choosing shoes for sports: Tips for healthy feet: Patients. APMA. https://www.apma.org/sportspecific. Accessed April 19, 2023.