Choosing the Right Walking Shoe
Gone are the days of the Converse Chuck Taylor All-Stars sneakers, when one shoe seemed to be able to handle pretty much anything from running to walking, skipping, and jumping. Granted, the Chucky’s were heavy and not particularly eye-catching, but the price was alright.
The plethora of shoes available nowadays for every possible physical activity makes one wonder. Do you really need different shoes for strolling versus race-walking or hiking? Can you walk in running shoes or run in walking shoes? Yes, sometimes, and no. When it comes to walking, for instance, all walkers are not created equal. Where and how you walk often determines the best shoe for you. Here's what you should look for:
If you’re a casual fitness walker, you can get away with almost any type of athletic shoe, although shoes that are especially designed for walking are best. If you do not plan to walk more than three to five miles at a time, you may safely use anything from running shoes to cross-training shoes to real race-walking shoes. Lightweight running shoes are generally comfortable for walks even though their midsoles are built to absorb the greater shock usually incurred from running. Walkers don’t hit the ground with as much force as runners, so you don’t need a lot of cushioning. In fact, too much cushioning can, not only give you a sense of “disconnect” with the ground, but also lead to shin pain and other problems. Generally, if you feel comfortable in the shoe and it doesn’t give you blisters, then it’s probably alright for casual walking.
Don’t be deceived by the apparent ease of race-walking. It is more than just fast walking, especially when practiced the Olympic-style. Race-walking requires you to use a lot more muscles and rely on your feet much more than fitness walking does. If you plan to race-walk regularly, pay special attention to shoe flexibility, particularly at the ball of the foot, to allow your feet to smoothly roll from heel to toe. Your walking shoe should also have a very low heel to limit any leverage that can cause the feet to slap the ground after heel contact. Ideally, you should opt for real race-walking shoes, running racing flats or trainer-racers.
Imagine yourself on a tough hike, walking over rough terrain with race-walking shoes. If you ever got tempted to put on such shoes to go hiking, their typical lightness and flexibility alone would hopefully scream “STOP” to you. If you plan to hike, investing in hiking shoes and boots will spare you of many a disaster, especially in rugged terrain. For most hikes, you can get away with any shoe with a treaded, high-grip outsole. If you venture on rocky trails, however, high-cut hiking boots are a must. Wearing a shoe or boot that will help stabilize your ankles is especially important in rugged terrain, to reduce your risk of ankle sprains.
Sure, you might be able to get away with wearing a shoe that's not the most appropriate for your walking activity. But after prolonged use, you will certainly notice the aches and pains that come with it--and you'll appreciate why you should wear a hiking shoe when you hike! Just remember, choosing the right shoe can keep you walking comfortably.