Walking shoes: Features and fit that keep you moving

Walking shoes have some features other shoes don't. Here's what to look for and how to get the best fit.

By Mayo Clinic Staff

Wearing walking shoes that are comfortable and fit your feet can help prevent injuries such as blisters and calluses. A walking shoe should also be fairly lightweight and provide good shock absorption. But not all walking shoes are created equal. Find the fit and features that are right for you.

Look for helpful features

How a shoe is built makes a difference in its fit and function. Knowing the basic parts of a walking shoe can help you sort through the many available styles and brands. Note: Not all walking shoes have roll bars or gel pads, though many have features that provide stability and cushioning.

  • Achilles notch. Reduces stress on the Achilles tendon.
  • Ankle collar. Cushions the ankle and ensures proper fit.
  • Upper. Holds the shoe on your foot and is usually made of leather, mesh or synthetic material. Mesh allows better ventilation and is lighter weight.
  • Insole. Cushions and supports your foot and arch. Removable insoles can be laundered or taken out to dry between walking sessions.
  • Midsole. Provides comfort, cushioning and shock absorption.
  • Outsole. Makes contact with the ground. Grooves and treads can help maintain traction.
  • Toe box. Provides space for the toes. A roomy and round toe box helps prevent calluses.
  • Gel pad. Cushions and reduces impact when your foot strikes the ground.
  • Roll bar. Helps stabilize your foot if it tends to roll inward when striking the ground.

Features of a walking shoe

Consider the shape of your feet

Feet come in many shapes and sizes. To avoid painful problems, consider the shape and size of your feet when buying a pair of walking shoes. Remember, your shoes should conform to the shape of your feet. Your feet should never be forced to conform to the shape of a pair of shoes.

Width and length

Shoes that are too narrow or too wide can lead to painful blisters and calluses. In addition, a toe box that's not high enough — and doesn't provide enough room for your toes — can aggravate foot disorders such as bunions and hammertoes.

Arch type

The intricate alignment of bones, muscles, ligaments and tendons in your feet forms side-to-side (metatarsal) and lengthwise (longitudinal) arches. As you walk, these springy, flexible arches help distribute your body weight evenly across your feet. Your arches play an important role in how you adapt to various surfaces as you walk.

Choose walking shoes that accommodate your arch type. Generally speaking, your feet fall into one of three categories:

  • Neutral-arched feet. Your feet aren't overly arched nor are they overly flat. Look for shoes with firm midsoles, straight to semicurved lasts — last refers to the shape of the sole and the footprint around which the shoe is built — and moderate rear-foot stability.
  • Low-arched or flat feet. Low arches or flat feet may contribute to muscle stress and joint problems in some individuals, though there is not a direct correlation. If you have significantly flat feet, look for a walking shoe with a straight last and motion control to help stabilize your feet.
  • High-arched feet. High arches may contribute to excessive strain on joints and muscles, as your feet may not absorb shock as well, especially if you perform a lot of impact or jumping activities. Look for cushioning to compensate for your lack of natural shock absorption. A curved last also may help in some cases.

Not sure about your foot type? Dip your foot in water and step on a piece of cardboard. Examine your footprint. If you can see most of your footprint, you probably have low arches. If you see very little of your footprint, you likely have high arches.

You can also look to your old shoes for clues to the shape of your foot. Bring your old walking shoes with you when you shop for a new pair — most shoe professionals can give you some tips on what to buy based on the wear of your old shoes.

Feb. 18, 2014 See more In-depth

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