8 Facts About Walking Shoes You Should Know

Woman wearing walking shoes
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Sure, you can technically walk in most shoes. But walking shoes make a big difference, especially when walking long-distance, for exercise, or training purposes.

You may want to rethink some of your shoe practices in order to enhance the life of your shoes and reduce injury or discomfort. Maximizing the proper use of your shoes can even help you walk longer and stronger. Here are some facts about walking shoes to get you started.

Shoes Don't Last Forever

Shoes generally last only 500 miles before you have beaten the stuffing out of them. If your shoes have leather uppers or you are gentle with the uppers, they may still look OK. You may not have worn through the tread. But inside, they are dead.

Adding a new insole might make shoes feel better, but they have lost whatever cushioning they had, and their support elements may also be broken down. Now you have a recipe for injury and tired feet as your feet and ankles will be taking more of a pounding with each step. Buying new shoes is much cheaper and easier than seeing a doctor for a twisted ankle or for plantar fasciitis—or stopping your walking program.

Size Up for Walking Shoes

Do your fingers swell when you walk? Guess what: Your toes are swelling even more. If your shoes aren't big enough, you can end up with black toenails, blisters, and foot pain from swelling.

Your walking shoes should be larger than your regular shoes because your feet may swell up to a full shoe size when you walk for over half an hour. Give up on shoe size shyness and get fitted correctly. You may find that your walking shoes are too big to wear around the office or home when you aren't walking. If so, save them for walking.

Lacing Technique Can Prevent Heel Slippage

No one wants to experience the pain and discomfort of black toenails when they go for a walk. Some people may blame their shoe size for this phenomenon and think that their shoes are too big. But the solution might be lacing your shoes properly.

When you lace your shoes correctly, your heel stays in the shoe's heel cup while your toes have room to expand. Proper lacing technique will also help prevent heel blisters (see these lacing instructions for how to lace your shoes).

If you are getting black toenails despite having enough room in your shoes or your heel isn't securely in the shoe's heel cup, learn to lace your shoes the right way.

Athletic Shoes Offer More Support

Start walking with whatever shoes you have on hand. But if you plan on walking for more than a half-hour at a time, your feet will be happier in athletic shoes that support and cushion them correctly. Your feet flex with each step and need shoes that bend with them.

Many of us overpronate and need a shoe that helps correct that motion so we aren't set up for injury. These are things best found in a good pair of running shoes or athletic walking shoes.

Socks Matter

If you find yourself developing blisters or hot spots on your feet, the right socks can help prevent those. First, wear socks. Second, wear socks that are the right size. If they are too big, they bunch up and can be uncomfortable (or even contribute to blisters). If they are too small, they can cut off circulation and even aggravate conditions like bunions or cause pain.

Lastly, wear synthetic socks of acrylic, CoolMax, Ultimax, or other sports fabrics that wick away moisture from the foot. Don't wear cotton socks when walking for more than half an hour, as they retain sweat next to the foot, soften the skin, and leave it more prone to blisters. Wear synthetic socks, lubricate your feet, or use cornstarch to keep them dry.​

Proper footwear is critically important if you have diabetes, as you want to reduce the risk of getting ulcers on your feet.

Stick to One Brand at a Time

Instead of rotating brands of walking shoes, find one that suits you and stick with it. That way, your muscles will settle into a pattern, rather than adjusting every time you switch. If you are training for speed or distance, rotating between different types of shoes confuses your muscles without having a good training effect.

It is useful to have two pairs of the same walking shoes that you can alternate. Start wearing the second pair six weeks after the first. That way, you'll be able to feel when the first pair is giving out.

Long Walks Call for Walking Shoes, Not Boots

Many European distance walkers wear boots. But if your long walk is on the pavement, your feet will be happier if you wear shoes designed for marathon runners and walkers. You will need some cushioning, but not heavy cushioning. Select walking shoes that say they are suitable for long-distance.

If you overpronate, you may need motion control shoes—especially for long-distance walking.

Walking Shoes Aren't Enough for Hiking

Walking shoes don't offer enough support or protection for hiking. You will find this out the hard way if you take a trail and discover how painful it is to have rocks and roots poking you through the soles of your shoes. Trail shoes or lightweight hiking boots protect your soles.

Even gravel roads can be a painful experience with many walking or running shoes. Switch to trail shoes for those surfaces. Today's trail running shoes are lightweight, flexible, and protective.

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  2. Van Amber RR, Wilson CA, Laing RM, Lowe BJ, Niven BE. Thermal and moisture transfer properties of sock fabrics differing in fiber type, yarn, and fabric structure. Text Res J. 2014;85(12):1269-1280. doi:10.1177/0040517514561926