Busting 8 Walking Shoe Myths

Old Walking Shoes
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The truth is out there. You may have some long-cherished ideas about walking shoes, but what you think may well be wrong. And that could lead to discomfort or even injury. Take care of your shoes so you can keep walking.

Myth: Shoes Should Last Forever

Shoes do not last forever; they 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 them 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 for 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.

Myth: Walking Shoes Should Be the Same Size as Regular 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.

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.

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.

Myth: Feet Slide Forward in Bigger Shoes

When you lace your shoes correctly, your heel stays in the heel cup of the shoe while your toes have room to expand. This will also help prevent heel blisters (see these lacing diagrams 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 heel cup of the shoe, learn to lace your shoes correctly.

Myth: You Don't Need Athletic Shoes

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.

Myth: Socks Don't 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 and/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.

Myth: Rotate Two Brands of Walking Shoes

This myth is one that may be good advice. The theory is that it keeps your muscles from settling into one pattern with one shoe. But the opposing theory is—why is that a good thing? If you are training for speed or distance, it then just 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.

Myth: Boots Are Best for Long Walks

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 shoes that say they are good for long distance.

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

Myth: Walking Shoes Are Fine for Hiking

You will bust this myth yourself 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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  1. American Academy of Podiatric Sports Medicine. The right time to replace your shoes.

  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