What Wear Patterns Mean for Walking Shoes

Clues Your From the Wear on Your Heels and Soles

Are your walking shoes ready for replacement? Walking shoes generally last 350 to 500 miles. They may not appear to be worn out, but they have lost their support and cushioning.

You may want to replace shoes just because they are dirty. You may also see holes or damage in the uppers of the shoe. But a good-looking shoe may have a worn-out sole that isn't giving you proper support. Don't rely on appearance alone.

How and where you wear out the soles of your shoes can give you further clues about whether you overpronate, have a neutral gait, or a supinated gait. Here are examples of walking shoes that are obviously in need of replacement.


Dirty Shoes and Holes in the Uppers

Worn Out Shoes
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It is tempting to want to wash dirty shoes. But soap and heat can break down the glue holding the shoe together. If you must wash your shoes, wash by hand with mild soap and allow to air dry. Washing and/or drying shoes in a clothes washer or dryer can shorten their lifespan.

You may also wear a hole through the upper over the big toe. Constant pressure on the outside of the shoe can also cause holes to develop in the little toe area. Still other people wear holes around the ankle cuff because they scuff their feet together while walking. When you see a hole, It's time to replace your shoes.


Normal Shoe Wear Pattern Comparing Old and New Shoes

Worn Shoe Compared with Newer Shoe
Wendy Bumgardner ©

The shoe on the left shows a normal shoe wear pattern after 350 miles, while the shoe on the right is the same model, same wearer, but only 100 miles.

Walkers with a normal, neutral gait will show shoe wear in these areas:

  • At the heel, as they strike with the heel at the beginning of each step.
  • Below the first and second toe, as they push off with the toe after rolling through a step.

Most walking shoes will only last for 350 to 500 miles before needing replacement. By that time, your shoes will have endured a million steps and will have lost their cushioning and support.

 The sole of the older shoe has a large worn-off area near the big toe. The heel also shows wear, especially on the outside edge.

This is a normal shoe wear pattern for a person with a neutral gait, who neither overpronates nor supinates. With a neutral gait, the foot doesn't over-rotate during the stride; it rolls through the step from heel strike to push off with the big toe in a straight line.


Sole Wear Patterns for Neutral, Overpronation, Supination

Worn Toe of Walking Shoe
Wendy Bumgardner ©

The shoe on the left has logged about 350 miles and is showing wear on the sole near the big toe.

Worn soles are a sign to get your shoes replaced. Shoes today are often designed to show this wear on the sole with a change of color, which can help persuade you it is time to replace the shoes.

  • This wear pattern is normal, as walkers should be pushing off with the big toe. This is called a neutral gait, without excessive rotation during the stride.
  • An over-pronator would see the worn off spot even more toward the big toe side of the sole. Over-pronators are often recommended motion control shoes to help correct the over-rotation of their stride. Or, you may be told that you could use an orthotic insole prescribed by a podiatrist.
  • A supinator or under-pronator wouldn't see wear under the big toe but would see the wear along the little toe side of the shoe.

Heel Wear Pattern for Normal, Overpronation, Supination

Shoe Heel Wear Pattern
Wendy Bumgardner ©

The shoe on the left has seen about 350 miles of walking, compared to the newer shoe on the right.

Shoes should also show wear on the heels, as walkers should be striking with the heel, rolling through a step, and pushing off with the toe. The shoe on the left is showing some wear on the heel.

  • A normal, neutral gait will see heel wear in the middle to outside edge of the heel, on the little toe side of the foot.
  • Over-pronators will see more heel wear in the middle of the heel and perhaps even toward the inner edge of the heel (the big toe side). Their shoes may even tilt inward when placed on a flat surface.
  • Supinators or under-pronators will see heel wear all along the outer edge of the shoe. When placed on a flat surface, their worn shoes may tilt outward.

Shoe Wear Pattern for Supinator

Supinator Wear Pattern
Wendy Bumgardner ©

This shoe wear pattern is typical for supination. The wear is all along the outside edge of the shoe.

Supinators have most of the wear on their soles on the outside edge of both the heel and the toe. This shoe shows a lot of wear on the heel, which is obvious from the change of color. At the toe, you can see almost no wear on the inside to middle portion of the sole while there is wear on the outside edge of the toe.

People who have a supinated gait should buy neutral shoes. They do not need motion control shoes, which are meant for overpronators.


Shoe Heel Wear Pattern for Neutral to Supinated Gait

Hole in Heel
Wendy Bumgardner ©

This shoe heel wear pattern is typical for a neutral to supinated gait pattern.

If you have a neutral gait or a supinated gait, you will have more wear on the outside of your heel (the little toe side). This walker has a lot of wear on his heel, towards the outside edge.

This walker should choose neutral shoes rather than motion control shoes. He doesn't need correction for overpronation.


Shoe Losing Its Cushioning and Support

Worn Heel with Compression Wrinkles
Wendy Bumgardner ©

The shoe on the left has endured about 350 miles of walking, about 770,000 steps. This is leading to loss of cushioning.

Wrinkles are developing in the indented area in the heel of the shoe on the left. This is a sign that the shoe isn't springing back from the compression it cushions with each step. The shoe is aging and losing its ability to cushion and support. If the walker was switching back and forth from wearing the older shoe to wearing a fresh pair of shoes, she could probably feel the difference in cushioning.

It is recommended that walkers and runners replace their shoes every 350 to 500 miles. Heavier walkers will likely need to replace their shoes more often.


Wrinkles Developing in the Shoe Sole

Shoe Wear - Wrinkles in Heel
Wendy Bumgardner ©

With each step, you break down your shoes a little more. The materials used in the sole and heel of your walking shoes have a limited lifespan. Even sitting on the shelf unworn, they are aging and will break down faster once you start wearing them. Here, small cracks and wrinkles are developing in the heel of a walking shoe. These are caused by the constant compression with each step as well as the aging of the materials.

As the shoe loses its ability to spring back with each step, it has less ability to cushion. You may start feeling more fatigue in your legs and feet after a long walk.


Holes on the Inside of Your Shoes

Shoe Wear Patterns - Hole Inside
Wendy Bumgardner ©

This shoe is wearing from the inside out. Not only do the outside of your shoes get wear and tear, but you also may be wearing holes inside your shoe. This walker has worn through the first layer of fabric at the bottom of his ankle as bone wears against the side of the shoe.

When you see a hole like this, it may be in a spot where you developed a blister or hot spot. The rubbing of your foot in that area creates friction that can damage your skin as well as the shoe fabric. Your shoes may be too tight and you need bigger shoes when your feet swell naturally during walking.

In the case of  a hole near the heel, you should learn how to lace your shoes to keep your heel from sliding forward in your shoe, especially when walking downhill.

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