Walking Shoe Types and Buying Tips

Woman lacing up her running shoes

Getty Images / JGI/Tom Grill

Walking shoes are your most important item of walking gear. Not only do you want to choose the best pair for your health and performance, but you also want to make sure that you are spending your money wisely.

It's helpful to know what to look for in a good fitness walking shoe and how to understand that the pair you pick is the right set of shoes for your walking style.

Start With Some Expert Help

There's no one best shoe for all walkers. The best shoe for you is the one that fits you best. It should give you proper support, flexibility, and cushioning and compensate for any stride problems you may have, such as overpronation. Each person's feet are different.

It can be hard to determine all of that on your own, however. Find a shoe fitting expert to help you discover the best shoe for your walking distance, speed, style, and surface, as well as your weight and stride. The best place to find that person is at the most serious running shoe store in your area.

Once you have found a shoe that fits you right, you may become more familiar with shoe lasts and shapes so that you can make your own selections in the future.

Should You Buy Walking Shoes or Running Shoes?

Shoe manufacturers put the best design and technology into running shoe styles while walking shoe styles are designed primarily for market appeal rather than performance.

To determine if that walking shoe you are interested in buying meets your needs or if you should go with a running shoe design, it's helpful to keep the following in mind. It's essential for a walking shoe to:

  • Be flexible: You must be able to bend and twist the shoes. When you take a walking step, your foot will flex as you roll through a step from heel to toe. If the shoe is too stiff, your foot will fight it with each step. You can end up with numb toes, shin pain, and other problems.
  • Be lightweight: This is one of the reasons that running shoes tend to be a good choice for walkers. Many walking shoes weigh more than running ones. Lighter-weight shoes will make for easier striding when you're out for long walks or trying to pick up your pace.
  • Not have a flared heel: You do not want a big flared heel since walkers strike with the heel first. A slightly undercut heel is preferred to facilitate the heel-to-toe rolling action of walking. A flared heel adds extra stability, and you see it on running shoes for runners that need stabilization. You probably only need a flared heel on trail shoes for walking on uneven surfaces.

What Are the Different Types of Walking Shoes?

You will find these varieties of shoes when you visit an athletic shoe store or shop online. But again, don't be afraid to buy a running shoe for walking if it is flexible, lightweight, and doesn't have a highly flared heel.

Motion Control Shoes

Motion-control shoes are the most rigid shoes. They are designed to be inflexible because they are meant to limit overpronation. They are heavy but durable. Many are built on a straight last and may have a dual-density midsole with the denser material on the inside of the foot to help correct for pronation.

Primarily, motion control shoes are for overpronators and heavier people. Often people with flat feet do well in these shoes as well. The problem with most motion control shoes is that they tend to have a thick heel that can impede the heel-to-toe rolling motion of walking.

Lightweight Performance Shoes for Neutral Feet

People who don't overpronate are said to have neutral feet. These shoes are flexible and lightweight to let them achieve the speed and performance they want. They may lack enough cushioning for longer walks, though, and they tend to wear out faster for heavier walkers.

Cushioned Shoes

Cushioned shoes have the softest midsoles, little support, and are flexible. Usually, they are built upon a semi-curved or curved last.

These shoes are for people who do not overpronate or need extra support. Often people with high arches do well in these shoes. Again, a thick heel may impede heel-to-toe rolling motion.

Stability Shoes

Stability shoes are a compromise type of shoe. They are more flexible than a motion control shoe while providing enough support and durability. Often they are built upon a semi-curved last and may have a dual-density midsole for support.

Stability shoes are for people who do not have severe motion control problems and midweight people. They tend to have a thick heel, though not as thick as a motion control shoe.

Racewalking Shoes

These shoes are built to accommodate the motion of race walking and are similar to racing flats. They tend not to have a thick midsole or knobs or lugs on the outsole.

Racing flats are used by runners and have minimal stability, cushioning, or durability. However, this also means that they have a low heel, are flexible, and are very light.

If you are used to a more cushioned or supportive shoe and want to try racewalking shoes, allow your feet and body time to adapt. First, try a shoe with less cushioning and support before going to a racing flat.

Lightweight Hiking and Trail Shoes

These are the best choice for day hiking and walking on rocky or natural trails. If you aren't carrying a heavy pack, you don't need heavy boots' extra weight and ankle support.

Trail shoes have soles designed to protect your feet from rocks and give good stability and traction on natural surfaces. Trail running shoes are designed to be breathable, comfortable, and cushioned, sacrificing support and durability compared to boots.

Walking Sandals

Sandals can be a good option, depending on how they are constructed and what terrain you are walking on. It would help if you learned what to look for in a walking sandal, so you choose one that works for fitness walking.

Flip flops are not ideal for fitness walking, but if you love them, learn how to choose the best flip flop designs to treat your feet right.

Comfort Shoes

If you have to be on your feet all day at work, these shoes are designed with support and cushioning to help keep your feet happy.

Should Walkers Wear Boots?

It is common for long-distance walkers in Europe to wear hiking boots. However, boots do not provide motion control features that many people need and may be inflexible and heavy.

Walkers may discover that they need a boot for the trail, but not for the street. Even walkers who trek the Camino de Santiago in Spain prefer lighter-weight, flexible trail shoes for their long walks on natural surfaces.

Midweight boots are designed for hiking with light to moderate backpacking loads. They are more durable and supportive, and suitable for short backpacking trips over moderate terrain.

Extended backpacking boots are designed for hiking with moderate to heavy backpacking loads, multi-day trips, and rough terrain. They are durable and supportive with ankle and foot protection. Both of these types of boots are probably more than you need unless you are backpacking.

By Wendy Bumgardner
Wendy Bumgardner is a freelance writer covering walking and other health and fitness topics and has competed in more than 1,000 walking events.