7 walking shoe tips for fit and comfort, plus when to replace them

A good pair of walking shoes is the most important piece of gear a serious walker should have. As you’re hitting your step goals, it’s your feet that do the hard work and take the toughest pounding. All shoes are not equal – just because they cover your feet doesn’t mean they’re right for walking. The longer you walk and the more intense your walks are, the more a good pair of walking shoes is a necessity.

The right shoes can help you prevent injury and keep you moving forward with comfort and confidence. They’ll also help you avoid foot pain, walk longer and hit your step goals!

Find out when you should replace your shoes, how to know when you need a new pair, plus how to get the best-fitted walking shoes that are just right for you.

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Inspect and/or replace your shoes every 300-500 miles

New athletic shoes and dirty older shoes comparison
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When should you replace your shoes

The average lifespan of a walking shoe is between 300-500 miles. Three hundred miles is equivalent to approximately 600,000 to 700,000 steps. Alternatively, if you walk for an hour a day at 3 mph that’s between 100 and 170 days. If you’re walking 10,000 steps per day, you could hit that step number in 2-3 months!

This doesn’t mean that you need to throw out your shoes after 100 days or 300 miles if they’re in perfect shape. Once you’ve reached that 300 mile/600,000 step point, start examining your shoes periodically for signs of wear and tear on the outer sole, insole, and other parts of the shoe. If you notice serious wear and tear, look for a replacement pair. Your shoes keep your feet healthy, as well as help absorb shock on your knees and other joints. The price of your shoes is small compared to the risk of injury, or just not getting enough steps due to uncomfortable walking.

Outer soles

Pay special attention to the grip on your soles, especially if you frequently walk in wet conditions or indoors where floors can be slippery. The grooves and patterns in your soles help the shoes grip the ground, and as they wear out it’s easier for you to slip and fall. Soles with deeper grooves may last a bit longer, but it often comes down to the materials and the particulars of how you walk. If you inspect the soles of your shoes and one part is completely smooth while another has grooves (or if you remember there used to be grooves and now they’re gone), you should start looking for a replacement pair of shoes.

Insoles

Insoles, on the other hand, can be replaced to refresh your shoes. Most walking or running shoes have insoles that are easy to remove and replace. If you’re feeling your shoes lack cushioning, or if you notice the insoles are dirty are worn out, it’s much cheaper to replace your insoles than buying another pair.

There are a wide range of insoles available from cheap to very expensive. When buying make sure that you don’t buy a medical insole specifically designed for someone with flat feet or another condition UNLESS you’re sure you actually have that condition. Wearing corrective insoles without the underlying condition essentially creates an arch or foot problem when you wear your shoes, which is bound to lead to foot pain or injury.

Choosing a new pair – get professionally fit

Man getting walking shoes fitted
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The best way to find the right pair of walking shoes is to get professionally fit at a local store. While big-box stores have a great selection, you’ll often do better at a local running store. Don’t let the word “running” intimidate you! Most running stores fit both runners and walkers and are very happy to help newcomers. Their staff is trained to fit individuals based on their unique needs, whether they walk, run, or something in between.

A knowledgable salesperson can help you find the right shoes depending on whether you usually walk on a sidewalk, a trail, or inside on a treadmill or walking track. They may be able to watch you walk and determine if you need extra support or have walking issues such as overpronation. All these factors help them select the perfect shoes for your body, gait and activity level. It can be useful to go and get fitted even if you know what kind of shoes you want, as newer versions of walking or running shoes often fit differently than older versions.

Come Prepared

Walking shoes and socks
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Make sure that you wear your regular walking gear, including socks, when you go to try on a new pair of walking shoes. Shoes that fit correctly in dress socks or thin socks may be too tight in thicker, walking socks. The closer you can match your ideal walking conditions, the better fit you’ll get. This includes when you try on your new pair in addition to what you wear.

Try on shoes later in the day, or consider going for a short walk before going to the store to try on your shoes. Your feet will inevitably swell up a bit later in the day or after a walk. Walking before getting your shoes fitted can ensure that your new shoes won’t fit ok at the start of your walk but become too tight towards the end of it.

Do a bit of research online to look into various brands of walking shoes to get some ideas prior to heading to the store. Think about particular features of walking shoes that you might find useful and look for them when you get to the store. (Waterproof? Lightweight? Breathable? Suitable for cold weather/winter walking?) Here are some great tips from the Mayo Clinic on how to properly fit walking shoes.

Take Your Time

Man trying on new walking sneakers
RossHelen / Shutterstock

Set aside enough time so that you can walk around the store for a few minutes in one or more pairs of walking shoes before making your final decision. Sometimes shoes can feel great when you first put them on, but may start to cause pain or irritation after a bit of walking. Make sure to wear both shoes when you test-walk your shoes as well! Sometimes each foot can vary slightly in ways that can make a pair of shoes comfortable on one foot but not on another. This can include the way the back of your shoe fits against your ankle and Achilles area. Give yourself at least a minute or two of walking to feel out any sources of foot pain or potential issues before you buy.

If you’re a serious walker, your walking shoes can be the most important piece of equipment you’ll have! It’s worth it to take a few extra minutes to make sure you’ve picked the right pair. Feel free to try on a few pairs before you decide. If you’re feeling nagging doubts, or you feel unsure, find another pair (or find a store that allows take-home trials so you can return them – see below).

Take Advantage of a Trial Period

Return non-fitting shoes
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Most reputable running stores are eager to make sure they fit you with a shoe that’s just right. Some have a generous return policy that allows you to return shoes within a reasonable amount of time, even if you’ve worn them outside. This alone is a great reason to get your shoes from a specialty shop rather than picking a pair off the shelf at a regular shoe store.

Check your store’s return policy. Try to find a store that allows you to take your shoes back home and try them out. Then wear the new shoes for several days. If you discover any discomfort, head back to the store. They may be able to suggest small alterations such as tying them differently or adding an insole. If the shoes truly aren’t working for you, they should be able to help you find another pair that does.

Rotate Shoes or Add an Insole

Adding insoles to walking shoes
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A great way to extend the life of your shoes is to buy more than one pair of shoes and rotate them every day. This can stretch out that 300-500 miles over a longer period of time and allows you to take advantage of sales or volume discounts to save money. Giving your shoes a day off can allow them to air out and also allows the cushioning to spring back into place for more support. You can also try slightly different fits and colors which can give you subtle variations depending on your mood and condition each day.

Insoles can often wear out faster than your soles, which can cause the cushioning of your shoes to be reduced. If you’ve examined your soles and they’re not worn out, adding some new insoles can make your old shoes feel almost new again!

Your Shoes Should Make You Happy!

Shoes make you happy
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Fit and feel is most important, but try to find a pair that makes you happy and fits your style! You’re more likely to wear your brand new walking shoes if they look good on you. Putting looks over fit is a major mistake, but there are plenty of great walking shoes in different shapes and colors. Choosing a neutral color, like black, brown or dark blue can fit many types of outfits and situations. Other people prefer colorful shoes that stand out and make a statement. Take the time to find a style and color that you’ll be happy to wear every day. When your walking shoes fit well and look great, you’ll walk more and feel great!

These tips should help keep your feet happy and help you keep racking up the steps!

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42 thoughts on “7 walking shoe tips for fit and comfort, plus when to replace them

  1. good advice I always thought walking and running were different. From now on i will consider running as a option.

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