It’s actually ok to walk in running shoes, but running shoes are often not optimal for fitness walkers. Shoes are your number 1 piece of walking or running gear, so getting the right pair is critical to getting your cardio exercise. Running gear is often easier to find than dedicated walking shoes or gear, and many people just walk in whatever shoes they happen to have. Whether your goal is getting your minimum recommended activity or 10,000 steps per day, good shoes make a difference in how you feel and how many steps you can comfortably take.
Comfortable, well-fitting shoes allow you to get out and walk (or run) without suffering from foot pain, shin splints, knee pain or other injuries. You’ll be able to walk from the trail or track to the store, office, or school and back without breaking your stride.
Find out why you can walk in running shoes but you might not want to, what shoes you SHOULDN’T walk in, and how to get the best fitting shoes.
Style, safety, stability: running vs. walking shoes
What’s the difference between running and walking shoes?
The most noticeable differences between walking shoes and running shoes are the cushioning and materials used in manufacturing. Runners contact the ground with more force than walkers and need the additional cushion inside the shoe. Most running shoes also incorporate mesh materials on the upper part of the shoe to cool your feet and let air circulate under more strenuous conditions. Walking shoes may have less cushioning, lack the built-up heel used for stability in running shoes, and are heavier than running shoes.
Running shoes are usually designed to help propel you forward as you run. They may have a sharply upturned toe area as runners may strike the ground higher up in the foot. They’re also often simply styled differently. Many walking shoes are more subdued, with some able to pass as semi-formal shoes. Running shoes often come in bright colors and have a distinct sportier look.
Why it’s fine to walk in running shoes
Most running shoes provide excellent impact absorption, foot and leg stability and stable, slip-resistant contact with either wet or dry surfaces. Running shoes are great for traveling; they’re often lightweight which makes them easy to pack. While most walking shoes tend to come in neutral colors, black and white, running shoes are available in bright shades and prints with contrasting laces, offering a little more splash and style to your wardrobe if that’s what you like.
If you live in a hot area or are walking in summer heat, walking shoes are often a good option as they’re lightweight and vented to allow air in. There are of course lightweight, vented walking shoes as well.
As running is very popular, it may be easier to find a running store with a huge selection of running shoes. It may simply be easier to find a good sale on a pair of running shoes at the local sports store than it is to find the right pair of walking or hiking shoes.
Why walking shoes may be better
Walkers move differently from runners. The walking motion distributes weight more evenly because one foot is always in contact with the ground. When running, both feet are off the ground at one point during every 2 steps. A runner strikes the ground with two to three times their body weight while walking contacts the ground with about 1.5 times your body weight. Walking shoes roll the entire foot forward, while a running shoe absorbs most of the impact in the forefoot or heel.
A walking shoe sole is often more flexible, narrower and less flared in the heel than a running shoe, making it ideal for uneven surfaces and trail walks. And the more comfortable and versatile the walking shoe, the more likely you’ll wear it and step up your step count.
If you enjoy hiking or if you frequently walk on uneven or unpaved surfaces, you’re probably better off with a dedicated hiking shoe. They usually have a sturdier construction, soles with better grip on wet or uneven terrain, and are often made from waterproof or water-resistant materials. Hiking shoes also may go higher up on the ankle, which can help if you step in a puddle.
If you live in a colder climate, or need shoes for winter walking, look into hiking shoes or cold weather walking shoes to keep your feet warmer. Most running shoes are designed to let air in, which is great for hot temps but can result in cold feet during the winter. They’re also often low-profile, which can make your ankles cold. A waterproof walking or hiking shoe may be better in wet conditions and may have soles specifically designed for traction on snow.
Don’t run in walking (or dress) shoes
Many people do enjoy jogging or running, at least some of the time. While more Americans are literally walking the walk: 145 million of us, nearly half the population, now include walking as part of a daily exercise regime. But about 18 million people registered for competitive running events in 2017, a number consistent with 2016 figures.
Running results in higher impact on your joints, so you’ll benefit from the extra cushioning that running shoes provide. Where the cushioning is placed is also important. Running shoes have additional cushioning around the ball of the foot, and are less flexible towards the front than walking shoes. They’re also designed to propel you forward, which makes running easier and helps you save a bit of energy. Running in hiking or dress shoes is usually a big mistake, as the shoes may not be flexible enough or give enough support which can result in pain or injuries.
An often overlooked problem with dress shoes, heels or flats is that they usually do not have much grip on the soles. Some men’s dress shoes have wood or plastic soles, while others have a very basic rubber sole without many grooves or grippy features. Many women’s heels or flats have almost no grip on the soles. Trying to run in flats is not only likely to be painful for your feet, but may result in slips and falls during wet, snowy or slippery conditions. This is true for walking as well, but running increases the danger of falling.
What if you can’t wear sports shoes
There are some situations – at work or at certain functions – where you just can’t wear sports shoes. You can still take steps to feel more comfortable. Many men’s dress shoe companies make dress shoes that have comfortable, cushioned insoles and rubberized soles that look like a walking shoe. They may be slightly less formal than some dress shoes but are much more comfortable. You can also replace the insoles in your dress shoes with more cushioned versions.
Women often have fewer options due to shoe styles, but be careful walking on things like heels or ballet flats that have little to no cushioning or support. Try to find comfortable dress shoes that, like the men’s example above, may not be as fancy but are much more comfortable.
Wear your walking (or running) shoes during your commute, and change into your work or dress shoes when you get there. This can save a lot of wear and tear on your feet and extend the life of your dress shoes.
What to look for in walking shoes
Try to get a professional fitting for your walking shoes before trying them on. Find out your shoe size and width. If your feet are extra-wide, you may need to find a particular brand or model of shoes that fits your feet better. Try to get fitted later in the day, as your feet often swell somewhat after walking. Make sure to wear the same socks that you’d normally wear when walking. Dress socks are often much thinner than sports or hiking socks, so wear the socks you like to ensure a proper fit.
A great way to get a personal fit is to look for a smaller, locally-owned running shoe store. Most running stores also sell walking shoes, and they’re more likely to have a salesperson who can give you personal service and explain what to look for that best fits your feet. Big sports stores can also work, but the smaller stores often appreciate your business a bit more and may be less busy, which gives them more time for personal service.
Match your shoe and walking styles — are you traveling mostly flat concrete and asphalt pathways, or hiking on forest trails and hillsides? Check the flexibility of the shoe by holding it in both hands and bending; it should move as naturally as your foot. Do you want a waterproof shoe, or waterproof liners, for foul-weather walking, or is a lighter-weight shoe better? The choice of walking shoes don’t impact only your feet; they enhance your health and your lifestyle.
Once you settle on a pair of shoes that you like, you can always buy replacement pairs online or wherever is cheap and convenient for you. Keep in mind that brands often update their shoe models, and newer versions may fit slightly differently. Make sure that any online stores you buy from allow returns in case the fit isn’t great.
When life’s not a perfect pair: making the best of your shoes
If you have only one pair of shoes, here’s how to make them work:
- Insoles: Try gel or padded insoles for additional cushioning. The right insoles can make an old pair of shoes feel new again.
- Socks: Always invest in socks that fit (look for the anatomical cut style, labeled left and right), cushion the heel and toes and don’t slide into your shoes. You can find walking socks that add additional cushioning – almost like a mini insole on your foot.
- Lace ’em like a pro: Proper shoe lacing technique is more than threading the eyelets. The right lacing won’t fix a poor-fitting shoe, but it adds to your comfort by securing your heels and toes and alleviating pressure on your feet. If tying your shoes is a pain, check out our friends at Xpand No-Tie Laces for additional options.
- Keep your shoes clean: Wipe off excess mud and dirt and allow wet shoes to dry thoroughly by removing insoles and drying them separately. Make sure your shoes can air out if wet, and look into shoe sprays that can keep the inside of your shoes smelling great.
- Replace when necessary: Good shoes, whether for running or walking, are an investment in your health. Know the signs of worn-out shoes, including flattened cushioning, worn spots in the soles and most important, pain or discomfort in your feet, ankles, knees, hips or back that signals the shoes no longer provide the support you need. Depending on frequency of use, you usually need new shoes once a year, but frequent exercisers replace their shoes between 300 and 500 miles of use.
- You don’t need the newest style: New styles and models come out every year. If price is an issue, remember that the best time to buy new running or walking shoes is January (few people are shopping for athletic gear of any kind when the weather’s miserable) and April (when everyone is thinking about spring and hitting the roads and trails and competition for sales peaks). Don’t feel pressured to buy the most current and most expensive style. Last season’s shoe is often just as good (or better) than the brand-new version. You’ll often find last season’s shoes are heavily discounted, so use that to your advantage.
Your shoes are your single most important piece of walking gear. While you can run in walking shoes, if you’re a serious walker it does pay to invest in a good pair of walking shoes that fit you well and cushion your feet. You don’t need to get the newest, fanciest model, however. Find shoes that feel great and you’ll get more steps while feeling more comfortable.
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