Thanks to quarantine, walking has finally gotten the praise it deserves for being a legit workout—especially considering that for many of us, daily mental health walks have been one of the few things keeping us sane after nine months stuck at home. It's known to be just as effective as running when it comes to longevity, and is far kinder to your joints than any sort of intense pavement pounding. But in order to get the most out of your walking workouts, it's important that you're wearing the right shoes whenever you set out to log those leisurely miles.
Best walking shoes at a glance
- Best for walking and running: Brooks Women's Glycerin 18 Running Shoes
- Best casual: Adidas Superstar
- Best breathable: New Balance Fresh Foam 1365
- Best shock-absorbing: Asics Gel Kayano 28
- Best cushioned: HOKA Bondi SR
- Best for trails: ON Cloudventure
- Best retro style: New Balance 990v5 Core
- Best for wide feet: Saucony Omni Walker 3
How we chose the best walking shoes
While most of us are likely repurposing our running or cross-training shoes for our daily walks, a good pair of walking shoes will make hitting your step count a far more comfortable endeavor. "Walking shoes are made for a rolling gait compared to running shoes which are made for more impact," says Najwa Javed, DPM, a California-based podiatrist and creator of footwear brand E'MAR. "There is a greater need for cushioning and shock absorption in running shoes, whereas walking shoes have the need to be lighter and with more stability versus cushioning."
"Walking shoes are sneakers that are more rigid (less flexible) and heavier than an optimal running shoe, but at the same time more supportive and stable than a casual sneaker," says NYC Podiatrist Dr. Nelya Lobkova, DPM at Step Up Footcare. Finding that sweet spot in the middle may be tricky, but here are a few things to look for:
Look for a walking shoe with a relatively rigid midsole (the part that touches the ground and determines which forces transfer between the foot and ground). The more rigid a sole, the more stable it is. "You should not be able to bend the sneaker in half easily or twist the sneaker easily when holding both ends of the sneaker. Thus a shoe that has a thicker midsole or rocker bottom is an ideal walking shoe," says Lobkova.
Firm heel counter
Lobkova also recommends looking for shoes that have a firm heel counter, the back part of the heel surrounding the Achilles insertion. This allows the heel to sit in a neutral position in the sneaker and minimizes abnormal tilting of the rearfoot during walking.
A heel-to-toe-drop is the difference in cushioning under your heels vs. under your toes. Lobkova says that the best walking sneakers have a 4-8mm heel-to-toe drop, which places less stress on the Achilles tendon and allows for more efficient transfer of energy through heel-lift and toe-off in the walking cycle. This is lower than the typical running shoes, which have a 10-13mm heel-to-toe drop, because the mechanics of walking do not require the heel to be as high during the contact phase of walking, compared to running. Shoes with a zero drop can leave the foot vulnerable to muscle and bone injuries when walking further than the corner coffee shop, she adds.
Materials and design
Depending on how long you're walking, the surface, and the climate, you may want to look for different features. For example, walking on concrete vs. soil or sand requires different biomechanical support, so you'll need more cushioning. And if you're walking in warm weather, you'll want to look for a shoe with a mesh or breathable upper, whereas if you're walking in wet or cold weather, you might want to opt for a leather or Gore-Tex, weather-proof upper.
Ahead, find the best walking shoes money can buy so you'll be stepping out in comfort and style.
Best Walking Shoes
Though these are technically running shoes, they offer the stability you need for all those daily walks. They’ve got a cloud-like cushioning that helps to absorb impact, and are made with a stretchy material that moves as you do.
- Cushioned and impact-absorbing
- Stretchy material
- Comes in narrow, medium, and wide options
- Back of shoe is tall
- Some reviewers say the shoe runs small
For a walking shoe that’s equal parts fashion and function, look no further than this classic, cult-fave style. They’ve got supportive insoles, and look just as cute paired with jeans as they do with your favorite pair of black leggings.
- Stylish, can match various outfits
- Leather upper
- Supportive insole
- Shoe runs large
- Leather is not as breathable
Thanks to a rolling foam sole, these shoes will make every step feel like you’re walking on air. They’ve got a thick insole that offers extra support under your feet, and are made with specially engineered mesh to enhance breathability and keep sweat (and odor) at bay.
- Breathable, mesh upper
- Soles are a little slippery
If you want a single pair of sneakers that can do it all, these are a worthy investment. They’re podiatrist-approved for both walking and running thanks to their high-impact shock absorption, and offer a “smooth ride” no matter how fast you’re moving.
- Shock absorbing
- Stable support
- Breathable upper and lining
- Run a little narrow
I f you’re a fan of super cushy shoes, look no further than the HOKA Bondi SRs. They have a water-resistant leather upper, a memory foam collar to hug your feet, and a plushy footbed that will let you stay on your feet from day to night. They also have the American Podiatric Medical Association (APMA) Seal of Acceptance. Lobkova says they have great cushioning for concrete streets, especially distance walking.
- Super cushioned
- Traction for multiple surfaces, including wet ones
- Memory foam collar
- Available in regular or wide
These ON Cloudventure shoes will keep up with all your outdoor adventures. They’re lightweight, breathable, cushioned, and have a grippy sole to handle a variety of terrain. Even if you’re not hitting the trails, they’re great for circling around your neighborhood — Lobkova says these are wide, supportive shoes for everyday walking.
- Soft cushion
- Partially made with recycled materials
- Soles have good grip
- Soles are stiff
With good cushioning and an Ortholite insole for mild arch support, these New Balances are comfy and have just enough of a retro look. They come in various widths to fit all feet, from narrow to x-wide.
- Supportive midsole
- Breathable mesh
- Runs large
You’ll never have to worry about rolling your ankles in these Saucony sneakers, which are wide and stable. They have a padded tongue and collar for comfort, and a responsive midsole to move with your feet. They’re AMPA-certified, too.
Another way to keep those feet functioning properly? With a regular stretch routine. Follow along with the series below to keep those dogs from barking.
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