Not-so-fun fact: You're probably wearing the wrong walking shoes. While over half of Americans are walking between 1-5 miles more each day than they were pre-pandemic (thanks, Hot Girl Walks!), nearly 70 percent are doing so while wearing ill-fitting footwear, apparently. This isn't ideal: be it from incorrect sizing or improper support, strolling in the wrong sneaks can cause a litany of foot health issues. Plus, it can just feel really uncomfortable.
Which is why we're *keen* on Keen's new walking shoes, the vibrant WK400 Walking Shoes ($165). The legacy outdoor footwear brand that podiatrists recommend for hiking and recreation just made its debut in the walking category with sneakers that are—get this— good for your feet. It took three years, 10,000+ hours of R&D, and 5,000 miles, but the Keen WK400 sneakers are here and we're already big fans. So are podiatrists, thanks to the shoes' unique, curved design that propels you forward with every step, making strolling feel more like rolling.
"The curved design can act as a rocker-bottom which assists in ambulation," explains Bruce Pinker, DPM, a foot and ankle surgeon in Nanuet, New York. Looking at the WK400 Walking Shoes, he says the rounded outsole helps propel the foot, making it easier to walk forward. "This curved design is reminiscent of the MBT footwear, popularized over a decade ago, which had several therapeutic qualities."
As Dr. Pinker mentions, this "rocker outsole" has been around for more than a decade and has recently been adopted in many recent walking-specific designs (think: Hoka's Bondi 8 and Asics' Walkride FF) thanks to its effects on the walking motion. Keen's technology—aptly named the Keen.Curve™—follows the natural curve of the foot mid-stroll, swapping a flattened outsole for an arced one. Combined with a high-rebound, cushion-y midsole and a propulsion-based plate, the WK400 walking shoes give wearers momentum as they stroll, taking stress off the foot and joints (aka, what a proper walking shoe should do). "This can possibly be beneficial for many walkers, especially for those who experience common foot ailments, such as plantar fasciitis, arthritis, and metatarsalgia," says Dr. Pinker.
The WK400s are chock full of other features podiatrists say to look for in a supportive walking shoe. Samantha Landau, DPM, MPH, clinical instructor and physician and the New York College of Podiatric Medicine, says that the Keen's sneakers have an impressive outsole, which is made from a high-traction, all-terrain rubber for grip on all sorts of surfaces. The athletic fit is supportive and contoured, stabilized by the addition of offset lacing (which also takes pressure off the top of your foot).
"Generally, a good walking shoe should have a stiff counter around the heel, minimal torque, and bend only at the forefoot," Dr. Landau says. "I would avoid 'soft' shoes and shoes that bend at the midfoot as opposed to the forefoot, as this provides less stability to the shoe.
It's clear that Keen has poured their blood, sweat, and tears into creating a functional walking shoe—but does it hold up? After testing the WK400s for more than two months, it's a resounding "yes" from me.
My experience wearing the Keen WK400s
Keen was kind enough to send me a my own pair of WK400s for testing, and at first glance, I had big doubts. Out of the four women's colorways, I received the bright yellow/black combo which I was hesitant to lace up. The yellow is loud. A lot louder than the black, soft fawn/peach whip (a light pink) and crisp vapor/azure blue (white) color options.
Color aside, I could tell these were going to give me serious lift. This was the first walking-specific shoe I had in my quiver, and compared to my other flat-soled sneakers—most of which were designed for running and working out at the gym—I could tell the curved, rocker bottom and thick, mattress-like outsole was going to be a welcomed upgrade.
On my feet, the Keen.Curve™ makes a huge different in maintaining momentum. Whether I'm walking around my neighborhood, around the lake, or on nearby trails, the energy return is significant and, compared to my other sneaks, makes walking much easier. These shoes literally put a spring in my step, simulating the sensation of a fluid roll opposed to a staggered, disjointed step. I love the how cushy the soles are, especially against hard surfaces like pavement and sidewalk. I also love how grippy the outsoles are. I live in Lake Placid, NY which is frequently covered in snow and ice. The high-traction soles are stable in slick, slippery conditions (yes, even black ice, which I've gingerly strolled over after an overnight freeze). On these days, I just wear a thicker sock. (The WK400 Walking Shoes aren't insulated.)
As for the upper, I find the "athletic fit" to be comfortable and contoured to my feet. The offset lacing (which is a footwear feature I've never come across as a commerce editor) seems to give my narrow feet better support than traditional laces. I also love the two-finger loop pull at the back of the heel since they are a bit tighter and require a bit more oomph to get on.
I do find the stacked heel can be a little much at time, especially when walking up or down steep inclines. I don't ever run in them—that's probably a recipe for disaster. You shouldn't either—Dr. Landau mentions that the negative heel could potentially cause instability, especially if heel strike is not precise. "The higher one is off the ground, the harder one can fall if there is unsteadiness or an uneven surface," she says. "Forefoot rockers are great for arthritis or ligamentous injuries. The negative heel, or rearfoot rocker, can potentially lead to unsteadiness." Additionally, the low ankle is thought to be a bit minimalistic, too. As someone who severely over-pronates, I like my shoes to have a high, sturdy ankle collar. The WK400s are definitely on the low side, which is something to keep in mind if you also prefer something more supportive.
But as my first-ever pair of walking shoes, I get why walking-specific shoes—the right ones, at that—are such a thing now. (And fully own that I've been in the 70 percent strolling in the wrong pair group this whole time.) The bouncy, energy-return of these sneaks makes walking so fun and less tiring than any of my other shoes. It's taking me a bit to get used to the bright, bumblebee yellow, but otherwise, the Keen WK400 Walking Shoes make walking a delight, the way it should be.
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