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Choosing the Best Walking Shoe for You

A good pair of walking shoes runs you anywhere from $40 to $100. They should have good shock absorption and should be stiffer and more supportive than running shoes, despite having a flexible forefoot. The midsoles are thinner than those of running shoes to accommodate the slower foot roll when you walk. They feature beveled, or slightly angled, heels to allow for a smooth heel-to-toe roll.

Knowing your foot type and having a basic understanding of shoe terminology should help you pick the shoe that's best for you. Even before you put the shoe on, you should be able to do a quick inspection and have an idea as to whether it's a good choice or not. Of course, you should always try on any shoe you buy for fit and comfort.

  • Pronators should look for a shoe with a motion control device in the midsole. They also should look for a board-lasted, straight shoe, which provides support for the inside of the foot and thus prevents you from overusing the inside edge of your foot. Pronators should also look for a reinforced heel counter for control and stability. Sturdy uppers and stability straps can also help prevent inward roll. Shoes with too much padding can exaggerate pronation, so avoid them.

  • Supinators should look for greater stability and a shoe with an outer sole, insole, and midsole designed for extra shock absorbency. Slip-lasted, curved shoes are probably your best bet because supinators have rigid feet. Buy shoes with reinforced material around the ankles and firm heel counters for maximum ankle and heel support. Extra cushioning under the ball of the foot helps increase comfort.

  • Owners of neutral feet can wear just about any shoe and be ensured of proper support and comfort, but you may find that shoes that have a curved shape fit best. Even if your feet are neutral and you have no injury issues, don't skimp on the basic walking shoe features.

Taking note of injury patterns

Pay attention to your usual points of injury — even if your walking routine didn't cause them. If you are prone to joint pain in your ankles, knees, hips, or lower back, look for a well-cushioned shoe that allows your foot to move naturally. Definitely make an effort to walk in walking shoes as opposed to dress shoes or running shoes.

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Your feet support your entire body weight. If you do something to throw your feet off-kilter, you very often cause problems elsewhere in your body.

For those prone to corns, bunions, and blisters, look for shoes with a wide, roomy toe box. New Balance is one of the few athletic shoe companies that sell various widths from AAA to EEE. Many stores don't carry the full line of New Balance sizes, but many mail order catalogs do.

Keeping mileage, speed, and walking surface in mind

Walkers who average more than 30 miles a week and/or who walk for speed should look for high-performance walking shoes. Here's what to look for in a high-performance shoe:

  • Light weight

  • Lots of features to improve stability, cushioning, and shock absorption, like reinforced heel counters, stability straps, and high-tech midsole and insole materials

  • Removable insoles with some arch support

  • Firm and springy cushioning (just not as wiggly as gelatin)

  • Extra cushioning, especially in the heel and ball of the foot

  • Flexibility that matches the natural bend of the foot

  • Sturdy uppers, made of nylon mesh

  • D-ring lacing system that allows for variable lacing patterns, which means that the eyelets are situated at various distances from the center of the shoe

Most major brand walking shoes are high performance shoes. These brands include Nike, Reebok, Saucony, New Balance, Asics, and Adidas. Casual walkers can look at brands like Easy Spirit and Spenco.

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If you do most of your walking on trails or rocky, sloped, uneven terrain, a hiking shoe or boot is a must for traction and foot protection. Nike and some other major shoe companies make excellent hiking shoes and boots; other companies, such as HighTec, Lowa, and Salomon, concentrate their footwear efforts solely on hiking boots. Companies like Rockport and Timberland also make "rugged walkers" that are specifically designed for trails and high mileage.

Shopping for shoes

The typical athletic shoe store has at least 8 to 30 styles of walking shoes to choose from. Give yourself at least an hour the first time you shop for walking shoes to make the perfect selection. Follow these suggestions and you can't go wrong:

  • Shop at a specialty store, rather than a department store. Having a knowledgeable salesperson to guide you can mean the difference between a great purchase and getting stuck with unwearable clodhoppers.

  • Write down all the information you know about your feet and your walking program. If you have an old pair of walking shoes, bring them with you so you can show the salesperson your wear pattern. Take along the socks you usually wear so that you can size your new shoes the way you'll actually be wearing them.

  • Examine each pair of shoes before you try them on. Turn them over. Does the shape match your foot type? Does it have a good strong heel counter? Slip out the insert to discover what type of last the shoe is built on. Bend the shoes back and forth a few times. Are they flexible in the forefoot?

  • Put on both shoes and lace them up completely. Walk around the store for a few minutes to get the feel of the shoe. Whenever possible, try them on a hard-surfaced floor. Your primary concern should be comfort. Do not buy a shoe with the plan of "breaking them in." Doing so is begging for the agony of the feet.

  • Be prepared to test several different shoe models. Even if you like the first shoe you lace up, try at least two other models for comparison purposes. Don't be swayed by what your personal trainer or your hairdresser wears. Each person has unique needs.

  • Always shop later in the day. Your feet swell during the course of the day, so shoes that fit in the morning may be too snug for afternoon workouts. Have the salesperson measure both of your feet each time you shop so that you can note any size changes. A shoe that fits well has about a thumbnail's space between your longest toe and the end of the toe box.

  • If you absolutely love a shoe after three workouts, go back and buy a couple pairs of the same shoe. Shoe companies have an annoying habit of phasing out and "upgrading" shoe models on a regular basis. If your shoe is discontinued, that's it. You have to start the whole selection process all over again.

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