If you’re new to running or walking for fitness, you may find yourself feeling a little overwhelmed looking online or in a shoe store for the right shoe. To provide guidance along your shopping journey, we asked Keith Stern, a product manager with Reebok, to break down the differences between walking and running sneakers, and share what you need to know to find the right shoe for you at the right price point.
RUNNING AND WALKING SHOE AREN’T THE SAME
The first thing to know is the differences between shoes designed for running and walking. Don’t be fooled by their similar appearance: Running shoes aren’t designed to do the same thing as walking sneakers. Cushioning and fit are the major differences, explains Stern. “Running is a higher-impact activity, so while you may think you want more cushion underfoot, that can actually throw off your stride and cause more harm than good,” he says. That’s because with every step, your foot is looking for purchase on the ground, which means it’s forcing its way through the foam. Walking, on the other hand, uses less force in each footfall, so you can add more cushion for comfort. And, because walking shoes are meant to be worn all day, comfort and cushioning is key.
MOVING ALL DAY WITH ? GET A WALKING SHOE
For all-day wear, Stern recommends a walking shoe, since they tend to have a stretchier upper — something with four-way stretch — which allows your foot to stretch comfortably throughout the day. “Your feet will change size slightly throughout the day, so an all-day walking shoe is ideal.”
Make sure, however, to switch into a running shoe for your runs. You can walk in running shoes but don’t run in walking shoes!
RUNNING IS ALL ABOUT SUPPORT WALKING SHOE
For running, you’ll need something supportive, not cushy. (This doesn’t mean going to barefoot shoes, it just means the foam will be less cushy, FYI.) This also applies to the upper, which should be a polyester or recycled polyester that won’t stretch when you run, versus Lycra or spandex, says Stern.
CHECK YOUR ARCHES WALKING SHOE
While 80 percent of runners and walkers are fine with a neutral-support shoe, Stern says, if you have collapsed arches, you may want something with motion control and support. How do you know if you need some motion control? Look in a mirror while barefoot and march in place, then stop. See what your arches do: Are they coming close to or touching the ground? If so, you need more support.
CHECK THE TREAD
When buying a shoe, don’t just base your choice on what it looks like from the top or side: Flip it and check the tread. The tread has two parts: the outsole, which is the rubber surface you’re actually running on, and a foam midsole that provides some of the cushion. Turn a shoe sideways and you can typically see the different colors that make up the mid- and outsole. Rubber coverage is key for traction and longevity, says Stern. Walking shoes have less rubber and lower treads in general, since you won’t have as much abrasion when you walk versus running.
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ASSESS YOUR GOALS
Running and walking on different terrains changes the type of shoe you need. “For example, right now, light hiking is the new trend we’re seeing,” says Stern. “You don’t quite need hiking boots, but you do want more rubber and lugs for traction on your tread, plus a more durable upper.” (A good light hiking option from Reebok is the Floatride Energy 3 Adventure.)
AVOID BUYING BASED ON COLOR
While, obviously, you want a shoe that looks great, don’t shop based on style or color alone, says Stern. You can usually find a shoe in a color and aesthetic you like that also suits your needs if you look at different options from a variety of brands. If you find a pair of shoes that fit and feel great, but you hate the color, check to see if they’re offered in different colors. Many stores only stock one or two color options, but more might be available to order.
OPT FOR MID-RANGE PRICES
The fact is, running shoes are increasing in price across the board, says Stern. Companies are using better foams and technologies, and it’s hard to find a good running shoe for less than $100. “For most people, $100–130 is the optimal price range,” Stern says. “Cheaper — those $60–70 shoes — will use cheaper, less durable foam. But much pricier (models) will often have high-tech additions that newer runners don’t really need.” For walking, you can opt for more budget-friendly models, as long as they feel comfortable.
KNOW WHEN TO REPLACE SHOES
Sadly, shoes do have a shelf life. Most running and walking shoes are good for 300–600 miles, says Stern. But there’s no perfect formula for when it’s time to replace them. “We hear people say that shoes ‘just feel tired,’ or they start noticing easy runs feel just a little harder,” he says. “But you can also see wear signs, like the midsole being compressed, or the lugs on the bottom are worn off.”
“Ideally, you would actually go and try on the shoes in store. Especially if you’re new to running, experiencing any foot pain, are unsure of size or could use feedback from an expert,” says Stern. Bring the socks you will wear during the activity. Lace the shoes how you would lace them at home, and walk or jog around in them. Ask yourself, “Does this feel comfortable right now?” Stern says shoes now don’t require a lengthy break-in period, so trust your intuition. If it’s not comfortable right away, it likely won’t be after logging some miles.
Stern shares his number 1 tip for online buying: Don’t rely on style alone. Read the description and make sure the shoes suit your lifestyle. He also suggests reading online reviews, and to look for reviews written by similar people to you. Rather than just reading reviews from top pro racers or shoe reviewers of a completely different body type or athletic background. And double check your sizing rather than going with ‘your usual. He recommends standing on a piece of paper and tracing your foot. Measuring it, and using the brand’s sizing chart to double check what size you really need.
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THE BOTTOM LINE
For walking shoes, prioritize comfort and cushioning that feels great for an all-day fit. For running, you should be focusing on stability. And a fit that makes your foot feel secure even when you’re upping the intensity. Whether you’re shopping for running or walking sneakers, remember style and color aren’t important factors. Focus on fit, comfort and durability, and pick a shoe that’s designed for the activity you’re doing.