There used to be one shoe choice to fill all your athletic needs: Converse’s Chuck Taylor All-Stars
They weren’t flashy, but they were affordable and could handle anything a 12-year-old could throw at them.
Times have changed though, as now there are a mind-numbing amount of shoes that specialize in any activity one can think of.
Are they really necessary though? Do walkers really need different footwear for strolling, race-walking and hiking? Does it really matter?
Actually, yes it does.
All walking shoes were not created equal. Just like Cinderella’s slipper only fit her foot, certain shoes might only fit one kind of fitness activity.
How To Choose Walking Shoes
Different types of walking require different materials and designs, as the lightness and flexibility of a race-walking shoe would be disastrous on a tough hike over rough terrain.
Here’s a rundown – er, walkdown – of things you should consider before buying athletic shoes:
1. Casual Walking
Almost anything goes when it comes to casual fitness walking. Unlike race-walkers, fitness walkers who aren’t planning on covering more than 3 to 5 miles at a time are safe using anything from light-weight running sneakers to cross-trainers to actual race-walking shoes.
Generally, walkers create half the impact force of runners, so they don’t need too much cushioning. In fact, too much heel padding can lead to problems such as shin pain.
A rule of big toe (instead of thumb, get it?) is that any comfortable running, walking or race-walking shoe that doesn’t create blisters is probably ok for casual walking.
An increasingly popular fitness activity, race-walking isn’t simply just walking at a high rate of speed.
Olympic-style race-walking uses a lot more muscles and relies on feet more than fitness walking. Consequently, the right walking footwear is critical.
Race-walking shoes need to be very flexible to allow your feet to roll from heel to toe and should be low on your ankle to reduce the leverage that can cause your feet to slap the ground after contact.
3. Marathon Walking
Walking marathons and three-day ultra-marathons are activities that are becoming increasingly popular.How you walk in one of these events dictates what you should wear.
Most of these walkers use everyday fitness walking techniques, so walking sneakers, or lightweight running ones, are appropriate. But more and more marathons are including walking races.
Picking the right shoe is extremely important, as the fit of the shoe is critical when you are standing and moving for extended hours. If your footwear is too light, or too loose, blisters and black toenails can be the result.
Hiking footwear is designed to avoid the disasters that can come from hiking on uneven ground. Most hikes are easy and have limited stress, so any type of walking shoe, or even sturdy sandals, can do the job.
So there you have it. Sure, Chuck Ts might have filled every need when you were a 50-pound bundle of energy, but as you get older, the right type of shoe is extremely important– unless you want to foot the bill for your podiatrist’s new luxury sports car, of course.
Fitness walking shoes and hiking boots are available in most sporting goods stores, but race-walking shoes can be quite a bit more difficult to find.
Good luck in finding the perfect shoes, and remember – keep walking!