Although walking shoes don't have as many features as some other types of outdoor clothing or equipment, there are still key things to consider when choosing the best pair for you.
Walking shoes: features explained
The laces of your walking shoes help to keep your feet in place and aid comfort. Some specialist shop advisors will be able to give you tips on lacing techniques to improve the fit of your walking shoes.
The soles should provide grip that will be effective in both wet and dry conditions. They should be flexible yet stable enough to withstand mixed terrain.
The mid-sole of your walking shoes sits on top of the sole, and should provide cushioning to help absorb shock and improve the comfort of your walk. Shoes have less cushioning than walking boots, enabling your feet to remain close to the ground to help improve stability. A stiffened heel cup will provide additional support and cushioning.
Walking shoes with a waterproof lining are designed to keep your feet dry in wet conditions. But as well as keeping water out, this lining can also keep perspiration in, so it’s best to decide what conditions you're most likely to be walking in before making your choice.
Walking shoes with no waterproof lining can be more breathable, so may be a better option for walking in drier conditions.
One of the main advantages of walking shoes over boots is that they're lightweight. This means they won’t weigh you down as much and can be more comfortable.
The upper material needs to be lightweight yet protective. It must also be breathable, to help make your walk as comfortable as possible. This means that many walking shoes are made of a combination of fabric and mesh or leather and mesh to help improve ventilation. Additional protection is often given to the toe area and a stiffened heel cup helps to keep the foot in place.
What should I consider when buying a pair of walking shoes?
Getting the best fitting shoes is vital to avoid sore, blistered feet. Here are our tips to choosing the right pair:
1. Try before you buy
Visit a retailer with in-store specialists who will be able to guide and advise you. They may also be able to suggest lacing techniques and shoe accessories to help improve the shoes’ fit and comfort.
2. Go up a size
Try on shoes that are one size bigger than your normal shoe size and try them on in the afternoon when your feet have expanded.
3. Take along socks
Try shoes on with a decent pair of walking socks.
4. Not too tight
Make sure the shoes are snug but not tight. Your big toe shouldn’t push into the upper part of the shoe.
Choose a store with a testing ramp that will allow you to see how the shoes feel when walking up and down a slope. Some stores also have surfaces of different terrains so you can check out the grip, too.
5. Get it right first time
Don’t assume you can just ‘break in’ your new walking shoes. The fit should be right before you leave the shop.
Walking shoes or walking boots?
If you’re planning a walk and are confused about whether you should buy a pair of walking shoes or boots, you’re not alone. It's a common question among new walkers in particular and, in an ideal world, you would own both boots and shoes so you can choose those best suited to your walk. However, if your budget can only stretch to one pair, the answer will depend on personal preference as much as the walking conditions.
Here are some things to consider when making your decision between shoes and boots:
Water resistance and breathability
Think about the type of weather conditions and trails you are most likely encounter. This will help determine how important it is that the shoes or boots are water resistant. Many walking shoes are made without a waterproof lining, which makes them more breathable than many waterproof boots, helping to keep your feet cooler. They are better suited for walking in drier, sunnier conditions.
Walking shoes with a waterproof lining are available, too. These can have the same breathability problems as boots, and can make your feet sweaty. However, this isn't always the case, and it's possible to strike a balance between water resistance and breathability. Be aware that because of their lower cut, even the best water-resistant shoes will be more prone to letting in water at ankle level when walking through mud, puddles and streams.
Most walking boots have a waterproof lining, so are a good option for rainy conditions or for walking in areas where you may pass through brooks or streams. But bear in mind the breathability issue.
The lower cut of walking shoes means there's less support around the ankle. Opinion is divided as to whether this makes them more likely to lead to ankle injuries, but some walkers like the reassurance of a well-fitted boot.
Walking shoes tend to be lighter and more flexible than walking boots - this means they won't weigh you down as much and can be more comfortable.