You’ve probably heard at some point that you shouldn’t wear the same shoes for walking and running. And according to podiatrists, this is true! But what should you actually look for in each kind of sneaker to make sure you’re buying a smart, healthy pair?
“There is no universal answer,” says Trent Brookshier, DPM, a podiatric surgeon in San Diego, California. “Just like all aspects of medicine, the treatment plan should be catered to each patient based on their unique needs.”
Your body and foot type, for instance, can make a big difference in what kind of kicks will work best for you, says Dr. Brookshier. One example is flat feet versus high arches. “People who are more flat footed, or those who over-pronate ([when the] foot collapses or rolls in) will likely require more support,” he says. Podiatrists also consider body mass. “An individual who weighs 200 pounds will require a more stable, firm shoe compared to the person who is 100 pounds,” he adds.
What’s more, your choices depend on how exactly you plan to use the shoes. “If you are a short-distance runner or a sprinter, you may want more of a minimalist shoe that is lightweight. For anyone doing a longer distance, support and cushion will be more important,” says Dr. Brookshier.
All that said, there are few common features that distinguish good walking shoes from good running shoes. Keep these in mind to pick out the right pair for each activity.
Choosing walking vs. running shoes
For walking, you want a shoe that’s more rigid, and flatter (less heel-to-toe drop). For running it should be more flexible, and more contoured (more heel-to-toe drop).
“Walking shoes are less flexible and heavier than an optimal running shoe, but at the same time more supportive and stable than a casual sneaker,” says Nelya Lobkova, DPM, a podiatrist in New York City. “Typically running shoes have a 10-13 millimeter heel-to-toe drop compared to a smaller heel-to-toe drop for walking shoes. This is because the mechanics of walking do not require the heel to be as high during the contact phase of walking, compared to running.”
In order to prevent common walking injuries like plantar fasciitis, says Dr. Lobkova, “there needs to be adequate rigidity in the sole and cushioning in the midfoot to prevent impact on the heel.” Have you seen the thick soles of a Hoka Clifton compared to the virtually nonexistent sole of a Nike Free? Classic example of structure versus flexibility.
Podiatrists also suggest looking for walking shoes with a firm heel counter—the back part of the heel surrounding the Achilles insertion. “A firm heel counter minimizes abnormal stretching of the plantar fascia and diminishes pain and inflammation in the heel and arch of the foot,” says Dr. Lobkova. When you’re running, however, a super stiff back could dig into your heel and cause blisters.
For walking: the bend-twist-squeeze test
Dr. Brookshier shares a test he created to determine if a shoe is supportive enough for walking: the “bend-twist-squeeze test.”
Try on the shoe and make sure it fits appropriately—it should have good arch support (and lots of cushion if you’re walking longer distances).
Bend the sole upward; it should “not be too flexible, and only bend at toes.”
Twist the toes and heel in opposite directions; you shouldn’t be able to wring it out like a towel.
Squeeze the heel cup to ensure there is adequate support.
The doctors’ favorite shoes
Dr. Brookshier never suggests buying a shoe solely (pun not intended) for the brand. Yet, he says some of his safest bets across the board are models by Brooks, New Balance, Asics, Hoka, and Gravity Defy.
Meanwhile, Dr. Lobkova loves these options:
Her favorite running shoe is the New Balance Fresh Foam 800v12 ($105).
Hoka One One Bondi SR ($175) has great cushioning for concrete city streets, especially distance walking, with a 6 millimeter drop.
ON Cloudventure ($150) are wide, supportive shoes for everyday walking, with a 6 millimeter drop.
New Balance Made in USA 990v5 ($185) offers good cushioning and an Ortholite insole for mild arch support, with a 6 millimeter drop.
If you want a more style-forward walking shoe, Veja’s Dekkan ($185) and V-10 ($150–$195) make Dr. Lobkova’s approved list. “These models have a heel offset and have midsole stability,” she says.
KLAW 528 ($82) is always in her closet, since she’s also an advisor who helps with their technical design “in order to make the optimal walking shoe.”