Sneakers have evolved in rather remarkable ways in the 21st century. As the American Orthopedic Foot & Ankle Society (AOFAS) notes, not so long ago most people bought a pair of Converse or Keds and used them for almost every activity. But in the 21st century, specialized sneakers are designed for a myriad of sports and fitness activities, ranging from aerobics to tennis to hiking. Walking sneakers are a prime example of the trend toward specialization. In fact, walking sneakers themselves come in a variety of models that are tailored to the particular type of walking you enjoy.
Walking Shoe Basics
As "Consumer Reports" explains, walking shoes are tailored for people who either walk for fitness or simply need a comfortable and casual shoe for everyday activities. The shoes should offer sufficient cushioning to be comfortable and a flexible sole that lets your foot roll easily from the toes to the heels. AOFAS says that a lightweight shoe with sufficient shock absorption under the ball of the foot and the heel is ideal. A top walking shoe is firm up front, enabling you to "roll off your toes rather than bend through them as you do with running shoes."
"Fitness" magazine sent 140 people out to test walking shoes in 2013. A Ryka shoe ranked as the top dog in the overall ratings. Reviewers praised the Ryka for its cushioning and comfort. Grooves in the outersole of the shoe encourage "a more natural, heel-to-toe walking stride," and a comfortable sock liner helps prevent irritation and blisters. The runner-up was a New Balance, considered ideal for those who power-walk. It featured a sleek design and an arch-stabilizing midsole post, which offers steady but not stiff support.
Breaking It Down
The top sneakers for walking are dissected even further by Sneaker Report. Its top selection for people who walk long distances is a New Balance shoe featuring materials that are very thin and engineered to hug your feet. The cushioning sits close to the ground, giving you the feeling of "practically walking barefoot." "Health" selects a New Balance shoe, built more like a running shoe, as its top choice for distance walking. For speed walking, "Health" recommends a Ryka with superior cushioning in the heel and toe. For everyday walking, "Health" likes a flexible Asics shoe, featuring a mesh upper to keep your feet cool and dry.
Keep In Mind
Sneaker companies usually roll out new models every year, so you might not find a top-rated model in the store for long, although it could be available online. More importantly, states the Hospital for Special Surgery in New York, "Everyone's foot has a different shape." The soles of a sneaker are designed on lasts that create straight, curved or semi-curved sole shapes. It's an important factor to consider when buying the best walking shoe for your particular feet. The curvature of the sole "should match your foot shape, regardless of whether you have a high, medium or low arch." You also want to try on sneakers at the end of the day, when your foot is slightly swollen, akin to when you exercise. Aim for a thumb's width of room between your longest toe and the shoe box.