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For me, finding the right pair of shoes means buying them on appearance alone. (I am Reviewed’s style writer, after all.) I often wear weird slides, shoes that are brightly colored and can make my outfit pop and lifestyle shoes I can throw on without much thought, like the New Balance 993. While I appreciate functionality in footwear, I’m also clueless when it comes to buying shoes that are meant for my feet and my walking style. I’m used to dealing with the pains of fashion that come after wearing an ill-chosen pair of shoes for hours on end, however unpleasant that may be.
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How does someone go about buying the best shoes for their feet? One surefire way: Ask an expert. To help understand how to shoe-shop for walking and running, I reached out to Dr. Mark Mendezoon, an Ohio-based podiatrist and member of the American Podiatric Medical Association, and the owner of Achilles Running Shop, a specialty retailer that prides itself on finding the best shoe for athletes of all levels.
How to find the right running or walking shoe
For starters, make sure the shoe fits. “A lot of people wear the wrong sized shoe,” Dr. Mendezoon says. “We typically see people choosing shoes that are too small, and over time, that causes problems. As people age, feet can grow wider or flatter, especially into our fourth decade and beyond, says Mendezoon. Jamming your feet into shoes that are too small can cause issues such as hammertoes or bunions and cause corns and calluses.
To ensure you’re wearing the right size shoe, he recommends getting your feet measured every two years at a brick-and-mortar shoe store whose staff has been trained to help people pick out functional shoes for their chosen activity. He explains: “Find [a shop] that will measure your feet sitting down and then standing and will watch you walk [or run] to get a general idea of the type of foot you have. You’ll know you’ve found a good store when they ask questions like: ‘What are your goals? Are you looking to just casually walk? Is this shoe for performance, or is it for running?’ That saying 'an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure' is so true, especially with feet and shoe care.”
What to look for in a good walking or running shoe
Prices aren’t always reflective of quality, but you should expect to spend at least $80 on a decent pair of shoes to ensure they’re supportive. “A lot of people tell me, ‘I'm not spending $100 or $250 for shoes,’” Mendezoon explains. “I tell [them], you get what you pay [for]. But if you want to buy a pair of Dr. Scholl’s shoes at Walmart for $35, and you buy them four times a year—well, guess what? That's the price of one pair of shoes that would’ve probably lasted you the entire year.”
Not only that, if you walk a lot, you'll want shoes that can handle the pressure. “The average adult, with every step they take, [puts up to] four times their body weight [on each foot]." says Mendezoon. "Multiply that by the number of steps you take in one day. That means that in one year, you’re putting several million pounds of pressure on your foot."
Pricing aside, you should consider the following keywords when shoe shopping for your particular feet and gait pattern (i.e., how your feet and ankles move throughout the course of each step), and that a trained salesperson can help identify for you.
Neutral: These shoes are recommended for people who have normal to high arches and a neutral gait pattern, or whose feet go through normal movement mechanics, without the feet collapsing too far inward (what’s known as pronation) or rolling too far outward (supination). Neutral shoes are the most common type, usually lightweight and lightly cushioned. Neutral shoes with heavy cushioning are best for those who excessively supinate when they run or walk, as the extra padding can keep feet upright and straight.
Stability: Seeing “stability” or “stable” on a shoe’s description indicates that it’s for people who pronate more, or whose feet tend to roll inward while they walk or run. Stability shoes also a good choice for those with flat feet looking for more arch support. They’re usually built with a dense midsole, to prevent feet from collapsing in.
Motion Control: These are for people who overpronate the most. They’re usually heavier and stiffer than stability shoes and are meant to prevent the foot from moving inside of the shoe, as well as to more forcefully correct pronation issues while walking or running.
Podiatrist-recommended walking shoes
You've seen "walking shoes" on stores shelves, but contrary to their name, that's not necessarily what Dr. Mendezoon recommends for dedicated walkers. “That’s a double-edged sword,” he says, elaborating: Most walking shoes are typically made with faux leather, which isn’t highly breathable. It can attract bacteria, leading to stinky feet and complications like foot fungus. Also, the synthetics used can break down quicker than genuine leather (which also isn't ideally breathable).
Thus, he recommends following walking shoes with a caveat: “I generally recommend a running shoe [as a walking shoe]. I think running shoes are more technologically advanced than a traditional walking shoe.”
For a traditional neutral walking shoe: Nike Air Monarch IV
The popular Nike Air Monarch IV is a fine choice if you don’t find its leather build to be overly hot. It has cushioning and a stable sole that’s fit for walking, as well as a wide toe box that’ll allow your toes to move. It’s best for those with neutral feet who want some added cushioning. It’s available in unisex sizing, from a men’s size 6.5 or women’s size 8 to a men’s 15 or women’s 16.5.
The Air Monarch IV has garnered a 4.6-star average rating based on over 1,000 reviews on Nike's website. "These are probably some of the most comfortable shoes I have ever owned," one reviewer writes. "You can be in them all day or go for a long walk and your feet will not hurt. You don't have to worry about blisters in these. My shoe of choice from now on."
For a traditional stability walking shoe: New Balance 928v3
These traditional leather walkers have plush cushioning and motion control, which means they’re stiffer in order to prevent the arch from collapsing inward inside the shoe. It’s available in five widths for a more custom fit: narrow, standard, wide, X-wide and XX-wide and comes in men’s sizes 7 to 16 and women’s sizes 5 to 13.
The 928v3 walking shoes have over 800 rave reviews at New Balance. "They are unbelievably comfortable and stay that way," one reviewer writes. "Sometimes I'm on feet 8 to 10 hours a day. I'm 70 years old, and these shoes make it possible for me to work those hours without tiring my feet. My back may ache, and I might be exhausted from walking 3 to 5 miles, but my feet keep going."
For cushioning that’ll let you transition to running: Brooks Addiction Walker 2
These shoes offer maximum cushioning for the feet and gentle guidance if you overpronate. They’re padded and slip-resistant and can also be used for runs. They use a technology called “GuideRail,” which adds bars near the heel and ankle that correct your posture while moving and prevent injury. They’re available in medium, wide, narrow and extra-wide widths. It comes in men's sizes 7 to 15 and women's sizes 5 to 12.
The Brooks Addiction Walker 2 has racked up praise by fans who adore the shoe's plush cushioning and sturdy sole. "I've heard of Brooks many times, however, they never had a professional-looking shoe that was slip-resistant," one reviewer explains. "I was so excited when a co-worker told me Brooks finally had one! I jumped the gun and ordered the Addiction Walker 2s the same day. Now it doesn't feel like I'm walking bone on bone on my heels. Plenty of cushioning!"
For a breathable neutral shoe: Brooks Beast 20 and Ariel 20
This pair, named the Beast in men's sizes and Ariel in women's, offers a similar fit and features to the Brooks Addiction Walker 2, except it’s designed as a running shoe with a more breathable mesh upper. The "GuideRails" technology is still there, ensuring some stability. Both shores are available in medium, wide and extra-wide with the Beast in men's sizes 8 to 16 and the Ariel in women's sizes 6 to 13.
"This is my third pair of Beast 20s," one reviewer writes. "I absolutely love these shoes. These are so comfortable—I actually feel like I'm walking on air in them. I'm 75 and don't run, but that doesn't mean I can't enjoy the Beast 20s for all the extras Brooks puts in its shoes for runners. Wifey and I are serious walkers and put in 3 to 5 miles every morning. I would recommend these shoes to anyone, period."
For a breathable stability shoe: Saucony Omni 19
This is a motion-control running shoe that Dr. Mendezoon recommends for walkers who are looking for moderate stability. They’re well-cushioned, super springy and durable. The Saucony Omni 19 comes in medium or wide in men's sizes 7 to 15 and women's sizes 5 to 12.
Many reviewers of the Omni 19 praise the shoe for its comfy fit, cushioning and ample arch support. "I come back for Omnis every year," a happy reviewer writes. "I have fairly flat feet and these provide the stability/support I need while being extremely comfortable. I can also use them for almost anything. The shoe's profile works for the gym, running or casual wear."
Podiatrist-recommended running shoes
The advice on what kind of running shoe to wear is similar to that for walking shoes, says Mendezoon: Find the style of shoe that supports your style of running. He recommends buying the latest model rather than purchasing a discounted running shoe that might have been retired or updated if you want the latest technologies. The Nike Air Zoom Pegasus 38, for example, is more technologically advanced than the Nike Air Zoom Pegasus 37. But don’t get caught up in the hype, current trends and marketing claims of the Big Sneaker world, and look beyond the flashy and well-advertised brands like Nike, New Balance and Adidas. Brands like Brooks, Hoka One One and Saucony make terrific running shoes, despite not being as visible.
You should also understand the amount of pressure put on knees and feet on a daily basis, and how vital it is to relieve it. “When you run, you put eight to 10 times your body weight [on each foot],” says Mendezoon. Relieving that pressure as much as possible is key to preventing injury. “There are 26 bones in a foot. There are 33 joints. There are over 100 muscle ligaments and tendons. That's a very complex structure, and we neglect it until we have a problem. We don't really appreciate it, [and we should],” he says. Luckily, all it takes is a competent shoe that fits correctly.
For an everyday neutral running shoe: Hoka One One Clifton 8
The Hoka One One Clifton 8s are a lightweight sneaker with a sturdy rubber sole and a responsive midsole that most neutral runners will enjoy. It comes in regular and wide widths in men's sizes 7 to 16 and women's sizes 5 to 12.
Over 300 reviews give this shoe a 4.5-star average rating at Hoka One One's webstore. "For years, I've been running in Saucony Ride and Brooks Ghost because I have a wide foot," one reviewer explains. When I learned that the Clifton came in a wide version, I gave them a try. Oh my gosh, what an amazing shoe! Light and very well cushioned. I doubt I'll ever go back to those other brands."
For extra rebound in a neutral shoe: Saucony Endorphin Speed
To put added spring in your step, Dr. Mendezoon says these Sauconys are terrific for those with neutral feet. I personally reviewed the Endorphin Speed last month and enjoyed them for their featherweight mesh upper and comfortable fit. They come in men's sizes 7 to 15 and women's sizes 5 to 12.
More than 550 reviewers give the Endorphin Speed a 4.8-star average rating. "A friend recommended I try these and I am blown away," one reviewer writes. "Once I started to trust them and realize that the run feel wasn't going to change, I was impressed. My running times have all gone down due to the technology that propels you forward. They are a game-changer for me. They feel great on your feet; I'm a bigger guy and they provide more than enough support and durability so far."
If you must have Nikes: Nike Air Zoom Pegasus 38
For a neutral foot, Nike’s Air zoom Pegasus 38 is a tried-and-true running shoe that’s “not great, but pretty good,” according to Mendezoon. If you’re a diehard Nike fan, this is a basic running shoe that’ll get the job done with cushioned support and a breathable mesh upper. It comes in regular and extra-wide in men's sizes 6 to 18 and women's sizes 5 to 12.
An annual Nike favorite, several reviewers give this shoe praise for its comfort and lightweight. "I have been running in Pegasus shoes for over a decade," a reviewer explains. "The Air Pegasus 38 is by far my favorite yet. It feels lighter and the fit is way better. I have a weird toe issue that used to get agitated by earlier versions, but the grommets have been moved and it makes these the best running shoes I've ever worn."
For everyday stability runners: Saucony Guide 13
Looking for pronation control? The Saucony Guide 13 gives just that, with a sole that isn’t too springy but still provides plenty of cushioning around the heel to absorb shock. It comes in regular and wide widths in men's sizes 7 to 16 and women's sizes 5 to 12.
The biggest fans of Saucony's Guide 13 like them for their stability and arch support. "Great shoes," a reviewer writes. "I have given up running, as it puts too much stress on my Achilles, but I still log about 30 miles a week. These shoes provide very good support for those that have medium to high arches, and very good cushioning."
For cushioned stability: Asics GT-2000 10
Another stability option is Asics’ GT-2000 10, an extra-cushioned shoe that helps lessens the impact of your steps without dulling their bounciness. It’s available in regular, wide and extra-wide widths and comes in men's sizes 6 to 15 and women's sizes 5 to 13.
"This is an absolutely excellent update to one of Asics’ core models," a GT-2000 10 fan explains. "The shoe is noticeably more comfortable as soon as you step in, and it fits true to size. Moreover, the ride is great. Some stability shoes are so overbearing that they feel like they’re trying to alter your gait, which is never good. This is not one of those shoes. The GT-2000 10 provides just the right amount of light support to get you through your run when fatigue sets in and your form might deteriorate. It is also especially good on those days when you have tired legs."
For ultimate motion control: New Balance 860v11
The 860s are excellent motion-controlling sneaker from New Balance, despite an appearance that Dr. Mendezoon jokingly calls “the old-man shoe." It has a thick midsole that provides ample arch and heel support for runs, as well as a built-in device that helps control pronation. Its airy mesh upper helps the foot to breathe. Available in narrow, standard, wide and X-wide widths, the 860s come in men's sizes 6 to 15 and women's sizes 5 to 13.
"This is my second pair of 860s," a reviewer writes. "Though I use prescription orthotic insoles in place of the shoe's insoles, my podiatrist insisted I also get a stable and supportive shoe to put them in. He recommended the 860 lineup. I used to limp when getting out of bed in the morning, or after walking barefoot for extended periods. Not anymore. Though I can't give 100% credit to the shoe, I can't give 100% credit to the insoles, either. The combined efforts are a winning combination."
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Prices were accurate at the time this article was published but may change over time.
This article originally appeared on Reviewed: Podiatrist-recommended walking and running shoes: Brooks, Nike, Saucony