Anyone who has ever wanted a new pair of walking shoes, or in fact any kind of shoes, will know that the decision on which to buy is not made very easy thanks to the sheer volume of styles and designs available. And with walking shoes in particular, you need to consider a lot more than how good they look on the model posing for a photograph in a magazine or the endurance athlete standing on top of a mountain looking out into the distance.
Merrell Siren Sport Q2 Waterproof walking shoes.
Spending our hard earned cash on something that needs to be super practical, comfortable, and last ages involves a lot of thinking, and probably a lot of googling. I mean, even if you have already narrowed it down to a single brand, you are still inundated with all kinds of shoes to choose from.
With this in mind, and having had the absolute pleasure of being allowed to try out a wide variety of walking shoes over the last few years, I thought I would attempt to impart a bit of knowledge on choosing shoes for hiking,
So here are my handy hints and tips for choosing the right pair of walking shoes for you.
His and hers Merrell Proterra Sport.
I’m talking walking shoes rather than walking boots in this article. If you want to get the right pair of boots for you, I suggest going into a shop and speaking to an expert about what would work best for your feet and for the type of adventure you’re going on. Of course you can do that for shoes, too, but I would argue it’s probably less vital.
For me, a walking shoe is one that is great for low level trails but that can also be worn for all kinds of other activities, including a wander around town or a road trip. Especially a road trip. They are my “one for all” shoe; if I’m packing light (on the motorbike, for example), then I will do my best to make space for my walking shoes over anything else – converse might be smaller but they are not great to be in all day and are certainly no match for a hill walk should the need arise.
Hiking in Zion National Park in my old KEEN Bryce walking shoes. Now retired.
So when I look at walking shoes I not only want something that is super practical for, well, walking, I also want a pair that will go with anything else that I might choose to pack when I go away – so jeans, walking trousers, leggings, maybe the odd summer dress, you know. I want to feel both smart enough to head into a casual restaurant with them on my feet, and secure enough underfoot when hiking up to a trig point (and down again!). Naturally I also require something that is comfortable, fits well, does up securely, is waterproof, can be cleaned easily, and that isn’t likely to fall apart after a couple of days wear.
I realise I’m asking a lot, but even with that long list there are a whole host of options to choose from. Hopefully these tips will help you separate things out a little.
Mountain biking in my walking shoes. And why not?!
Tips for Choosing Walking Shoes
Walking | Number one priority has to be the walking element. I mean, we can always just wear trainers (runners), so there has to be a reason we are looking at the walking shoe in the first place. Think about what kind of walking you are going to be doing; do you need something that will keep you upright on super muddy trails, or will you be sticking to tow paths and accessible trails in your shoes? The size of the lugs on the bottom of the shoes, and the amount of cushioning the shoe provides will both matter here. If you are likely to be on muddy trails, choose something with a super grippy sole with big lugs that’ll stop you slipping, if you’re sticking to mainly flat and dry trails a moulded outsole with lower profile lugs will be absolutely perfect.
Cushioning | The most comfortable shoes I’ve worn have a decent cushioning insole, which provide a little bounce when you walk. This is especially important if you are likely to wear them on concrete or tarmac pavements, as there is no give in the ground. My favourite walking shoe at the moment, my Moab FST Gore-tex, are actually not great for walking to work – the 4.5 miles of concrete slab and tarmac combination is just too hard and I end up with aching joints and feet before the half way mark. No disrespect to the shoe, it is a great shoe, but it’s not designed for this.
Shape | Walking shoes can really vary in shape, and it may be that a particular shape is better for your feet, or for your choice of walking clothing. Which shape do you prefer? Do you like a wide toe box to give your toes loads of room, or do you like a more slender fit that hugs your foot all the way down? This toe box question can probably eliminate half of the shoes on the market for you if you think about it; personally I like the feel of a wider shoe as my feet swell a bit when I’m on my feet all day (yea I know, nice!). A wider shoe also leaves me room for a decent pair of socks rather than thin cotton socks, which is also my preference.
Look | The look of the shoe is naturally very important if you are choosing something that will be your “one for all” pair. And walking shoes can have hugely different looks. These two pairs of Merrell’s are worlds apart in looks – the Moab FST Gore-tex on the left vs the Siren Sport Q2 on the right. The Moabs are more of a chunky shoe whereas the Siren Sport are much more slender. The Moabs are clearly walking shoes whereas the Sirens are a little more subtle. Both are excellent walking shoes. Which would I choose? Well I’ve got them both on the go!
Merrell Moab vs Siren. Huge differences even within the same brand.
I hope this article has been of some use. Always remember that everyone is different so don’t just buy the pair that looks the most snazzy or the ones that are on sale… head into a store with a selection and try some on before you make your final choice. Let me know which ones you buy!
Please add your walking shoes buying tips in the comments below!