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A good, sturdy pair of sneakers is one of the best things you can invest in to support your body, even for days when you’re just going on a long walk. Wearing the wrong sneaker can result in a lack of ankle support, new or worsening back pain, and even blisters—so whether your old pair is coming to the end of its run (pun intended) or you’re in need of a little extra support, it’s important that you’re following a specific set of criteria when making your next selection.
When you’re picking out the perfect sneaker for walking, you should first evaluate the amount of cushioning the shoe provides. However, contrary to popular belief, an overly padded shoe may not be the most practical for walking long distances or standing for an extended period of time. “Studies have supported that harder surfaces more effectively stimulate the nervous system and provide increased proprioceptive input from the ground,” explains restorative physician and podiatrist Sherri Greene, DPM.
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A lighter-weight shoe is going to contain less padding, but it’s also vital to look for a shape that provides good ankle support to reduce pain, especially if you’re standing on your feet all day or going for a long walk. For those with back and knee pain, heels and soles that offer a shock-absorbing effect can be useful, but podiatrist Michael Galoyan, DPM, adds that a custom insole may be worth investing in if this pain or discomfort continues after getting a well-fitted, supportive sneaker. “Shoes with a stiff forefoot that minimizes the bend at the ball of the foot is a very important characteristic to minimize long term wear and tear,” he adds.
To break it down: “You want to look for a lightweight, low drop heel height, breathable materials, wide toe box stable shoe that has a flex point where your toes bend,” says Greene.
The best sneakers for walking
1. Best overall: Brooks Addiction Walker
Recommended by Galoyan, these sneakers are both supportive and slip-resistant, providing just the right amount of hold to your feet to keep you feeling great throughout the day. This option does have slight cushioning that will adapt to your feet to make each stride feel comfortable, and has been designed to limit the impact that walking can have on your joints over time. Plus, the neutral color ways will match your style for any season.
2. Best for travel: New Balance 990v5 Core
Another Galoyan-recommended pair, these classic New Balance sneakers are great for both running and walking with a firm and supportive midsole that will stabilize your feet throughout the day. With mesh paneling to keep you cool even on the hottest summer days, you can take these sneakers on vacation or for a long morning walk and still feel fresh when you take them off.
3. Best cushioning: Hoka Gaviota 3
Hoka has rapidly climbed the ranks of trendy and functional sneakers, and the Gaviota 3’s are an excellent option if you need extra ankle stability and a little extra cushion. While not overly-cushy, these shoes offer two more millimeters of foam than the previous model, making them a soft, stable, and balanced walking shoe. Struggling with knee and hip pain? These may be the perfect choice.
4. Best support: Asics Gel Pulse 12
Asics are one of the most highly-regarded sneaker brands and these shoes are perfect for neutral feet with extra cushion from the shock-absorbing sole and an 8 -millimeter heel drop. Ideal for walking longer distances outdoors, if you suffer from plantar fasciitis, shin splints, or need a little extra ankle support, these breathable sneakers are great for logging miles or simply going on long stroll.
5. Best lightweight: Nike Free Run
“If you are looking for a more free style shoe to build up the strength of your feet over time I recommend Nike Free,” says Greene. Created for road running, these lightweight and flexible sneakers are an excellent option if you’re looking for a ‘barely there’ feeling from your shoes, keeping you supported during your time on the treadmill or out enjoying the morning air. Plus, it features flywire technology loops built into the laces to ensure your foot is being held in place throughout the day.
6. Best sustainable: Allbirds Tree Runners
For eco-conscious consumers, the Allbirds Tree Runners are an excellent choice of breathable sneakers made from responsibly sourced eucalyptus tree fiber. Ideal for being outside during the hot summer months, these perfectly lightweight shoes also feature midsoles made from sugarcane-based green EVA. So you can invest in a carbon neutral sneaker that helps reduce both your footprint and foot pain.
Tree Runners, All Birds ($105); allbirds.com
7. Best for wide feet: Ryka Sky Walk
Specifically designed for walking comfort, these ultra-supportive sneakers are both comfortable and built for performance. With Ryka’s Skeletal Guidance System to support the arch and midfoot, these sneakers contain memory foam and offer both wide and medium width to fit the needs of any foot size. The extensive color range also doesn’t hurt.
Sky Walk, Ryka ($80); dsw.com
8. Best everyday sneaker: Under Armor Essential Sportstyle Shoe
Made for daily wear, these light and breathable sneakers are padded in the heel to increase comfort throughout your time on your feet. Not to mention the rubber outsole which makes the shoes extra durable for extended wear and yes, your daily walks.
9. Best cross-trainer: Lululemon Blissfeel Women’s Running Shoe
Lululemon just made their foray into the sneaker world with these supportive and unique shoes that have been tested on millions of women to create the perfect fit. Designed for running but also well-suited for walking, these neutral shoes feature moisture wicking linings, a heel clip for increased support, and pressure-mapped outsoles so your shoes can be just as flexible as your day’s activities.
Blissfeel Women’s Running Shoe, Lululemon ($148); Lululemon.com