Seven recommended specialized walking shoes are evaluated. Information is included on the price, construction and special features of each model.
Buying specialized footgear for walking may appear excessive — until you consider walking’s biomechanics. Walking is a heel-to-toe motion; running is forefoot-to-heel, and running shoes often have heel wedges to facilitate this strike. So, if you’re walking in high arch support running shoes, you are actually impeding your natural movement and risking injury. Similarly, aerobic shoes, with their added forefront cushioning, are not designed for an efficient walking stride. And the stiffer midsole in cross-training and court shoes can restrict the flexion in your forefoot as you push off.
Once you’ve decided you want a walking shoe, you need to check its rock ‘n’ roll. To help your foot roll easily, walking shoes have a good rocker profile — a flat heel with a toe that sweeps up, forefoot flexibility, low heels that are slanted outward for stability and evenly dispersed cushioning.
You can examine the amount of “rock” in your shoe by pressing on the heel. The shoe should easily rock forward on the toe. To check for forefoot flexibility, hold the shoe by the heel with the point of the toe on the floor and press moderately on the middle of the toe; it should bend. Also, the tread on the ball of the foot should have forefoot grooves (sometimes called flex points) that flex as your toes bend.
When you try on the shoe, make sure you have from a quarter-inch to a half-inch between your big toe and the end of the shoe, so your toes don’t get pinched in the push-off and landing stages.
You also want a snug fit’ through the heel, so your heel doesn’t slide up and down. Some Achilles tendons are more comfortable with a notched heel — available in all models reviewed here except Ryka. Several models — Easy Spirit, Etonic, New Balance and Ryka — are especially sized to accommodate narrow and wide widths.
Good traction is important if you’re walking on slippery surfaces. If you’re walking on pavement, which radiates heat, or if your feet sweat easily, look for a shoe that incorporates more mesh and/or synthetics into its upper. Leather is less breathable. A removable sock liner — available in all these models — allows you to air out or replace the liner.
Our testers evaluated 15 walking shoes for fit, traction, flexibility, stability, comfort and breathability by testing two pairs each for a minimum of 10 miles on pavement and trails. Seven of these fashionable shoes for bunions made the top of our chart.
* light weight
* narrow to wide widths
The core of support in the Avia 375 ($60, 7.5 oz.) is its ArchRocker, a curved insert in the outsole that lends propulsion to the gait. Avia’s well-known cantilever design — the heel is cupped so the center compresses as your foot hits the ground — imparts both cushioning and stability.
Our testers thought the shoe accommodates various widths and arches equally well. Synthetics in the upper promote good breathability and reduce the overall weight. Traction is excellent on both slippery pavement and trails.
EASY SPIRIT MACH I
* hard-to-fit widths (AAAA to EE in most sizes)
The Mach 1’s ($74, 12 oz.) biomechanics are straightforward. Two layers of shock foam, one in the sole and one in the sock liner, provide excellent cushioning, and its good rocker profile includes a beveled heel. Grooves in the sole at the foot’s flex point make the shoe very flexible and toeing off easier.
The padded tongue and collar ensure a soft but snug fit. Testers thought the shoe was exceptionally stable and had good traction on both trail and pavement. Because of its leather upper, it lacked breathability.
ETONIC TRANS AM WALKER
* hard-to-fit widths (AA, B and D in most sizes)
* lateral support
The Etonic Trans Am Walker ($53, 11.3 oz.) is an exceptionally stable shoe. Heel and arch cradles in the interior add lateral support, which counteracted one tester’s tendency to pronate.
The grooves on this well-cushioned, sturdy shoe add good forefront flexibility to its rocker profile. A leather upper restricts breathability. The testers’ only concern was that the outsole grooving, which was fine on most surfaces, didn’t grip well on cinder trails.
NEW BALANCE WK540
* hard-to-fit widths (AA, B and D in most
New Balance’s WK540 ($60, 9.5 oz.) offers stability and ruggedness with its solid rubber toe bumper and firm heel counter. The outsole grips well on all surfaces, and the “Walking Wave” midsole has a stiffer density in the mid-heel that extends into the arch for propulsion, providing good cushioning and rocker motion.
A swept-up toe and low, beveled heel facilitate a good rolling motion. However, the leather upper doesn’t breathe well in hot weather.
NIKE HEALTHWALKER LITE
The centerpiece of Nike’s Healthwalker Lite ($70, 8.9 oz.) is the Air-Sole pocket in the heel, which offers additional cushioning during the heel strike. A Durathane plug in the heel also increases durability.
The grooving in the outsole gives very good traction on all surfaces, including uneven boulders. Our testers also found it extremely flexible — “it gives you lots of push-off,” but not quite as stable as a less flexible shoe. They liked the fit, too: The slipper-like, neoprene tongue is snug and comfortable. The Healthwalker’s ventilated mesh panels are a step in the fight direction, but still don’t offer enough breathability.
RYKA NITROGEN ULTRA-LITE
* light weight
* hard-to-fit widths (narrow, medium and wide)
Ryka has pared the Nitrogen Ultra-Lite ($60, 7 oz.) down to a feathery seven ounces without sacrificing stability or comfort. Nitrogen Energy Spheres in the midsole provide excellent cushioning, and a higher heel collar gives good support. The shoe is the only one in our test without an Achilles notch, but our testers weren’t bothered by this. The padded collar and tongue are extremely comfortable.
The shoe’s lightness keeps this all-garment leather upper (lighter than all-grain leather and less durable) breathable on hot days. The only drawback is that the shoe tends to slip on wet pavement.
SAUCONY JAZZ STEP
Saucony Jazz step ($60, 7.8 oz.) is very stable in the heel while providing excellent flexibility in the forefoot * The collar is lower than most of the sneakers for plantar fasciitis tested — a feature our testers found more comfortable but less stable in off-pavement conditions. Three flex notches in the forefoot section of the outsole provide excellent flexibility for toeing off.
Testers thought the traction was excellent on all surfaces. Good use of mesh in the upper makes the shoe light and breathable.