Find out what to look for when choosing shoes, socks and clothes for walking, and why you might need more than one pair of shoes.
Shoes for walking
How to select shoes that fit
The key to keeping your feet healthy, regardless of the type of walking you do, is wearing properly fitting shoes. When buying walking shoes, try on several different brands, styles and most importantly sizes. Your feet can expand as much as half a size during the day, so shop for shoes in the afternoon or early evening when your feet are at their largest. That will help protect them as they expand during your long walks. And when trying on shoes, wear the socks that you wear when you go walking as width and depth of footwear is an important part of fit and comfort of a shoe.
Select different shoes for different surfaces
Ensure that the shoe you have chosen to walk in is comfortable and matches the terrain of your walk. Trainers are quite suitable for walking in cities, urban areas and pathways and provide a stable base of support with a broad contact area of the sole and stability with laces for fastening. Advanced terrain, where there are uneven trails, grasslands and hills to climb may require a stiffer more structured walking shoe or boot that is waterproof and breathable to maximise comfort. It’s a good idea to invest in a couple of pairs of shoes that may be suitable for different walking activities and terrain, so you always have one in reserve.
How to look after your walking shoes
To get the best out of your walking shoes, you need to look after them properly. Keep them clean and dry by drying and wiping away any dirt after a walk and airing prior to putting them in a cupboard. Keep an eye on any wear marks on the soles that show the material is worn out and needs replacing.
Good socks not only help your feet feel comfortable within your shoes but will also keep them dry by drawing moisture away from the feet. 100% cotton socks are not the best choice for walking as they hold moisture against the skin causing painful blistering, and can also increase bacterial load. Wool, silk and microfibres are often found blended with the latest generation of synthetic materials. If you find wool too warm or irritating, you could try an acrylic blended sock. Socks made with new material such as CoolMax or DriMax are designed to draw sweat away from the skin, keeping it nice and dry. Double thickness or dual layer socks are useful if you are prone to blisters.
Weather appropriate clothing that is comfortable and breathable is best suited to walking. If there is a chance of muddy wet terrain, then leg gaiters will help to keep ankles and legs dry and warm. If the terrain is icy and slippery, then using an additional grip mechanism like Yaktrax on the sole of the shoe is beneficial.
Walking poles are useful to support the body on more challenging and energetic walks. They:
- Improve the base of support
- Help to prevent falls
- Reduce pressure on limbs when hill walking, and
- Are especially useful for hill descent when the terrain is difficult, or if you suffer from arthritis in the knee and hip.
How to use walking poles
Ensure that the poles are comfortable in the hand and are at the right height, so the shoulder is relaxed and elbows bent around 90 degrees. Walk with the poles loose and in flow with arm swing and rhythm to ensure they don't get in the way.
Nordic walking is a specific pole walking technique which harnesses the power of the upper body to turn walking into a workout. It can be adapted for anybody and be done anywhere. Find out more.