Are Running Shoes Good for Walking or Not?
Of course, you CAN wear running shoes for walking but running shoes are not all the same and there are several types of walking. So whether a particular shoe is best suited for you depends on the type of shoe and type of walking you intend doing as well as your physiology.
So it is a bit of a loaded question. As a customer, you can ask the question of a personal store assistant but you may not get an unbiased answer – they just want to sell their products!
Let's explore the question from a few different directions below to help you see it is not a question that has a simple answer that is of much use to you.
By understanding the facets of the question you will soon be able to see whether any particular shoe will suit your purposes.
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Understanding Different Types of Walking
There are quite a few different types of walking and each type has varying factors that your shoe has to accommodate.
Fitness Walking – Sometimes Called Power Walking
This type of walking most resembles running. You walk at a very brisk pace, almost as fast as running although you may be walking over rough ground, hilly terrain or on paved surfaces or a treadmill.
The type of surface you walk on will have a bearing on the type of shoe that is optimum for the terrain.
Treadmill walkers can afford less protection in the soles and less support around the ankles than a walker who is walking on a hilly mountain trail where rocks and stones may press into your foot as you walk on them or turn your ankle.
Assuming a fairly level and even surface, fitness walkers will tend to land slightly further forward on the heel than less strenuous walkers. Similar to runners, you will exert a significant force as your heel strikes the ground that needs to be absorbed as much as possible by the shoe.
The pressures on your heel will move quickly from your heel, across your arch which will have little time to flex fully and onto the balls of your foot for push-off.
As a result fitness walkers, like runners, will not have quite the full range of flex in the toes either compared to a regular walker because a runners foot will leave the ground before the toes have reached their full extension.
The key takeaway is that fitness walking is near enough to running that a running shoe will work very well for you. You will still need to select a running shoe suited to your gait and the surface you will be walking on and one that you feel good in and you don't end up with feet full of blisters.
More on that topic later in this article.
Regular Walking Exercise Including Nordic Walking
If you walk at a moderate pace, enough to keep you slightly out of breath and at a rate that increases your heart rate significantly for moderate exercise such as a brisk walk in the park, then you are doing regular exercise walking.
You may be walking on a paved surface such as a concrete road or tarmac path or on more rugged terrain.
The key point is that your feet will be moving at a more normal pace and as a result, you will likely land on your heel and roll through to your foot arch and on to the balls of your feet when your toes will flex at a significant angle and push you onwards.
In this type of walking your heel takes much less impact shock than in running and so need less shock-absorbing to be taken on by the shoe.
Your foot arch has time to flex and do its job and your foot will roll forward onto the balls of your foot where the pressure continues to your toes which flex and provide a lot more force to propel compared to running or fitness walking.
The faster runners and power walkers will use the balls of their feet to provide a lot of the force to push you forwards and less from the toes than regular exercise walkers. Nordic walkers take some of the strain off their feet as well as exercising more muscles by using nordic walking poles to help propel them forward.
The whole process is more measured and more of a rocking chair like motion from heel-strike to push off and therefore the shock forces that need to be absorbed are significantly less. The forces of your weight roll through your gait rather than shocks its way from heel to push off.
Once again you will be walking quickly and purposefully and so shoes designed for regular running will most likely still work well.
Just Plain Walking About
Then there is just plain walking about and standing around as you might do at work or shopping – everyday walking if you like. It might be everyday walking but your feet may still feel tired in the wrong shoes.
Some people may stand longer than walking and vice versa. Those who stand will want plenty of arch support (as standing has long periods where your foot arch is flexed). Those who are walking more such as sightseeing or shopping will want more comfort.
In fact, comfort is all about feel and the most important factor for everyday walking and since this is the walking you do most of your active hours, buying a pair of good walking shoes is a sound investment in yourself.
Your heels will be taking far less shock, your ankles less likely to be subject to rolling over from uneven surfaces, your toes will propel your forward more gently.
Hopefully, you will see that each type of walking places different demands on your feet and so requires different features in the shoes you pick.
If most of your walking is not particularly fast or purposeful then shoes designed for walking will feel better. Do bear in mind that many shoes marketed as running shoes are in reality better suited to walking than running anyway – which is why we review running shoes suited to walking,
Different Types of Terrain
The surface you walk on is the next major topic area.
Some walkers will only walk on treadmills which have an inbuilt spring in the running surface which is also consistent, even if inclined.
Walking on this surface will have no likelihood that you will tread on something to turn your ankle and the shocks from walking will be much less than walking on hard surfaces for instance.
As the forces on your feet are somewhat more benign, running shoes will be a good match for those who are power walking and walking shoes will do fine for other walking types.
If you do a lot of treadmill walking then you might find our review of treadmill shoes useful.
Walking on Hard Surfaces
Surfaces such as concrete roads or tarmac paths are hard and unforgiving. There is no ‘give’ in the surface and so the full force of impact from your body weight is transferred as your heel hits the ground.
Runners and fitness walkers will experience forces that are more than double other types of walkers and so one of the main factors to consider is the amount of shock-absorbing a shoe can give you.
Most running shoes are designed to give substantial shock absorbance within the shoe through fluid or air-filled pods and special foam midsoles, so your heels and balls of your feet have to cope with less shock.
However, running shoes are usually designed to flex slightly further back in the sole because runners push off from a point further back in the foot.
So if you are not intending to power walk or run then a pair of shoes designed for walking on hard surfaces may give you a better experience being designed to flex and support your toes more.
Walking on Uneven Surfaces
If most of your walking is on uneven surfaces then you will need a shoe that provides a bit more support to your ankles to resist any twisting forces from walking on angled surfaces or rolling sideways when treading on stones.
You will also be looking for more protection under your foot to reduce any local pressure from stones and other things poking into your foot at any particular point. This means a thicker and more rugged sole.
In this scenario, a trail or hiking shoe will be much better and safer than a running shoe built for speed.
Walking on Wet Surfaces
If you are out walking in the wet, whether because of rain or because you are walking through wet grass or other vegetation, then running shoes will probably not work very well.
Running shoes are designed to allow your feet to breathe because your feet get much hotter and more sweaty when you a running and exerting yourself more than with more gentle walking.
Because of this, the upper materials are often porous such as fabric or mesh which will let water in resulting in soaking wet feet. Not a good thing!
There are some shoe models that feature breathable waterproof upper materials but no water-resisting surface will be as breathable as an open weaved shoe.
For these reasons, if you are walking in the wet then grab a pair of waterproof walking shoes in preference to open mesh upper running shoes.
Main Differences Between Running Shoes & Walking Shoes
Just as there are different types of walking and different surfaces, there are also different types of shoe design.
Some running shoes are very minimalist to feed the recent consumer demand from the minimalist shoe craze. These shoes are extremely light and feature very little shock absorbance or cushioning which regular running or walking shoes ordinarily provide.
Some running shoes are designed for off-road running or trail running. These shoes are designed with more protection in the soles, possible protective toe caps to prevent stubbing but are still made flexible and fairly lightweight.
There is a balance between cushioning (which is weighty) and keeping a lightweight shoe.
A lot of tech goes into finding lightweight materials that provide cushioning and shock absorbance as well as ‘spring back’ to energize your step.
Running shoes incorporating these special materials tend to be more pricey but are not of great benefit if you are not running or power walking. Runners feet have to deal with three or more times your body weight – twice the forces a regular walker’s feet have to deal with.
Running shoes often have widened heels to make the shoe more stable for the short time your heel is in contact with the ground.
Some will also flex more towards the center of the sole than most walking shoes and have extra shock-absorbing technology in the heels.
Cushioning and Shock Absorbing
We often see confusion with the meaning of cushioning and shock absorbance. You will read a lot of articles that use the terms completely interchangeably but this is not strictly correct.
Shock absorbance is the process of dissipating forces before they reach your foot. This is achieved with pods of gel or air or foams that maximize the spread of force and so reducing it through dampening, much like a train buffer behaves.
Cushioning is soft resistance, often graduated to decelerate your foot as smoothly as possible by having soft materials that get increasingly harder with depth and having springy return to give that walking on air feeling.
Shock absorbance will provide some cushioning and cushioning will give some shock absorbance but the design is different. Which means to say a material designed to absorb shock provides cushioning as a side effect but is most efficient at absorbing shock. Cushioning materials will be more efficient providing cushioning than providing shock absorbance.
Running shoes will be designed to optimally reduce shock and also have separate cushioning materials to provide comfort. The cushioning materials are reduced to provide a lighter shoe whereas the shock absorbance is prioritized.
With walking shoes the cushioning is more important as that equates to comfort and so these shoes tend to be heavier than running shoes but there is a huge crossover with some shoes marketed as running shoes actually better suited to walking than running.
That is the reason you will find a lot of running shoes on Woowalkers despite the fact that we are a walking focussed website.
One of our favorite shoes is the Hoka One One Bondi 6 shoe which is a heavily cushioned running shoe which provides a lot of both worlds. Similar shoes are the Adidas Ultra Boost and Brooks Beast or Adrenaline.
Your Physiology, Walking Gait & Foot Type
Everyone’s physiology is different with varying gaits, differing foot widths, lengths & heights as well as overall shapes. So there is no ‘one size fits all’ solution.
Manufacturers seeking profits, design shoes to fit a range of foot shapes and types with different models built on different lasts to give higher or lower instep heights, more or less roll stability to accommodate overpronators and supinators as well as dealing with the different demands from surfaces and type of activity.
You need to find a shoe that fits properly and understand your gait type, arch type, and instep shape at a minimum.
Overpronators roll their ankles excessively inwards through the gait cycle and need motion control shoes that resist this roll for the worst cases and stability shoes for mild cases.
Supinators need extra arch support to enable the middle of their foot to help out the outer edges where most of their weight bears because the condition has you walking more on the outside of your feet which get stressed.
Neutrally gaited people can wear shoes made for any gait but are better without the additional stiffness that motion control and stability shoes require.
High arched feet, as well as flat feet, both benefit from foot arch support, the former to help distribute forces from walking on the outside of the soles and the latter to stop the arch collapsing which causes overpronation.
Feet with high insteps need shoes with higher profiles as the flatter profile shoes do not have enough space across the tops of the feet. They also benefit from a full lacing system where the laces run from the beginning of the instep right up to the top of the shoe. This enables you to adjust the way you ties your laces for a better fit generally.
So in conclusion, the answer to the question of whether running shoes are good for walking or not depends on the answers to the various criteria discussed above.
Running shoes can be great for some walkers over some surfaces and are not so good for others where dedicated walking shoes offer more benefits.
Some running shoes are designed in a way that is better for walking than running despite them being marketed as running shoes.
Our advice is to determine where you will be walking, your gait type and whether motion control or stability shoes are needed and of course your size and width.
Find a style you like and decide whether comfort, lightness or speed are the priority and then use our buying guides to find a shoe that fits your criteria.
Do not think too much on whether the shoe is marketed as a running shoe or walking shoe but more on the specific features it offers and whether those features are a good fit for the use you intend to put them to.
If you suffer from Supination then you might find our Shoes for Supinators Buying Guide a Useful Read.
Overpronators should take a look at our article on shoes specifically for overpronators
If you regularly walk on concrete then we have an article looking at the best shoes for walking on concrete.
Biomechanics During Walking & Running – technical paper
Attributions: All images copyright of WooWalkers.com and 1Parin Kiratiatthakun © 123RF.com
I love hiking with my family and taking in the cool air in the hills around where I live up in Ithaca.
Most of the time we take rather shorter walks out for a bit of exercise since there are so many things in life that we also want to do – and especially the kids.
Life is a balance but one where you should never take the beauty of nature for granted. I also enjoy writing about my experiences and helping others with the things I learn about shoes from using them, from friends and the family.