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Gear and Technology

The best shoes for steep incline walking: conquer the gym and trails with confidence

The best shoes for steep incline walking: conquer the gym and trails with confidence
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Whether you’re taking on hilly terrain or using the incline feature on a treadmill, incline walking is a great way to boost your calorie burn, improve your cardiovascular health, and strengthen your lower body muscles.

Yes, walking can build muscle! Compared to walking on a flat surface, walking on an upward incline can deliver a bigger payoff when it comes to your overall fitness. Let’s dive into those perks below, plus find out the top features to look for in an incline walking shoe, so you can take your workout to new heights.

Runner on an incline

Benefits of incline walking

Whether you’re using the treadmill at the gym or soaking up the benefits of exercising in nature, incorporating incline walking into your fitness routine offers several advantages:

  • Burns more calories. Walking on an incline requires more effort and engages multiple muscle groups, torching more calories than walking on a flat surface.
  • Strengthens your lower body muscles. Incline walking engages your calves, glutes, hamstrings, and quads, and the added resistance of gravity helps build and tone those muscle groups.
  • Improves cardiovascular fitness. Walking on an incline intensifies your workout and quickly gets your heart rate up, making it a great cardio workout.
  • Easy on your joints. As a low-impact activity, incline walking puts less stress on your joints compared to high-impact exercises like running or jumping.

As a trainer, I include incline walking in many of my athletes’ training programs to help boost mental health, cardiovascular health, and increase endurance performance.”

Tywon Thompson Brooks Run Happy Team
Runner on a treadmill

Exploring different inclines

Most treadmills offer an incline feature that can go from a 0% to 15% incline. For reference, a 5% incline is similar to your average hill. Whether on the treadmill or the trails, the steeper the incline, the more challenging your workout will be. That’s because you’re working against gravity to propel your body forward. Your lower body muscles have to generate more force to push off and lift your body weight, resulting in greater muscle activation and effort. In turn, your cardiovascular system has to work harder, burning more calories than walking on a flat surface at the same speed.

If you’re new to incline walking, a 1-4% incline on the treadmill or walking up and down a small hill for 10-15 minutes is a great place to start. Always begin your workout at a comfortable incline level, and gradually increase the intensity as you become adjusted.

Just starting out? Try our beginner incline treadmill workout. Up for a challenge? Check out the 12-3-30 routine below.

The 12-3-30 treadmill workout

If you’re active on social media, you might’ve come across the viral 12-3-30 treadmill workout. Created by lifestyle influencer Lauren Giraldo  , who claims it helped her lose 30 pounds, the 12-3-30 workout is a straightforward yet challenging routine that’ll get your heart pumping and help you build lower body strength. Here’s how to do it:

  • Set your treadmill to a 12% incline
  • Set the speed to 3 mph
  • Walk for 30 minutes

This structured routine can be easily incorporated into a busy schedule. Try it one or two times a week to start. If a 12% incline or 3 mph speed is too challenging, start at a lower percentage or pace and gradually increase your levels over time as you build endurance.

The main piece of equipment for incline walking is a good shoe that will allow the body to respond to the ever-changing terrain and environment.”

Tywon Thompson Brooks Run Happy Team
Adrenaline GTS 23

Choosing the right shoes for incline walking

Steep incline walking can be challenging—you need gear that can go the distance. Here are the top features to look for in an incline walking shoe, so you can keep your feet happy:

  • Support: Opt for shoes that provide excellent support to help prevent rolled ankles or other injuries as you take on steep inclines. Look for models with a secure fit, firm heel counter, and proper arch support to enhance stability during uphill walking. Ready to steady your stride? Try the Adrenaline GTS 23, which features GuideRails® technology to keep excess movement in check.
  • Traction: Taking your workout outside? Your incline walking shoes should have a durable and grippy outsole that offers reliable traction on a variety of surfaces, including uneven and slippery terrain. Try the Addiction Walker 2, which features an innovative slip-resistant outsole, so you can move confidently in any direction.
  • Cushioning and shock absorption: Steep incline walking can place additional stress on your feet and joints, so you’ll want to choose shoes with ample cushioning to absorb impact and keep your feet feeling comfy. A cushioned shoe like the Glycerin 21 or Glycerin GTS 21 with added GuideRails® support is designed to soften every step, giving your feet a little TLC as you trek the hills.
  • Breathability: The steeper the incline, the more effort you’re putting in—and the sweatier your feet can get. Look for shoes that have breathable materials to keep your feet cool and dry during your workouts. Step into the Revel 6, which features an updated knit construction that provides structure and breathability, plus a sleeker look and feel.
  • Proper fit: Fit is paramount when choosing a walking shoe. Make sure that your shoes fit your feet properly, providing enough room in the toe box and a secure fit around the heel and midfoot. Ill-fitting shoes can lead to discomfort, blisters, and even injury during steep incline walking. Shoe sizing can vary by brand and model, so your best bet is to visit your local running store for a professional fitting.

Our top pick: The Ghost 16

For all-around comfort and support on steep inclines, the Ghost 16 delivers. Featuring soft, lightweight DNA LOFT v3 cushioning, the Ghost 16 offers a plush ride. The Segmented Crash Pad allows for smooth transitions, while the engineered air mesh upper offers structure and breathability. The Ghost 16 stretches and adapts for a snug fit on your foot, so you can enjoy distraction-free comfort mile after mile.

Hit the hills with confidence

Let’s help you find your perfect pair of walking shoes, so you can conquer steep inclines with ease. Take our Shoe Finder quiz for a personalized recommendation or stop by a local store for a professional fitting. Our Run Happy Promise means you can take your new shoes for a 90-day trial run. If you don’t love them, return them for free. Simple as that!

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Glycerin 21


Tywon Thompson

Brooks Run Happy Team

As a pro running coach and yoga instructor, Tywon is passionate about bringing people together and building communities through fitness. On Monday nights, you can find Tywon leading a social run group in Dallas called the Braindead Running Club—all fitness levels are welcome!

Disclaimer: Our writer's advice is intended for informational or general educational purposes only. We always encourage you to speak with your physician or healthcare provider before making any adjustments to your running, nutrition, or fitness routines.