Discover the best walking shoes for different types of terrain
June 30, 2023|By Brooks Staff
No matter if you’re a seasoned stroller or just starting out, it’s important to have the right walking shoes for the terrain you’ll be taking on. After all, injury prevention is key and comfort is king. Whether you’re pounding the pavement, stepping on the treadmill, or hitting the trails, we’ve got you covered with the best shoes for your walking surface.
When it comes to a simple yet effective workout that’s low-impact, beginner-friendly, and easy to fit into a busy schedule, nothing beat walking. You get to choose the time, the place, and the pace that meets your fitness level and goals. Plus, the health benefits of walking vs. running aren’t so different: both can help you lose weight, strengthen your muscles, and boost your mood, to name a few of the many perks. All you need is a comfortable pair of walking shoes to get stepping.
But what exactly should you look for in a walking shoe? Why does the terrain you’re walking on matter? And why can’t you just use your running shoes? Let’s dive into these questions below, so can choose the perfect pair for your walking routine.
Walking shoes vs. running shoes
While you technically can use running shoes for walking, it’s not necessarily advisable. This is because running and walking are very different in terms of the impact on your joints and how your feet strike the ground.
When you walk, the impact forces on your joints are roughly equal to your body weight. When you run, however, your joints have to support several times your body weight. And when it comes to form, your feet strike the ground differently when you’re walking versus running. When walking, your feet tend to follow a rocking motion from heel to toe, with one foot always in contact with the ground. When running, there are moments when both feet are off the ground and when you land, the impact is primarily absorbed the mid or fore sections of your foot.
All this is to say that running shoes and walking shoes are designed to support your feet differently, which means walking in running shoes could potentially lead to impact injuries if you’re not getting the right support in the right places. Ideally, you’ll want to invest in a separate pair of shoes for walking to keep your feet and joints happy.
Considering the terrain
Not all walking surfaces are created equal. Some are more predictable and forgiving on your joints, like the treadmill, while others can be full of surprises, like a rocky, muddy trail. If you’re just starting out or have joint issues, the treadmill or a flat walking track may be your best bet. If you’re more experienced, you might opt for a hilly route or nature trail for an added challenge.
No matter which walking surface you pick, it’s important to choose the right shoes to match the unique demands of the terrain in order to maximize comfort and minimize your risk of injury. Here are our top picks for the most comfortable walking shoes for the road, treadmill, and trail:
Best walking shoes for the road
Walking on hard surfaces like concrete and pavement can take a toll on your feet and joints, which is why supportive footwear is key. First and foremost is comfort. You need shoes with ample cushioning to reduce the impact of your foot strike and keep you bouncing along. If you live in a wet climate, look for slip-resistant soles so you can manage slippery roads and sidewalks with ease.
For maximum comfort and all-day support on the road, the Addiction Walker is a go-to. Soft, responsive cushioning provides adaptable comfort while you’re in motion by responding to your unique stride, weight, and speed. The Addiction also features an Extended Progressive Diagonal Rollbar, which helps you stay in your natural stride.
For the ultimate in softness, the Glycerin reigns supreme. Thanks to nitrogen-infused cushioning, your feet can enjoy a lightweight, responsive, and durable shoe that provides plush comfort with every stride. Plus, a redesigned midsole and outsole offer a widened platform for smoother, easier transitions.
Best walking shoes for the treadmill
Rain or shine, the treadmill is at the ready. Compared to the concrete, treadmills are gentler on your joints, providing a softer running surface that’s easier on your body. While you may not necessarily need maximum cushioning, you should look for a shoe with a soft but gripping sole to give you a good handle on the equipment.
With its soft cushioning, smooth transitions, and trusted fit, the Ghost is our top pick for walking on the treadmill. The Ghost is all about balance: it has just enough give to cushion each step, while staying responsive for a quick toe-off. The engineered air mesh upper provides comfort and breathability, so you can keep your feet happy in a stuffy gym.
If you’re looking for some extra stabilization as you walk on the treadmill, opt for a shoe with GuideRails®, like the Adrenaline GTS. As smooth as the Ghost but made for walkers who prefer support, the Adrenaline features GuideRails® technology to keep excess movement in check.
Best walking shoes for the trail
Walking on a trail can be beautiful and breathtaking. It can also be full of surprises, like jagged rocks, exposed tree roots, and thick mud. Since a trail’s walking surface can be unpredictable, you’ll need shoes with solid traction and support to protect your feet from uneven terrain and help prevent injury. Waterproof materials will help keep your feet dry as you trek through the mud, while cushioning will provide much-needed comfort on rugged terrain.
Take on any trail in the tried-and-true Cascadia, which offers all-terrain stability, traction, and soft cushioning for a continuously smooth ride. The TrailTack rubber outsole provides wet/dry traction, while the Ballistic Rock Shield protects against pebbles and debris, so you don’t have to worry about slipping and sliding.
Designed for long days on the trail, the Caldera goes the distance with the perfect balance of traction, cushion, and energy return. Our nitrogen-infusion process creates an ultra-light, ultra-resilient shoe for a super-comfortable ride, even on the most demanding terrain.
Let’s find your perfect fit
Ready to find the right shoes for your walking routine? Take our Shoe Finder quiz for a personalized recommendation or visit a local store for a professional fitting. Our Run Happy Promise means you can test out your new shoes on the road, treadmill, or trail and if they don’t work out, you can return them for free within 90 days. Let’s get walking!
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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.