For walkers who are looking for a good pair of shoes, it’s tempting to go with running shoes. The vast range of models, colors, styles, and overall accessibility of running shoes far outnumber the options for dedicated walking shoes.
It’s natural to wonder if you can use running shoes for walking – or if the two shoe categories of shoes should only be used for their dedicated purpose?
In this article, we’ll explore the differences between running and walking shoes and figure out which is the better choice.
Running vs. Walking
Before we start talking about shoes, let’s take a minute and go over the biomechanics of walking vs. running. The fundamental differences here play a large role in how shoe companies design shoes.
Runners strike the ground in differently than walkers. Runners have part of their running gait, where both feet are off the ground. When they land – heel first or on the ball of the foot – there is 2 to 3x amount of body weight being placed on their feet and legs. This is an enormous amount of force and strain that’s put on a runner’s body.
Contrast this to walking. Walkers typically land heel-first and roll forward to their toes. Extra force is applied while walking but it’s closer to 1 to 2x body weight compared to the 2 or 3x from running. One foot is always on the ground when walking and weight is more evenly distributed across the entire foot.
What Are the Differences Between Running and Walking Shoes?
Running shoes are well cushioned with good support and a comfortable fit. Runners need the added cushioning and support to protect against the extra pounding that occurs while running. Walking shoes, on the other hand, have less cushioning and either less support or, ironically, extra support.
Besides more cushioning, running shoes also have less flex, especially near the ball of the foot. Partly, this is due to the extra material that goes into the added cushioning. But it’s also by design as runners typically don’t need as much flex as a walking shoe. A runner’s foot goes through less of a full range of motion.
You’ll also notice the soles on running shoes tend to flare outwards as you look downwards. This adds extra cushioning and protection to the shoe.
Finally, because runners are working harder than walkers, they generate more heat. Running shoes are very breathable with thin, mesh uppers to allow airflow to the shoes.
Walking shoes have cushioning, but not quite as much as running shoes. There is often no flare on the soles. They also have more flex at the ball of the foot. Some walking shoes are made of breathable mesh like running shoes. But you’ll also find synthetic leather uppers on some models.
From a style perspective, walking shoes tend to be muted in color – often all black or all white – with less breathable uppers. Bright colors and vibrant patterns are often hard to find on walking shoes.
Types of Running and Walking Shoes
As people we are unique and different. And it’s not surprising that our feet are also different. Shoe manufacturers have adapted to this and designed different types of shoes for different types of feet.
When you run and walk, you land on the outside of your heel and your foot rolls inwards towards your big toe. This is called pronation. If your foot rolls in excessively this is called overpronation. If your foot rolls on the outer part of your foot, this is known as supination.
For runners, it’s important that the correct shoe matches their foot structure. Running in the incorrect shoe can often lead to discomfort or injury.
Because there is less force placed on the feet and legs walking, walking in the incorrect type of shoe will often be uncomfortable but probably won’t lead to any serious injuries.
For runners, shoes are typically placed in these categories:
- Neutral – these running shoes are designed for runners who do not overpronate. They have no features built into the shoe to add extra stability. They are ideal for runners who pronate or supinate.
- Guidance – for runners who overpronate slightly, these types of shoes will lightly correct the foot to a neutral position while running
- Stability – these shoes are made for those who overpronate. They feature a stiff piece of foam on the inside arch that helps prevent the foot from rolling inwards excessively.
- Motion control – these are built to be stiff and keep your foot aligned in a neutral position. The shoe will be heavier, but it will have great support from heel to toe. It’s ideal for runners who overpronate heavily.
Walking shoes are also categorized in a similar manner; however, they are less nuanced than running shoes.
- Neutral – like running shoes, neutral walking shoes allow for a natural walking stride and don’t have any components to correct your stride.
- Stability – like their running counterparts, these are made for those who overpronate.
- Motion control – these are stiff and keep your foot in the correct position. These walking shoes are heavy but do allow for a nice heel-to-toe roll while walking.
Walking shoes are offered in fewer types of pronation control. This is likely because the injury element while walking is much less than running.
How do you know what category of shoe to buy?
While it’s not always true, in most cases you can determine whether you pronate, overpronate, or supinate by looking at your arches. People with low to flat arches usually overpronate. People with medium arches pronate (aka, neutral). And if you have high arches, you probably supinate.
A simple way to check your arches is to do the paper bag test.
Take a paper bag or paper towel and place it on the floor. Then wet your foot and place it on the bag or paper towel with your full weight on it. The imprint it makes will show you what your arch is like.
For a more detailed look at your foot structure, check out our article on buying running shoes.
Can You Use Running Shoes For Walking?
Finally! We answer the big question… can you use running shoes for walking?
The short answer:
Yes, you can.
In fact, some quote-unquote “walking shoes” – like this pair from Brooks – are just like their running counterpart except they are all one color and made of synthetic leather.
But depending on your needs, the type of walking you do, and style preferences, you may or may not want to use a pair of running shoes for walking.
The main considerations when buying walking shoes are:
Will You Be Doing Any Running?
Some walkers are looking to incorporate a bit of running into their walks. Whether it’s a run/walk interval, couch to 5k training program, or greater aspirations to start running regularly, many walkers want a more vigorous workout.
Because walking shoes don’t have as much cushioning and support as running shoes, they are not ideal for running. So go with a dedicated pair of running shoes if you plan on doing a mix of running and walking.
Do You Like Bright, Vibrant Colors?
Take a look at the majority of walking shoes and you’ll find lots of black, white, and browns. By design, walking shoes tend to be muted and conservative.
If you want a bright, colorful look, then go with running shoes. If you want a more conservative look, you’re better off buying a walking shoe.
Is Cost An Issue?
There is a lot of research and design going into running shoes. Partly, this is because running puts so much force on the body, running companies are constantly trying to outdo each other to make the lightest, most durable, protective shoes they can.
But the cost of this R&D is that, well, the shoes also cost a lot. So walking shoes, generally speaking, give you more bang for you buck.
However, remember that for most shoes, you get what you pay for. A cheap, inexpensive pair of walking shoes won’t feel as good or last as long as a more expensive pair of shoes (whether those are made for running or walking).
Here’s our list of best affordable running shoes.
Now that you know whether a running or walking shoe will work best for you, here are some articles to help you find the best pair.
The Best Walking Shoes for Men – these are our favorite walking shoes for men
The Best Walking Shoes for Women – our favorite walking shoes for women
The Best Running Shoes for Stability – these shoes are great for those who want extra support or overpronate
The Best Running Shoes for High Arches – walkers with high arches need a lot of cushioning
The Best Running Shoes for Wide Feet – these are the best shoes if you have wide feet
The Best Running Shoes for Heavy Runners – for walkers who are starting their weight-loss journey, these shoes are ideal