Running Vs Walking Shoes: Key Differences Between Shoes

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There’s more difference between running vs walking shoes than you probably realize.

Running is a higher-impact activity, so running shoes tend to have more cushioning, more robust support, and are also often more breathable. Walking is a slower and lower-impact activity, so shoes don’t need to be as soft, supportive, or durable.

In this article, we cover their differences to help you choose the right shoe for you. Whether you’re running hard or taking a relaxed walk, here’s what you need to know about running and walking shoes.

Key Differences Between Running and Walking Shoes

These are the main differences you’ll find between running and walking shoes.

Cushioning

Cushioning is what absorbs shock and protects your feet from impact. Both running and walking shoes have cushioning, but some specific differences exist.

Running Shoes

Running is a more high-impact activity than walking. This means that running shoes need more cushioning, especially in the heel, because most runners are heel strikers.

You can find running shoes with minimal and maximum cushioning, depending on your preference and needs.

Walking Shoes

Walking shoes typically don’t need as much cushioning, since your feet don’t strike the ground as hard as they do when running. There’s less force on every step, so less cushioning is needed to absorb the shock.

While you can find more cushioned and less cushioned walking shoes, this is more a matter of comfort than protection.

Sole Flexibility

Your shoe should be flexible enough to allow for natural movement of your foot, without losing its support.

Running Shoes

Most running shoes feature some flexibility in the midfoot, allowing the foot to transition from heel to toe freely and comfortably.

Motion control and stability shoes will be less flexible. They’re designed to limit movement, so their soles will be more rigid to prevent over-movement that could lead to injury.

Walking Shoes

Walkers have less momentum to propel you forward, so walking shoes tend to have more flexibility in the sole.

A flexible sole helps the walker to push off with their toes more easily, and because you’re moving slower, there’s less chance of suffering some of the common running injuries that could occur with a more flexible sole.

Heel Design

The heel can differ noticeably between running vs walking shoes. Here’s what to look for.

Heel Drop (Height)

The heel drop is the difference between the heel’s height and the forefoot’s height.

Running Shoes

Running shoes come in a wide range of heel drops. 12 mm is standard, but on the other end of the spectrum, you can get zero-drop shoes. Many runners are heel strikers, so a thicker heel is beneficial.

But it depends on preference, and sometimes, lower heel drops are better for certain foot conditions. For example, a higher heel drop will take stress off the Achilles tendon, while a lower heel drop will reduce pressure on the metatarsals.

Walking Shoes

Walking shoes also come in a range of heel drops, but there’s less need for a chunk of cushioning in the heel as the impact is much lighter. Sneaker-type shoes are often much flatter than running shoes.

Heel Flare

The heel flare refers to a wider or longer heel than is normal. It can be flared out to the back or sides to add width and stability to the shoe.

Running Shoes

Flared heels are found on some running shoes, but not all. Wide-flaring heels may add extra stability for midfoot- or forefoot strikers. It’s more common on trail running shoes.

Walking Shoes

Walking shoes don’t need any heel flares. Extra material in the heel won’t add protection when walking, and can get in the way and cause you to change your gait.

Support

Support is essential for almost every runner or walker – it’s just the extent of the support that matters. Note that this differs from arch support, which you should match to your foot whether you’re buying a walking or a running shoe.

Running Shoes

You can find running shoes in neutral models with very little support, stability shoes, which have built-up support within the shoe, and motion control shoes, which offer strong, robust, and inflexible support.

Walking Shoes

A collapsing arch is more likely to happen when running due to the higher force on the feet, but it can happen when walking, too. Walking shoes are more common in neutral style, but you can still find stable walking shoes for severe overpronators.

Breathability

Breathability refers to how much air flows through the shoe. The quality of the upper and how it’s made contribute to the breathability.

Running Shoes

Running shoes tend to be more breathable. They often have mesh uppers to allow air to flow into the shoe while you’re running, because higher-intensity exercise increases your body temperature, leading to warm feet!

Many running shoes have moisture-wicking and quick-drying technology in their uppers. This helps to move moisture to the surface to evaporate, and dries quickly as well to keep your feet as dry as possible.

Walking Shoes

Walking shoes may be less breathable than running shoes, although you can still find highly breathable options.

However, you’re more likely to find leather walking shoes. Walking doesn’t increase your body temperature like running, so your feet aren’t likely to sweat as much.

Weight

A few ounces might not seem like much, but when you’re carrying it on your feet, even just a couple of ounces can change the whole feeling of the shoe. It’s hard to say whether running or walking shoes are heavier for various reasons.

Running Shoes

Some running shoes are designed to be lightweight, for enhancing speed. However, the weight can quickly increase if you start including maximum cushion levels or extra support.

Walking Shoes

Walking shoes are usually heavier than running shoes, even the heavier ones. Walking shoes are designed for use at a slower pace, so the weight matters a little less.

Outsole

The outsole is designed to keep you safe on your feet by offering excellent traction on rough or slippery ground and lowering your chances of falling or slipping. They’re also designed to last a long time before needing to be replaced.

Running Shoes

Running shoes usually have a more durable, sticky rubber outsole designed to withstand high impacts and rough surfaces. You can also choose between different outsoles for activities, like extra thick, lugged outsoles on trail runners.

Walking Shoes

Walking shoes usually have a thinner, less durable outsole. There’s less pressure on the sole as you walk, although it does depend on the surface you’re walking on.

You may find harder rubber on them, as they don’t need to grip so hard because there’s less speed to brake against.

Why Are Running and Walking Shoes Different in Design?

Running and walking shoes are designed differently because the running and walking motions differ. Walking is much slower, so there’s less impact on your feet.

This means the foot can move more easily through its foot strike with less pressure than running. Also, walkers always have one foot on the ground, which lowers the impact by a huge amount.

Running is faster and requires both feet to be off the ground during the gait cycle. That means higher impact on the feet and different weight distribution. It can exacerbate excessive pronation, leading to the need for stronger stability.

Can You Use the Same Shoes for Walking and Running?

You can, but you shouldn’t. As we’ve just mentioned, walking shoes and running shoes are designed for two different actions. Each is ideal for the action it’s designed for, but not optimal for the other activity.

If you want to do both running and walking, it’s acceptable to wear running shoes for walking. They’ve got great heel cushioning, a breathable upper, and a more durable outsole. Just make sure the shoe has the right kind of support for your feet.

However, we don’t recommend using walking shoes for running. They don’t usually have the support, protection, and durability to keep your feet safe and help you perform well in a run.

When to Wear Running Shoes vs Walking Shoes

If you’re running, wear running shoes. The high-impact nature of the activity requires more robust support, which running shoes have.

If you’re walking, you can wear either shoe. A running shoe might be a little heavier, but if you’re walking briskly, a running shoe may provide more cushioning in the heel for protection.

Whichever one you choose, the shoes should support your foot, be comfortable, and give you enough stability to run or walk safely.

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AUTHOR

Ben is an avid road and trail runner, and has completed multiple marathons and ultras. A former running store owner, he now shares his knowledge and experience writing these articles.