Our test panelists logged more than 2,240 miles while evaluating two dozen models of running shoes and almost as many pairs of walking shoes. Besides pounding the pavement, we tested the shoes in our labs. We checked whether the front of the shoe flexed enough to let you push off easily with the ball of your foot. And we measured stability (control of ankle motion), shock absorption at the forefoot and heel (where the impact is greatest), and breathability (the ability to dissipate moisture). Weight also matters. The lighter the shoe, the better—as long as cushioning and stability don't suffer.
Where you shop should depend in large part on your experience. Most running and walking shoes are bought at department, discount, specialty athletic, sporting-goods, and family-footwear stores. You'll probably pay more at a footwear store that caters to serious runners, but you're more likely to find a seasoned sales clerk who can answer your questions and help you to get the right model for your gait and type of workout.
Analyze your gait
The running and walking shoes we tested are for people whose feet don't require corrective measures. But manufacturers also offer models for special needs. If your feet pronate (roll inward) excessively, a stabilizing or motion-control shoe might minimize the problem. And if your feet don't pronate enough, a cushioning shoe that emphasizes shock absorption might be best. Overpronators typically have a low arch, underpronators, a high arch, and neutral runners fall somewhere in between. If you have well-worn running shoes, take them with you when you shop. Their wear pattern might help an experienced sales clerk to analyze your gait and recommend the right shoe.
Get a good fit to stay fit
The first rule of shopping for athletic shoes is that fit counts more than anything else. A bad choice can cause discomfort and fatigue, or even painful foot and joint problems. Your feet tend to swell toward the end of the day, so shop late in the afternoon, and wear the kind of socks you'll be wearing for running or walking. Feel around the inside for seams, bumps, and rough spots. Running and walking shoes should feel good right out of the box, without being broken in.
Take a test run
Buying shoes without trying them out is like buying a car without test-driving it. Jog or walk a little in the store, and ask if you can take the shoes once around the block. Better yet, ask whether you can buy the shoes, walk or run briefly on a treadmill at home or at a gym, and return them if they don't feel right.
Think twice about orthotics
If your feet become sore from running or walking, you might be tempted to try orthotics—custom-made shoe inserts that take the place of insoles. But orthotics can be expensive and might reduce a shoe's cushioning. Consider whether your problem could be solved with new shoes or a different category of shoe (cushioning, neutral, or stability).
Copyright © 2006-2012 Consumers Union of U.S., Inc. No reproduction, in whole or in part, without written permission.