Do I Really Need Bigger Walking Shoes?

Walking Shoe Shopping at Roadrunner Sports
Walking Shoe Shopping at Roadrunner Sports. Wendy Bumgardner ©

Question: Do I Really Need Bigger Walking Shoes?

I'm training for a marathon and I have shoes that I love. I'm up to 12 miles of walking at a time and my feet are happy so far. I see advice about buying shoes 1 size larger since feet will swell over the distance. How do I know whether I need bigger shoes?

Answer: You sound like an exception, somebody who is wearing the right size of shoes. Feet swell a size or more during walking or running, but you would see the full effect after an hour or so.

If you are not having trouble at 12 miles, your shoes are probably the right size. The problems you would be seeing from too-small shoes might include:

Problems from Too-Small Shoes are Epidemic

Most women wear dress shoes and casual shoes that are too small. As a result, they may not know what correctly fit shoes feel like. Your feet swell even more when walking or running, so you may need athletic shoes 1-2 sizes larger than the size you normally wear (which, again, is likely to be already too small.) An American Orthopaedic Foot & Ankle Society study found that almost 90 percent of women surveyed wore shoes too small or too narrow and 80 percent had foot problems. Many suffered from bunions, hammertoes, bunionettes, corns, and other foot problems caused by or worsened by too small shoes.

Feet Continue to Grow and Spread

Your feet will also become wider as you mature, and change throughout the years. If you have gained or lost weight, so have your feet. What fit 10 years ago is unlikely to fit well now. You should get properly fit for shoes each year.

Knowing Your Shoes Fit

You should be able to wiggle your toes in the shoes.

There should be a finger's width of room in the toebox when you stand up, before you have been walking. Your heel should be contained in the heel cup, not letting your foot slide forward in the shoe with every step.

It is best to get fit for your walking shoes at the best running shoe store in your area, the one that serious runners go to for their shoes. Those stores are the most likely to have a sales staff interested in getting you fit into the right shoes. Unless you have gotten properly fit for athletic shoes, you may be one of the 90% who don't know what properly fit shoes feel like. Learn more from this walking shoe guide.

Shoes that are Too Big Have Their Own Problems

Wearing shoes that are too big can produce some of the same problems as shoes that are too small. If your foot slides forward in the shoe with each step, you can get black toenails or lose toenails. You may also get blisters from the same effect, or irritate your bunions or hammertoes from the extra friction and impact.


Shoes, American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons. March, 2001.
"AOFAS Position Statement: Women's Shoes and Foot Problems." American Orthopaedic Foot & Ankle Society, 2006.

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