Running vs. Walking Shoes

The Differences Between a Running Shoe and a Walking Shoe

Sole of Running Shoes
Sole of Running Shoes. P_Wei/E+/Getty Images

A running shoe has different characteristics from a walking shoe. Runners should not run in walking shoes, as most of them are too stiff and don't flex the way runners need them to flex. For that very reason, many walking shoes aren't good for fitness walking, either.

Meanwhile, fitness walkers can usually find a running shoe that meets their needs better than most shoes marketed as walking shoes. Let's take a tour of what a fitness walker should look for in a running shoe for walking. These are the same things they need to analyze their so-called walking shoes for as well.

Cushioning for Running Shoes vs. Walking Shoes

Reebok Z-Quick Shoes
Reebok Z-Quick Shoes - Minimalist Cushioning. Wendy Bumgardner ©

Runners need more cushioning: Runners impact the ground with three times their body weight with each step, while walkers impact with only 1.5 times their body weight. Runners need more cushioning in the heel and forefoot than walkers, which is why you see all of the hype about air cushioning systems.

Walkers need less cushioning: Walkers don't need extra forefoot cushioning, and most can do with less heel cushioning. Extra cushioning adds extra weight, so it is a trade-off between a heavier shoe that lessens the trauma to your feet and legs and a lighter shoe in which you may be able to run or walk faster.

What walkers should look for: Fitness walkers should look for a lighter shoe that still provides adequate cushioning, so their feet and legs do not feel beat up from the impact after a long walk. While racing flats and extremely light minimalist/barefoot shoes may work for shorter walks, they do not have enough cushioning for regular use or longer walks. If you plan to walk more than six miles at a time, you should look into cushioned running shoes, but choose ones that meet the other criteria for good walking shoes.

Heel Height for Running Shoes vs. Walking Shoes

Heel Height
Heel Height. Wendy Bumgardner ©

Runners strike the ground anywhere from the forward part of their heel through the midfoot to the ball of the foot, depending on the individual. Walkers should strike with their heel.

Running shoes are designed to provide stability for runners using a built-up heel. Runners who strike with their heel or midfoot should look for less built-up heels, while those who land on the ball of their foot need a more built-up heel.

Walkers will be striking with their heel and rolling through the step. They have no need for a higher heel.

What walkers should look for: Walkers should look for running shoes with the least difference in height from the heel through the toe. This is called heel drop, and often you can find it listed in millimeters (mm). Look for shoes with a heel drop of less than eight mm, with four mm or less being preferred. Trying to estimate it by looking at the shoe's outer sole can be deceptive. Some may appear to have higher heels, but the heel of the foot actually sits lower inside the shoe.

Heel Flare for Running Shoes vs. Walking Shoes

Heel Flare
Heel Flare. Wendy Bumgardner ©

Running shoes may have a flared heel to provide extra stability for runners who strike the ground at their midfoot for forefoot. A flared heel is also often seen on trail running shoes. In the photo, the running shoe on the left has a flared heel, while the running shoe on the right does not.

What walkers should look for: Fitness walking shoes should not have a flared heel. Walkers strike the ground with their heel, and a flared heel impedes rolling forward through the step. A true fitness walking shoe would have an undercut heel rather than a flared heel or built-up heel.

Flexibility for a Running Shoe vs. a Walking Shoe

Shoe Flexing in Forefoot
Shoe Flexing in Forefoot. Wendy Bumgardner ©

Both running shoes and walking shoes need to be flexible. Press down with the toe of the shoe and see where the shoe bends. Many running shoe designs flex most at the arch or midfoot. But some designs flex most at the forefoot. These suit the differing needs for runners who strike at midfoot or with the ball of their foot.

Fitness walking shoes should flex at the forefoot, as walkers should push off with their toes. A shoe that bends at the arch does not provide the platform they need. A shoe that doesn't bend at all is unacceptable. Unfortunately, many shoes marketed as walking shoes do not flex at all. They are unsuited for fitness walking.

The photo shows a running shoe that flexes at the forefoot and is suitable for fitness walking.

Motion control shoes and stability shoes will be less flexible, as they have medial posts and other construction elements that aim to keep the foot from rotating too much during a step. Runners and walkers who need motion control have to sacrifice some flexibility in their shoes.

Where Can You Find Good Running Shoes for Walking?

You can start with our top picks list of shoes of different types that have the traits walkers need in running shoes. Then go to the best running shoe store in your area and get fitted there by the specialists.

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