Wear Patterns for Walking Shoes - What They Mean

Clues Your Shoes Need Replaced

Normal Shoe Wear Pattern - Old Shoe Compared to New Shoe

Normal Shoe Wear Pattern
Neutral Gait Shoe Wear Pattern Normal Shoe Wear Pattern. Photo © Wendy Bumgardner

Are your walking shoes ready for replacement? Walking shoes generally last 350 to 500 miles. They may not appear to be worn out, when in fact they have lost their support and cushioning. How and where you wear out the soles of your shoes can give you further clues about whether you overpronate, have a neutral gait, or a supinated gait. Here are examples of walking shoes that are obviously in need of replacement.

The shoe on the left shows a normal shoe wear pattern after 350 miles.

Walkers with a normal, neutral gait will show shoe wear in these areas:

  • At the heel, as they strike with the heel at the beginning of each step.
  • Below the first and second toe, as they push off with the toe after rolling through a step.

Most walking shoes will only last for 350 to 500 miles before needing replacement. By that time, your shoes will have endured a million steps and will have lost their cushioning and support.

New Shoe Compared to Worn Out Shoe

New and Old Shoes
Neutral Gait Shoe Wear Pattern New and Old Shoes. Photo © Wendy Bumgardner

This photo compares a lightly worn pair and a worn-out pair of the same model of shoes, worn by a long distance walker who has a neutral gait.

The shoes on the left have only been worn a few times. The shoes on the right have about 500 miles logged on them by a long distance walker. The sole of the older shoe has a large worn-off area near the big toe. The heel appears to be in good condition and evenly worn.

This is a normal shoe wear pattern for a person with a neutral gait, who neither overpronates nor supinates. With a neutral gait, the foot doesn't over-rotate during the stride; it rolls through the step from heel strike to push off with the big toe in a straight line.

The shoe upper and laces are dirty because this walker does off-road walking and uses petroleum jelly to prevent blisters, which causes dirt to stick to the shoe.

Dirty Old Shoes

New and Old Shoes
Clean Doesn't Mean It's Not Worn Out Dirty Old Shoe. Photo © Wendy Bumgardner

The shoe on the left has only been worn a few times, while the shoe on the right has logged over 500 miles.

You may want to replace shoes just because they are dirty, or think they are not worn out because they still appear to be clean. But a good-looking shoe may have a worn-out sole, and may have lost its cushioning and support. Don't rely on appearance alone.

It is tempting to want to wash dirty shoes. But soap and heat can break down the glue holding the shoe together. If you must wash your shoes, wash by hand with mild soap and allow to air dry. Washing and/or drying shoes in a clothes washer or dryer can shorten their lifespan.

A Hole in the Sole - Shoe Wear Pattern Photo

Hole in the Sole
Hole in the Sole. Photo © Wendy Bumgardner

The shoe on the left has logged about 350 miles and is showing wear on the sole near the big toe.

Many of us get prompted to replace our shoes when we see wear on the sole of the shoe. Shoes today are often designed to show this wear on the sole with a change of color, which can help persuade you it is time to replace the shoes.

This wear pattern is normal, as walkers should be pushing off with the big toe. This is called a neutral gait, without excessive rotation during the stride.

An over-pronator would see the worn off spot even more toward the outside of the sole on the big toe side of the shoe. Over-pronators should use motion control shoes to help correct the over-rotation of their stride.

A supinator or under-pronator wouldn't see wear under the big toe, but would see the wear along the little toe side of the shoe.

Heel Shoe Wear Pattern

Shoe Heel Wear
Shoe Heel Wear. Photo © Wendy Bumgardner

The shoe on the left has seen about 350 miles of walking, compared to the new shoe on the right.

Shoes should also wear on the heels, as walkers should be striking with the heel, rolling through a step, and pushing off with the toe. The shoe on the left is showing some wear on the heel, but actually very little for the amount of walking it has endured. It could be that this walker isn't striking with her heel as she should be. She may be landing flat footed before pushing off with the toe.

A normal, neutral gait will see heel wear at the middle to outside edge of the heel, on the little toe side of the foot.

Over-pronators will see more heel wear in the middle of the heel and perhaps even toward the inner edge of the heel (the big toe side). Their shoes may even tilt inward when placed on a flat surface.

Supinators or under-pronators will see heel wear all along the outer edge of the shoe. When placed on a flat surface, their worn shoes may tilt outward.

Shoe Losing Its Cushioning and Support

Shoe Heel Compression
Shoe Heel Compression. Photo © Wendy Bumgardner

The shoe on the left has endured about 350 miles of walking -- about 770,000 steps! This is leading to loss of cushioning.

Wrinkles are developing in the indented area in the heel of the shoe on the left. This is a sign that the shoe isn't springing back from the compression it cushions with each step. The shoe is aging and losing its ability to cushion and support. If the walker was switching back and forth from wearing the older shoe to wearing a fresh pair of shoes, she could probably feel the difference in cushioning.

It is recommended that walkers and runners replace their shoes every 350 to 500 miles. Heavier walkers will likely need to replace their shoes more often.

Shoe Wear Pattern - Supinator

Shoe Wear Pattern for Supination
Shoe Wear Pattern for Supination. Photo © Wendy Bumgardner

This shoe wear pattern is typical for supination. The wear is all along the outside edge of the shoe.

Supinators have most of the wear on their soles on the outside edge of both the heel and the toe. This shoe shows a lot of wear in the heel, which is obvious from the change of color. At the toe, you can see almost no wear at the inside to middle portion of the sole while there is wear on the outside edge of the toe.

People who have a supinated gait should buy neutral shoes. They do not need motion control shoes, which are meant for overpronators.
More Info: Supination and Pronation

Wrinkles Developing in the Shoe Sole

Wrinkles Developing in Shoe Heel
Wrinkles Developing in Shoe Heel. Photo © Wendy Bumgardner

With each step, you break down your shoes a little more.

The materials used in the sole and heel of your walking shoes have a limited life span. Even sitting on the shelf unworn, they are aging and will break down faster once you start wearing them. Here, small cracks and wrinkles are developing in the heel of a walking shoe. These are caused by the constant compression with each step as well as the aging of the materials.

As the shoe loses its ability to spring back with each step, it has less ability to cushion. You may start feeling more fatigue in your legs and feet after a long walk.

Shoe Heel Wear Pattern - Neutral to Supinated Gait

Neutral to Supinated Heel Wear
Neutral to Supinated Heel Wear. Photo © Wendy Bumgardner

This shoe heel wear pattern is typical for a neutral to supinated gait pattern.

If you have a neutral gait or a supinated gait, you will have more wear on the outside of your heel (the little toe side). This walker has a lot of wear on his heel, towards the outside edge.

This walker should choose neutral shoes rather than motion control shoes. He doesn't need correction for overpronation.

More on pronation, supination, and neutral gait.

Little Toe Has Worn a Hole

Hole at Little Toe of Shoe
Hole at Little Toe of Shoe. Photo © Wendy Bumgardner

This walker has worn a hole at the little toe side of his shoe.

Constant pressure on the outside of the shoe has caused a breakthrough of the fabric and stitching near the little toe. The sole of this walker's shoe also shows wear all along the outside (little toe) edge of the shoe. All of the wear patterns show that it is long past time to replace these shoes.

Holes on the Inside of Your Shoes

Shoe Wear Inside Shoe
Shoe Wear Inside Shoe. Photo © Wendy Bumgardner

This shoe is wearing from the inside out.

Not only do the outside of your shoes get wear and tear, you also may be wearing holes inside your shoe. This walker has worn through the first layer of fabric at the bottom of his ankle as bone wears against the side of the shoe.

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