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Running vs. Walking Shoes: What’s the Difference?

Sheryl Cannes
Updated on: September 03, 2022

It’s tempting to use walking shoes for a morning run or your running shoes for a day on your feet in the city. However, that’s not always the best idea. Though these two types of shoes have many similarities, they also have important design differences that specialize them for specific activities. Knowing the difference between the two can make sure you have the best shoe and comfort for your activities.

Mechanics of Walking vs. Running

Walking and running are different gaits, putting different stresses and pressures on the foot and body. While you walk, you apply less concentrated weight and pressure on the foot. The body acts almost like a pendulum during this slower gait. The heel strikes first, and bodyweight transfers across the foot before the toe-off that shifts the body’s weight to the other foot. Your foot muscles provide the platform and stability for walking.

In comparison, running uses a different system that relies on tension and energy return. The Achilles tendon, in particular, plays a vital part in how much “spring” you put into your stride. Rather than acting like a pendulum, the body’s tendons and joints act like a pogo stick that propels you forward with each step. When walking, people land on their heels. When running, most people land on the midfoot or forefoot. The foot is already flexed when you land, requiring greater flexibility in the shoe’s sole. However, all the extra pressure of impact also creates a need for extra cushioning.

These differences in these gaits necessitate different footwear designs to support the body.

Key Differences Between Walking Shoes and Running Shoes

Walking and running shoes are designed to support the needs of the foot and body based on the mechanics of the gait.

RunningWalking
More flexible soleStiffer sole
More overall cushioningLess cushioning
Many options for heel-to-toe dropFewer heel-to-toe drop options
Greater stability and motion control featuresLess need for stability features

In the past, walking shoes were lighter than running shoes because of the running shoes’ extra cushioning. Today, running sneakers are designed with incredibly lightweight EVA soles that make many of them as lightweight, if not lighter, as a walking shoe. These are all general differences between these two types of shoes.

Walk or Run the Distance

There are different types of walking and running shoes. Though admittedly, there is a greater range of running kicks because there are more types of running, like sprints, mid-distance, long-distance, trail running, and racing. Brands have developed speciality footwear for each of these distances and running types.

There are some general guidelines to follow to help maintain a comfortable fit of either a walking or running shoe.

The longer the distance you go, whether walking or running, the more cushioning you need. Long-distance runners also often buy their shoes a half size or full size larger than normal to leave room for foot swelling. That prevents rubbing, chafing, and hot spots as the feet expand during the run.

However, long-distance walkers can experience swelling, too. Although most walking shoes aren’t designed to cushion or accommodate long distances. If you’re walking over eight to ten miles a day, you may be more comfortable in a well-cushioned running shoe rather than a walking shoe.

A trail runner is another good option for long-distance walkers because these shoes have less flex in the midsole but plenty of support. Trailer runners or hiking shoes sometimes weigh more because they have a protective plate that prevents injury from rocks and other trail debris, but they could be the perfect footwear for those who like long walks or hikes.

FAQs

What should I look for in a good walking shoe?

The toe-box (the part of the shoe that houses your toes) should leave some wiggle room with a thumb’s width between the end of the longest toe and the tip of the shoe. If you’re going long distances on your walks, consider getting a sneaker with extra cushioning.

You also want an insole that supports the arch of your foot. If you have flat feet or your foot rolls inward (overpronation), a shoe with arch support or an insole that follows the natural contours of your foot may be more comfortable. The same holds true if you have high arches. A shoe design that naturally follows the higher arch of your foot will feel more comfortable and better support the foot’s muscles, reducing fatigue and minimizing risk of injury.

Can I use running shoes for walking?

For some people and activities, a running shoe will work fine for walking. For others, it could pose a problem. It depends on your biomechanics, the sneaker, and how far you’re walking. Running shoes have more flex in the sole and a greater variation in heel heights and heel-to-toe drops. They’re made in everything from a minimal barefoot shoe to a highly cushioned shoe with a 12mm heel-to-toe drop. A minimal shoe offers little or no heel cushioning or protection, which isn’t ideal for walking. In fact, it could lead to injury.

If you’re a long-distance walker or you want a shoe that works for both running and walking, a well-cushioned running shoe can work for some people. The extra compression reduces flexibility and protects the heel. Keep an eye on heel height. If you’re not used to a higher, well-cushioned shoe when walking, you may stumble until you get used to it.

If you’re a hiker who’ll have a backpack while you walk, the extra weight compresses the shoe’s foam more than just your body weight. In this case, a trail runner or hiking shoe rather than a well-cushioned running shoe would probably be a good choice. Hiking shoes, in particular, have the stiff sole needed to support the foot with the added weight of a daypack.

Are there walking shoes made to accommodate overpronation?

There are walking shoes with built-in orthotics and stability features to support and/or prevent the inward rolling of the foot and ankle. These shoes may have medial posts to offer sturdier support through the arch or an insole that molds to the shape of your foot as it’s exposed to body heat.

Some walking shoes correct overpronation, which is a good choice if the overpronation causes you discomfort or pain. Others simply support a flat foot, which is all some people need. Some people anatomically have flat feet, and they experience no pain associated with the shape of their foot. However, shoes with a moderate to high arch can cause discomfort for these individuals. If that sounds like you, look for shoes with low-arched insoles that follow the natural curve of your foot.
 

The Takeaway

You’ll be most comfortable (and safe) if the shoe type matches your activity—running shoes for running and walking shoes for walking. Your knees, ankles, and feet have a better chance of staying aligned in a sneaker that supports the stresses your body applies to them. It could take some trial and error to learn exactly what your unique foot shape requires of both a running and walking shoe. Whether you heel strike or overpronate, there’s guaranteed to be a sneaker that will keep you comfortable.

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