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Women’s Walking Shoes: The Definitive Guide

Choosing the Right Walking Shoes: Advice for Women

For women, especially older adults, choosing the right walking shoes has repercussions beyond fashion. A study in 2005 showed that “incorrectly fitting footwear is common in older people and is strongly associated with forefoot pathology and foot pain.” The study identified foot pain and deformity in 176 people (aged 62 to 96 years), 120 of whom were women, and found that the women “wore shoes that were shorter, narrower and had a reduced total area compared to their feet than men.” Wearing shoes that are narrower than your foot is associated with corns, foot pain, and foot deformity. A 2017 study stresses that “between 20 and 45% of women aged over 65 years of age will develop one or more foot problems, which, although not specific to older women, are more common in that age group than in younger women.” The study also points to inappropriate footwear as one of the causes.

Foot problems will negatively impact your mobility and independence, and the incorrect footwear can cause you to trip, fall, and suffer injury. It can also exacerbate already existing health problems, such as arthritis in the knees and hip. Odyssey Traveller organises numerous walking tours and we are advocates of choosing and using the right footwear—you can click here to read an article we’ve published previously about choosing the right shoes and socks to bring when you travel.

In this article we will give advice to help women choose the right pair for various activities, and look at the health benefits of hiking.

This tips for seniors is written as a backgrounder for our hiking and walking tours for seniors. We have several on offer with places available for adventurous senior travelers looking to go on vacation with like-minded people. You can travel the Camino de Santiago or go on a guided hiking tour of the British Isles, following the route of the popular Wainwright Walking Trail. Just click through the links to see the itineraries and get your walking holiday started!

To help you prepare for any walking program, check out our previously published articles:

Rethink those heels

According to the Harvard Women’s Health Watch, wearing heels all your life contributes to the tightening or shortening of your Achilles tendon. The Achilles tendon connects your calf muscles to the back of your heel bone, allowing you to point your toes and move your foot for walking and running. Shrinkage of this tendon is common among women who regularly wear shoes with heels higher than two inches. As the foot is frequently in tiptoe position, the Achilles tendon shrinks, resulting in pain when going barefoot or wearing flats.

Heels also cause forefoot pain and lordosis, or the excessive inward curving of the lower back.

If you’ve been wearing heels for years, consider switching to a pair with low (one inch or less) and broad heels until you are comfortable enough to wear flats.

Know your arch

Do you have flat feet or do you have high-arched feet? Not sure? The Mayo Clinic gives this advice: “Dip your foot in water and step on a piece of cardboard. Examine your footprint. If you can see most of your footprint, you probably have low arches. If you see very little of your footprint, you likely have high arches.”

You need good arch support for comfort and balance. Those with high-arched feet, for example, would need to look for a pair that has good cushioning to compensate for the fact that your feet may not absorb shock from impact that well.

Consider the fit and width

Your feet can swell up to 15% in the course of a day, so it is advisable to go shoe shopping in the afternoon. Wear the socks you plan to wear with the shoe when shopping as well. When trying on a pair, make sure that there is at least a half-inch (1.3 centimetres) between your longest toe and the end of the shoe to make room for your foot to press forward as you walk.

Sometimes—especially if we’re buying online—we only focus on the length of the shoe and forget all about the width. Be sure the fit of the shoe is snug, not tight. If you’re a woman with wide feet, consider shopping in the men’s section. According to Elle Australia:

Of all the pieces to buy from the men’s section, footwear probably seems the least likely, right? But Vans, Doc Martens and a slew of other leather boots and sneakers are often listed in men’s sizing which can make finding a pair that fits confusing. Follow this simple rule: Your size in men’s is two sizes smaller than whatever size you are in women’s.

However, sizes vary between brands, so trust in your own comfort level. If possible, try walking on different surfaces: a pair that’s comfortable on carpet may cause you pain when walking on a hard surface.

Walking versus running shoes

Is there a difference? Yes. When we walk, we strike the ground heel first, but when we run, according to marathon coach Wendy Baumgardner, we “strike the ground first with different parts of [our] foot, depending on the individual. The foot strike [of runners] can be at the forward part of their heel, the midfoot, or the ball of the foot.” When we run, we also hit the ground harder: three times our body weight, compared to half that when walking.

We can use a running shoe for walking, but probably not the other way around. If you need shoes for walking, consider a lightweight shoe and extra shock absorption in the heel and under the ball of your foot. Running shoes require overall shock absorption. Most are also constructed in a way that they won’t twist easily to protect you from stress fractures and other injuries.

Choosing the right pair of hiking boots

Hiking is the new health trend du jour,” writes Madeleine Howell for The Telegraph, making hiking boots a must-have for 2019. Trail running shoes or hiking shoes can be used on a variety of terrains, but hiking boots provide additional ankle support and protection against rougher environments. Generally, a good pair of boots last a minimum of three years and even up to seven years.

In choosing the right pair of hiking boots, consider what you will be using it for. The activity will help you decide the cut and material to go for when shopping.

Leather hiking boots are waterproof, so this is perfect if walking through snow or hiking in a wet climate, while synthetic and fabric boots are breathable and perfect for dry trails and during the summer. Leather boots may also require breaking in for a short period in order to fit the shape of your feet, while synthetic and fabric boots may be used right out of the box.

Mid-cut boots provide extra support and protection against twisting your ankle, and helps you keep your balance especially if you’re carrying a heavy backpack. On the other hand, low-cut boots are lighter and may be better for shorter hikes.

Replace worn-out footwear

The Mayo Clinic recommends that you change your shoes when the outsole is worn and when you’ve reached 300 to 400 miles (483 km to 644 km) of running or walking as they may no longer be providing enough shock absorption—even though they still look good.

Why go hiking?

Hiking has been proven to have many health benefits. It is good for improving your cardiovascular fitness and is a good physical exercise to prevent age-related muscle loss. (You can read more about age-related muscle loss in our article here.) If the terrain is varied, as opposed to a completely flat trail, your heart and leg muscles will be forced to work a little harder and help your body develop strength and resistance, making future treks easier.

Hiking is also good for mental health as it provides relief from stress, especially if you live in the city and away from nature and green spaces. The American National Park Service refers to a study from Stanford University saying that spending time in nature “reduces stress, calms anxiety, and can lead to a lower risk of depression…and opens up your senses to your surroundings and improves your sensory perception.”

You can go hiking alone, but experts advice to go with a partner or even a group for both company and safety. Joining a hiking group will also give you a chance to make new friends and share an incredible experience with like-minded individuals who may enrich your journey with good conversation and a comforting presence.

When hiking, stay hydrated and don’t think twice about grabbing a hiking pole if you have difficulty maintaining your balance. Of course, before attempting any vigorous physical exercise, it is crucial that you talk to a healthcare professional and get their medical advice if this activity is the right one for you.

Keep our footwear advice in mind so you can focus on your surroundings and not on the pain in your feet!

Odyssey Traveller has several walking and hiking tours that you can join now. Just click through to see the various exciting destinations and itineraries.

Originally published on February 1, 2019.

Updated on November 20, 2019.