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Trainers may work for long walks on pavement, but hiking boots and walking shoes are meant to keep your feet and ankles stable over varied terrain.
It’s fair to say that before March 2020 not many people would have described themselves as avid hikers. But since lockdown, a walk is no longer just a means to an end or something to get you from A to B. Instead, we’ve started a love affair with long strolls and hilly climbs.
Given that this new hobby sprung on people quite unexpectedly, few actually had the right kit for the job. The proof is in skyrocketing searches for shin splints and heel pain as we realise that walking without our feet properly laced up can lead to post-hike DOMS.
But what is the correct shoe to wear to avoid injury and maximise the health benefits of your walks? Will your much-loved spongy soled running trainer also support you on mountainous terrain, or do you need something wider and flatter?
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“When walking, your weight rolls from the heel, through the ball and continues to the toe, one foot after the other – with one foot always in contact with the ground. Walking shoes are designed with the specific strike pattern and body mechanics of this motion in mind,” explains product development manager at outdoor brand Berghaus, Glen Calloway.
While you might not think about wearing a proper walking shoe for a stroll around your local park, you should consider doing so if you’ll be out on your feet for most of the afternoon.
“A correct-fitting pair of walking shoes will be a benefit for all types of walking – from everyday walks around your local green space to longer walks over more challenging terrain, due to the additional comfort and support that they provide,” adds Glen.
What to look for in a walking shoe
As with everything, from running trainers to high heels, what works for your foot is unique. “Shoe selection will depend on foot width, arch height, and any predetermined foot conditions, such as bunions,” says Glen.
However, there are some general pointers when looking for a walking shoe. Firstly, make sure they “have enough room for you to wiggle your toes, as your feet will expand and swell during walking, and wearing shoes that are too small can lead to blisters and discomfort,” says Glen.
“Walking shoes should also offer a good level of arch support, with comfortable uppers and a flexible sole with a good level of cushioning and support.”
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The best hiking shoes to buy now
Berghaus Expeditor Trek 2.0 Boots
Sturdy, light and breathable: the three most sought-after adjectives when it comes to walking. These Berghaus shoes deliver them all, with shock absorbing soles and mesh vents.
Adidas Terrex Free Hiker Shoes
Featuring Adidas’s famous ‘Boost’ technology, these shoes have extra energy return to give you an added push in each step. The high, sock-like shape provides support to your upper foot and ankle, while the knit fabric is breathable yet structured for lightweight protection.
Brooks Addiction Walker 2 Shoes
Brooks shoes are specially designed to help you avoid injury with arch support that keeps your foot well aligned. Unique cushioning adapts to your stride, weight and speed to reduce impact on your joints. A great choice for an afternoon walk that ends up lasting until evening.
North Face Vectiv Futurelight Escape Shoes
If you’re looking for outdoor kit, North Face is probably the first place you head to. Combining the cushion of a trainer with the durability and grip of a walking shoe makes these a bestseller.
Timberland Garrison Trail Hiker
These boots are every inch as sturdy as they look. With a fabric lining and waterproof cover, they’re as practical as they are comfy. Plus, they’re made from sustainable leather and 50% recycled plastic.
Columbia FACET 15 OutDry
This running-influenced hiking trainer combines the bumpy grippy outsole and tough upper typically seen in hiking shoes with the style and bounce of a trainer. Perfect for gentle trails, shorter hikes or everyday use around the park.
Merrell Moab Speed Gore-Tex shoe
Designed for fast, light adventures over rough ground, this environmentally friendly shoe (constructed partly from recycled materials), is well-suited for year-round use due to its waterproof and breathable category-leading Gore-Tex membrane. So whether it rains or shines you’ll be protected from the elements.
Craghoppers Salado Boot
Supportive midsoles, extra grip and a padded tongue make this the technical hiking boot for day-long comfort. Whether you’re walking through fields, rocky hills or beachside terrain, the shoes are designed to keep you safe and dry.
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Chloe Gray is the senior writer for stylist.co.uk's fitness brand Strong Women. When she's not writing or lifting weights, she's most likely found practicing handstands, sipping a gin and tonic or eating peanut butter straight out of the jar (not all at the same time).