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If you’ve been struggling to find the best pair of trainers for long-distance walking, then you’ve come to the right place.
Pop “trainers” into your search engine of choice and you’ll get 3/4ers of a billion results showing up. That’s a lot to wade through and, to be frank, most of them will be about running shoes rather than trainers for walking in. Don’t get me wrong, running shoes have plenty of features that make them great for walking, it’s just that focusing purely on those means we miss out on a whole warehouse full of trainers that might be even more suited to your long-distance walking.
So, today I’m going to take you through the main factors to consider when you’re choosing a pair of trainers for walking, we’ll also look at how a walking trainer is put together (and how this differs from other types of shoe for walking e.g. hiking boots) and, along the way, I’ll also give you some recommendations for a few of my favourite walking trainers.
Let’s take a look.
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How to choose a great pair of walking trainers
When you’re researching walking trainers, there’s no getting away from the fact that you need to learn a little shoe jargon. You’ve probably got better things to do with your time than research this so I’ve got a quick guide for you in a moment of the main parts of a trainer’s anatomy (the ones that are relevant to our search for walking trainers) and we’ll then look at what you need to consider and what questions you need to ask yourself when you’re picking a great pair.
The anatomy of a walking trainer
When you get up close and personal with a modern trainer, you’ll probably find that there are hundreds of individual components with weird and wonderful names and functions. Luckily, from our perspective, there are only five that we need to know about. These are Upper, Insole, Midsole, Outsole, and Toe Bumper. Let’s take a look at these now.
Upper – the Upper is the, usually, fabric part of the trainer that covers the top of the foot and toes. On trainers this is normally a fabric-type material, with more or less ventilation, depending on the shoe type and purpose. By comparison, hiking boots, being more rugged tend to be made from either leather or a tougher, thicker fabric. On more expensive walking trainers, this upper will often be waterproof and possibly with a Goretex lining
Insole – the Insole is the part that your foot sits on inside the shoe. It is often cushioned and can generally be removed. This is useful if you need to air your trainers! It can also be handy if you require special insoles, for example to give additional support to the foot arch
Midsole – the sole of the trainer will normally be made of two layers – the midsole and the outsole. The midsole is a dense rubbery material that gives cushioning and shock absorption for the foot. You’ll often see that this is thicker at the heel as this is where the foot ‘lands’ during walking and running and so can provide most impact protection
Outsole – the Outsole does two jobs. Firstly it protects the midsole from wear and tear (often the midsole is made from a less hardy material and could therefore wear out faster if it wasn’t protected by the outsole). Secondly, it will have grips to allow you to get traction on the uphills and downhills, and avoid slipping on mud, ice and other loose surfaces
Toe Bumper – The toe bumper is a hard rubber layer that comes up from the outsole, over the front of the toes, and finishes (generally) on top of the toes. The purpose of the toe bumper is to provide protection for your toes, walking socks, and the shoe, when you’re moving across rocky ground. The toe bumper is more pronounced on more rugged walking trainers and hiking boots. It does, however, add weight to the shoe. So, if you’re not intending on using your trainers on rocky paths, then you can choose trainers with minimal toe protection in order to reduce shoe weight
Choosing walking trainers – the simple guide
So, how do we go about picking the right trainers for our long-distance walking? There are a few different things to think about, so let’s take a look.
Terrain – for hill climbing and other very rugged walking, I’d generally recommend a good quality pair of hiking boots as these offer a higher level of ankle protection. If your walking is going to be more horizontal, but rocky or with paths covered in tree roots, then you should get a trainer with a good toe bumper and excellent grips on the outsole. This also applies if you’re going to be going through mud, scree, or snow and ice. If, however, your walking is going to be on pavements or roads, then your best bet is to go for a trainer that is close to a running trainer as this will give the highest level of comfort across the foot, with more ventilation on the upper, and without the excess weight that you’d get on a hiking boot
Season – summertime walking, even in Britain, is often warm and can be muggy and humid. A lighter weight trainer will give most breathability and ventilation for these conditions. In winter, go for a trainer that is more durable with thicker fabric for thermal protection and good grips for ice and snow
Foot characteristics – being blessed with gnarly toes, flat arches and wide feet, I need to look out for trainers and shoes that can meet my very specific set of foot issues. Hopefully, you are less well-endowed than me in the foot problem department but we each have our own unique pair of feet and many of us will have particular foot issues to contend with. Trainers for walking can assist with this as they’ll tend to be less rigid than hiking boots. There are also plenty of options for adjusting trainers, including replacing the insole with an orthopaedic sort. Check with your podiatrist and see what they suggest
Weight – if you can imagine a sliding scale of walking footwear from “poolside flip flops” through to “rugged mountaineering boots”, you can probably also imagine that the flip flops are going to be much lighter than the boots. If you’re planning long miles in a pair of trainers then it’s important to consider the weight of the shoes and the terrain and conditions you’ll be walking in. If all your walking is going to be on smooth pavement, then going for a less rugged but lighter trainer would be ideal. Throw in rougher or wintrier conditions though and you’ll need to sacrifice a little weight for the better foot protection given by a more robust pair of walking trainers.
Styling – this is less a question of “Do I have the latest on-trend brand name on my feet?” and more about whether the styling features of a pair of trainers make them suited to the walking you’ll be doing. By this, I’m primarily thinking about bright colours and reflective elements being useful for walking in poor light conditions, including at night. On the flipside, if you’re planning on doing lots of walking in muddier conditions, then a pair of brightly hued or (heaven forbid) white trainers…would sadly not stay that colour for long.
Trainers can be a very practical option for long-distance walking as they’re lighter than a pair of hiking boots and will often be comfier to wear over prolonged periods. It’s important to get the right pair for you and your tootsies though – get an inadequate pair and you’re feet won’t have the protection they need from the paths and trails.
Once you know the key parts of a walking trainer and the questions you need to think about in terms of your feet and your planned walking, then it becomes much easier to pick the perfect pair.
Choose wisely and enjoy your walking!