Walking Shoes Vs Running Shoes: The 5 Major Differences Explained

One of the primary benefits of both walking and running for exercise is that neither requires much in the way of specialized equipment. With just a good pair of sneakers, you can walk or run safely for 300-500 miles before needing to invest money again into a new pair.

While most people typically know that it’s important to wear running shoes for running, the lines are blurrier for walking shoes.

Can you wear running shoes for walking? Moreover, what exactly are walking shoes? What are the differences between running shoes and walking shoes?

If you enjoy both running and walking for exercise, it’s quite helpful to understand the differences between walking shoes vs running shoes, as this information can help you choose the best footwear for each activity.

In this article, we will discuss walking shoes vs running shoes, covering the similarities and the differences between running and walking shoes and when you should choose one over the other.

We will cover: 

  • Walking Shoes Vs Running Shoes
  • When to Wear Running Vs Walking Shoes
  • When to Wear Walking Vs Running Shoes

Let’s jump in!

A person bending down.

Walking Shoes Vs running Shoes

Although they appear somewhat similar if you just take a quick glance, there are several notable differences between running and walking shoes.

The different characteristics of walking shoes and running shoes are what tend to make each one particularly suitable for the intended activity.

Let’s examine the main differences between walking shoes and running shoes:

Walking Shoes vs Running Shoes: Cushioning

Both walking shoes and running shoes provide some amount of cushioning to help attenuate the impact shock when your foot first strikes the ground during the gait cycle.

Running shoes are typically more cushioned than walking shoes, and the zones of cushioning are somewhat different.

Because you strike the ground with much less force when you walk compared to when you run (about 1-1.5 times your body weight during walking and 2-3 times your body weight while running), walking shoes can be much less cushioned than running shoes.

Excessive cushioning just adds to the weight and cost of the shoe without really serving a purpose.

The cushioning in walking shoes is also concentrated primarily in the heel region because the foot strike pattern while walking is much more uniform than it is while running. 

In other words, almost all walkers are heel strikers, meaning that the heel is the first region of the foot that makes ground contact when you take each step as you walk.

In contrast to the uniformity of the walking gait, there are three different foot strike patterns that runners may display: heel striking, midfoot striking, or forefoot striking.

Because most runners want to have good cushioning under the area of the foot upon which they land, cushioned running shoes have cushioning in all of these regions of the sole rather than just the heel.

A person running trail.

Walking Shoes vs Running Shoes: Flexibility

One of the biggest differences between walking shoes and running shoes that you can really only notice by wearing the shoe or manipulating it in your hands is the flexibility of the shoe itself.

Running shoes feature a flexible, bendable sole that supports a smooth heel-to-toe transition from ground contact to push-off.

In contrast, walking shoes are much stiffer than running shoes. Even when you try to flex the sole of a walking shoe with your hands, you will be met with a lot of resistance.

Although a stiff sole on a walking shoe can provide stability and is acceptable for low-intensity walking, it is really not ideal for fitness walking.

You want the running shoe or walking shoe to be flexible to enable a smooth and unencumbered push-off.

Whether you are walking in running shoes or walking shoes, the shoe should bend at the forefoot when you put pressure on the toe region, even when you just press with your hands to test it out.

If the sole does not readily bend, or if it bends at the arch rather than closer to the toes, the shoe may be restrictive and will not be good for fitness walking. 

Walking shoes.

Walking Shoes vs Running Shoes: Heel Height and Flare

Another notable difference between walking shoes and running shoes is seen in the heel of the shoe.

Running shoes tend to have a greater heel stack height, or a more built-up heel than walking shoes, in order to provide the added stability and cushioning needed for runners who heel strike.

Because walkers strike with the heel and then roll forward towards the toes to push off, the impact forces are far less than they are while running; there is no need for a built-up heel on walking shoes.

It is actually ideal to walk in shoes with zero heel drop, which means that the difference in height between the heel and toe of the shoe is 0 mm.

Running shoes also have something known as a heel flare, which is an extension of the outsole material along the back and sides of the heel region of the shoe.

The heel flare provides extra stability and pronation control at ground contact while you run. 

Walking shoes do not need a heel flare, and in fact, an undercut heel or some removal of the material around the heel can actually be ideal for fast fitness walking because it prevents catching and dragging the heel on the ground.

Running shoes.

Walking Shoes vs Running Shoes: Quality of Construction 

Although not an absolute rule, one of the differences between running shoes and walking shoes is the quality of construction and materials used in the shoe.

Running shoes often feature the latest technology in footwear and materials and are made to be durable for heavy use. 

They are often super lightweight and breathable and contain foams and gels that rebound quickly and are built to last for 300-500 miles (500-800 km) of running.

Walking shoes are often made with decent materials but may lack the latest advancements in shoe technology and the premium materials that confer the most desirable characteristics of high-end running shoes, such as shock absorption and breathability.

Additionally, walking shoes usually lack the specificity in design that can be seen with running shoes. 

For example, there are stability and motion control running shoes that afford runners extra pronation control based on the materials and design of the running shoe.

Walking shoes are quite generic and basic and are really just designed to be “comfort shoes.“

A person running down the road.

Walking Shoes vs Running Shoes: Weight and Comfort

Although footwear preferences are individual, most people find running shoes to be more comfortable than walking shoes. 

A prominent difference between running shoes and walking shoes is the weight of the shoe.

Despite having less cushioning, walking shoes tend to be heavier and bulkier than running shoes because of the technology and materials used.

Wearing a heavy walking shoe for fast fitness walking can be tiring.

Walking shoes also tend to breathe poorly because they aren’t designed to promote as much airflow to wick moisture and sweat as effectively as running shoes, so your feet can overheat and get sweaty.

As mentioned, walking shoes are also stiffer, so they are less compliant and more restrictive to your natural walking stride.

Walking in running shoes can feel more like “barefoot walking” because the shoe is more responsive, flexible, lightweight, and breathable.

A person tying their shoe.

When to Wear Running Shoes Vs Walking Shoes

So, the obvious answer to when you should wear running shoes vs walking shoes is any time you are running.

Running shoes should pretty much always be worn running because it’s imperative that your foot has the proper support and that the shoe provides the flexibility you need to allow your foot to move seamlessly through the gait cycle as you run.

Running shoes are designed for the high-impact forces of running in a way that walking shoes simply are not.

However, aside from any time you run, running vs walking shoes are often ideal for fitness walks.

According to the American Academy of Podiatric Medicine, you can wear walking shoes or running shoes for walking as long as the shoe is comfortable and provides the stability you need.

With that said, if you’re going to be walking briskly, running shoes can provide better cushioning, flexibility, and breathability.

Many fitness walkers find that walking shoes can be overly heavy and clunky, not breathable, and quite restrictive in terms of the heel-to-toe transition and push-off.

Just make sure that if you’re going to be walking in running shoes, you choose running shoes that have a low heel-to-toe drop and no heel flare.

Someone standing on the road.

When to Wear Walking Vs Running Shoes

On the other end of the spectrum, there are times when wearing walking shoes is better than running shoes.

Walking shoes tend to be cheaper than running shoes, so if cost is a factor and you are only going to be walking slowly, and for short distances, such as around town or while you shop at the grocery store, a walking shoe can work well.

More importantly, if a walking shoe feels more stable and comfortable for your walking in terms of the fit and feel of the shoe, by all means, wear the walking shoes.

Even though the differences between running and walking shoes are apparent, they aren’t so pronounced that you absolutely cannot wear one for the opposite activity.

Your comfort is most important. Your body should feel good in your footwear choice. 

If you would like some help choosing your shoes, check out our guide on how to choose your perfect pair.

A person taking a step.
Photo of author
Amber Sayer is a Fitness, Nutrition, and Wellness Writer and Editor, and contributes to several fitness, health, and running websites and publications. She holds two Masters Degrees—one in Exercise Science and one in Prosthetics and Orthotics. As a Certified Personal Trainer and running coach for 12 years, Amber enjoys staying active and helping others do so as well. In her free time, she likes running, cycling, cooking, and tackling any type of puzzle.

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