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The 3 Most Important Features You Should Look For In A Shoe

Updated: May 6

The 3 things that should be checked in all shoes before you even try them on.

You see an attractive shoe on display. The style and color are perfect and the price will not break your budget but there is more to a good shoe than outward appearances. Individual needs can vary and trained retail professionals can guide you to the best fit. Physicians specializing in the medical, surgical and orthopedic treatment of the foot and ankle generally recommend that before you even try on a shoe for size and fit there are 3 important features to consider. If you’re dealing with symptoms of lower extremity foot and ankle pain your shoe choices can either make matters worse or they can help control, mitigate and in some cases help rehabilitate the condition.

3 Important Features You Should Look For In A Shoe

  • the heel counter

  • torsional stability

  • "shoe break"

The heel counter is the portion of the shoe surrounding the heel and should be firm and reinforced for extra stability. Squeeze the heel of the shoe to see how firm it is. You want a fair amount of rigidity so that it supports the heel with a bit of padding known as the ankle collar which is intended to protect and cushion the ankle and the achilles tendon.

Torsional stability (the amount of twist in a shoe) is determined by grabbing the back and front of the shoe and attempting to twist as if you were wringing out a towel. Very little twisting motion should occur.

The final feature to establish is where does the shoe "break" or fold sometimes referred to as the "flex point". In order to tell if the shoe is rigid enough, you want to take the shoe and bend it in half. You shouldn't be able to, because the shank is the actual structure of the shoe and should be rigid to hold up and support the arch. Attempts to fold the shoe in half should allow folding out near the toes at the most distant quarter of the shoe. Shoes that fold in the middle or near the heel may cause discomfort or even an injury.

Other Considerations

The ideal athletic/walking shoe should be stable from side to side, well-cushioned and should enable you to walk smoothly. Many running shoes fit all of these criteria and for most people are acceptable for a walking program. However there are shoes specially designed for walking and for running. If you are a serious walker or runner, professional athlete or involved in competitive sports then look to specific footgear designed for such activities. 

Most important, whether you are wearing a walking or running shoe, is that it must feel stable to you. Either type of shoe is acceptable if it works well with your foot mechanics, providing cushioning and stability. Shoes should always feel comfortable and fit well in the store.  Visit the shoe store late in the afternoon to allow for swelling. Wear the same socks to the store that you will wear while engaging in the activity. 

When the shoes are on your feet, the heel should be snug. If it slides in the store, it will slide while you are walking. Make sure the forefront of the shoe (toe box) is wide enough. You should be able to wiggle your toes in the shoe, and there should be one half to a full thumbs width between the end of the longest toe on your longer foot and the end of the shoe's toe box. Make sure your ankles don't roll in the shoes. The shoes you try on should feel good immediately; you should never have to 'break in' a pair of shoes. If you have foot problems, prescription orthotics or other special considerations, consult your podiatric physician.

What Features to Look For in a Hiking Shoe?

The above features apply to selecting a hiking shoe as well however there are a few other features to consider. Appropriate footwear for day hiking can be lightweight, cut low or above the ankle, with relatively flexible soles and without need for a an aggressive thick outer sole with deep treads. If you are hiking on terrain that changes in type and/or elevation, rocky or wet you need to wear more supportive footwear, such as types that are appropriate for longer hikes.

If you are backpacking overnight or on longer trips ( trekking) your footwear should be more supportive in both the foot and ankle areas and have a stiffer shank (the part of the sole under the mid-foot area that connects the heel and the forefoot) so that flex is more limited and the feet are more protected from uneven trails and the increased pressure from the weight of a heavier pack. Sandals and minimalist footwear are now becoming popular for hiking. If chosen, they should be designed to protect your toes and the soles of your feet and provide adequate ankle support. Never hike in flip flops or open-heel footwear which can lead to overexposure of the foot to outdoor hazards and is especially dangerous in mountainous terrain where tripping and falling can be a potentially life-threatening. 

All shoes should be chosen to provide comfort, support, stability and protection and most importantly fit you foot.


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