When it comes to easy-access workouts, walking and running definitely top the list. You’ll burn calories and improve your heart health — without the need for any fancy equipment, expensive gym memberships, or any sort of “30-day” plan. All you need is your own body and a pair of shoes.
But of course, there’s a catch. That pair of shoes is super important for making the most out of your walk, run or hike. Without a proper pair, you’ll risk injury, discomfort and pain; while the right ones can make you feel like you’re flying.
Unfortunately, it can be a Goldilocks-esque challenge to find just the right pair. Take it from Katie Dunlop, certified trainer and creator of Love Sweat Fitness, who has tried hundreds of different shoes. “Some are super cute, but don’t offer any real support to your poor feet, while others are completely functional, but not exactly stylish,” she said.
To help you narrow down your decision, we asked avid runners and fitness professionals to tell us the shoes they swear by. Read on for 13 top picks.
Best running shoes
Cameron Yuen, certified strength and conditioning specialist and senior physical therapist at Bespoke Treatments, picked this pair as his go-to running shoe. “When you run, you want to minimize the amount of time your foot spends on the ground — otherwise, the contact time slows you down and puts more stress on the soft tissues,” he explained. “Since the Pegasus is a bit more responsive, you can help propel yourself a bit quicker off the ground.”
Have a need for speed? “This shoe makes me feel faster than fast,” said Emily Abbate, a running coach and writer who has run the New York Marathon. “Super light at only 6 ounces, the 1400v6 has the responsiveness I crave when I’m trying to pick up the pace. Plus, a locked-in feel courtesy of a structured upper with support cage for a secure mid foot.”
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“I own about 80 pairs of sneakers, and choose this one almost every day for runs between three and 13 miles,” said Abbate. “At 7.1 ounces, it’s lightweight but still packs enough cushion — using Asics Flytefoam technology — for me to rack up the mileage without foot pain.” The women’s sneakers are no longer in stock, but the men’s shoes are still available.
“This sneaker is not only extremely comfortable and affordable, but they also look great,” said Wes Meserve, the Run Coordinator at Life Time Athletic Burlington. “I need a shoe that is neutral with cushion, a small drop, looks great, and is affordable. This shoe has all of that.” He also points to Saucony’s ISOFIT technology, which conforms to your feet for a sock-like feel.
Dunlop’s favorite sneaker is another Saucony style. With great ankle support and plenty of cushioning, this is a solid pair for long distance runs, she said, noting, “they feel like you’re running on a cloud, but they’re still very lightweight.” Plus, the ISOFIT and new FORMFIT technologies help the shoe adapt its shape based on your running style.”
This shoe has been around forever — and for good reason, according to Meserve. “The Ghost is great for new runners as well as long runs,” he said. In this latest edition, Brooks has extended the foam midsole, which heel-strikers love since the transition from heel to toe is quicker with solid protection. “Another great feature of this shoe is the traction — I have never slipped once in the rain or snow,” Meserve added.
Best walking shoes
“Nike Cortez have always been my favorite walking around shoe — it’s casual, but still stylish,” Meserve said. “They have been around forever, and I have been wearing them ever since I was about 15 years old.” They’re not only durable, affordable and last forever, but they come in many different color combos, like Black, Metallic Silver and White and Varsity Red and White, so you can choose whatever suits your style.
For a versatile shoe that looks good and feels good on your foot, check out AllBirds Wool Runners. But don’t let the name fool you. These kicks are best suited for walking — or really anything, from running errands to an outdoor date. “They’re made from merino sheep wool which makes them very comfortable — you don’t even need socks!” Meserve said. “Another great thing is that they do not get too hot in the summer or too cold in the winter, they are just right in all conditions.” These AllBirds sneaks are also available for women, including limited edition colors like Storm.
Best shoes for hiking and trail running
“Trail running requires shoes with more support, stability, traction and protection, as most injuries are the result of missing a step due to varied terrain,” Yuen said. These shoes provide all of the above, and are still relatively lightweight. It also has enough cushioning to transition to a longer hike or walk combined with trail running, he added.
As an avid runner living in Utah, I know firsthand that trail running — especially at altitude — isn’t easy. Luckily, these shoes make it feel way easier than it should. These are super lightweight and flexible kicks with a zero drop, designed to help improve natural running and walking form and toe splay. Note: If you’re new to zero-drop footwear, start by wearing these on shorter runs and hikes, then gradually build up to regular mileage.
“This is a great pair of hiking boots for everyday hikers since they are lightweight, waterproof and extremely breathable,” Meserve said. The toe protection in the front of the shoe helps keep your toes happy even on the longest hikes. “These boots also have a new internal support mechanism that provides great arch support, as well as excellent traction,” he added. The final selling point? With built-in odor control, they’re less likely to get smelly after a long hike.
Vasque has built upon their years of footwear experience to bring this boot to the next level in terms of comfort and performance. I hiked 20 miles over two days in these boots, and I didn’t need to break them in at all — they were insanely comfortable and supportive over the two-day trek. The boots’ Gore-Tex waterproof membrane guarantees protection against wet or muddy trails, while also letting your feet breathe.
Sure, Moab is a town in southern Utah. But according to Merrell, Moab also means “mother of all boots.” And this boot definitely lives up to its name. It provides an insole that’s contoured to your foot, as well as heel cushioning to absorb shock and provide stability. “This cushioning helps to limit the pressure and any pain after hiking in the heel area,” Meserve noted. “I am also a huge fan of the Vibram soles, which this boot has.”
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