Picking Your Footwear

April 18, 2010 by · 2 Comments
Filed under: Foot Care, Footwear 

Yesterday I watched hikers, backpackers, and walkers do their best to pick the right footwear out of dozens of possible choices. It was a madhouse.

I had done a foot care clinic at the Berkeley REI store. It was fun with 40 people attending. Rather than 1 hour, it lasted 1-½ hours. They had lots of questions. Good questions. They ranged from neuromas, taping, blisters, plantar fasciitis, toenails, minimalist footwear, barefoot running, and a few others. The guy in the front row ended up with all fingers on one hand tapes (to simulate toes), plus tape on the palm of his hand (to simulate taping he ball of the foot). Earlier I had talked to the footwear sales staff to give them tips on footwear and answer their questions.

So, as I said, it was a madhouse. The store was packed. REI put together a Foot Wear Festival with 12 footwear vendors on hand to promote their wares – and my free clinic.

Stacks of shoes

Stacks of shoes

Adults, teens and children were there to pick out shoes, boots and sandals. The crowd never stopped the whole day. REI staff worked like dogs, assisted by the vendor reps, to bring out stacks and stacks of footwear. I talked to a few folks who had been in my clinic as they tried to pick the best for their feet.

I had told them to buy footwear based on what they wanted to do, the weight of their packs, experience level, and any pre-existing foot conditions. I watched them look at the footwear from different angles, look inside, feel inside, try them on and walk around, stand on the artificial rocks to try different positions, and more. Many were doing a good job.

I had told them earlier that I believe there is more than one pair of shoes that is correct for their feet. Whether picking running shoes, boots, or sandals, there is more than one for you. Pick your footwear based on function and form, and above all, comfort. After walking around the store in them, then take them home and spend time wearing them for several hours. Make sure they feel right and don’t have any rough spots. Then when you are satisfied, wear them outside – and enjoy them.

Selecting the Right Footwear

August 7, 2008 by · 1 Comment
Filed under: Footcare, Footwear, Health, Sports, Travel 

When we wear footwear that is not meant for the activity we are doing, it can lead to our experiencing injury and poor performance. Let me give an example. You are a runner and decide to go backpacking. Off you go – in your running shoes. At the end of the day, you have turned an ankle several times, your gait is changed because the shoes do not give the necessary support – so your hip and back hurts, and you decide to shorten the four day trip and hike out the next morning.


Your problems are most likely related to the wrong shoes. Here are a few sport shoe shopping tips:

Walkers: Wear shoes specifically made for walking if you power walk. Power or fast walking creates a higher rate of foot/ankle mechanical action than running. Quality walking shoes have a lower heel thickness than running shoes, which aids the faster foot/ankle movement. Remember that a thick heel is not needed for walking due to less impact than running.

For cross training, wear cross training shoes that offer support for weight bearing exercises and activities such as weight lifting, lunges and squats. These shoes typically offer more lateral support (sideways) which gives weight bearing stability. Look for a cross training shoe that bends easily to prevent excessive foot pronation or supination. You want your heels on the ground rather than forcing your body weight on to the ball of our foot.

For running, select running shoes based on your weight, biomechanics, where you will run, and how much. Understanding arch and foot mechanics is always helpful. If you are unaware of your foot/ankle mechanics, ask a knowledgeable sport expert to help determine if your foot turns inward (pronate) or if your foot turns outward (supinate). Low arch runners tend to pronate while high arch runners tend to supinate. Knowing your foot mechanics will help identify a correct shoe match. Use knowledgeable running stores staff or a podiatrist to help determine if you need shoes made for motion control, cushioning, or a combination. If you have a history of unresolved foot or gait problems (lower leg, knee, back, etc.) you may benefit by being personally fitted for orthotics by a podiatrist or certified pedorthist.


Hiking and backpacking shoes and boots give the wearer much more foot and ankle support. These usually are offered in low, mid and high styles. Select one that matches well with the load you will carry and specifics of your feet. If you are prone to turned or sprained ankles, choose one that give added support.


Adventure racing is often done in lightweight hikers or trail running shoes. These athletes are often trained at a higher level of fitness because of their multi-sport involvement. For them, the fit of their footwear is of utmost importance. They want support, traction, protection, water draining capabilities, and lightweight shoes.


It is important to pick footwear based on what activity you will be going and then ensuring that the fit is perfect. I hope the tips above are helpful in understandings selecting footwear for your sport. Shoes are not created equal when it comes to athletic activities. Select your footwear based on function.

Nike’s Inexpensive Shoes

March 29, 2007 by · 5 Comments
Filed under: Footwear 

A few days ago I wrote about “Can Good Shoes also be Cheap Shoes?” This post will continue that theme – from a different vantage point.

     A month ago, an Associated Press story described the pairing up of discount shoe retailer Payless ShoeSource and Exeter Brands Group, a subsidiary of Nike. They are pairing up to produce and sell a “high performance $34.00 running sneaker.” The bottom line is that both companies want to take advantage of a highly lucrative market.

     Nike will produce the shoes under the label Tailwind Collection and Payless will serve as the Hpva1a_20070320_br1c2a_2 exclusive retailer. The Tailwind shoes will feature a honeycomb gel that compresses on impact. The Collection includes one running shoe, an athletic sandal, and slip-ons. The line is expected to be in all 4600 Payless stores by year-end. Click on the link above and then the "Tailwind" logo on the Payless Web site to see the new line.

     Several years ago, Nike formed Exeter to make inroads in the low-price athletic shoe market. Their Starter brand is sold in Walmarts and the SHAQ basketball shoe is sold to multiple mass retailers. 

     Clare Hamill, the president and CEO of Exeter, claims the honeycomb gel in the Tailwind shoes is about 20% more expensive than footwear without much technology. Cohen said, “This takes the low end to a new extreme…. and pushes the edge of technology.”

     So there you go. You can soon buy your running shoes and athletic footwear at Payless ShoeSource. No course, there will be no salesperson who knows anything about footwear and nothing about how to fit shoes, and are likely not athletes either.

     Note also that the Nike Air Tailwind will be disappearing from stores. How else can Nike and Payless promote the new Tailwind Collection when the name is so similar to an existing Nike shoe? Will people be confused?

     I will make a note to check out these shoes at my local Payless store. If your running is very casual and very low key, these shoes may be Ok for your feet. If you hate spending your next paycheck on shoes, they may also be a good choice. The Payless Web site shows the product line, and unless I missed something, the line is only for women. Oh yea, two of the shoes do not have laces – but Velcro. I thought Velcro was on shoes made for the much older generation! Cool.

     Be forewarned however, your feet can tell the difference between good fitting and good shoes, and poor fitting and cheap shoes.

Walking with Happy and Healthy Feet

January 20, 2007 by · 3 Comments
Filed under: Footcare, Footwear, Health, Sports, Travel 

Many people today want to get out and get exercise but are stymied. They have problems of some sort—usually medical issues. I have a special pace in my heart for them because they need help in order to succeed.
     Here is a recent question I received by email: "I need some serious advice! This seems like the place to ask for it. I have a problem with arthritis in both knees. It makes walking difficult and somewhat painful.  I also have flat feet. I have a weight problem on top of that. The weight is causing more pain and damage to my arthritic knees. The doctor recommends walking instead of jogging to lessen the impact and still get a workout. What shoe do you all recommend that I buy to use during walking and workouts?"

My response follows: I would second the suggestion to walk instead of jogging. Walking is a great exercise and beneficial for losing weight and staying healthy. You don’t say where you live, but I would find a local running store, or sporting goods store (which often have walking shoes) and get fitted for a quality pair of shoes. With flat feet and a weight problem, having a good fit and a good supportive and cushioned shoe, will help any times over. You won’t walk if your feet are uncomfortable. Rockport, New Balance, Free Spirit, are a few names in walking shoes. I would not buy shoes over the Internet because you need to be fitted. The sales person should watch you walk and help you make an educated selection.

In order to walk, run, workout, or do any form of exercise involving the feet, one should have shoes that fit well and are comfortable. Too many people quit walking or quit working out because of hurting feet. Take a little time and get fitted for quality shoes by at a reputable store by knowledgeable sales people. Here is a past post on Getting a Good Fit With Your Shoes.

Footwear – Do You Buy by Look or Feel?

December 9, 2006 by · 2 Comments
Filed under: Footcare, Footwear, Health, Sports, Travel 

In a surprising study by the American Podiatric Medical Association, 42 percent of women said they’d wear shoes that are uncomfortable in order to look more stylish. That’s scary.
     I hope that doesn’t carry over to women involved in sports. Footwear is too important to overall foot heath—and success in the sport to be left to the whim of style. Imagine the following scene. It happens more than we like to admit—but I’d bet money that athletic shoe sales people could tell stories.
     You are casually looking over the running shoes in your local shoe store. In walks a women who spends a few minutes looking over the shoes on the wall—and then asks to see several shoes. As she tries on the shoes, she seems more interested in the style and color of the shoes then their features. You overhear her saying she is a beginning runner who wants to run a few road races with her friends. In the end, she selects a pair because. “I like their color and how they’ll look with my running shorts.”
     Is this wrong? Generally, yes, it is wrong to buy shoes based on anything but fit and whether the shoe is a match for your sport. Whether walking or running, the sport requires very little – shoes and socks, and shorts and a top. Of these, the shoes are the most important choice. Do yourself a favor and keep your feet happy by buying shoes based on fit and function—not on color and style.

Buying by Brand or Fit

October 12, 2006 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Footcare, Footwear, Health, Sports, Travel 

If you are a serious walker or runner, you are probably buying new shoes every four to five months—depending on your miles. I’d bet you have your favorite shoes and when you need new shoes, Runningshoefit_150you tend to stay with that brand—even with the same shoe. The question is, “Is that wise?”
     Relying on a brand, on a particular shoe that has given you no problems, is a pretty good choice. If the shoes fit well and you are generally blister free, if they feel comfortable, and if they offer good support, stick with those shoes.
     If, however, you have been experiencing blisters, especially more than normal, and they don’t feel right in the toes, forefoot, arch or heels, you would be wise to look at another shoe.
     Generally, you are Ok trying another shoe from the same brand. But, if the shoe is not comfortable or doesn’t feel right, try another brand. Use one of the shoe buying guides from Runner’s World, Running Times, Trail Runner, Backpacker, Outside, Ultrarunning, etc. Read lots of reviews and then read a few more. Do Google searches.
Cons1_10_7     Then visit your local running, walking, or hiking store. Talk to the sales people. Avoid the chain stores in malls and the discount stores.
     Put on a few pairs and give them the walking or running test. Spend some time in them. When you buy a pair, wear the around the house for a while to be sure they are the right shoes for your feet. After all, you want your feet to be happy.

How I Buy Shoes

December 11, 2005 by · 2 Comments
Filed under: Footcare, Footwear, Sports 

When I shop for shoes I tend to pick companies I have had good experiences with, and know by reviews and research that they make quality shoes. I bought a pair of Saucony shoes many years ago and found even thought they fit well in the store, outside was a different story. Similarly, I once bought a pair of Asics and ended up giving them away because they hurt my feet. My first few pairs of running shoes were New Balance but I later switched to Nike because I like the Air concept for support and cushioning. I still use Nike but just bought a pair of Brooks Trance 5. I used to wear Montrail shoes for trails but last year the new pair I bought rubbed me wrong and so I switched to Inov-8 Flyroc.
     I read the reviews in the magazines, check reviews online, then go to the stores and put my hands all over the shoes. If I know someone wearing shoes different than mine, I’ll often ask them why they wear what they do.
     When I try on shoes, I first look for fit and comfort. The shoes must feel comfortable from the moment I put them on. I don’t feel running shoes need to be broken in. Today’s shoes should fit right from the start. I want wiggle room for my toes, a wide forefoot and a good grip on my heels. I want the shoe to lace properly without putting pressure on the top of my foot. I walk in them, and if possible, take them out for a short run.
     Then I look at the shoe itself. I want an outersole right for the running I will be doing. Putting my hand inside the shoe, I feel for seams or rough spots in the stitching. I pull out the insole and look at the inside of the shoe. I check the insole because many shoes companies cut corners on this important item. When I get home, I wear them around the house to make sure the fit is good.
     I’ll be honest too. I never buy from the bottom of a shoe company’s line. I buy top end shoes because, over the years, I have found they fit better and are the best shoes for the money. I want my feet to be happy.

Brand Loyalty in Footwear

December 7, 2005 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Footcare, Footwear, Health, Sports 

When athletes talk about footwear, you often hear, “Be loyal and don’t jump from brand to brand or style to style." So, how true is that statement? Let’s look at a few different perspectives on the subject.
     From the manufacturer’s perspective, it makes perfect sense. If buyers are loyal and stick to their shoes, life is perfect. They have an on-going audience who remains faithful and so their shoes will always sell.
     From the shoe store’s perspective, it makes life easier. They’ll keep buying the same shoes from the same manufacturers. Sure, they’ll take chances on new shoes, but if we remain loyal to the old shoes, they’ll have a harder time convincing athletes to buy them.
     So, that leaves our perspective. The customer. So why would athletes remain loyal? Let’s identify some reasons, keeping in mind that the inverse is true too—when one of the reasons fails, the athlete is often open to a change in shoes.

1.    The shoes work well for my sport
2.    The shoes fit
3.    They’ve never caused problems
4.    I hate taking a chance on a new shoe
5.    I like the style
6.    I like the color

     Certainly, shoe companies would like us to be loyal. One obvious problem is that companies often seem to disregard the people who buy and wear their shoes. They will often change or discontinue shoe styles with no warning and at the drop of a hat. If you’ve found shoes that work, every Spring and Fall is tense as you wait to see if your favorite shoes are still being made. I know athletes who buy several pair of shoes once they find a pair that works for their feet. They don’t want to take a chance on the shoe companies not honoring their loyalty. I don’t blame them.
     Next time, I’ll share how I buy shoes.

How Important is Your Footwear Choice?

November 27, 2005 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Footcare, Footwear, Health, Sports, Travel 

In today’s marketplace, we are in a shoe buyer’s heaven. Everywhere we turn, there’s a shoe store and in almost every magazine, there are ads galore for new shoes and boots. But are all things equal? Here is where I chime in with a big resounding, NO.
     First off, we are faced with the typical mall store, usually a chain shoe store that employs people without any degree of knowledge of how to fit shoes. Many times, they also sell shoes that one would never find elsewhere. For example, New Balance, a great shoe company, sells shoes to theses stores that are not found in running stores and running magazines. They are different, not as well made, yet are perfect for the typical mall shopper.
     Specialty outdoor stores such as running stores, backpacking and camping stores, carry shoes that are well made and well known. This is important since we can find reviews of these shoes online and in sport specific magazines. This allows us to shop with a high degree of knowledge that the shoes we buy are made for our sports and will perform well. These stores also have salespeople who can fit shoes and help you choose between several pair.
     There are running shoes (and this means road shoes and trail shoes), walking shoes cross trainers, and other sport specific shoes. I can walk in running shoes but would not run in walking shoes. I can run and walk in most cross trainers, but would be wise to not use walking and running shoes for a serious game of basketball or other court sport. I can run on trails in most road shoes, although I may sacrifice traction and support. While I can also run on roads in trails shoes, they are often clunky, heavier, and not as flexible.
     My preference is to use shoes for what they are intended for. I have road and trails shoes and I use them for their intended purpose. Your choice in footwear is important. When shopping for shoes, look for those made for your sport. When participating in sports, use shoes designed for that specific sport. Your feet will thank you.

Choosing the Right Footwear

August 29, 2005 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Footcare, Footwear, Sports 

If you are unsure of how to choose the right footwear for your activity, ask the salespeople at your outdoors store. One caveat though, I mean a “quality”outdoor store. Many people make the mistake of going to a discount store, a department store, or a chain store where, for the most part, the sales people have “zero” shoe-fitting experience.

     Fitting shoes means more than simply handing you a size nine shoe and pushing down on the toe and saying, “Yup, it has enough room.” Good sales people will measure your feet both sitting and standing, look at your old shoes (so yes, take your old shoes along), ask you what you will be using the shoes for, ask if you know your foot type, ask about any injury history, and maybe which shoes you have worn in the past.

     When they bring out the shoes, they will often point out the shoe’s features. They’ll have you try on the shoes, and yes, they will check for correct spacing in the toe box (both length and height). They will ask you to walk in the shoes and maybe even to go outside and run (if you are a runner) to get a feel for the shoes.

     Another reason to go to a quality store is the quality of the shoes. Many shoe companies sell seconds or styles/models that are of lesser quality than the shoes they are typically known for. This is rarely an issue with hiking boots; but it is a huge issue with the running and walking shoe companies. While not all companies do this, enough do for it to be a concern for the uneducated shoe buyer. These shoes end up at the stores mentioned above.

     What’s the big difference in the two types of sales people? Those from a quality shoe store really want the shoes to fit because they understand the importance of fit for athletic activity—even if it’s just walking. They want you to be happy with your footwear selection and they want your feet to be happy too.

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