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I recently walked for over 4 hours in a not-so-great pair of shoes, which is a lot more than I usually walk, and of course my feet were sore afterward.

A few days later I saw a letter-carrier and, since he walks more than that every day, I asked him what he wore. The response of "waterproof Merrell" seemed good at the time, but it turns out there are several varieties that fit that description, and their write-ups use a lot of market-speak making each one sound better than all the others.

For those that have experience in these matters, what would be the best shoe to buy for my requirements:

  • I'll be walking mostly on pavement or packed gravel, so don't need special tread or anything related to rock climbing.
  • I don't need protection from sharp stones, snakes, etc.
  • I don't need ankle support.
  • I won't be out in severe weather or wilderness.
  • My personal style is to walk more on my toes than heels (I tend to walk quickly).
  • The part that mostly got sore was the ball of the foot all the way across from the big to little toe.
  • Sticking with Merrell will reduce the choices.
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    Reading your list my reaction is 'good sandals', would you consider those?
    – Willeke
    Aug 26 at 18:29
  • @Willeke, perhaps. Years ago I used to walk barefoot a lot, but got out of the habit. Aug 26 at 19:55
  • I've had good experiences with Merrell myself, but that was years ago. "Approach shoes" covers a good deal of what I am looking for, but that is perhaps more outdoorsy than what you need. "waterproof" is always a tricky concept wrt sneakers: though I usually avoid brand names just for the sake of it, I've learned that "GoreTex" has a certain meaning when it comes to "waterproof". "Super-duper-waterproofium-XYZ", i.e. the sneaker manufacturer's GoreTex, typically costs almost as much and often doesn't keep out water in the least. Even with good shoe brands. Aug 27 at 0:44
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    Also, it would help if you told us the type of your "not so great pair of shoes". I agree with ab2's answer, good quality basic sneakers are often good enough. But if you were using those already then the recommendation won't help as much. On the other hand, if you were wearing casual leather shoes then, yes, long walks may not be their strong suit. Aug 27 at 0:49
  • @ItalianPhilosophers4Monica, they were a very worn out pair of cheap Walmart sneakers. ¶ I had been visiting somewhere, decided to walk back rather than waiting for a ride, and since it was a nice day I took the long way home. So the 4+ hour walk wasn't planned. I enjoyed it, but realized that I'll need much better footwear next time. I don't mind paying the money, but I don't want to pay for something that's great for rock climbing but only adequate for long walks. Store clerks aren't helpful in saying exactly how the different models differ: this is high comfort, this is great support, etc. Aug 27 at 2:06

7 Answers 7

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You say you don't need ankle support, and you won't be walking on sharp stones or near snakes, and that you walk more on your toes than your heels. If you don't need arch support either, then all you really need are thick calluses. However, thick calluses take a lot of time to form, and bare feet are unsightly, socially unacceptable in most places, and get dirty quickly.

My feet fit your profile, although I also hike on rough trails. I do fine most of the time with a medium quality sneaker (a sneaker may have a fancier name now), that is quite flat. "Zero Drop" is the term, I believe for a very flat shoe. For rough trails, I use a light running shoe from The North Face, for grippiness, which you don't need.

I recommend Keds. Inexpensive, flat, come in lots of colors, and could be all you need. The mailman is carrying a heavy bag, and needs more protection from jarring on the pavement than you do.

Also, look at a copy of Born to Run After I read it, I converted to flat shoes and have been happy.

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    Where do you live, that you deem bare feet socially unacceptable for hiking?
    – plocks
    Aug 29 at 19:07
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    @plocks Bare feet are socially unacceptable in many places -- restaurants, stores, malls, most people's houses -- and if you want to develop thick calluses, you need to go barefoot in such places before graduating to rocky trails. Although I suppose you could practice on a gravel driveway.
    – ab2
    Sep 1 at 16:04
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    Ok, now I see that you meant socially unacceptable when not hiking.
    – plocks
    Sep 1 at 20:22
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Forget going for one brand, try different brands to get you the best fit.

A friend who is a posty as well as myself use sandals whenever the weather is good enough. And that is not only dry and sunny, I hardly change out of sandals through summer.

Where I am pretty using one brand for my boots, in sandals I go for whatever brand fits me best in the shop. You need good soles, with a bit of spring in them. The uppers need to fit, as with all shoes, but most sandals have wide adjustment options.

Waterproof is good for shoes/boots if you need to pass through water, but in most city circumstances and quite a bit of out of doors walking it is not needed.

Many people will wear socks in sandals, I hardly ever do. Several of my good walking sandals have a strap between the toes, like flipflops. Designed for bare feet.

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    An addendum to this - if the shoe store doesn't let you walk around the store for at least a few minutes wearing both (that's important) of a pair of shoes, go to another store. Where I live most outdoor stores let you take boots or shoes home and wear them around the house that evening. As long as you don't get them dirty. Sep 7 at 3:39
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    Also, don't listen to other people. :-) If you are comfortable and your feet are healthy in sandals, don't let the boot-wearing people tell you "you can't do outdoor stuff in sandals" If you like a high boot, gnore the people who say "you only need trainers for the trail" Full leather is OK, cordura is OK. whatever keeps your feet comfortable, healthy and safe. Though, if you are wearing sandals, I strongly suggest still wearing good socks. Sep 7 at 3:42
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Before looking for the shoes you should check how you walk. Do you have some worn out shoes? If you do have a look at how the sole is consumed. If you see some parts flatted out and other not then probably you should try and adjust the movements. If you already threw away the older shoes try with a temporary pair. Find some cheap running shoes with a decent plantar support. Given your walking style they won't last long because the cushioning layer does not last long, but also the soles will quickly get the marks or your walking style, they can tell you a lot.

BTW Waterproof are good in places where the weather is not too warm. If you walk so long, many days in a row with no chance to wash them they'll stink.

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First of all, it is much more important that you start slowly, than what you wear. Your body needs to adapt to the new volume of walking. Runners have a rule of thumb of not increasing the volume by more than 10% per week. I guess you can do a bit more if only walking, but still, if you are at all able to influence this, then do so.

I personally have walked (and ran, and alpine hiked, alpine trail-ran etc.) in shoes with these properties for decades; everyday including in the office:

  • Very light.
  • Very breathable - air and water pass through freely.
  • No ankle support.
  • Minimal heel elevation (4-8mm or so).
  • Rugged sole with non-slip rubber and a noticeable tread. They do not slip even on wet stone (though they cannot do anything against wet leaves). Very useful when having to move quickly when catching a train, not just outdoors.
  • Not stiff; they flex freely.
  • Large toebox, I can do full range-of-motion with my toes.

This is really my ideal shoe for any distance or any usage scenario bar glaciers (no way to attach crampons) and snow that's deeper than the ankles. Grat in hot weather (have used them in up to 40+°C on vacation in Egypt). For technical terrain (which you are not asking about) it takes some getting used to - your ankles are in danger if you have only ever used the classical heavy hiking boots. But that's a good thing - after some time, your muscles pick up the load; and your feet return to be very "auto-correcting" if you step where you shouldn't.

I have been using a specific model from a specific vendor all those years, but I don't know whether concrete product mentioning is allowed here so I won't do it. Most running or outdoor shoe manufacturers have shoes like this; search terms are "minimalist breathable trail running shoe" or something like that. For your use case, the only thing that matters would be if you like their design/color (i.e. if you have limits of how garish-looking they can be) and of course form&fit. Should be super duper comfortable.

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Merrells are pretty good -- I hiked probably about 500 miles of the AT in a pair of those. These days I wear Altras because they fit all the requirements I'll list below. You should go to a good shoe store and try on several brands and talk to the people there. That being said, and with the understanding that each person is different, here's my main considerations around shoes:

Zero-drop. As mentioned in another answer, this just means that the front and back are the same height. Many people believe it's more natural -- in your case it might be worthwhile to try them out because of the way you describe walking on your toes. It could help, or it could make it worse.

Wide toe box. If you do a lot of walking the toes will naturally spread out, unless they're trapped in too-tight shoes. I find many shoes to be too narrow -- the Merrells I used on the trail were wide versions. I think Salomons are known for having wide toe boxes. The important thing is that the shoes fit well around the top and mid parts of the foot, having room in the front can spread out the pressure and eliminate some discomfort.

Weight. The saying is that each pound on your feet is worth 5 on your back. For that reason I've always preferred light weight trail runners over big hiking boots. Of course I also have pretty strong ankles, so I don't blame people who want more ankle support. In your case you don't need any of the extra protection, so you could go really light weight.

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Before getting shoes, buy running or trekking socks. The latter are incredibly pricey but worth it. I walked the infamous 3-day Perpignan - Castelnaudary in proper trekking socks and was ok afterwards.

As for the shoes, either running shoes (Saucony worked for me) or military/outdoors boots (Tatra is generally worth it - again, pricey, but lasts very long). It's not easy to tell which is better: running shoes wear off quicker and has less support, but it's much easier to walk in (your legs feel free) and easier to remove, plus less blisters. Military/outdoors boots provide the support needed for all terrain, esp. Tatra is very good in this sense. A note on ankle support: you don't need it because of stones only. When you're at 40-50km into the walk, it's easy to miss a step. In running shoes, that might be a damage (causing a quick end of the walk, even evac if bad); in Tatra that's like, ok, I broke something on the ground but it's not my leg.

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My main advice on this is to try to understand what characteristic of the shoes you used made them uncomfortable (too tight, too loose here or there, too rigid, too soft, a particular rubbing spot, ...)

And then go try different shoes and see if you find something that feels better, paying attention to those particular details.

Don't stick to one brand, or even one style. Merrell does hiking shoes, but if your walking on mostly packed, even surfaces, you don't need most of the features they include in their shoes.

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