Walking Shoes vs Running Shoes: What’s the Difference?

Cropped feet view of model wearing the Men's Carlo Sneaker in black.

At first glance, it’s easy to confuse running and walking shoes—compared to other types of sneakers, both are made with flexible material, feature flat soles, and can take you comfortably from point A to point B. 

However, because running shoes or training shoes are constructed with more cushioning and support, taking a jog in a walking shoe may lead to injury.

To that end, this guide will break down the ins and outs of walking shoes vs running shoes to help you find the right fit for you—whether you’re training for a marathon or taking a stroll around the block.

Cropped feet view of model wearing the Men's TRVL LITE Slip On in green.

How Do Running Shoes Work?

Picture yourself out for a run. What does your body do? Your legs swing back and forth; your heel or midfoot strikes the ground; and you roll forward and push off your forefoot with each step. Now, think about how many steps you take, even on short runs. That’s a lot of pounding on your feet—between two and three times your body’s weight worth of force per step!

Therefore, an athletic shoe is made for running and is constructed to mitigate some of this pounding. Some key components of a good running shoe include:

  • Cushioning – Running shoes typically bulk up the cushioning in the areas that hit the ground frequently—the heel and forefoot. This extra cushioning helps absorb some of the impact when your feet strike the ground, especially for a trail runner, where the natural landscape may be rougher and extra cushion is essential. If you are a trail runner, be sure to invest in a good pair of trail running shoes, as they offer the traction and support you’ll need for hiking those trails.
  • Support – Without getting too technical, there are several different types of running shoe arch support. The support you need varies based on how your foot hits the ground and rolls forward. Some running shoes can help your motion control if your feet roll too far inward or outward when you run.
  • Heel flare – Lastly, the best running shoes have a distinctive heel flare. If you hold a running tennis shoe and a walking tennis shoe side-by-side, you’ll notice that the backs of the walking shoes are almost at a 90-degree angle. The running pair will look more like a rocking chair with the heel flaring upward. This helps propel you forward and promotes rolling onto the forefoot when you push off.

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When Should You Choose Running Shoes?

You should always wear appropriate running shoes for running. However, there isn’t one pair or shoe style of running shoes that work for every runner. Certain running shoes work best for others, and not so much for your own needs. If you’re new to running, a running specialty store can perform a gait analysis to help ensure you’re wearing the right shoe for your foot type.

How Can You Tell if Shoes Are Good for Running?

Good running shoes can be a little pricey but they’re well worth the money when it comes to preventing pain and discomfort. To that end, look for shoes that:

  • Fit comfortably without being too tight around the toes or on top of your foot
  • Have cushioning in the heel and forefoot areas
  • Give you the needed amount of support
  • Flex as needed when you move your foot 

Additionally, you should always try on a new pair of running shoes before you buy them. Walk or jog around, see how they feel, and make sure they don’t rub or slide around on your feet.

How Are Walking Shoes Different?

Although they might look similar at first glance, walking shoes differ from running shoes in a few key ways, such as:

  • Less cushioning in the heel
  • Not as bulky
  • Lighter in weight
  • No heel flare

Walking shoes lack these components because they aren’t necessary for less intense movement. When you walk, you aren’t exerting as much pressure as you do when you run. Therefore, your shoes don’t need to be as shock-absorbing. Moreover, walking shoes are made to withstand many different types of conditions because they are so versatile. Our new Fenix men’s low top sneakers are a great choice if you want a shoe that’s both fashionable and appropriate for any occasion.

Additionally, walking shoes come in a variety of different styles, including:

Cropped feet view of models wearing TOMS shoes. Shoes for moving forward. Shop Men's Slip Ons.

When Should You Opt for Walking Shoes?

Walking shoes are good for more than just a long walk. You can wear walking shoes anywhere—on hikes, to the store, out with your friends, and more. Since these shoes are designed specifically for comfort, they’re a wise choice for any situation where keeping your feet happy is your goal.

How Can You Tell if Shoes Are Good for Walking?

Similar to choosing running shoes, you should always try on walking shoes before making a purchase. When you try them on, the best walking shoe should:

  • Provide stability
  • Give plenty of room to your toes and heels
  • Have adequate cushioning

Finally, if you have running shoes that you love, it’s okay to wear them for walking too. Cross training shoes are also a viable option. However, it’s not advisable to wear walking shoes for running.

Walk Comfortably with TOMS

Distinguishing between walking shoes vs tennis shoes vs running shoes can be difficult. However, choosing the right shoe for you and your lifestyle is a must. A walking shoe, like classic closed back flat shoes, will provide you with just enough support and resistance for afternoon strolls, while a running shoe can provide both cushioning and heel-flare while providing slip resistance for your longest of runs. If you’re wondering “what are slip resistant shoes?”, check out our blog on all you need to know about this shoe type. For something eco-friendly, check out our Earthwise™collection of sustainable shoes.

If you need a new pair of walking shoes, TOMS has you covered. 

Our extensive sneaker collection includes fashionable and comfortable shoes that you’ll feel good about wearing. Check out our selection of popular sneakers for men and women and find your new favorite pair today.

​​Reviewed By Andrew David Stewart

Andrew David Stewart is the Manager of Digital Marketing at TOMS and has been working in the digital marketing and social media world for 6 years. Andrew is a lover of nature and the outdoors, and is passionate about telling stories through digital media.

Sources: 

School Physics. The Forces On the Body During Walking and Running. https://www.schoolphysics.co.uk/age16-19/Medical%20physics/text/Walking_/index.html

Journal of Sports Science and Medicine. Systematic Review of the Role of Footwear Constructions in Running Biomechanics. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7039038/

American Academy of Podiatric Sports Medicine. Walking and Your Feet. http://www.aapsm.org/walking.html