Guide to Fitness Shoes for Baby Boomers

by Fit After Fifty
Close-up of a woman's legs as she runs

Your feet often bear the brunt of your workout, so treat them well with appropriate fitness shoes.

Essential Fitness Shoe Features

Comfort is king when it comes to shoes. If your athletic shoes make your feet hurt, they probably don’t fit your feet correctly, and they could be doing more harm than good. To put you on the right track, we’ve compiled a few of the most important features that you should consider when buying fitness shoes.

Heel Support

The heel of the shoe should hug your heel, keeping it snug, but not tight. When the heel slides around in a shoe, the friction can cause blisters. The Achilles tendon can also become painfully inflamed if the stride is excessively pronated or supinated, and a well-fitting heel cup can help to reduce the misalignment, avoiding tendonitis.

Arch Support

The arch of most people falls into one of three categories: neutral arch, low arch, or high arch. The best type of arch support in a fitness shoe depends on the type of foot that’s in it.

For neutral-arched feet, shoes that have firm midsoles and a straight to slightly curved sole are good. Low-arched or flat-arched feet benefit from a straight sole and a snug heel cup to restrict motion. High-arched feet need cushioned arch support to improve shock absorption, and a curved sole can help with the strain on joints.

Adequate Toe Box

If a shoe doesn’t have enough room for toes to move around, blisters can develop, and any existing foot issues such as Morton’s neuroma or bunions can be aggravated.

When trying on shoes, make sure that the shoe is wide enough to allow the toes to wiggle some. Also make sure that the clearance between the longest toe and the shoe is at least one-half inch — about the width of a finger.

Weather Considerations

Although a ventilated shoe might be nice in the summer when it’s hot and feet tend to sweat, less airflow is better for colder months. When working out in wet and cold conditions, consider an athletic shoe with a waterproof and windproof exterior. The increased friction of wet feet and socks can cause blisters, and cold feet are simply uncomfortable. Gore-Tex®️ and leather are good options for year-round comfort.

[Related: Motivation for Exercising in Bad Weather]

Perfect Fit

The bottom line is that the best fitness shoe is the one that fits your foot. Never try to make the foot fit the shoe, because that will eventually lead to pain. Try on athletic shoes late in the afternoon, when the feet have had time to swell. As you walk around, notice anything that rubs or chafes, because that will only get worse as you wear the shoes.

How to Tell When It’s Time to Replace Your Fitness Shoes

Close-up of fitness shoes
At some point, we all have to say goodbye to our favorite fitness shoes.

We all know that athletic shoes don’t last forever, but deciding when to retire them isn’t always easy. While we may be tempted to hold onto shoes for “just a little bit longer,” especially if they’ve been well-loved, your feet and legs need solid shoes that can give them the support they need during your workouts.

Here are some signs that it’s time to replace your athletic shoes:

  • Your legs and joints are starting to suffer from overuse injuries and you are feeling the impact after every workout (in ways you haven’t noticed before).
  • You do a lot of walking or running on rough roads or trails, wearing down the soles and the cushion in the shoes.
  • The soles under the heels look broken down and crushed, or the midsole material begins to poke through.
  • The midsole of your shoes is no longer providing the stability and stress cushioning it used to and is breaking down before the rest of the shoes do.
  • You have already put 300 to 400 miles on your shoes, and it shows.
  • You are starting to suffer from shin splints, a painful, sharp sensation down the lower leg along the shin in the soft tissue behind the shin bone.

Keep in mind that the above symptoms mean that you’re already past the point of needing new shoes. Next time, buy new shoes before these signs start popping up to avoid injury and keep your workouts going strong.

[Related: What to Look for in Activewear]

How to Choose the Right Hiking Shoes

Close-up of hiking shoes standing on fallen leaves
Image via Pixabay

Getting out on the trail, challenging yourself, and enjoying the fresh air is so much more enjoyable when your feet are happy and comfortable.

This requires choosing the right kind of shoes for the type of hiking that you’ll be doing: trail running, short day hikes, longer hikes, or multiday backpacking trips.

Trail Runners

Trail runners are generally low-cut and lightweight and have flexible midsoles, making them perfect for running on hiking trails. They can also work for local day hikes when you’ll be carrying a light load.

Hiking Shoes

Hiking shoes have a little bit less flexibility than trail runners, so you wouldn’t want to run in them, but they offer much more support. Their more rugged soles are appropriate for short- to medium-length day hikes. As long as you are not carrying a huge, heavy pack, well-made hiking shoes will get you where you need to go.

Hiking Boots

Hiking boots can be mid- to high-cut and are comfortable enough for day hikes, yet offer support and protection over longer trips with sturdiness to take you over the most rugged of trails. Hiking boots tend to weigh more than hiking shoes and often need broken in, depending on the pair.

Backpacking Boots

Backpacking boots are for long, multiday trips during which you’ll be carrying a heavy load. The outsole will be more rugged and able to handle rocky terrain, and they will have a higher cut and less flexibility than hiking boots. Additional backpacking boot features include insulation, waterproofing, and the ability to accommodate crampons for ice and snow.

[Related: Benefits of Outdoor Fitness After 50]

Additional Considerations

Once you choose the type of hiking footwear you’ll need, you’ll want to take these additional elements into consideration:

  • Waterproof: If you plan to hike in damp or cold weather, you’ll want to choose waterproof shoes. This can be beneficial even in warmer weather to cross shallow streams.
  • Material: Full-grain leather offers the greatest support, durability, and weather resistance and is less breathable (which can be a positive or negative, depending on your needs). Nylon, split rain leather, and suede provide more lightweight features and breathability, especially if they have mesh panels. This is wonderful in the summer and dry months, but not so great if you plan to hike in wet or cold conditions.
  • Size: When you try on your shoes or boots, make sure you’re wearing thick hiking socks so that the fit is accurate. Your feet will swell during your hike, so it’s also best to try on hiking shoes at the end of the day, when your feet will be slightly more swollen. The shoe should not allow your foot to slide forward, but a bit of movement is necessary so that you have plenty of circulation. Make sure your heel doesn’t slip as you walk.

Most well reputed outdoor gear stores have educated staff in the footwear section, so take advantage of their knowledge. Try on multiple pairs and styles, taking time to squat, lunge, and jump to see if the shoes rub or chafe. Also ask about the return policy in case you realize that the shoes aren’t right for you after hitting the trail.

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