Sneaker Buying Guide

Starting a walking plan? You'll need to make sure your sneakers are up to snuff. Here's how to make sure you get the best-fitting pair.
Sneaker Buying Guide
So, you're ready to purchase a new pair of sneakers, but you're feeling a little bewildered about where exactly to begin. Be assured: You're not alone in your confusion in trying to find the perfect athletic shoe.

Most shoppers are intimidated — if not overwhelmed — when confronted with the multi-colored "wall of shoes" at any given athletic store. Gel cushioning units, stretch uppers, open mesh. With all of these newfangled features, it's hard to know which shoe will be the right fit for you and your feet.

Important first steps
Before you make a visit to your nearby shoe store, get better acquainted with your feet.

The most important thing to know before you buy a pair of sneakers is your foot type, explains John Connors, DPM, a New York City-based sports podiatrist and a competitive runner. Basically, there are three different types: flat arch, normal arch, and high arch. "Your foot type will dictate the kind of shoes you buy," says Connors.

How do you figure out your foot type? Take the quick wet test: dampen the sole of your foot, step on a shopping bag or a heavy piece of paper, and step off and look down. Observe the shape of your foot. If you see almost your entire footprint, you have a flat foot. If you see almost half of your arch, you have a normal arch. If you see just your heel and the ball of your foot (and a thin line connecting the two), you have a high arch. Also, spend some time at your local bookstore, thumbing through running or walking magazines and familiarize yourself with the brands currently on the market.

Go shopping!
When you're ready to shop, select a reputable store with experienced salespeople to guide you through the process of buying your shoes, suggests Dr. Connors. In addition to having knowledgeable sales staff, many of these stores have a treadmill on the premises, so you can test your shoes without leaving the store. (Note: If the store doesn't have a treadmill, don't be shy in asking if you can take a quick stroll around the block to make sure your shoes fit right.)

Here are other tips for your shoe-buying adventure:

  • Timing's everything: Never purchase a sneaker first thing in the morning. The foot tends to swell up to a half-size between the morning and afternoon, explains Connors. "Always buy your shoes at the end of the day," he suggests. And remember to bring along a pair of the athletic socks you usually wear during exercise. A sock's thickness can add another half-size.

  • Learn thy size: Never sit down and tell the salesperson your shoe size, advises David Klein, DC, a kinesiologist/chiropractor who treats numerous athletes and dancers in the New York area. "Often people are wrong about their shoe size," he explains, "that's why they get bunions and hammertoes." As you grow older, your feet tend to change, particularly for women who bear children. "Mother Nature spreads out your feet, making them wider, so you don't fall forward when you're carrying extra weight," says Dr. Klein. So make sure the salesperson measures both the exact length and width of both feet.

  • Instant comfort: Make sure the sneakers feel good from the get-go, says Klein. "Athletic shoes never stretch," he warns. "They should feel beautiful on your feet from the minute that you put them on." Connors adds, "There shouldn't be a break-in period."

  • Price range: Expect to pay about $85 for a good athletic shoe. "There is no reason to pay $190 for a pair of shoes," explains Connors.

  • Replacement factor: Finally, remember that athletic sneakers need to be replaced very 450 miles, says Connors. "Even if your sneakers look brand-new," he says, "it may be time for a new pair."

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