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I’ve been on a quest for good walking shoes for at least a month, now. With the weather warming and travel plans ahead, I want to be sure that I have a reliable, comfortable pair that will minimize my feet issues, even as I am coming to accept that no pair exists that will make walking fully pain-free.
This is always a challenge. The biggest stumbling block is that you can’t walk outside in shoes that you’re trying out at home without committing to buying them. (I know of one clear exception, Allbirds, which gives you a 30 day trial of walking anywhere—if the shoes don’t work out, you send them back and they are donated to people who are homeless. Zappos has also accepted returned shoes I’ve lightly worn once outside, but I don’t want to take unfair advantage of that option.) So how to really know if the shoes will be comfortable on pavement or uneven terrain, which are always the big challenges?
My strategy now is to wear a pair I’ve bought around the house for a few days. Usually, if there’s a major fit issue, I’ll know right away. If there are other structural issues, I’ll know in a day. If the shoes are still comfortable after a couple of days, I’ll take the plunge and wear them outside.
But, first, they have to meet a number of criteria. The fat pads on my feet have thinned so much from scleroderma that I have to set a high bar:
- Is there plenty of room in the toe box? No pinching?
- Are they lightweight so as not to aggravate my joints?
- Is the shoe made of materials that breathe, to avoid trapping perspiration and triggering Raynaud’s or causing skin breakdown?
- Does my foot feel balanced, with pressure evenly distributed over the entire sole?
- Does walking in the shoes adversely affect my knees, back or hips?
- Is there sufficient arch support?
- Is there a removable foot bed, so I can use my own orthotics or a good ready-made alternative?
- Is there enough shock-absorbency, so the shoe doesn’t tire my feet or trigger the neuropathy in my right foot?
- Can I walk without noticing the shoes? Do they fade into the background?
Then there is the question of style. I refuse to wear shoes that look like boats. Fortunately, now that so many of us baby boomers are aging, and many of us have buying power, there are a lot more alternatives for comfortable shoes that are at least somewhat attractive, even if heels are out of the question (and bad for your feet, anyway) and daintier styles lack necessary support. When I first began having these issues several decades ago, the choices were much slimmer. Now there are options, even for my particular taste.
If the shoes pass all of the above tests, then it’s time to risk a test drive around the block. None of this is foolproof. I’ve tested shoes outside, thought I had a winner, only to discover after repeated wear that they don’t work out in the long run. This has happened more times than I would like.
Which brings me to my latest acquisition, a pair of Abeo sneakers that I found at The Walking Company. I’m on first-name basis with the sales clerk, at this point. She knows my issues and really tries to help me find the right shoe. I landed on this pair after several rounds of other shoes that didn’t work out. Then I went back and upgraded the removable insoles. That combination seems to be on target.
My walk around the block on Monday in lovely sunshine was an A-. Pretty good, all things considered. While there is no pair that will make walking painless or tireless, these sneakers give me hope that I’ll be able to sustain longer walks—balanced with thoughtful pacing and rests. Staying active is simply too important to give in to all the obstacles that this disease throws in my path.