Charlie's Blog: Shoes and Socks


Shoes and Socks

DISCLAIMER: I am not a podiatrist or shoe expert. This is just a personal testimonial concerning what I wear on my feet for walking. Consult with podiatrists and experts before buying footwear.

It's gotta be the shoes.

The athletic footwear market is a 100+ billion dollar industry. That's a big number of shoes sold. $15 billion comes from the sale of running shoes. I won't get into socks. As for walking shoes, I don't know.

I wear shoes out of necessity. I don't think shoes have magic properties, but they do protect my feet. When I was a teenager, I took up walking briefly to help lose some weight. I had some paper thin soled boating shoes I wore while walking on the concrete sidewalk. My legs and feet felt like someone had taken a sledgehammer to them. I switched to some thick soled knock off brand running shoes from Walmart, and my legs and feet improved considerably. The lesson I learned from that experience was that I need that slab of foam underneath my feet especially on concrete.

I don't think you need special or expensive shoes for walking. The shoes I walk in now are essentially the same as those cheap Walmart shoes I wore briefly as a kid. I wear New Balance 608s preferably in white. They cost $50-60 on Amazon. I know when I need to replace them because I get that sledgehammer attack feeling in my legs at the 500 mile mark. Here is a picture of those shoes:

The Gentle Reader will recognize these as "dad shoes." Many of the old men in my town wear these shoes. I suppose this makes me an old man, too. They are basic, yet they are the most comfortable shoes I have ever worn in my life. These shoes are without gimmicks which brings me to the main point I want to make in this post.

Gimmick shoes are the ones that have some "extra" thing that makes them better than my plain shoes. These gimmicks also make them more expensive. One of those gimmicks for the last decade has been the minimalist barefoot shoes that promise to promote a more natural foot strike. Runners have taken to these shoes in the vain hope for finding a remedy for their running injuries. I recommend switching to walking. I do not think human beings were designed for long distance running, but I do think they were designed for long distance walking. Aside from a couple of blisters, I have experienced no injuries with walking.

Another gimmick has been the swing to the other extreme with maximalist shoes with gigantic stacked soles. I call these "Frankenstein shoes." I suspect they do help with injuries, but I think they are excessive especially when you look at the price tag.

The other gimmick shoes have weird construction. For instance, shoes with air cushions (and a famous swoosh) work good until you hit a tack. Then, they make a weird sound as you push out air through the puncture with each step. Another new line of shoes have little empty pockets under the sole to act as shock absorbers. Then, there are the rocking chair walking shoes with curved soles that are supposed to help propel you forward with each step. At the end of the day, I want the slab of foam. You can keep the gimmicks which I think are aimed at depriving you of hard earned money.

I suspect that trail shoes are gimmicks, too. I love walking on trails, but I wear the same NB 608 shoes I wear for everywhere else. I noticed early on that trail shoes were essentially the same as the road shoes except with different aesthetics on the upper. Later, they made the soles a bit grippier like off road tires for a truck. This was supposed to help for gnarly and technical terrain. I don't do that type of walking. If I did, I would switch to a good pair of hiking boots or shoes. I am not a hiker, so I save my money.

The one thing I do that seems unique to me is that I wear thick socks with my walking shoes. My socks are Thorlos running socks that only come up to the ankle. Here is a picture:

I love these socks. I wear them to protect against rubbing and blisters. They also add another layer of cushion to my dad shoes. My philosophy is that you will do a thing more if you are comfortable doing it. I walk mainly because my shoes and socks are comfortable.

My only beef with shoes is having to buy a new pair every six months. I don't think this fact of life will ever change. Everything has a downside. But this brings me to another thing I like about my New Balance shoes. They don't change. I buy the same brand and model every time in the same color. I may switch colors if they are cheaper, but the basic white ones tend to be the lowest cost. My two pairs of basic shoes each year still cost less than a single pair of gimmick shoes.

Shoes and socks come down to individual preference. Some folks like a tighter shoe with thin socks. I think everyone would benefit from finding a basic shoe that is inexpensive paired with a comfortable pair of socks. Aim for comfort. I think that is the most important thing. If you're not comfortable doing it, you will stop doing it.

UPDATE: I came across this article on maximalist running shoes aka Frankenstein shoes.

The Padded Paradox: The Cost Of Cushioned Running Shoes

Science aside, many runners find that max running shoes feel great—like soft, bouncy moon boots or like the shoe is doing the work for you. But highly cushioned shoes are not actually linked to lower levels of impact than traditional running shoes; in fact, they come with a higher vertical average load rate and vertical instantaneous loading rate—both of which promote overuse injuries like stress fractures and plantar fasciitis, research published in 2015 in Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise revealed.

A 2018 study published in the Orthopaedic Journal of Sports Medicine also showed that runners exhibited increased impact forces and loading rates—variables that have been associated with a higher risk of running-related injuries—in maximal shoes versus neutral shoes. The authors wrote that runners who are new to running in a maximal shoe may be at an increased risk of injury.

My takeaway from this is that running is always the primary cause of running injuries. The shoes make no difference. This is a good reason to WALK in sensible shoes. Avoid the gimmick shoes.