Shoe shopping can be challenging, especially now and when you’re looking for a specific pair. Don’t let that slow you down! With patience and focus you’ll find the right shoes for your needs. This post will give you some strategies, whether you’re shopping for shoes online or in an actual shop.

I’ve been a tender-foot most of my life and my feet have changed over time. It happens to us all due to age, pregnancy, or just not getting enough arch support. Shoes that fit fifteen years ago don’t any longer, or the heels I once wore with ease are now difficult to get around in. The biggest shoe challenge I had recently was finding a pair of lightweight, supportive hiking boots for a hiking pilgrimage in Japan. Once I found open stores, the hunt was on in earnest.

Think about the last time you entered the department store in search of a new pair of shoes. Did you head straight for the Nike sales counter just because it looks good? People tend to go to the area of the store that is visually attractive, and purchase based on what things look like rather than worrying about actual function. Fight the urge. You’re on a mission to find the shoes that you need.

Elaine spies Woody in Hakone, Japan

Elaine spies Woody in Hakone, Japan

Do form and function match?

Given the cost of an average pair of athletic shoes nowadays, but consider that if you are going to spend the money you want to spend it well. The disappointment of a new pair of shoes falling apart after just a few weeks of wearing them is dismal; to wear shoes for a different purpose than that which they were intended for, is also risky.

The boots I needed had to be strong enough to wear for consecutive hours of rough and varied terrain. They needed to keep me comfortable whether I was hiking a soft forest floor or up winding stone stairs. They needed to be lightweight as I was hiking only part of the trip and carrying them in my luggage the rest of the way. Of course, I wanted them to look good too. It seemed overwhelming at first but asking questions and trying on several pairs in the right price point led to success. It doesn’t have to be an overwhelming process. Trade offs are inevitable.

No matter how they look you have to keep in mind the difference between hiking shoes, walking shoes, and running shoes. My hiking buddy suffered with good looking walking shoes that had soft soles and missed one of the best days of the trip in order to give her feet a rest!

Shoes you need for hiking the Kumano Kodo Trail in Japan

Shoes you need for hiking the Kumano Kodo Trail in Japan

Make room in the closet!

Every pair of shoes comes with a specific purpose, and while it is tempting to splash out on new shoes for a special occasion, you should also concern yourself but the long-term implications of your buy. Will the money you spend on a pair of shoes for a single use be worth it in the long run?

I’ve learned this the hard way. Perhaps you can relate to finding the perfect shoes for a special occasion then after the effort and expense, you only wear them once or twice. I have several of those cherished pairs. They’re hard to let go of but seldom see the light of day.

Think about the different kinds of scenarios and environments in which you might need these shoes.  If you spend a lot of time on your feet in an office or store, you will need a stable shoe that keeps your feet comfortable when you spend that time standing.

Pink detailed boots on a shelf in our Ryokan on the Kumano Kodo

Elaine’s pink-detailed boots on Ryokan shelf along the Kumano Kodo

Established brands or new discoveries?

Not all shoes are created in the same way. Manufacturing quality will vary across different brands and much depends on where you shop. The golden rule is to always test your shoes before deciding to keep them. It’s a hassle but well worth it to try out delivered shoes at home before you decide to keep them. Make sure the soles stay clean and use Ped socks at the very least. Hold onto your packaging and any paperwork that came with the shoes in case you need to exchange them for another size or style.

These days it’s tempting to only buy shoes online but I’ve found much depends on the brand. Knowing, for example, that Crocs run a size big has saved me from disappointment more than once. They keep expanding their styles and are great for the Southern California lifestyle, so I’ve returned to that brand over the years. When the box arrives, I’m sure the size will be right.

Also consider the durability of a specific pair of shoes when you are considering buying them. Regardless of their physical appearance the manufacturing quality of certain shoes will be higher than others. Just because the shoe looks sturdy, doesn’t mean that the stitching will hold when you wear them. Those hiking boots I took to Japan have begun to show their wear. The soles are still great but some of the stitching is starting to unravel. It’s easy to repair and more affordable too, plus my neighborhood cobbler will be happy for the business.

Research pays off

Use your time wisely when shopping for the shoes you need. Once you have it, put your hand inside and out checking for anomalies like rough bulges in stitching or gaps in the shoe pad. Wear them for a few minutes, to assess the overall structure, weight, and manufacturing quality. Make sure that the shoes are tough enough and comfortable enough to last through your desired activity but are light enough for comfort. They need to provide excellent arch support at the same time.

Don’t let the size of the selection of shoes for sale out there overwhelm you. Armed with enough information to make an educated decision, you’ll find what you need. Enjoy the process, and have fun with your new pair of shoes!

P. S. About those boots: Purchasing shoes for a specific event or trip can lead to a closet full of generally useless pairs. However, I’ve enjoyed my hiking boots so much that they often take me up and down canyon trails throughout San Diego. The hunt was well worth the effort.


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