How to Find the Best Shoes for New Walkers

Buying Guide

The right shoes can help your new walker get off on the right foot.

Last updated: April 4, 2024
4 min read
How to Find the Best Shoes for New Walkers

Your little one is finally standing—which means they’ll be walking before you know it. Although barefoot is ideal at home, they’ll need foot protection when they start cruising around outside. Here’s what to look for in your toddler’s first pair of shoes.

Should first walkers wear shoes?

Barefoot is best, says Kaveh Bartholomew, Senior Product Line Manager at Nike. Without shoes, feet can fully bend, flex, grip, and splay, which helps to support natural foot development. According to research, the lifelong gait pattern starts to solidify as soon as five to six months after we start walking.

It’s not always safe or practical for little ones to go shoeless. When there are environmental hazards, like rough pavement or slick floors, toddlers should wear shoes to protect their feet.

What are the best baby shoes for new walkers?

Try to find shoes with the “minimal amount of protection” to simulate going barefoot, Bartholomew suggests. Here are some specific features he recommends seeking out.

  • “Early walker shoes should be as low to the ground as possible, with zero heel ball offset,” he advises. Along with providing an experience that’s closer to going barefoot, this helps tots balance.
  • Shoes should have a wide toe box, providing ample room for toes to splay and flex. The Nike Swoosh 1, for instance, can bend in all directions, which helps to promote natural foot development. For this reason, the Nike Swoosh 1 is the first Nike Kids shoe to receive the American Podiatric Medical Association Seal of Acceptance.
  • To help provide traction and reduce the chance of falls, the outsole should be durable and grippy. For example, the Nike Swoosh 1 features a lightweight, textured outsole made of thermoplastic polyurethane. Frequently used in safety footwear, this material is a go-to for cushioning, resistance and flexibility.
How to Find the Best Shoes for New Walkers

What shoes are comfortable to walk in all day?

“Toddlers have a very large fat pad and thick skin on their feet,” Bartholomew notes, adding that their skin is up to eight times thicker than adult skin. “They need very minimal protection over their feet.”

Ideally, shoes should be comfortable enough for tots to go sockless, he explains. This means they shouldn’t have irritation points from seams or hard edges. The Nike Swoosh 1, for example, includes a seamless Flyknit bootie, which is super-soft thanks to chenille yarn.

What else should I know about the Nike Swoosh 1?

These early walker shoes ($62) feature a grippy outsole, Flyknit upper and hook-and-loop strap. They come in sizes 3C through 7C.

How to Find the Best Shoes for New Walkers

How do I find the right shoe size for my toddler?

Measuring feet can be tricky, especially if your little one is squirmy or super-active. First, have them stand up straight on a hard, flat surface. Make sure their heels are against the wall and their feet are shoulder width apart (with their weight evenly balanced between them). Then, with a soft measuring tape or a ruler, measure the heel-to-toe length of their feet, noting the longest point of their toes. Repeat with their other foot, then write down the longest length.

If this doesn’t work, tape a piece of paper to the floor. Have your little one step on the paper and stand. Position their feet shoulder-width apart, with their weight evenly balanced between them. Then, with a pen or pencil pointed straight towards the ground, mark the tip of their big toe and the outermost part of their heel. Have them step off the paper, then measure the distance between those two points. Repeat with their other foot, then note the longest length.

Check a size chart and pick a size that will accommodate their longest measurement. If they’re between two sizes, opt for a size up.

Words by Dina Cheney

Originally published: March 18, 2024

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