There’s no one answer when it comes to how long shoes should last. A good pair can last anywhere from several months to several years, depending on your walking habits, the make of your shoes, and how well you take care of them. Here, we go over what causes wear in different shoes, and how long you can expect your favorite pair to last.
The Main Causes of Wear and Tear
Every time you wear your shoes, multiple sources of stress can cause damage to both the interior and exterior of the pair. There are several ways that you can cause wear and tear to your shoes.
Where You Walk
Walking on smooth, flat surfaces tends to be best for shoes. It causes the least amount of wear on the sole and doesn’t force you to walk in a way that places stress on the interior cushioning. Rough terrain, however, can rub against the bottom of your shoe, chipping away at the tread and warping the frame.
How You Walk
No two people walk quite alike, and our unique gait can cause irregular wear on our shoes if we’re not careful. Many of us have slightly irregular pronation, which refers to the rotation of your foot as you walk, jog, or run. If you overpronate, your foot rolls inward when you walk, causing wear to the inner side of the sole. Supination, on the other hand, means that your foot rolls outward and will grind away at the outer edge of the sole.
Daily Step Count
How much you walk is just as important as how you walk. If you’re mostly sedentary during the day, you won’t cause much wear on your shoes due to walking. If you’re on your feet and walking around for most of the day, however, your shoes will need repairing or replacing more frequently.
Hours of Wear
Even if you’re not walking for most of the day, simply wearing your shoes for long periods can accelerate their deterioration. They’re exposed to the elements, perspiration, and stress from your feet even as you sit.
If you frequently trek through rain or snow in your shoes, they’re bound to wear out more quickly than otherwise. Moisture can warp the entire frame of the shoe, especially when it comes to materials such as leather. Excessive sun exposure, on the other hand, can cause materials to dry out and crack.
The Different Types of Shoes
In addition to how and where you wear your shoes, the quality of construction is also an important factor. Certain shoes tend to last longer than others, especially when made out of high-quality materials.
Athletic shoes tend to break down quickly because they undergo a lot of abuse. Quick changes in movement can warp the ankle and upper portion of the shoes, while sudden stops can ruin the toes. Additionally, the cushioning has to put up with the excessive amounts of pressure. When you run, you place stress on your shoes that can amount to two to three times your body weight. Your gait and the terrain that you run on can also affect the wear on even high-quality athletic shoes.
Walking shoes are similar to running shoes, but they often have less cushioning inside as walking places less stress on the feet. In general, walking shoes undergo less wear and tear than athletic shoes. However, for many people, their walking shoes are their go-to pair. Wearing them multiple times a week can lead to faster wear. Most quality walking shoes will need replacing within a year with frequent use.
Dress shoes, while more expensive than other types of shoes, are typically made with high-quality materials such as leather and offer an expert construction. A nice pair of dress shoes can last anywhere from two to ten years. However, it’s important to remember that dress shoes require careful maintenance. You need to remember to regularly clean, polish, and condition leather to keep it in peak condition.
Heels can be some of the most fragile of shoes thanks to their design. They tend to have thin soles. These can wear through quickly with frequent use, especially considering that they bear most of the weight. Narrow heels are also prone to wear, and in cheaper shoes, they may even snap. You should always keep an eye on the sturdiness of your heels. Either repair or replace them once the sole has worn to around half of its original thickness.
Sandals can also be prone to breaking. The upper straps bear a lot of stress as the foot moves and are easily damaged over time. The shoe is also more exposed to the elements and doesn’t boast the protection of enclosed shoes. Sandals can wear down in a matter of months, depending on the material, and should be replaced frequently.
When to Replace Your Shoes
If your shoes are wearing out, it means that you aren’t getting the support that you need as you move. Worn shoes can lead to a myriad of health problems, including shin splints, tendonitis, knee pain, and heel pain. They can even increase your risk of slips and falls, which are the second leading cause of accidental death around the world.
All shoes have a limited lifespan. Though we’re all different, most of us can expect to see our shoes wear out at around 500 miles of use, or around every eight to twelve months. For rarely-worn or high-quality pairs such as dress shoes, however, you may be able to get multiple years of use out of them.
While some shoes can be repaired by a professional cobbler, it’s often more economical to simply buy a new pair. You should examine your shoes regularly for signs of wear so that you know when to replace them. Some signs are obvious, such as decreased comfort and noticeably reduced support. Other indications of wear, however, require closer examination.
The outsole, or bottom of the shoe, is often the first place to show signs of damage as your footwear starts approaching the end of its life. It’s the only area in direct contact with the ground. As such, it’s the most likely place to wear down with repeated use. This fact is especially true of shoes worn over rough terrain.
Generally, you’ll start to see wear around the heel and ball of the foot, as these areas bear the brunt of the stress when we move. However, for those with abnormal pronation, there may be uneven deterioration on one side of the shoe. This can end up affecting your gait even more and causing pain in the legs, pelvis, and lower back.
If you aren’t sure whether or not your shoes are showing signs of wear on the sole, you can perform a quick and easy test to find out. Place your shoe sole-side down on a flat surface such as a counter, tabletop, or tile floor. Put yourself at eye level with the shoe and look for anywhere that it no longer touches the ground. A good shoe should sit flat, and it shouldn’t rock or tip when you touch it.
If you find signs of uneven damage due to irregular pronation during your test, you may want to consider replacing your shoe with a different style. You can find athletic shoes, walking shoes, and more that are designed specifically to help combat overpronation or supination. They use carefully engineered cushioning and ankle support to help guide your foot in the proper direction as you move.
Here’s a quick video about how you can learn more about how you walk from the wear pattern on the bottom of your shoe:
The midsole refers to the layer of cushioning in a shoe. It not only makes the design more comfortable but also helps to absorb shock during high-impact activities, protecting joints in the lower body.
The midsole is most often made using spongy plastics. One of the most common materials used today is Ethylene-Vinyl Acetate (EVA). This is an elastic copolymer that’s similar to rubber and is considered to be safe, eco-friendly, and vegan. However, over time, midsole materials such as EVA tend to compress under your body weight.
A worn and compressed midsole tends to show creases and wrinkles that weren’t present when the shoe was new. If you notice any warping to the interior lining of your shoe, they’re likely lost most of their ability to absorb shock. It’s important to replace the shoes before continuing with activities such as jogging or running.
The part of your shoe that covers the toes and the foot can become warped with repeated use, especially when it comes to materials such as leather. The upper shoe is more prone to weather damage than other areas, as it faces sunlight, wind, rain, and more each time that you go outside.
Often, signs of wear on the upper shoe are more readily visible than elsewhere. You may notice small rips and tears in the material, fraying along the seams, loose stitching, and discoloration. Some materials may also begin to dry and crack without proper care, such as leather, rubber, and certain plastics.
While some of these issues are no more than cosmetic damage, they can indicate that your shoe is aging past its prime. If you notice the upper shoe starting to fall apart, it may be time to give the outsole and midsole a closer inspection.
The heel counter is the rigid back portion of a shoe that helps to reinforce the heel. Often, a plastic insert is added for additional support. It helps to control the direction of your gait and address any pronation issues that you might have. As the heel counter wears out, you’ll lose the support that you need to walk properly, and may suffer from joint pain as a result.
You should check the heel counter regularly for signs of wear. It may be obvious, such as fraying and damage to the outer material. However, sometimes, the only sign that your heel counter has lost support is that it feels limp or deflated. It should be firm when you squeeze it.
You can help to keep your shoe’s heel counter rigid and supportive by being careful about how you put on your shoes. If your heel catches or drags the area each time you dress, you’ll accelerate the collapse of the counter. Instead, make sure that you fully unlace your shoes and allow plenty of room for your foot to slide inside. If necessary, you may want to use a shoehorn to protect the area.
How to Extend the Life of Your Shoes
In addition to being careful about how you put on your shoes, there are other steps that you can take to increase their lifespan. Here are some tips on how you can make your shoes last for as long as possible.
Air Everything Out
Water can cause irreparable damage to shoes, including the warping of the body and sole. You should always allow your shoes to air out between uses, especially if you’ve been walking in wet conditions. Perspiration can also cause issues, especially with leather dress shoes. It can distort the material permanently if left to soak.
Each time you take off your shoes, make sure that you store them in an area with plenty of air flowing. A gym bag, for example, isn’t the best place to store soggy shoes. Instead, dedicate a spot in your house to shoe storage so that each pair can breathe. It can help to use mesh organizers or wooden racks to allow for proper ventilation.
If you have to wash your shoes for whatever reason, always allow them to air dry in an open space to prolong their life. If you throw them in the dryer, they can suffer damage from getting tossed and bounced around against the drum. What’s more, most shoe glues break down with excessive heat.
Wearing the same shoes day in and day out will wear them down faster than if you allow them to rest every once in a while. The more you wear a pair of shoes, the more they’re exposed to damage from stress, weather, and the terrain underfoot.
Rotating pairs out means that you wear each less, extending the lifespan of your top favorite shoes. It can also help you to keep your footwear dry and free of warping, not to mention mildew and foul smells. Just a few days of rest each week can be the difference between a shoe that lasts months and a shoe that lasts years.
When rotating pairs, keep in mind where you’ll be walking that day. You should save certain shoes for certain activities to limit damage over time. For example, athletic and walking shoes should be reserved for exercising outdoors, while more delicate dress shoes should be used for indoor affairs.
Spray on a Protective Coating
Sometimes, it’s impossible to avoid walking in wet conditions. Those of us who live in rainy or snowy areas simply can’t avoid sustaining water damage to our shoes over the course of the year. Unfortunately, this can mean replacing shoes made of expensive materials such as leather or suede, which aren’t water-resistant.
You can find waterproof sprays designed to protect shoes from the effects of weather. While different brands vary in quality, many options are specially designed to be lightweight and discreet so that they won’t ruin the aesthetic of your shoe.
Once you’ve sprayed on an even coating that covers all exposed parts of the shoe, make sure that you allow plenty of time for it to cure and dry. Many protective sprays also require reapplication to ensure that they’re effective year-round.
While many shoes come with an insert, this is generally more for comfort than anything else. It’s able to wick away some of the moisture from perspiration and offers a small degree of cushioning for shock absorption. However, built-in insoles aren’t typically designed to fit specific feet or fix problems with gait, foot morphology, or heel and ankle pain.
Removable insoles are one of the best ways to enhance both the comfort and support that you get from a shoe. You can find insoles designed for all styles of shoe, heel pads to full-length inserts. Some people also opt to see a medical professional for custom orthotics, which not only supports the foot but actively works to address physiological issues around the area.
In addition to the health benefits that insoles have to offer, they can also increase the longevity of your shoe. While most wear comes from the terrain under you, your feet themselves can also cause damage to your shoes. As they press against the interior, they break down the cushioning there.
An insole can help to protect your shoe’s built-in cushioning. It gets compressed instead, allowing your shoe to maintain its integrity for longer. An insole can also help to direct your foot if you tend to overpronate or supinate, helping to prevent uneven wear on the sole and damage to the heel of the shoe.
How long your shoes should last depends on a number of factors, including when you wear them, how you wear them, and the quality of their build. It can be difficult to estimate when it’s time to replace your favorite pair of shoes, but fortunately, there are clear signs that can tell you when footwear is reaching the end of its life. If your shoes are worn or damaged, you should replace them as soon as possible for the health of your feet.