Picking the Best Baby and Toddler Walking Shoes

With these tips for picking baby and toddler walking shoes, you'll help your little one put her best foot forward. 

Closeup of toddler feet walking with parent
Photo: Halfpoint/Getty Images

Most parents love indulging in a brand-new pair of kicks, but it's quite a different story when you're buying footwear for your baby or toddler. First of all, your kid will probably wiggle out of your lap or have a kicking-and-screaming tantrum when you attempt to put on shoes. And even if you can get them on her feet without a fuss, it can be tricky to figure out whether they're actually the right size.

"A toddler or young child can't use words to tell you that she doesn't like the way something feels," says Ross Taubman, M.D., a podiatrist in Clarksville, Maryland. "To make matters worse, it's really important to find shoes that fit properly when she's learning to walk—otherwise, she could stumble more and take longer to develop the skill."

The good news is we have your little one’s tootsies covered. Follow these tips for finding the best baby walking shoes and toddler walking shoes.

When to Buy Baby’s First Walking Shoes

You can put off buying shoes until after your child starts to walk (usually between 10 and 18 months). They're only for show before then, and your kid will be able to practice taking steps better when he's barefoot. That’s because shoes make it harder to grip the ground and learn to balance.

For the first couple of pairs, go to an actual shoe store where you can find trained staffers who know how to measure the length and width of your kid's foot, recommends Kate Cox, Vice President of Product for the Kids Group of Wolverine Worldwide, which owns brands like Saucony, Keds, and Sperry. And wait until afternoon to make the trip because most kids' feet will swell during the day.

Finding the Perfect Fit

Cox stresses that it’s important to find the right fit for two reasons. The first relates to physical development. “In the first five years of your child's life, feet are still developing. They're mostly cartilage and they’re forming bone density,” she says. “You need to encourage natural motion and allow your children to have as much room as possible, as well as the ability to wiggle the toes.” Restricting a child’s foot can lead to improper foot formation, she adds.

The second reason it's vital to find the perfect fit: performance. Little kids love running around outside, but if their shoes are too big, they might trip and get hurt, says Cox. If the shoes are too small, they might cause pain—and toddlers don’t have the vocabulary to let you know.

To check the fit of baby or toddler walking shoes, insert your pinkie into the heel (your finger should fit snugly) and into the point where the shoe meets the ankle (to rule out stitching that could cause blisters). Then, feel the shoe's tip while your child's standing to make sure there's about half an inch of space between the big toe and the tip.

You should also ask your child simple questions while trying on shoes (assuming he can speak): Can you move your toes? Can you flex your feet and stand on your tip-toes? Are the shoes comfortable? Do they slip off when you walk?

You can also evaluate how your child moves in the shoes. Watch for a loose, slipping heel when he walks and any red marks on his feet after you take the shoes off.

How to Choose Baby or Toddler Walking Shoes

The perfect fit is perhaps the most important factor for infant walking shoes, but here are some other shopping tips.

Choose the right material: "Good shoes for little walkers are made of lightweight materials, such as leather or high-quality mesh," says Ron Raducanu, D.P.M., president of the American College of Foot and Ankle Pediatrics.

Look for flexibility: “It's important to touch and feel the shoe. The best options should bend at the forefoot,” says Cox.

Avoid arch and ankle support: Two features you don't have to worry about are arch and ankle support. Flat feet are normal for toddlers whose arches are still developing. Plus, your kid's ankles need to be free to build muscle and prevent injuries. "We don't recommend high-top shoes anymore because we found out there's more risk for ankle injuries when toddlers fall in these types of shoes," says Larissa Isterabadi, M.D., a pediatrician in Yorba Linda, California.

Consider functional features: If you want to inspire independence, Cox recommends looking for “easy-on and easy-off” Velcro shoes. You should also consider washable options—a lifesaver after your little one jumps in a mud puddle!

Don’t use hand-me-downs: Kids' shoes can be pricey, especially since you have to replace them every couple of months. But resist the urge to give your child hand-me-down shoes while she's still trying to master motor skills (walking, running, and jumping). A new shoe will better adapt to your toddler's growing and developing foot," says Tanya Remer Altmann, M.D., author of Mommy Calls. No two feet are the same, and buying something new ensures that the inside isn't molded to someone else's foot.

When Does Your Child Need New Shoes?

Toddlers' feet grow rapidly, often sizing up every two to three months. "If your kid has been happily wearing the shoes for months and suddenly starts taking them off, hobbling around, or rubbing her feet, those are late signs that she's ready for a new pair," says Dr. Altmann.

Additional reporting by Nicole Harris
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