They’re your favorite pair of shoes. You wear them every single day come rain, snow, sleet, hail, or a blessed day of sunshine. Maybe you don’t remember exactly when you got them — sometime last year? — but you haven’t managed to wear a hole in the upper so they’re fine, right? Not quite! Just because there are no glaringly obvious signs that your shoes are worn out doesn’t mean that your shoes aren’t worn out. Shoes can cease to be functional long before they lose their looks entirely, so it can be tricky to figure out when your shoes are in desperate need of replacing. Luckily, we have a few insider tips to make sure that you always know exactly when you need a new pair of shoes.
How Do You Know When Your Shoes Are Worn Out?
• How long have you had them?
Length of wear is the easiest way to track how worn down your shoes are. For a regular, casual shoe that you’re wearing 3-4 days a week, you’re going to want to replace them about once a year. Athletic shoes follow a slightly different schedule. Workouts put more stress on a shoe than your average day-to-day wear, so instead of following the year schedule, you’re going to want to replace them after wearing them for 300-500 miles of walking, running, or jogging.
• How worn out are the treads?
We know we said we were going to avoid glaringly obvious signs, but how often do you look at the soles of your shoes? It’s easy to forget to check on the treads because you just don’t look at the underside of your foot all that frequently. If your shoes just don’t seem to have quite the grip that they used to or spots seem to be worn completely smooth, it’s time to upgrade to a new pair.
• How worn are the soles under your heels, specifically?
When you’re walking, the outside edge of your heels tends to be the first part of your foot to strike the ground. This heavy strike tends to cause faster wear on the sole, and can even lead to the soles of your shoes becoming slanted if the wear is bad enough. The slant can cause stability issues, so you absolutely need to replace a shoe with this level of heel wear. Much like worn away treads, extreme wear on the heel is usually easy to spot. If you’re having trouble judging whether the shoes have begun to slant, however, there’s an easy test. Take your shoes off your feet and set them side by side on a level surface. Get down so your eyes are level with the surface and check to see if there’s a visible slant to the soles at the heels. If there is, you’ve got a worn out pair of shoes on your hands.
• Is the heel counter broken down?
If you’ve ever poked at the heel of your shoe, you’ve probably noticed that it’s relatively stiff and firm (this is especially noticeable in canvas shoes!) when compared to the rest of the shoe. This extra sturdiness is thanks to the heel counter, a small piece usually made of plastic or cardboard that helps the heels of your shoes keep their shape to better support and stabilize your feet. Heel counters will break down with wear like the rest of your shoe, but you can expedite the break down by shoving your foot into your shoe without untying them or folding over the heel and stepping into the shoe like a slide (OluKai is a notable exception as they have their patented Drop-In Heel® technology that’s meant to give their footwear shoe or slide functionality). If you find that your shoe’s heel isn’t as sturdy as it used to be or seems a bit crushed, your heel counter is worn down and you’re not getting the support you need from your shoe.
• Have any stitches come loose?
You may very well be able to see a stitch has come loose, but sometimes it might be loose somewhere that’s not obvious. This can be especially noticeable in water-resistant shoes. If you can’t see the stitch coming loose but you notice that your shoes are leaking in situations where they really shouldn’t be — walking through dewy grass, stepping outside in a light sprinkle — your shoes are coming apart.
• Are the shoes losing their shape?
Sandals with overstretched straps, sneakers whose sides collapse in without a foot in them — these are shoes that have lost their shape. If they’re loose and misshapen, they can’t provide adequate support to your foot. They’re worn out.
• Are the insoles still doing their job?
The insole material of a shoe can only absorb so much shock before wearing out. Even arch supports are going to crumple with time, so do yourself a favor and really look at your insole. Does the cushion look as thick as it used to? How about the arch support? Has it held its shape? If your insoles have flattened out, they aren’t going to give you the cushioning and support that you want from them. Your shoes won’t be as comfortable, and in fact might cause you pain.
• Have you been noticing any weird joint pain or aches recently?
Your shoes can have a dramatic effect on your body’s natural biomechanics. Worn heels can throw off your stability and alter your stride, insoles that have lost their cushioning and support can cause your feet to sit unnaturally in your shoes, and any number of other footwear wear and tear issues can throw your whole body out of alignment. Obviously, if you’ve got a sudden onset of terrible pain in your body you need to consult your physician, but if you’re noticing new minor aches and pains you might just need to replace your worn out shoes.
What to Do with Worn Out Shoes
If you’ve got a pair of worn out shoes that you’re now wondering how to deal with, you’ve got some options. In certain cases you just might be able to repair the shoes. High-end dress shoes are often made to be resoled and otherwise repaired by a cobbler. We know it seems a little old-fashioned to find a cobbler in your area, but it’s seriously worth it. Having a professional repair your shoes can save you money in the long run! For example, since Birkenstock’s cork footbed is made to mold to your foot with wear, keeping them for as long as you can make sense! The outsole of the shoe and the straps can be replaced, meaning you don'y have to purchase and break in new pairs as often. Just make sure that you get the sole repaired before the wear gets into the cork! Chaco even has a program called ReChaco where you can send your shoes back to Chaco and get parts replaced as they wear out. Replacements start at just $10, though the more complicated the replacement is, the more it costs.
If it’s absolutely time to get rid of your shoes, we strongly recommend looking into environmentally friendly ways to dispose of them instead of putting them in a landfill. For example, the Nike Reuse-A-Shoe program collects worn out athletic shoes of all brands to grind up and turn into surfaces for athletic courts, playgrounds, and more. The American Textile Recycling Service accepts shoes in their bins, and their website includes a helpful page for the locations of ATRS recycling bins. If neither of these is an option for you, try calling your local recycling center and asking them if they accept shoes or if they can guide you to a place that does.
Keeping your feet healthy and comfortable can be as simple as recognizing when your shoes are worn out. Replacing shoes or parts of shoes as they begin to break down is as simple and easy as recognizing that they are beginning to break down, and with these quick tips you’ll have no trouble spotting when it’s time for a replacement. We know it’s hard to let go of your favorite pair of shoes, but trust us: when you put on your fully intact, comfortable new pair you won’t regret it!