Pull out your tissues — your baby or toddler’s first steps pack a wallop. Another huge milestone that pulls on your heartstrings until you realize, Hey — he looks just like a drunken sailor.
Thus, it’s our duty to make sure that we find the smartest (and cutest) baby shoes to safely anchor our precious new walkers.
Favorite Shoe Brands for New or Early Walkers
- See Kai Run ~ Editor’s Choice
- Pediped ~ Best Selection
- Stride Rite ~ Best Traditional Styles
- Tsukihoshi ~ Best Machine Washable
- Livie & Luca ~ Cutest First Walkers for Girls
- Old Soles ~ Cutest First Walkers for Boys
- Ten Little ~ Easiest on/off (and great price!)
The best part about having two kids is a second chance not to screw it up again. Here’s a few things that I’ve learned along the way:
Toddler Shoe Size and Fit
Size does matter. Before you lunge online to order your baby’s first shoes, start with knowing the right size. Take a trip to an actual kids’ shoe store and have your toddler’s tootsies measured by a trained specialist (or someone masquerading as one). Make sure to look out for devious curled toes that can throw off a measurement and remember to try on shoes with socks (an obvious mistake that I made).
Make sure you also pay attention to the W I D T H of your child’s feet, as many little ones tend to have fat little cherub feet. Shoes that run wide are denoted below.
What’s a good fit? Check that the big toe has enough wiggle room (about a half-inch — or a thumb — from the tip of the shoe) and that there’s no pinching on the heel or sides.
One Size Fits Today
As tempting as it might be, don’t buy bigger shoes for the months ahead. Shoes that are too big are hard to walk in and can cause falling and tripping (i.e. drunken sailors on the loose). According to Ross Taubman, DPM, a podiatrist in Clarksville, Maryland, “It’s really important to find shoes that fit properly when she’s learning to walk — otherwise, she could stumble and take longer to develop the skill.”
Toddler feet can also vary up to half a size from one another, so opt for the larger foot’s size. Kids’ feet grow like weeds, so measure again in a few months. One of my favorite shoe companies, See Kai Run, also lists toddler shoe sizes by inches. Handy to know, because age and size can be a crapshoot.
If you like shopping for shoes online, invest in an at-home shoe sizer, like the Squatchi. For $18, the Squatchi will prevent you from having to schlep your kids to the mall — but keep in mind that many brands don’t run true to size. Once you find a brand you love, you’ll get to know its nuances over time.
Bend it like Beckham
Shoes for toddlers should bend easily in your hand. Be wary of plastic (or those cute, cheap sneakers from Target).
Stiff is bad. The best walking shoes for babies are made of leather or mesh material that enable feet to breathe and have a rubber sole for traction.
To be honest? Humans did not evolve wearing closed shoes. The more barefoot time your child has, the better (this is true for a lifetime, in fact!). Ideally, humans have very good “toe-spread”, which is diminished by years and years of shoe-wearing, particularly tight, confining shoes… don’t even get me started on heels and the damage they cause to women’s feet over the decades. Eesh.
“Bunion surgery sounds like fun.”– No one
New vs. Used Toddler Shoes
Sometimes you can find high-quality, “gently-used” kids’ shoes at consignment stores and such, but generally speaking, shoes for young kids take quite a beating and tend to be “single-user” items.
I’ve noticed over the years that cheaper shoes, like those from Target and Payless, have very short life spans and generally land in the trash can once they fall apart, while the higher quality shoes last much longer and may be able to be handed down to a second kiddo.
Point being: You get what you pay for.
Hold off on the cowboy boots
And the same goes for leopard-skin pointy or hipster motorcycle boots. Your shoe fetish should stay in your own closet (for now anyway). Toddler shoes are there to support and stabilize new walkers. Again, barefoot is best, but when outdoors — think function over fashion.
Top Infant Walking Shoes
Shoes for this age group come in two varieties: soft soles and rubber soles. Soft soles are often referred to as “crib shoes” and tend to be more for indoor use. Rubber sole shoes typically start at 12 months and go up from there, while soft crib shoes are offered in infant sizes.
Here are our favorite “first-walker” shoes, in no particular order.
1. See Kai Run ~ Editor’s Choice
After a Seattle mom couldn’t find the best first shoe for her son, Kai, she decided to design stylish, well-made kids’ shoes that support healthy feet. Hip, adorable, and kudos for colors outside of the primary spectrum of Crayola. Sometimes I wish they came in my size; this is the perfect baby walking shoe, IMO.
See Kai Runs come in both soft sole and rubber sole versions. Both varieties offer a large toe-box area.
*This brand also has adaptive styles designed to accommodate various therapeutic orthotics such as AFOs, SMOs and custom insoles.
2. Pediped ~ Great Selection
Pediped is a lesser-known, but awesome kids’ shoe brand. Pediped was founded by a mom in 2005 who set out to make a shoe that was the “next best thing to bare feet.” Pediped now has over 120 styles of fabulous shoes, including super warm winter booties.
Like others, Pedipeds also come in soft sole and rubber sole versions. This brand is a little pricier than most, but lasts forever and can be handed down.
3. Stride Rite ~ Best Traditional Styles
Probably the shoes you grew up in, Stride Rite has been making quality children’s shoes since 1919, and their legacy continues. One of the best things about Stride Rite is that they have many size options. All their shoes come in whole and half sizes and have three different width options. They’re a great choice for those babies with super wide paddle-feet.
Stride Rite and Pediped are very similar in price and quality, though Stride Rite shoes tend to be more traditional looking; these are the ones that are often worn with school uniforms and such.
4. Tsukihoshi ~ Best Machine Washable
Although Tsukihoshi began crafting children’s shoes long before (in 1873!), this Japanese company has been working with orthopedic professionals since 1985 to create shoes that offer the utmost protection and comfort for little feet. You’ll immediately notice these shoes are meshy and very lightweight, almost like a water sandal, including this popular infant-size first walker.
Yes, these are our favorite shoes for those kiddos who like to play in the mud (and for parents who like to let them run free!).
Get Tsukihoshi shoes on sale at 6PM.com.
5. Livie & Luca ~ Cutest First Walkers for Girls
Next are the absolute cutest little first-walking shoes: Livie & Luca. These shoes run really wide, which is why you’ll find them in my kids’ closets.
Livie & Luca shoes are handmade, delightfully simple, and extremely durable. The footbed is soft and beautiful and the velcro strap makes on/off super easy. I used to stalk the kid’s consignment store to find these second-hand, they are so adorable and comfortable.
6. Old Soles ~ Cutest Selection for Boys
Old Soles shoes are super soft and pliable — perfect for first walkers. Their shoes tend to run wide to give unrestricted movement to our little one’s fat footsies. Charlene used them for both her kids, and she loved how minimalist they looked. Genuine leather lining, padded footbed, supple sole… these shoes have it all. They also make shoes for older kids.
7. Ten Little ~ Easiest on/off (and great price!)
These first walkers by Ten Little are cute, affordable and super easy to get on and off. The tongue of the shoe also pulls out significantly far, making it so easy to get the shoe on and off of your baby’s feet.
Note: these run very big and the company recommends ordering a half size down. Like most first walkers, they run wide, but these don’t have an extra wide option.
This brand hovers in the $30 – $40 territory, so they are definitely a bargain compared to others on this list. See the complete collection here.
Good luck on your shoe hunt!