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Your toddler’s feet may be tiny, but they’re made up of 26 bones, 35 joints, and a complex network of muscles, ligaments, and nerves just like ours. And, once those little feet start picking up speed, you may be wondering when it’s time to introduce a pair of shoes.

With so much to consider and so many styles to choose from, it can be hard to figure out what type of toddler shoe is best for early walkers. Here are some points to ponder when choosing shoes for your toddler, as well as some suggested brands and tips for getting the right fit.

The exact age when you’ll want to put your toddler in a pair of functional shoes will vary depending on when they start walking. Most babies begin walking sometime around the 1-year mark (although, depending on the child, this could be 11 months, it could be 14 to 16 months).

According to the American Podiatric Medical Association (APMA), barefoot is best at first. In fact, walking without shoes on allows a child’s foot to grow and for muscles to develop strength from heel to toe. But when your toddler starts walking more frequently and ventures outdoors, it’s time to start thinking about shoes.

When walking outdoors, you’ll want something that will allow for flexibility and full range of motion, all while protecting their tiny feet from injury. And that’s where shoes come in.

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, new walkers’ feet are growing so rapidly that their first pair of shoes might only last them 2 to 3 months. Beyond that, you should check the fit of your child’s shoes every month or so.

So, while the shoes you purchase should be worth the money and effort, it’s important to remember that you’ll probably be sizing up your toddler’s shoes at a speedy rate. (Read: You might want to avoid racking up credit card debt on tiny designer sneakers.)

The key when looking for toddler shoes is to find something that is lightweight and stable, but not too rigid. Natural materials are also preferred because they allow the feet to breathe and stay dry.

Beyond that, the APMA says there are three main areas to examine when choosing toddler shoes.

  1. Heel cup: The area of the shoe surrounding your toddler’s heel should not collapse when you pinch it between your thumb and index fingers.
  2. Toe flexibility: The sole should allow your toddler’s toes to flex, but not too much or too little.
  3. Rigid middle: And if you grab the shoe with both hands, you shouldn’t be able to twist it in the middle.

Toddler shoes also come with all sorts of prints, colors, and features. If you’re having trouble choosing a pair, consider making a checklist that includes things like:

  • your toddler’s foot shape (narrow, wide, etc.)
  • the season you’re in (cold weather, summer conditions, rain, etc.)
  • your preferred materials (artificial or leather)
  • your budget (some toddler shoes are expensive!)
  • your child’s foot conditions (if any)
  • your intended use (everyday shoe, hiking/playground, water play, etc.)

For this list we focused on a range of sturdy shoes for different activities, all with great ratings from the APMA and parents like you. We also read a lot of reviews — both positive and negative.

Price guide

  • $ = under $30
  • $$ = $30–$50
  • $$$ = over $50

Best toddler shoes for walking

Momo Baby Leah and Hunter

Price: $–$$

The Leah and Hunter “first walker” shoes by Momo Baby are recognized by the APMA and allow for much flexibility of the foot. Flexibility helps your little one shift their weight from the back to the front of the shoe and develop a normal gait pattern.

These shoes offer mesh construction for enhanced breathability and a fan-shaped toe box for extra room. Reviewers say these shoes are helpful for bridging the gap between crib shoes and regular shoes.

Considerations: Parents share that these shoes may be best for narrow feet and that they run on the larger side. Others say that while the quality seems nice at first, they tend to wear out and scuff quickly.

Best toddler shoes for wide feet

New Balance Kids’ 888 V2

Price: $$

While various brands are known for being wide in general, New Balance goes a step further by offering both wide and extra-wide widths for its 888 sneaker. And this offering may be key for more than just wide feet — one reviewer mentions that the extra-wide width is handy for accommodating a leg brace without having to size up.

Other features include a rubber outsole, impact-absorbing midsole, and reflective safety tape. Another reviewer shared their delight in finding this wide shoe by explaining that an “XW girls’ shoe with Velcro [is] more rare than Yeti”.

Considerations: Overall, the sole of this shoe is more rigid than others on this list. Reviewers explain that the Velcro straps may break easily with rough wear. Otherwise, parents say these shoes fit pretty true to size.

Best toddler sandals for adventures

Keen Newport Toddler Sandals

Price: $$

The best-selling Keen Newport is built for summer fun, both on and off the beaten path. This small sandal features multiple adjustable components — straps and hook-and-loop — to get the right fit. They come in a wide range of colors, too.

The supportive synthetic outsole offers protection for the toes all while providing water channeling for creek adventures. Reviewers say these shoes are “comfortable from day one” and that the adjustable nature keeps even the most particular kids happy.

Considerations: Several people say the sizing of these sandals is not consistent with other Keen sizing, so you may want to order up a whole size. Others say this sandal is difficult for older toddlers to take on and off themselves. And a few people say that their children’s feet sweat in these sandals because they are closed-toe and can get toasty when wearing for long periods.

Most adorable toddler sandals

Saltwater Sweetheart Sandals

Price: $–$$

Saltwater sandals are about as classic as you can get. The Sweetheart style features a leather lining and footbed with a synthetic textured sole to help prevent slips. This sandal comes in all sorts of vibrant colors and metallics to match any outfit.

Reviewers like that these sandals are made to get wet, making them a great choice for a day at the park’s splash pad.

Considerations: Reviewers note that this style sandal may be best for kids with narrow feet. Others say the sizing isn’t very consistent with other brands, so you may need to try a couple pairs before you find what fits best. And more than one person mentioned that the Sweetheart’s two-buckle design leaves opportunity for chafing and blisters.

Best orthopedic toddler shoes

Memo Orthopedic Toddler

Price: $$$

If your child has a foot issue and you’re looking for some orthopedic support, consider looking into the Memo shoe system. Memo is recommended by pediatric orthopedists for preventing and correcting abnormalities and conditions (for example, toe walking).

Their shoes are also super stylish and come in a wide range of styles and colorways. And reviewers share that Memo shoes are of excellent quality and truly deliver what they promise.

Considerations: The price point is quite high with these shoes. And since toddlers grow quickly, you may not get much wear for your dollar. Reviewers say, though, that correcting diagnosed foot issues before they turn bigger problems may save you money in the long run. Speak with your pediatrician to see if these types of shoes may help you or if you should start with another type.

Best toddler shoes for winter

Bogs Waterproof Insulated Boots

Price: $$

Bogs are well known for their rain boots, and this insulated edition is perfect for those cold weather days as they’re rated for temperatures as low as 14°F (-10°C). Parents love that these boots are easy for toddlers to get on and off by themselves and that they’re machine washable.

Considerations: Several parents mention that, despite the name, these boots are not actually waterproof. So, depending on your climate, you may also want to check out the Bogs B-Moc Winter Boot (sizes and colors are in high demand, so quantities are limited). Otherwise, reviewers say these boots run somewhat large, so consider sizing down.

Best toddler shoes for comfort

See Kai Run Stevie II

Price: $$

All shoes by See Kai Run are specially engineered with a child’s developing foot in mind and include wide toe boxes and a flexible sole — this means your child’s feet are free to move with comfort and style.

The Stevie II earns high marks with reviewers for design and quality materials. They feature a rubber outsole with a zigzag pattern for added traction and faux elastic laces for custom fit.

Considerations: Some reviewers note that while the shoes are comfortable, the actual materials may be firm, creating uncomfortable rub points. Others say that the sizing is off; some reviewers say they run small and to order a full size bigger, while others say the shoes run large and wide. Lesson here: Hold on to your receipt if you have to exchange.

Best budget-friendly toddler shoes

Dadawen Athletic Shoes

Price: $

Another best-selling shoe, these Dadawen sneakers are unisex and come in a variety of colors with a breathable mesh construction and a rubber sole. You can slip them on and off your tot with ease and fasten them snugly using a single Velcro strap.

Reviewers say these shoes are a good buy for the money. They also share that they are lightweight and sturdy, making them “great for new walkers!”

Considerations: While these sneakers are a solid choice, they do tend to develop holes and fraying with rough wear. A few parents say to size up and that the thin mesh material is best for warmer weather and dry conditions.

Best toddler shoes for active kids

Stride Rite M2P Indy

Price: $$

You can’t go wrong with a pair of Stride Rite shoes — this brand is known for its attention to toddler foot health and use of quality materials. The Indy sneakers are no exception and come in full and half sizes, as well as regular and wide widths to suit a variety of foot shapes.

The hook-and-loop closure helps this shoe go on and off easily. Reviewers like how stable these shoes are and say they’re wonderful for hiking. And many people mention that you can toss these shoes in the wash for easy cleaning.

Considerations: Several parents say that the wide width isn’t a true wide, so you may want to choose another style if your child has especially wide feet. Others complain that the strap tends to fray over time.

Best waterproof toddler shoes

Native Shoes Jefferson

Price: $$

The best-selling Jefferson shoe by Native Shoes is a popular choice among parents for its bright colors and easy slip-on design. These shoes are lightweight, fast-drying, and offer a grippy rubber sole for protection from falls. Reviewers share that these shoes are “indestructible” and like that you can toss them in the wash if they get muddy.

Considerations: Beware sizing with these shoes, however. A few people mention that they’re a tad on the big side. They’re also meant to be worn without socks (water shoes!), but a few reviewers say their children got blisters with long wear.

With so many brands and sizing differences, it may be a good idea to take your toddler shoe shopping with you whenever possible to make sure you’re getting the right fit.

Your child’s feet swell slightly as the day goes on. So, it’s also important to shop for shoes in the afternoon or evening hours, when her feet are at their largest.

Other tips for the best fit:

  • Look at your child’s foot. Do you see any areas of irritation on the toes or heel? This may be a sign that their current shoes don’t fit properly. Or maybe they need a wider/narrower fit.
  • Examine their current shoes too. Be sure to bring up anything unusual to your child’s doctor. For example, uneven heel wear may be a sign of a foot issue that needs treatment.
  • Choose a fit that accommodates your child’s bigger foot. Feet aren’t always the same exact size, so you want to be sure they’re both comfortable.
  • Don’t forget the socks! When you need to go up in size in shoes you may also need to get bigger socks to ensure your child’s feet are comfortable and free to move.
  • Skip secondhand stores. While it can be tempting to grab a variety of gently used pairs cheap, this may not be the best idea for foot health. Hand-me-down footwear may harbor some unpleasant things, like athlete’s foot or nail fungus.
  • Seek professional help. Consider having your child professionally fitted if you feel like you’re having trouble.

And while you may have heard that shoes need a “breaking in” period, experts share this just isn’t true. Your toddler’s shoes should feel comfortable from the minute they put them on.

So, if they’re complaining or you notice they are uncomfortable, take the shoes back and choose something different.

It’s exciting to pick out your child’s first pair of real shoes, so make it fun! Involve them in the process. Keep your list of guidelines in mind and be sure to check their feet frequently to see when you need to size up.

When in doubt, consider consulting the APMA’s list of companies that have earned their seal of approval for good foot health.