Archeologists working in Armenia recently said they had discovered what might be one of the world’s oldest shoes. That shoe, estimated to be 5,500 years old, shares many features with today’s walking shoes: a leather outer, laces and cushioning, according to news reports.
More modern technologies and materials were used in the 25 shoes in Consumer Reports’ latest tests. Some sported innovative designs, and a few were specialty shoes with unusual soles that are supposed to help tone your legs, glutes and other muscles.
To evaluate walking shoes, CR bought 275 pairs of shoes, enlisted a panel of typical walkers, and had them crank out about 250 hours of outdoor walking, at least half of which was over a hard or paved surface. CR selected men’s and women’s versions of the same model, where available, and tested for fit, cushioning, stability, flexibility, breathability and weight. Prices ranged from $20 to $135.
Among regular walking shoes, Asics GEL-Tech Walker Neo, $100, was tops for both men and women. Their innovative design shifts the lacing system slightly off-center over the highest point of the instep for a snug fit. And they performed well in all aspects of testing. CR also recommends Avia A333M, $50, for men and Ryka Radiant, $70, for women. Bargain hunters can try the men’s Pro Spirit Jacorey (Target) for $20 and the women’s Champion C9 Kacie (Target) for $28, both CR Best Buys.
Shoes known as toners have alternative soles that change your gait or posture. They can be unstable but are supposed to activate muscles, which compensates for those changes. Most panelists said they felt Earth Kinetic-K for men, $130, Earth Kinetic for women, $110, Skechers Shape-Ups for men, $110, and Skechers Shape-Ups Strength for women, $100, working their muscles, mostly the calves, but few women noticed the same effects with the Reebok EasyTone Reeinspire, $100. You might not like the way toners feel, so check comfort before buying.
Spilling the beans
Looking for a break from your usual coffee? The Kenyan and Sumatran brews CR recently tested are not your average supermarket blend. To use wine-speak, Kenyan coffee is generally fruity and brightly acidic; Sumatran coffee has subtle, sweet flavors and aromas such as those of caramel or pastries, combined with a fresh potting-soil scent. (That’s actually a good thing.)
After sipping from more than 400 cups of coffee made from whole beans and served piping hot in heated china cups, CR’s expert tasters found one Excellent and two Very Good Kenyan brews. All have complex flavors and are tasty enough without milk or sugar. The top-rated Allegro Kenya Grand Cru is a cup to savor, with a well-balanced flavor that combines slight bitterness with citrus aromas. The Very Good Green Mountain Kenyan Highland Cooperatives and Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf Kenya AA have a milder aroma and are notably fruity.
All of the Sumatran coffees were rated Good by CR’s pros, who called them “earthy” (think potato skins) and a little fruity. Adding cream or milk and sugar can help mask small flaws such as excessive bitterness.
Green Mountain scored relatively high in both categories; Starbucks, relatively low. Most of the coffees are sold in coffee houses, health-food stores, or online, rather than in supermarkets; and most come in a 1-pound package.
Kenyan coffee tended to cost more than Sumatran. Overall, prices range from about $11 to $17 per pound, or 24 cents to 67 cents per 6-ounce cup, though the per-cup price varies with the amount of coffee used.
Price didn’t predict quality: Two of the lower-rated Kenyan coffees cost a hefty $16.99 per pound.
Bottom line: Taste both types to see whether you like their distinct flavors. Best of all are the top three Kenyan coffees. For a Sumatran brew, consider Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf Sumatra Mandheling, which costs less than most others.