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Updated June 2022
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Buying guide for Best walking weights

Walking is one of the most popular forms of exercise and for good reason. It requires no special equipment or training, you can do it anywhere, and it’s an effective way to not only improve cardiovascular function and muscle tone but also increase your energy level, stave off depression, and even give your immune system a boost.

If you’re looking to add a little more oomph to your walking regimen, however, it’s time to consider walking weights. They can increase your calorie burn by 5% to 15% and increase muscle endurance compared to walking without weights. You can carry a pair of weights or strap them to your wrists or ankles. There are also weighted vests that you can wear while walking.

There are numerous walking weights in various styles and weights on the market. This buying guide has everything you need to know about choosing and using walking weights.

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Walking weights can increase your calorie burn by as much as 15%.

Benefits of walking weights

While walking on its own – if done at a reasonably fast, steady pace and kept up for at least 30 minutes – is an excellent way to burn calories and improve your cardiovascular fitness, it doesn’t do much to improve upper body muscle tone or overall muscle strength. That’s why many walkers choose to add walking weights to their fitness regimens. But before reaching for those weights, it’s a good idea to understand both the pros and cons of these popular walking accessories.

On the pro side, adding extra weight definitely increases your calorie burn, a big plus if your primary goal is to lose pounds. Even as little as an extra pound or two can make a difference. Potentially, walking with light weights can speed up your heart rate by five to 10 beats per minute over your unweighted rate, increase your body’s oxygen consumption, and boost calorie burn by as much as 15% during your workout. That adds up to increased weight loss and overall toning without extending the length of your walk. That’s an important consideration if, like most people, you need to squeeze your walks into an already busy schedule.

On the con side, however, is the fact that walking with weights that are too heavy is an easy way to injure your joints, hurt your back, imbalance your muscles, and even push your blood pressure up higher than is healthy. That’s why it’s key to stick with very light walking weights – no more than three pounds max for wrist, hand, or ankle weights. For weighted vests, you should walk with no more than 15% of your body weight, meaning that a 150-pound woman should stick with a weighted vest of 22 pounds or less.

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Expert Tip

When walking with hand weights, keeping your elbows bent close to 90 degrees is important for maintaining optimum posture. Walking with your arms straight while holding weights is not advisable.

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Key considerations

There are several different types of walking weights available. The most common are ankle weights, wrist weights, weighted vests, and hand weights. Each type has its pros and cons.

Ankle weights

Ankle weights are generally filled with sand or a similar material. You strap them around your ankles with Velcro or small buckled belts. They leave your hands free to push a stroller, hold onto your dog’s leash, or swing freely at your sides. The additional weight makes the large muscles of your legs – quadriceps, hamstrings, and glutes – work harder, thus increasing the toning power of your walk. You’ll need to work a little harder to raise your feet while wearing ankle weights, providing some resistance training to your walk and helping reduce the risk of osteoporosis. And, of course, you’ll increase your calorie burn.

On the downside, however, ankle weights are the likeliest type of walking weights to cause injury. The additional weight puts extra stress on your ankles and knees and can throw off your natural stride. It’s very important to stay light if you choose ankle weights. Opt for no more than three pounds per leg and preferably only one or two pounds.

Wrist weights

Wrist weights are strapped to your wrists with Velcro or buckles. While they leave your hands free, you’ll get the most benefit by letting your hands swing naturally at your sides while you walk rather than using your hands to hold onto a stroller or other item. Along with the overall boosted heart rate and calorie burn, wrist weights can help tone your arms and shoulders.

The cons of wrist weights include a greater risk of injury to your wrists, elbows, shoulders, and back, especially if you go beyond a maximum of three pounds per wrist or swing your arms too vigorously as you walk.

Weighted vests

Weighted vests are the recommendation of most exercise professionals. There are various configurations of weighted vests. Some are shaped like an X across the chest with a more substantial back, while others are short-cropped vests or vests that cover the full chest and back. Velcro straps or buckles keep the vest in place to avoid bouncing or rubbing as you walk.

One major pro of a weighted vest is that it distributes the additional weight evenly over your torso, meaning that there’s less stress on individual joints in the legs or arms. Another plus is that most of these vests allow the wearer to add or subtract steel plates or sand packets to change the vest’s weight. That means you can start low and slowly increase weight as you gain strength. The extra weight also increases the bone-building benefits of walking, helping to ward off the risk of osteoporosis. You’ll also have an increase in calorie burn and heart rate during your exercise session.

But there are also cons to weighted vests. They can be hot, the vest might rub or irritate your skin if not fitted properly, and they shouldn’t be used by those with back or hip pain.

Hand weights

Hand weights are small dumbbells that you hold while walking. Most have a small strap to make it easier to grip the weights when your hands start to sweat, but you’ll still need to grasp the weights. Hand weights aren’t strapped on like wrist weights.

You’ll get the same toning and calorie-burning benefits as wrist weights, but hand weights make it easier to add arm curls and other arm-specific resistance moves to your workout. Hand weights, like wrist weights, can put stress on your wrists, elbows, and shoulders, and gripping hand weights too tightly can cause blood pressure to surge higher than it would otherwise – a definite caution for those who have hypertension.

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Expert Tip
Optimum walking posture should focus on your midfoot striking the ground first followed by your heel to help minimize the risk of too much stress on your knees, hips, and low back.
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Walking weight prices

While generally not very expensive, the price of walking weights largely depends on the style of weight.

Ankle weights

Expect to pay between $15 and $25 for a set of ankle weights that are comfortably padded, let you adjust the fit, and are brightly colored for an extra dash of style.

Wrist weights

A set of padded, comfortable, and adjustable wrist weights in a cheerful color generally cost between $12 and $20.

Weighted vests

These are the most expensive type of walking weight. You’ll generally pay $25 to $40 for a simple X-shaped vest, but vests with more coverage, which are often used by runners, can cost $100 or more.

Hand Weights

A set of hand weights designed for walking typically costs between $10 and $20. Expect a strap, some padding for comfort, and a bright color for that price.

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Expert Tip
Walk tall with your chest up and your shoulder blades back and down while squeezing your glutes. This will allow your body to optimally recruit the major lower- and upper-body muscles while providing a great workout.
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Tips

  • Always start low. Don’t jump right into using heavy walking weights. Newbies to weighted walking should start with no more than one-pound ankle, wrist, or hand weights or a five-pound weighted vest.
  • Increase the weight very slowly. Making a big jump – from a one-pound to five-pound weight, for example – is likely to cause injury.
  • Most fitness experts recommend not going beyond three-pound hand, ankle, or wrist weights.
  • A weighted vest should never weigh more than 15% of your body weight, but work up to that slowly.
  • While walking with your weights, increase your speed instead of lengthening your stride to up your exertion. Taking overly long strides puts more stress on your legs and hips.
  • Don’t swing your arms excessively while wearing weights. Let your arms move naturally.
  • Watch your posture. Slumping, pushing your head forward, leaning forward or back, or letting your back sway while you walk all greatly increase the odds of developing back pain or injury.
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Keep things interesting by varying your walking routes throughout the week.

FAQ

Q. Is it okay to use walking weights if I am significantly overweight?

A. If you are just starting to exercise or are very overweight, it’s best to delay adding walking weights to your exercise routine as you are likelier to injure yourself. First, build up strength by walking without additional weight, and shed pounds with a healthy diet. Once you are closer to your ideal weight and are comfortable for walking for a half-hour or more several times per week, add light weights to your routine.

Q. I have arthritis in my hips. Is it okay for me to use walking weights?

A. As a general rule, if you have arthritis, back pain, or any other problem with your joints or connective tissue, check with your doctor before adding any type of walking weight to your fitness routine.

Q. I want to burn more calories. Is it okay to use heavy weights while I walk?

A. Unless you want to be sidelined with a painful injury to your back, legs, or arms, leave the heavier weights in the workout room and stick with lightweight weights while you walk. Three pounds should be your limit for ankle, wrist, or hand weights, and a weighted vest should be no more than 15% of your body weight.

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