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Is a Walking Pad Really Better Than a Treadmill?

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Photo: New Africa (Shutterstock)

The idea of walking while you work isn’t a new one; we first featured a “treadputer” on this site in 2006. But the idea has returned, and it’s enjoying a surge in popularity thanks to cheaper, smaller treadmill models that are being called “walking pads.” So how is a walking pad different from a treadmill, and are they actually a game changer for your workday or your fitness? Let’s dig in.

What is a walking pad?

WalkingPad is actually a brand of fold-away treadmills, but the phrase “walking pad” has become a generic term for this general category of devices. Walking pads are usually smaller and cheaper than what you’d think of as a treadmill. Many of them fold up (some even fold in half) and are intended to be moved into and out of wherever you store them on a daily basis—for example, leaned against a wall or tucked under a couch.

And the TikTok girlies love them. You can scroll through an infinite loop of young women saying “so I saw these walking pads on TikTok and decided to get one for myself…”

How do you use a walking pad?

It’s really just a miniature treadmill, so you can use it any way you want. Some people use them while watching TV or doing other activities at home. But you mostly see them in work-from-home or even office setups that go something like this:

The person has a walking pad, and a standing desk. As their workday begins, they put on walking shoes, and strap their fitness tracker to their ankle (since their hands will be at the keyboard while they’re working). If your strap isn’t long enough to reach, you can buy an aftermarket ankle strap.

Some people keep the walking pad under their desk all day; others have a desk that raises and lowers, and they’ll swap the walking pad for a chair when they’re ready to sit down. Those who use the pad a lot often say they easily hit 10,000 steps by afternoon.

One thing that impressed me: There are plenty of reviews out there from people who have been using a walking pad consistently. Here’s one from TikTok from a person who has been using theirs for nine months; here’s one from Reddit where the walking pad’s owner is still “very impressed” after using it heavily for three months. The pads’ explosion in popularity is still fairly new, so we don’t have many long-term reviews. If you want something that lasts for years, it’s not clear if a cheap walking pad will be durable enough for you.

What are the pros and cons of a walking pad?

Walking pads’ selling points are also their drawbacks—mainly that they are small and cheap. Here’s the rundown of factors to consider.

Do you want to walk fast, or even run on it?

Walking pads are designed for just that: walking. Most have a top speed that is at or below a typical walking speed. For example, one of WalkingPad’s cheaper models tops out at 3.75 miles per hour. The Rebel 1000 maxes out at 2.0 miles per hour. But if you shop carefully, you can find walking pads that go up to 7.5 miles per hour.

So how slow is that? Well, if you ask Google Maps to give you walking directions, it will assume that you walk at about 3.0 miles per hour. That’s a pretty average walking speed. When you’re working, though, you may be more comfortable with the speed set a bit lower, more of an amble than a stroll.

Even if you buy a pad with a higher top speed, you may notice that the length of the pad becomes an issue when you move faster. Runners need longer treadmills than walkers, due to the length of their stride. Some of the smaller models may be less comfortable for longer-legged folks, especially at a fast walk, so consider this when you’re looking at what to buy.

One more thing: Some treadmills have a handrail that can be raised during use, or left down by the ground. The higher speeds may require that the handle is in the “up” position, leading to complaints from people who find the handle doesn’t fit under their standing desk. So check this, as well, when you’re shopping.

How much are you willing to spend?

People often turn to walking pads because they seem like they would be cheaper than treadmills. But that’s not always the case.

Of the nine treadmills on Runner’s World’s list, there is one model around $300, one around $700, and the rest are in the $1,000-$2,000 range. Many big-name brands will run you $2,000 or more (Peloton’s Tread is well over $3,000). If you’re open to shopping the used market, you may be able to find one that’s been acting as somebody’s clothing rack for years for as low as $100—but that’s a bit of a gamble.

Walking pads, sometimes sold as “folding treadmills,” are often lower in price, but not always. Many seem to be in the $300-$600 range, with some budget models available for under $200, and fancy ones well into the four-digits. WalkingPad’s offerings go up to $1,099, and this comparison lists pads that range from $300 up to $2,199.

Will you move it around every day?

Folding storage seems convenient, but the downside is that you need to move it and unfold it every time you want to use the pad. Some people have a desk large enough for a walking pad and a chair side-by-side; others can set a folding chair down on the walking pad when it’s turned off. But most say they swap their treadmill and chair throughout the day.

If your workday is structured enough that you have, say, a morning where you’re doing tasks you can do while walking, and an afternoon where you’d want to be sitting down, this may work. But be honest with yourself. If you ever had a standing desk, did you find yourself standing throughout the day, or did you adjust it to the “down” setting and forget to ever raise it back up? If you have a bike at home, do you bring it out and use it a few times a week, or is it still languishing in the corner while you occasionally think, “I’ll use that again someday”?

What’s the quality like on walking pads?

Reviews are all over the place on walking pads. Many of the influencers who rave about them got theirs on Amazon, and some talk about missing remote controls or problems getting them running. If you go this route, make sure the return policy is a good one; people who got them through Amazon usually found that the company was willing to send them a replacement part or a whole new walking pad, although that means you still need to find a way to get rid of the broken one.

The low-power motors on many of these walking pads are also a potential issue. Especially if you are a heavier person or if you put a lot of miles on a treadmill, you want something powerful enough that it won’t break down with mild wear and tear. The consensus from people who are experienced with treadmills seems to be that the cheap walking pads aren’t likely to last very long—but that will certainly depend on the particular product you get, and how well it’s made.

Make sure to check out all of the specifications when you’re shopping. Many have a weight limit, and the cheaper walking pads are less sturdy than a typical treadmill. Remember that if you’ll be using it throughout every workday, you’ll probably put more miles on it than a marathoner who just trains for an hour or two a day. So choose carefully.

Bottom line, what should I get?

If you want something that will last a long time, get a real treadmill from a brand that has good long-term reviews.

If you want to run, get a real treadmill.

If you need (and will actually use!) something that folds up for storage, a walking pad or folding treadmill is the way to go.

If you want a real treadmill but your budget is limited, go ahead and include walking pads in your search, but be aware that you may be happier buying a used treadmill rather than a walking pad that doesn’t do everything a treadmill can do.

If you expect you can actually get work done while you’re walking (or if you really are determined to use the thing while watching TV), go for it. Be the ankle-watch-wearing work-from-homer you want to see in the world.

   

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