Brisk walking is an ideal way to get fit. It increases the heart rate and--unlike swimming--it's a weight-bearing exercise that helps develop and preserve bone mass.

If you're serious about it, you'll need good shoes designed specifically for walking. The right shoes will keep your feet comfortable while you walk, and provide support and shock absorption.

We tested nine models of walking shoes for men and nine for women. Prices ranged from $17 to $75 a pair.

Because runners and fitness walkers often grouse that a shoe that gives them a good "ride" when new loses bounce soon thereafter, we tested how cushioning alters over time.

For walkers whose feet get hot and sweaty, we tested how readily moisture from a wet sock passed through each shoe's upper. And we judged flexibility: how easily a shoe's sole bends in the forefoot, to make it easier for you to move forward.

Our test shoes ranged from fair to excellent overall. Some of the cheapest shoes fell to the bottom of the ratings. These included the Dr. Scholl's models for men (Dynamic Walker) and women (White Blair Walker), both $25; the $17 Cobbie Cuddlers (Kmart) for women; and the $18 Payless Lace Walker for men.

Rated excellent overall were the Saucony Grid Motion and Adidas Solo for men ($75 and $60, respectively) and the Adidas Solo ($70), New Balance WW571 ($60) and Ryka Epitome ($65) for women.

Our tests revealed no clear cushion leader.

Two touted characteristics did seem to make a difference: Shoes whose soles are grooved at the ball of the foot tended to be more flexible than those without grooves. And shoes with mesh or vents tended to "breathe" better than others in our wet-sock tests.

Still, even the most-breathable, most-flexible, best-cushioned shoe in the world won't do you a bit of good if it doesn't fit. When shopping for a shoe, consider its depth, in addition to its length and width. You should be able to wiggle your toes without feeling restricted. And your shoe should fit properly in the store--it shouldn't need appreciable breaking in.

Other shopping tips:

* Shop for shoes late in the day. Your feet can swell a size or more in length and width by afternoon.

* Look for shoes with a padded collar and an Achilles notch--a scoop at the heel counter that relieves pressure on the Achilles tendon.

* Light weight can be important. Our men's models ranged from 11.9 oz. to 15.4 oz. (per individual shoe) in size 9D. Women's models ranged from 9.6 oz. to 12.1 oz. in size 7B.

Walking shoes can last hundreds of miles, depending on how they're used. Replace them when their outsoles show excessive wear, or when your feet no longer feel protected against impact.