I received a comment from a gentleman last week on my review of the Lowa Lo hiking shoes, where he stated that he couldn’t understand where the comfort of the shoes, that I was referring to in the review, was coming from. He stated, rightly so, that the insoles of the shoe were too thin for him and just wearing them in his house for a couple of hours was hurting him.
Now, my experience with the Lowa Lo, hasn’t been like that at all. On the contrary, I find the shoes very comfortable. I also tend to like a thinner insole (within reason of course), I find too much padding can lead to problems for me.
Either way, what I want to illustrate with this example is simply that, no one size or preference will work for all. I have no doubt the insoles in the Lowa Lo he had just bought were causing him discomfort. Sometimes, as crazy as it sounds, even insoles, depending on the type they are need to be broken in but other times, they just aren’t the right fit for your feet.
I suggested to him to, if he was otherwise happy with the shoes, to consider getting a new pair of insoles. Failing that, his best course of action was to return them for a refund. With that in mind I thought it would be useful to investigate the insole side of that advice some more and explore what insole options there are available.
The range and types of people’s feet are as wide and varied as the many types of hiking boots there are available. From flat feet to high arches, from narrow feet to broad feet and a myriad of things in-between, there is a large amount of possible options. So it is not surprising that there are a lot of different types of insole available.
If you find yourself not 100% comfortable in any pair of hiking boots, reviewing the insoles is one possible solution that might help improve your comfort factor without having to go down the road of custom made hiking boots or buying a new pair.
Signs that you may Need New Insoles
To start with, let’s look at some signs that you might need new insoles for your hiking boots. At the extreme end, it will be fairly obvious a pair of insoles in a pair of hiking boots isn’t working well i.e. it will be sore and painful while walking in them.
However there are many destinations along the way to this extreme and you may never get that bad. Although as soon as you notice anything, you should aim to correct it as soon as possible, as continued use could lead to more acute problems down the line.
If, for example, you are out hiking and you notice that your ankles and feet are getting fatigued and feel achy more easily than you would expect. That can be a sign that your insoles aren’t up to scratch. Similarly, blisters and hot spots can also result due to ill-fitting insoles.
Please also keep in mind that pain may not necessarily manifest in your feet or ankles, you can experience pain in your back or legs while hiking that can be a result of issues coming from the feet area.
Generally speaking, you’ll know yourself after using your hiking boots on a long hike, just be sure to pay attention and listen to what your body is telling you, it is rarely wrong.
Aside from that, insoles can just wear down after consistent use over time, just like the ones in my old Scarpa boots in the picture at the start of this article, and they just need to be replaced like anything else after a lot of miles have been put in.
What are the Different Types of Insole Available?
When you’ve established that you may need new insoles, broadly speaking, there are two different types of Insole to consider for hiking boots (or indeed most kinds of shoes). The first kind offers a more rigid fit and focuses on providing support, while the second has a more cushioned sole and focuses on shock absorption.
When it comes to the first kind which offers more support, think of someone who has a high arch vs. someone who has flat feet as an illustrative example. You can easily see that a hiking boot that is comfortable for someone with flat feet may be very uncomfortable for someone with a high arch, as their feet require different support at different levels. The problem here is structural support. For the second type of insole, the focus is on shock absorption and so it has more to do with cushioning.
A handy way to think of the difference is that a rigid structural insole encourages your feet to mold to the insole to provide stability and structure, while a cushioned insole molds to your feet to provide more cushioning. Insoles will also typically have anti-odor, bacteria characteristics to help your boots stay fresher.
How Your Feet Move
Next it’s worth thinking about how your feet actually move. Broadly speaking, your feet have two main motions, pronation and supination. Everyone pronates and supinates to one degree or another. Of course, some will pronate more than others and so on, depending on the way their feet are.
The post linked to just above covers this topic in more detail. However for the purposes of this post, in brief, pronation is the body’s way of absorbing shock and so your foot expands as you walk on flat ground. With supination, which provides a natural support for the body, the foot roles outwards to provide lift to push forward. Both are part of your ‘gait’, or the way you walk. The video below also gives a simple explanation of pronation and supination.
To get a better idea of how you walk, for most people, any good outdoor gear or running store should be able to help you figure out whether you over pronate, over supinate, sit in the middle, etc. For more extreme cases, you may need to see a foot specialist where they will perform a computerized gait analysis and so on. To get you started, you can do the wet test to get an idea of what type of feet you have.
What Insoles do Hiking Boots Typically Come With
In short, it seems to vary as best as I can tell. They will tend to have a mix of both kinds to try and suit the majority of people. However, a more rigid insole seems to me to be the more common as it is I assume, and in my opinion, generally better for hiking. Some insoles in hiking boots can leave a lot to be desired though.
It’s worth noting, some boot and shoe makers, for example, Merrell, will have their own special trademark technology for insoles e.g. Ortholite foot beds. As far as I understand it, these are leaning more towards the world of orthotics as they are more specialized, and so could be very comfortable.
The insoles in most hiking boots will be removable so you can take them out to be aired, handy when you need to clean your boots after a hard day on the trail. This also means you can easily replace them or place more insoles on top of the existing insole.
Insoles broadly can be explained by the profiles listed below:
This if for people who require low arch support. If you have good arches a low profile insole could be the ticket
The medium profile, aka slightly flat footed, is probably the most common. A medium profile insole will offer great support for most people and most foot types
This is for people who have flat feet. If your foot pronates more rather than supinates then a high profile insole can help you build up your arch support
As well as this, sometimes, there will be a reference to volume. What this means, is that it references the amount of volume (or space) needed in a walking boot or shoe, when combined with the existing insole i.e. sometimes it can be added to the existing insole.
This insole should fit all types of low volume shoes e.g. cycling shoes as an example
Should fit some hiking boots and shoes including boots with fixed insoles
This will only fit “roomy” insoles i.e. you can take the manufacturer’s insole out (pretty standard in most decent hiking boots). Probably the most common choice for use with hiking boots
Getting a Proper Fit
Once you’ve worked out your profile, either instore or via the wet test, as you’re getting insoles for already problematic boots, a good fit is critical. Outlined below are some tips on how best to get a good fit from an insole:
- Check if your heel fits inside the heel cup, and doesn’t spill over the edge
- If the insole is too narrow, try going up a size
- If your toes extend beyond the end of the foam forefoot, also try to go up a size
Insoles are normally cut to match your feet so they will normally be big compared to your feet and you adjust accordingly. Take your time with getting the cut right. Do too little rather than too much as there is no undoing it if you make a mistake and cut too much off!
Popular and Functional Insole Options
Below I have listed some popular insole options from two well-known insole companies, Superfeet and Sorbothane. Superfeet are more to do with the first kind of insoles i.e. for more rigid feet to provide arch and structural stability and support. Sorbothane, focus on impact absorption providing more cushioning in particular parts of the insole.
Let’s start with looking at the Superfeet options, please note there are more options available but these are three of the more common ones in available.
The Superfeet Green are for folks with high arches and will fit most roomy footwear styles where the factory insoles can be removed. These can help with common foot pain like arch pain, heel pain & plantar fasciitis.
Superfeet blue are a Medium-arched insole for people who require intermediate support. They will fit most footwear, including hiking boots, without much extra room. Again, they can be used to help with common foot pain, arch pain, heel pain & plantar fasciitis.
You can probably guess what type of feet these are for 🙂 Yes, the Superfeet black are a low-arched insole for people who require light support. Again, they will fit most footwear and they can be used to help with common foot pain, arch pain, heel pain & plantar fasciitis.
These are general purpose shock absorbing insoles and they come in three varieties which are, single strike, double strike and full strike. They are for use in all types of walking shoes and hiking boots
These are High performance insoles complete with support, foot strike protection, flexibility and cushioned comfort. Designed for activities where the heel is subject to the most impact shock, an inbuilt comfort contour and heel cup in the heel forefoot area offers a comprehensive shock absorbing solution. They rebound to their original shape after each impact for shock absorption and cushioning.
These are high performance insoles complete with support, foot strike protection, flexibility and cushioned comfort. Designed for activities where both the forefoot and heel are subject to the most impact shock, an inbuilt comfort contour and heel cup in the heel forefoot area and added shock absorption in the forefoot area offers a comprehensive shock absorbing solution. They rebound to their original shape after each impact for shock absorption and cushioning.
These are High performance insoles complete with support, foot strike protection, flexibility and cushioned comfort. Designed for activities where the whole foot is subject to impact shock, Full Strike offers a comprehensive shock absorbing solution. They rebound to their original shape after each impact for shock absorption and cushioning.
What I Prefer
When it comes to a general insole, my personal preference is a more rigid insole option as opposed to one with more cushioning. While it can take a bit longer to get more comfortable in, the rigid insole tends to toughen up my feet. It also, apparently, encourages the feet to make more fat cells on the base of the foot, in effect creating your own shock absorption.
I am broadly cautious of too much cushioning. I always think of how running shoes that had too much cushioning, which although heavily marketed as running shoes, were eventually found out to be bad for peoples feet, and actually caused runners more issues that old fashioned flat running shoes! I used to run a lot so I experienced this first hand and I think the same logic applies in hiking boots.
However, as already stated, everyone is different and some folks may need that bit more cushioning. What works for me, will quite likely not work for you so take the time to find what meets your needs.
If you get a pair of good hiking boots that you otherwise really like, but you feel they could be more comfortable, investing in good insoles is certainly worth a look. Trying to find the perfect hiking boots is tough an ongoing quest for most, so if something ticks every other box but the insoles are causing you some issues, it could be worth looking into this more to see if some new insoles will do the trick.
Please remember to keep in mind that some insoles need a bit of time to break in as referenced above, so give your boots time and properly break them in.
Remember, I am adding this information here to hopefully be helpful for folks as guidance and information, but I want to stress that I am not a foot specialist. If you find you are experiencing serious problems with your hiking boots, or any shoes for that matter, you should seek appropriate professional advice.
I hope you found this article on how to choose the best insoles for hiking boots and shoes useful. If you did, please like and share. Please feel free to leave a comment below too.