Do your feet hurt after you go on long hikes? If so, we’re not surprised that you’re seeking an answer to “what are insoles?”
WHAT ARE INSOLES?
While the main reason people choose to wear insoles is to make their shoes feel smaller, insoles also:
You can buy insoles at most shoe shops and pharmacies, but bear in mind that you’ll have to cut them to suit the shape and size of your feet.
If you looked up “what are insoles,” hoping to learn more about custom made boot inserts, you probably had orthotics in mind. Orthotics require a doctor’s appointment.
While some orthotics provide support for people with medical conditions, others deal with gait problems and give arch support. Therefore, if you’re a hiker with previous injuries, you might want to invest in orthotics (but be prepared to pay more!)
WHY DO YOU NEED INSOLES IN YOUR TRAIL SHOES?
We’ve given you a general answer to “what are insoles?” Now, let’s get a little more specific. Why do you need insoles in your trail shoes?
The answer is surprisingly simple.
Most hiking boots come with insoles that provide average comfort to an average foot. If you have no issues with your feet, then you might find this type of insole pretty comfortable.
On the other hand, if your feet feel fatigued or even sore after you wear your trail shoes for an extended period of time, it’s likely that the factory insoles that come with your boots aren’t the right fit for your feet.
It’s important to note that pain might not necessarily manifest in your feet. If you experience pain in your back, hips, or legs, it could be a sign that you have alignment or support issues and could do with a good pair of insoles.
Pain aside, if you wear your hiking boots often, the insoles will wear down over time. If you notice that your comfort level has decreased, it might be time to buy a new pair of insoles.
CHOOSING THE RIGHT INSOLES
You now know the answer to “what are insoles,” but can you pick a pair that is right for you? Here’s a list of the most important factors to take into account when looking for the best insoles for hiking.
More than one type
Hiking insoles generally fall into two categories: comfort and sport.
Comfort insoles, which fit regular-shaped feet, feature foam or gel. They provide extra comfort and cushioning under less demanding conditions.
Support insoles, also known as sports insoles, are made from a harder material. Because of that, support insoles ensure better stability and give structural support.
They’re ideal for hiking but are also an excellent choice for people who suffer from structural misalignment, plantar fasciitis, and supination (your foot rolls outward as you move) or over-pronation (your foot rolls inward as you move).
WHAT YOUR SIZE?
Most full-length insoles suit a range of shoe sizes. The customer is expected to cut off the unneeded length.
For 3/4 length-insoles (which are ideal for slim or small shoes), the size range denotes the footwear sizes in which the insoles can be used (if you’re between sizes, size up).
YOU NEED TO KNOW YOUR FOOT ARCH
The arch of your foot should conform to one of three different arch types. These are:
When buying insoles, you must identify your foot arch type first. Wearing insoles that aren’t suitable for your arch type could cause you a lot of pain.
PROFILE AND VOLUME MATTER TOO
Insoles come in different profiles and volumes. Profile refers to how the insole feels under your feet.
Low profile insoles are most suited for people with low arches, whereas high-profile insoles are perfect for hikers with high-arches. Medium-profile insoles complement a variety of arch profiles.
Volume refers to the amount of space the insole takes up in your shoe.
Low-volume insoles fit low-volume shoes (like cycling shoes), and high-volume insoles suit high-volume shoes (like running shoes and hiking boots). Medium-volume insoles work well with average-volume shoes, such as casual shoes and athletic footwear.
MATERIAL IS RELEVANT
Foam insoles are probably the most common. They’re also typically the cheapest. Foam is rigid, shock-absorbing, and dependable. However, it tends to wear down quickly.
Memory foam insoles mold to your foot shape. As such, they’re very comfortable. They usually last longer than foam insoles. Gel insoles are the perfect buy for those with big heels. They increase grip, relieve pain, and stop slipping.Air-cushioned insoles have pressurized air bubbles inside a supportive foam sole. They’re extremely comfortable.
Finally, leather insoles are robust and resilient and provide strong arch support.
THE MOMENT OF TRUTH
When you find suitable insoles, try them on before you purchase them.
First, place your foot on the insole outside of the shoe. Then, lift your other foot so that all of your weight is applied to the insole, as it would be when you’re walking.
The insole should provide stability as well as support for your heel. Make sure that your heel doesn’t go over the edge of the heel cup.
Next, replace the factory insole of your shoe with the new insole. Place your foot inside the shoe to assess the overall fit, feel, and support that the insole provides.
The insole should take up just the right amount of volume (i.e., neither too little nor too much).
For the sake of accuracy, try on the insoles with the socks you plan on wearing on the trail. You shouldn’t find moving your toes difficult. Remember that your feet will swell somewhat after a long hike!
HOW TO TRIM INSOLES
Anyone who looks for an answer to “what are insoles?” probably wants to know how to cut them to size too.
Your hiking boots come with factory-fitted insoles. Take them out and use them as a template when trimming your new insoles.
First, position the factory-fitted insole over your new insole, making sure to line up the forefoot, heel, and edges. Trace around the insole. Then, cut your new insole precisely on the line you just drew.
And you’re done! You can now place the new insole inside your boot.
HOW TO CLEAN INSOLES
By now, you know the answer to “what are insoles?” and how to find ones that suit your feet, as well as how to trim them. But you also need to understand how to go about cleaning them.
After all, by taking good care of your insoles, you’re not only prolonging their life but also extending the life of your boots as well.
Insoles absorb your sweat, so remove them from your shoes after every hike and let them dry out.
If you notice that your insoles are filthy, brush off any loose dirt and then scrub them using a nylon dish brush or a soft dish sponge and soapy water. Remember to clean both sides of the insole!
Whatever you do, don’t oversaturate the insoles with water as that can damage them.
After you’re done scrubbing the insoles, use a clean cloth to get rid of any soap residue and leave them to air dry.
You can also disinfect your insoles with rubbing alcohol instead. In a small spray bottle, mix equal amounts of rubbing alcohol and water.
Then, lay your insoles on a flat surface and give them a misting on both sides. Once again, let the insoles air dry.
Do your insoles smell bad? You can deodorize them with baking soda. Pour a few ounces of baking soda into a Ziploc bag. Then, place the insoles inside the bag, covering them in baking soda thoroughly. Seal the bag and let the insoles sit in it overnight.
The following morning, remove the insoles from the bag and shake off the remaining powder. You should no longer be able to smell any unwanted odors.
PAIN-FREE HIKES AWAIT YOUR
If you can’t find a pair of really comfortable hiking boots, you should consider getting the best hiking insoles. Insoles will not only improve the fit of your shoes, but they’ll also provide arch support, make your feet feel much warmer (great if you’re trekking in winter), and reduce bad odor.
To make the most out of your insoles, remember to maintain them. When you remove the insoles from your shoes, keep an eye out for signs of wear and tear. Also, make sure that they’re not getting too thin and that the fabric covering the insole isn’t torn.
If you hit the trail often, don’t expect the insoles to last you for more than a year. That being said, if you’re not that big of a hiking enthusiast, you could get several years out of your insoles, provided that you look after them, of course!
Did we miss anything when answering, “what are insoles?” Are you more likely to invest in shoe inserts now? Let us know by leaving us a comment down below!
Featured image by: Pixabay
Jonathan O’Ryan is what you might call a seasonal digital nomad. When he is not thru-hiking the Pacific Crest Trail or finetuning his custom UL camping gear in the middle of nowhere, he comfortably sits at his home desk – yes, he still has a physical address, we don’t know for how long though – sharing his insights on all things outdoors with Wilderness Today’s audience. We know life is an adventure, Jon, but we’d still like to have that urgent work email answered by noon.