Proper footwear can make or break any outdoor adventure, and most experienced people know that choosing appropriate, well-fitting, quality boots or shoes is essential. The first step is to make sure your boots fit properly, preferably using a trained boot fitter.
However, many people don't realize the role quality footbeds (also called insoles) play. Odds are, the flimsy ones that came in your shoes or boots are designed to be replaced with an after-market pair that fits your foot and your usage. Third-party footbeds, along with a proper sock setup, can make a huge difference in fit, comfort, and avoiding the dreaded blisters.
A number of companies at the Outdoor Retailer show last month were displaying insoles and footbeds for outdoor footwear. Superfeet, my personal workhorse footbed choice, has added a wide version of its Green model (the hiking boot version) for those who need no snowshoes to supplement their boots. Well, OK, there is a continuing trend for people to have wider and longer feet (size 14 was almost unheard of when I was growing up, but now seems to be common even among Boy Scouts age 15 or 16).
The modifiable OrthoSole Max Cushion
One of the newest entries to the footbed world comes from a small company called OrthoSole. The OrthoSole Max Cushion is a user-modifiable insole ($49.95). As can be seen in the image at right, the instep and metatarsal height can be adjusted by replaceable pieces that are held in place with a hook and loop fastener.
There are three instep options — light, medium, and firm — and two metatarsal options — light and medium — supplied with the footbeds. The user can set each foot separately (most people have differences between their feet, sometimes large differences). The heel "gel" is fixed.
I am in the process of trying out various OrthoSole combinations to see which works best for me in my trail shoes and in my boots, and will post a user review in the future.
Thinsulate Thermal Insoles
The well-known brand 3-M has a new footbed offering from its insulation branch, Thinsulate. Thinsulate Thermal Insoles are intended to provide added warmth for winter use. They use a four-layer construction, which includes Thinsulate insulation and foam to minimize shock. Like most after-market footbeds, you can swap them among several pairs of footwear (though manufacturers would like you to get a pair of footbeds for each pair of your boots and running shoes).
You're not limited to the footbed offerings mentioned above. Trailspace has added insole gear information and reviews to the Gear Guide. Just as there is a plethora of outdoor footwear choices, a number of other companies sell specialized insoles designed for different activities, footwear types, and foot types.