By Sanjay Ghosh
So you’ve heard about the benefits of removable insoles and want to join the movement. Literally, because shoe inserts help you move better, longer and healthier. But when you type in “shoe inserts” on Google, the selection is mind-boggling. Low arch, high arch, squishy, rigid. Which ones should you get?
Well, to tell the truth. There is no one-size-fits-all solution when it comes to supportive footwear. The reason why there are so many different shoe inserts is because there are so many different feet. And that means you need to do some research to make the right choice.
But we know that you don’t want to spend hours scouring the internet for the right information. That’s why we created this 3-step guide that you can follow to find out what you need to know about your feet. So follow these 3 easy steps now, and soon all your steps will feel easy!
In this guide, we’ll go through the following:
- Determining your foot type
- Choosing the right material
- Considering the durability and sustainability of your insole
Step #1: Determine your foot type
The first thing to consider is your foot type. Feet can be divided into roughly 3 categories. Low arches, high arches and neutral arches. It’s worth mentioning that there can be variations that fall in between these categories. It’s also possible that you have one foot with a different arch than the other.
If you have low arches, also known as flat feet, the inside of your foot usually makes full contact with the ground. The weight of people with low arches is usually unevenly distributed towards the inside of the foot.
If you have high arches, the opposite is true. The inside of your foot will have a pronounced curve, causing much of your body weight to be placed on the outside of your foot.
People with neutral arches fall in between the former two. If you have this foot type, you’ll have a moderate arch on the inside of your foot and your body weight will be distributed somewhat evenly across your foot.
No matter what type of feet you have, you will almost always benefit from supportive shoe inserts. This is because your feet stay healthiest when your body weight is distributed across your whole foot. Even people with neutral arches usually tend to one side, with only a small percentage having a 50/50 distribution. Insoles can add squishy support that cushions the impact on the overloaded side and redistributes it to the other side.
An easy way to find out what arches your feet have is the “Wet test”. To perform this test, wet the soles of your feet and step onto a piece of cardboard or paper. Then step off and observe the shape of your footprint. If you see a complete footprint with no or a minimal arch, you likely have flat feet. A narrow footprint with a distinct arch, indicates high arches. And if your footprint has a visible arch, but isn’t particularly narrow or wide, you probably have a neutral arch.
You can also look at the wear on your shoes. If your shoes show excessive wear on the outside heel, it indicates high arches, while wear on the inside is a sign of having flat feet. If your shoes are evenly worn across the sole, you likely have neutral arches.
Step #2: Choose the right material
So once you’ve determined your foot type, you should find out what material insole to use. Commonly used materials include (memory) foam, gel, cork and leather. Each of these has their own set of advantages and disadvantages.
Foam insoles have a number of advantages. They are easy to mass produce, so the costs of these insoles are usually relatively low. Memory foam also adapts to your foot over time, creating personalized support.
Unfortunately, foam is relatively heat-retaining, so users of foam insoles can often experience a warm, sweaty feeling in their shoes. Foam also quickly loses squishiness, which leads to decreased support sooner than other materials.
Gel insoles are excellent shock absorbers. When you wear gel insoles, your weight will be more evenly distributed onto your feet. However, they’re relatively bulky inside your shoe. They also usually don’t give enough support for people with high arches or conditions requiring targeted support.
Cork insoles are known for their natural cushioning, shock absorption and moisture wicking properties. The natural antibacterial properties of cork also prevent foot odor, and the heat-resistant properties keep your feet cool. They mold to your foot over time, giving you personalized support. Cork is eco-friendly and fully renewable, so it minimizes the negative effect of your insole on the environment.
A disadvantage of cork is that it is a premium product, which comes with a premium price tag. Cork shoe inserts are often more expensive than the cheaper synthetic alternatives. For most people, the benefits outweigh the costs.
Shoe inserts made of leather provide good moisture absorption and feel natural. They’re often found in dress shoes or higher end footwear. However, they don’t provide as much support or cushioning as other materials. They’re also significantly more expensive than other inserts, among other reasons because they’re animal-based..
Step #3: Consider the durability and sustainability of your insoles
Most people want their insoles to last as long as possible. To make sure they do, choosing a shoe insert that fits snugly into your shoe is of paramount importance. When it comes to material, cork and leather vastly outperform synthetic insole materials. So if you want to spend more time walking on your insoles than replacing them, you can’t go wrong with either.
However, no insole lasts forever. Even cork and leather insoles lose their ability to perform with repeated use. And for many people, an increasingly important consideration has become the ecological footprint their own footprints cause. When it comes to that, cork is the preferred choice. While both materials are quite durable, cork is much more eco-friendly. Cork comes from the bark of cork trees. By harvesting the bark, the tree is able to remove more CO2 from the environment, when it regrows. This way, the production of cork insoles often removes more CO2 from the environment than it creates. And the tree isn’t hurt in the process. The same, obviously, can’t be said for the animals leather insoles are derived from.
In the end, the insole you’re most comfortable with is the right insole for you. And when we mean comfortable, we don’t only mean your physical comfort. Considering how comfortable you are with the impact your insoles make on the environment is important too.
At Primal Soles, we chose cork exactly for this reason. Firstly, because the squishy supportive qualities of cork insoles are the optimal choice for the majority of people. But also because they allow you to support our planet, while you explore it.
We make the only 100% recyclable cork insoles in the market in accordance with EU regulations. The entire production process is CO2 negative. And we have a program in place that makes recycling them effortless for you. Because over time and after lots of exploring, your insoles will wear out. But we’ll always be there, at the end of the path, to give your feet the support they deserve.
So why not try Primal Soles. We make insoles for low arches and insoles for high arches. Or try our brand new line, with a design based entirely off the feedback of thousands of users— Primal Clouds, because it feels like walking on clouds.
Support cork. And let cork support you.