To Use Footbeds or Not to Use Footbeds
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Mitchell Keil
(mitchellkeil) - F

Locale: Deep in the OC
To Use Footbeds or Not to Use Footbeds on 01/10/2007 12:48:42 MST Print View

That is the question!
I have used Superfeet Greens and Shock Doctors in my hiking boots for years and loved them, feeling that they gave me the support and foot orientation that I needed. But as I started to go lightweight and moved to lighter weight boots/shoes, the question occurs to me: Do I really need to use these aftermarket semi-orthotic footbeds? Are the manufacturer supplied footbeds adequate to the job of properly orienting and supporting the lightweight and ultra lightweight hiker's feet? Are there significant differences between manufacturers in the footbeds provided with the boots/shoes we use? At the light weights we carry, is there any real way to tell whether a $40 after market footbed can make a difference?

These questions are just a starting point for this discussion. I would love to hear from others in our community on this matter.

James Pitts
(jjpitts) - F

Locale: Midwest US
Re: To Use Footbeds or Not to Use Footbeds on 01/10/2007 13:21:45 MST Print View

I have tried inserts for hiking. I started using them for running long before this.

For some reason I got the crazy idea that I "suffered" from pronation in my running form and bought all sorts of things to "fix" the problem like motion control shoes and inserts. This lead to purchasing custom orthotic inserts for my shoes. I never did find a solution I was happy with and spent a fair amount of money to accomplish nothing. You spend a LOT of time in your shoes as a runner. I would crank out 40 miles per week, every week... an effort level that for the record is not uncommon nor extreme. In the end what I found was that in fact pronation is a natural part of how the body deals with the impact or walking or running (hiking as well!) and in fact having pronation is normal... it's not having enough of too much that can potentially cause problems. I went to a cushioned shoe with no "motion control" and it was like weights were taken off after about two weeks of running.

The inserts never really did much for me for hiking, either in boots or trail runners. I tried Superfeet and Spenco insoles. I didn't get any value at all in my trail runners. The EVA is already a lot of cushioning. In my boots I think the results were the same as my running shoes. That is, the cushioning was welcome but aside from that I didn't get much more out of them.

Still, I think this topic will (and should) generate a wide range of views. So much of this is a matter of comfort and that's a pretty subjective criteria.

Edited by jjpitts on 01/10/2007 14:04:49 MST.

paul johnson
(pj) - F

Locale: LazyBoy in my Den - miss the forest
Re: To Use Footbeds or Not to Use Footbeds on 01/10/2007 14:02:20 MST Print View

I have VERY high arches. I find some Spenco half-length arch supports or ShockDoctor UltraII insoles indispensible in any footwear if i'm on my feet 6-14 hrs a day hiking - even with a 10-20lb pack.

Edited by pj on 01/10/2007 14:04:06 MST.

Mitchell Keil
(mitchellkeil) - F

Locale: Deep in the OC
To Use Footbeds or Not to Use Footbeds on 01/10/2007 14:10:06 MST Print View

Thanks for your comments, James. I went one step further than you did. I even went to one of those clinics that Phil Oren runs and spent boucoup bucks getting customed fitted Superfeet Greens that I wore for probably 3 very uncomfortable hikes before ditching them.

I agree that comfort,however defined, probably rules the bottom line on this issue, but an entire industry has grown up around this issue and I think much of it is pure hype. I am also not sure how to evaluate whether the aftermarket footbeds really make a difference. If one goes to the Backpacker.com site there is an entire section devoted to this subject complete with questionaires, analysis and referals to "professinal" foot help, including Phil Oren. Clearly, there are hikers with club feet and twisted toes and all manner of foot deformities where orthotics DO make a difference, but for the vast majority of us, is that also true? In the list of questions in my initial post, I asked whether it makes a difference if one is carrying the light weights we do and if heavier packs make it necessary to use orthotics. As I indicated, it did make a difference when I carried 45+lbs on my back. Or at least that is what I thought.

D T
(dealtoyo) - F

Locale: Mt Hood
Re: To Use Footbeds or Not to Use Footbeds on 01/10/2007 14:24:47 MST Print View

I find that the inserts that come with new shoes tend to compress too much too soon (some just paper thin after only a few weeks of hard use). Replacement footbeds hold up longer giving you more comfort for the long hard days on the trail. Extra support is just a benefit.

Shawn Basil
(Bearpaw) - F

Locale: Southeast
Re: To Use Footbeds or Not to Use Footbeds on 01/10/2007 14:53:25 MST Print View

"In the list of questions in my initial post, I asked whether it makes a difference if one is carrying the light weights we do and if heavier packs make it necessary to use orthotics. As I indicated, it did make a difference when I carried 45+lbs on my back. Or at least that is what I thought."

In my case, there really does seem to be a difference. When I was a Marine road-marching with loads between 45 and 90 pounds, my feet routinely hurt. It was a "duh" sort of acceptance of the obvious (pounding boots on pavement with heavy load = pain). But when I through-hiked the AT in 1999, I was surprised that my feet hurt so badly. I was wearing quality boots and my pack was never over 50-something pounds, with my average load being about 40. A cakewalk compared to the Marine Corps and my pace was quite mellow. Yet my feet were always sore.

Move ahead a couple of years when I begin to work as a bootfitter for REI. I tried superfeet and found them very uncomfortable at first. I have a wide-heeled, relatively flat foot, which is exactly the opposite of the shape of superfeet out of the box. It took about a month for the shape to conform enough that my feet were not somewhat sore after wearing my orthotics for more than a few hours. But after that month, they began to feel great.

At this same time, I began working as a NOLS instructor (heavy loads - pack of about 22 pound, then add group gear, climbing gear, and 10-12 days of bulk food at a time = about 65 pounds at the trailhead). Even with these heavy loads, and both on and off-trail travel, I never experienced the foot pain of my AT through-hike.

Since I have gone with progressively lighter footwear and lighter packs on personal trips. I have walked shorter weekend trips and noticed soreness in the arch of my foot with factory insoles. With other after market insoles such the the Viesturs line from Sole, I actually experienced ankle pain, perhaps because they did not provide the suppination control I get from superfeet. But with superfeet, I very rarely feel such foot pain. Break-in time is uncomfortable, but otherwise I am much happier with them. Even dayhiking with a tiny pack, I notice a difference. Some may suggest I have weakened my feet by using orthotics, but I would contend that my feet hurt without them before using them, so I don't feel that I've lost much by using my superfeet.

I DO feel that orthotics such as superfeet may be overused however. Most of the customers who buy superfeet buy them for arch support. The primary purpose of such orthotics is supposed to be in reducing pronation and suppination, with arch support a happy side benefit. I believe the biggest issue in such problems is poor fit. Boots which are cut so they provide excellent arch support and heel alignment might prevent any need for many people to use orthotics.

However, I firmly believe the majority of hikers on trails have poorly fitted footwear. I see many many customers arrive wearing shoes which are not only too short or too long for their feet, but which offer a last that bears no resemblence to their foot shape. A well-trained and experienced bootfitter can make a tremendous difference, but I can honestly say that at my REI, we have decently trained but largely inexperienced footwear staff. And my store is likely one of the better stores for this department. The average small outfitter likely has no one with real footwear training, particularly if one or two people are the entire store's staff on any given evening.

Proper fitting could dramatically reduce the need for hikers to use specialized footbeds, particularly now that many brands are putting quality footbeds in their factory models, rather than the paper thin inserts of past years.

Edited by Bearpaw on 01/10/2007 14:54:55 MST.

Vick Hines
(vickrhines) - F

Locale: Central Texas
Re: Re: To Use Footbeds or Not to Use Footbeds on 01/10/2007 16:07:03 MST Print View

Bearpaw,
Thanks for your comments on insoles. Especially your observation that most hikers who suffer, suffer because of improperly fitted footwear, and that insoles are over used. That is my observation as well, although I don't have your experience in shoe retail.

Your experience at NOLS accords with mine. Boy, do they go heavy! Trudging in heavy boots made putting on camp shoes an indescribable relief. Since giving up guiding, I have treated myself to light packs and progressively lighter shoes.

Edited by vickrhines on 01/11/2007 11:25:10 MST.

Eric Noble
(ericnoble) - MLife

Locale: Colorado Rockies
Re: Re: To Use Footbeds or Not to Use Footbeds on 01/10/2007 17:14:55 MST Print View

I use custom made orthotics. They were not made to fix any problems. What I like is that all the footwear I use now has the same footbed, even rentals.

Heavy Good
(SergeantRock) - F
Re: orthotics are a scam on 01/10/2007 22:38:30 MST Print View

All orthotics do is take the stress off one area of your foot and put it somewhere else. Orthotics are marketed to distance runners and now long distance backpackers in various runner and backpacking magazines. Orthotics are absolutely nothing else but extra income for podiatrists. Few reputable sports medicine orthopedic surgeons endorse foot orthotics other than simple over the counter, shock absorbing type insoles such as spenco, etc.

Podiatrists are not Medical Doctors and the orthotics craze is 99% a scam. You are better off spending your money on buying a new pair of shoes or boots than prescription orthotics.

Next time you see a podiatrist, tell him he is practicing medicine without a license to inflame his emotions.

Remember, its all about $$$$$ and not really about your good health.

Sergeant Rock

Heavy Good
(SergeantRock) - F
Re: To Use Footbeds or Not to Use Footbeds on 01/10/2007 23:21:52 MST Print View

If you work on asphalt or concrete all day, over the counter gel shock absorbing insoles are fine. Anything more than that, you are being suckered by the running "I gotta have orthotics and correct my pronation" crowd. Ever hang around runners before? I used to be one myself and mostly, all they talk about is their NAGGING aches and pains and injuries. I dont think it ever occurs to any of them that their injuries might stem more from extreme mileage, especially on asphalt and concrete, along with speedwork.

Personally, I believe a lot of runners who are obsessed with their training have mental problems. Podiatrists sometimes capitalize on the obsessive runner (or ultra-light fastpacker) who refuses to stop running (or fastpacking) for a while.

Ever heard of rest? God didnt make the human body to run 30 plus miles a week on asphalt and concrete.

Sergeant Rock

James Pitts
(jjpitts) - F

Locale: Midwest US
Re: Re: To Use Footbeds or Not to Use Footbeds on 01/11/2007 04:56:01 MST Print View

...a lot of runners who are obsessed with their training have mental problems.

I find this to be a rather sweeping generalization. Most runners I know are just passionate about training and simply love to run. They aren't that different from ultralight backpackers that obsess over how many squares of toilet paper to take into the backcountry, cut the pockets out of their clothes, or try to hike a trail in record time and decide not to treat their water for giardia.

I can't say I understand or agree with your comment about the human body not being made to take 30+ miles per week on asphalt and concrete. You should speak to your capabilities alone in this regard. Backpackers routinely hike much more than this and the trails many hike on are more rugged on their bodies than the city streets I am forced to run on. After many years of running (in the Chicagoland burbs) and backpacking I am constantly amazed at the ability of the human body to adapt and condition itself.

Books like The Runners' Repair Manual (ISBN: 0312695977) have been around for ages, long before the "orthotics craze" and the knowledge on how to treat these aches and pains is something most backpackers could benefit from. In many ways the running community is way ahead of the backpacking community in understanding the how to diagnose and treat overuse injuries. Over the years I have used and adapted many things running has taught me into the world of backpacking. I am constantly amazed at how much of what I have tried survives the translation.

I don't think the behaviors you are referencing are in any way limited to runners. I think it's human nature to mentally ignore things that get in the way of our most passionate desires. A runner that tries to "run off" knee pain rather than address it is setting themselves up for a lot of pain and a slow recovery. Then again you have backpackers and "big trip syndrome" where people ignore huge safety concerns and hike in conditions they shouldn't because they bought those plane tickets and did all that planning and by God they are going to hike that hike. These people are setting themselves up for death.

Edited by jjpitts on 01/11/2007 04:57:57 MST.

Shawn Basil
(Bearpaw) - F

Locale: Southeast
Re: Re: Re: To Use Footbeds or Not to Use Footbeds on 01/11/2007 06:48:45 MST Print View

I wouldn't get too worked up James. This is just another Putin post. He even breaks up the post into two separate posts just like VP. Readers who've been around for more than a month understand.

Matthew LaPatka
(gungadin) - M

Locale: Pittsburgh, PA
Re: Re: Re: To Use Footbeds or Not to Use Footbeds on 01/11/2007 07:13:43 MST Print View

You brought up some great points, James. I would have responded in the same fashion. I have run all my life including many 75-100+ mile weeks when I was in college. I got hurt occasionally, rested appropriately, and got better. To say that mental issues are the cause of dedication and love of an activity is ridiculous. Most runners are certainly not obsessed. Runners are a special breed (like UL'ers), and there are plenty of unhealthy runners, hikers, and just about any kind of person. Everyone deals with injuries from time to time at least at some point in life, the key is learning from them and using that knowledge to prevent future problems. The best thing to do with compulsive complainers is just to avoid them. Most runners certainly don't fall in this category. Nice message!

Edited by gungadin on 01/11/2007 07:21:36 MST.

Douglas Frick
(Otter) - MLife

Locale: Wyoming
Re: To Use Footbeds or Not to Use Footbeds on 01/11/2007 09:00:24 MST Print View

I now have flat feet (too many years of wearing rubbah slippahs) and I was despairing of being able to hike any more; it was just too painful. A shoe salesman recommended SuperFeet, and the results were miraculous. Suddenly I could carry a 50-pound kid-pack all day without pain.

Some people need them, and some don't. Those who do, know how important they can be. I still use SuperFeet in my lightweight shoes, even with no pack, otherwise I go lame.

Mitchell Keil
(mitchellkeil) - F

Locale: Deep in the OC
Re: To Use Footbeds or Not to Use Footbeds on 01/11/2007 11:08:28 MST Print View

Shawn:
Since you have experience with REI footwear dept, I wonder what your take is on one of the questions I raised at the beginning of this thread. Have Footwear manufacturers moved beyond supplying the thin pieces of foam that passed for insoles and begun to provide truely adequate footbeds? Are these footbeds designed in such a way as to address some of the "basic" needs of lightweight backpackers for insoles that provide comfort and support? Anyone else is welcome to chime in on this question.

Vick Hines
(vickrhines) - F

Locale: Central Texas
Re: Re: To Use Footbeds or Not to Use Footbeds on 01/11/2007 11:37:24 MST Print View

Douglas,
When you need arch support, you need it. No argument. And you may need it if your arches have collapsed. Have you considered physical therapy? Just a thought.

You might also benefit from looking around for shoes with *natural* arch support. These are shoes where the heel extends under the arch - about one third to half-way - and is high enough that your arch is supported by the curve of the footbed dropping off from the heel. That is the traditional and IMHO, best way to create arch support. It never breaks down - unlike shanks that try to do the same thing. And it works with your natural foot and arch flex - unlike after-market insoles. Look around and you will see what I mean. An extreme example is the logger's boot, but you can find running shoes that work the same way. Every manufacturer has a model or two. The heel does not have to be very high. The arch support is determined by the distance the heel extends under the arch and the height of the heel relative to the sole.

Shawn Basil
(Bearpaw) - F

Locale: Southeast
Re: Re: To Use Footbeds or Not to Use Footbeds on 01/11/2007 12:37:41 MST Print View

"Have Footwear manufacturers moved beyond supplying the thin pieces of foam that passed for insoles and begun to provide truely adequate footbeds? Are these footbeds designed in such a way as to address some of the "basic" needs of lightweight backpackers for insoles that provide comfort and support?"

There is a bit of vernacular in footwear training that refers to 1-cent insoles (the standard cheap insole, that honestly didn't cost much more than a few pennies) versus 10-cent insoles (thick cushioned insoles that worked to absorb substantial impact or correct for foot width or arch support, such as Vasque's now defunct Variable Fit System - VFS). It was more productive to save 10-15 cents a shoe and put in cheap insoles. And it helped promote Dr. Scholls and like aftermarket footbeds.

However, in the last three or so years, I've seen a real change in the factory insoles in many companies' boots and shoes. I honestly believe Keen footwear was a major part of this. Keen was the first outdoor footwear company I know of to use high quality, thick, shape retaining (i. e. they don't pack down to nothing in a couple of weeks like a walmart shoe) insole. Keens very quickly became an overnight success. At my store, Keen casual shoes have almost entirely replaced Merrells such as the Jungle Moc and Primo.

I believe other companies took a cue from this, because I've begun to notice many major boot companies begin to include very substantial insole (now dubbed "25-cent insoles", though they probably cost somewhat more. The days of saving pennies on each boot are becoming counterproductive when the other company sells 3 pairs for every one of yours, because they are more comfortable and at least somewhat supportive right out of the box. Montrail and Vasque have produced super factory insoles their boots and Merrell has substantially imnproved thier's as well, even if not of the same quality as the previous two.

As for support, it varies. Montrails are superb for folks with medium or narrow heels and insteps/arches. The bootlast (the mold the boot is built around) truly fits a segment of the population that had to make due with a loose sloppy fit in the past. Combined with the high-quality insoles they use, many people should have little or no need for an orthotic like superfeet or prescription styles. For other people like me, with a blown-out arch (my foot actually expands over 1/2 inch outward from the arch when I stand), orthotics like superfeet are helpful no matter what shoes I'm wearing. And unfortunately, my instep is so wide I personally would bruise my foot with the narrow, but high-quality, Montrail.

However, for shock absorption and at least a little bit of arch support, the "25-cent insoles" in many boots and shoes are likely good enough for many hikers without any after-market alternatives. Combined with good fit, they should be plenty good enough for most people.

(Coincidentally, I always try one new models of any shoes we get, both with the factory insoles AND with my broken-in superfeet. This helps me get both an "apples and oranges" concept of how the footwear fits. The higher end insoles are IMMEDIATELY apparent compared to their 1-cent peers which are still on the market in many shoes.)

Mitchell Keil
(mitchellkeil) - F

Locale: Deep in the OC
Re: Re: Re: To Use Footbeds or Not to Use Footbeds on 01/11/2007 15:32:29 MST Print View

Thanks so much for the "update" on what footwear manufacturers are doing to provided more substantial insoles. My experience with my pair of Vasque Velocitys bears this out. I have used them both with and without superfeet greens and I have found little difference in functionality. The same applies to my pairs of Montrail Comps and Stratos. Admittedly, I don't have blown arches or excessive pronation.

When I started this thread, I was interested in the experiences of other hikers with after market insoles and OEM insoles. It's interesting to see that for those who have truely problematic feet the after market insoles do make a difference.

Russell Swanson
(rswanson) - F

Locale: Midatlantic
Re: Re: Re: To Use Footbeds or Not to Use Footbeds on 01/11/2007 16:16:21 MST Print View

Not to thread-jack but man, Shawn, I wish you (or someone like you) worked at my local REI. Trail shoes is one of the few things I won't buy sight-unseen over the interent as I need to try them for fit first. Questioning the (usually well-intentioned) salespeople at REI or EMS about footwear is a dreadful experience. I don't think I've ever talked to one that had anything more constructive to say than "these are the ones I use and I like them."

Heavy Good
(SergeantRock) - F
Re: Re: Re: homemade Viet Cong sandals is UL on 01/11/2007 16:16:54 MST Print View

I copied the practice of the Viet Cong and Ray Jardine and started making my own footwear. Like the VC decades ago, I get an old tire and cut it up into sandal shapes. That is very difficult to do BTW. Then, I buy nylon rock climber webbing and make two "X" straps. One across the ankle region, the other covers the forefoot area.

I then glue a Dr. Scholl OTC insole to the top of the sandal so I am not standing on top of a slab of rubber all the time.

Advantages:

Ultra-lightweight
Cheap
Do it yourself
Cool looking
Your rice suddenly doesnt taste so bland on the trail
Your shoes or boots dont become waterlogged during rain

Ive found using this method that my footgear weight is practically nil and since all I eat anymore anyway is cold rice and a little rat meat I cook on a stick, ULB has suddenly become a whole lot more fun.

Sergeant Rock