After researching and testing 32 types of insoles, we think that the Superfeet Green for men and the Superfeet Blueberry for women offer the best support and cushion for most people. They are comfortable and versatile enough to fit several different types of shoes, whether you’ll be standing on your feet all day or going for a run.
Our pick for best support insole for most men, the Superfeet Green, is able to find the right balance between support and cushion, provides a comfortable fit, and is versatile enough to be the right choice for a large number of different shoe styles and activities. It’s more expensive than some competitors, but for the features and value it provides we feel it’s well worth the additional cost.
Women’s feet are not simply scaled-down versions of men’s feet, and our pick, the Superfeet Blueberry, is more than just a “pink” version of our men’s pick. Men’s and women’s feet differ in a number of shape characteristics, and several companies design and manufacture women’s-specific insoles. The Blueberry’s plastic arch design provides a firm platform of support, and the open-celled foam cushioning provides comfort. Providing both of these is a delicate balance, which Blueberry pulls off better than its competitors.
Materials can make a big impact on the size and weight of a support insole. For those looking for a thinner, lighter-weight alternative to our top pick, we recommend the Superfeet Carbon. The Carbon’s design allows it to more easily fit in a wider variety of shoes compared with the Superfeet Green. In addition, an upgrade of the Green’s top cover and arch support materials allow the Carbon to be lighter and more breathable without compromising comfort or support.
Though some people desire a firm and supportive fit from an insole, it isn’t for everyone. For those who want an affordable, cushioned sock-liner replacement, the Spenco Comfort Insole is our pick. Cushioned insoles are specifically for adding comfort to your running or walking experience, because the majority of shock absorption actually comes from the design of the shoe. These do the job as well as near-identical models twice the price.
Although most runners will be just fine with the sock liners that come standard with shoes, there are more form-fitting, cushioned, and breathable insole options. They won’t help you make the next Olympic team, but the CurrexSole RunPro (offered in high, medium, and low arch profiles) will improve the comfort and fit of shoes for some runners. The RunPro is more breathable than most sock liners and features a deep heel cup that helps collect your foot’s natural cushioning, the plantar fat pad. You can determine your foot arch profile at CurrexSole’s website to select the RunPro model that’s right for you.
The Hapad Metatarsal Pad isn’t an insole, but a pad placed inside a shoe to help reduce forefoot discomfort. Don’t let its simple felt and adhesive design fool you—a pair of these can bring significant relief to people suffering with forefoot pain by offloading and reducing pressure under the troublesome spots. The Hapad Metatarsal Pad has an adhesive backing, so unlike other pads or insoles, you can place a Hapad Metatarsal Pad in a spot under the foot that works best for you.
My experience and expertise gained as a podiatrist for 13 years puts me in a unique position to help clear up some of the questions surrounding insoles. During my time training in and practicing podiatry, I’ve seen a large number of shoes, insoles, orthotics, and surgical/nonsurgical methods for treating a wide variety of foot problems.
Along with my professional experience, I’ve run competitively for the past 25 years. I understand the amount of marketing and information can make it difficult to find the right insoles and take proper care of your feet. I am currently the head cross-country and track coach at the Université du Québec à Montréal, so I am working on daily basis with athletes and doing everything in my power to help them be their best.
Medical disclaimer: Though I am a residency trained podiatrist, it’s important to note that this guide is not a substitute for medical advice. Always consult a medical professional when experiencing persistent pain, discomfort, or swelling.
I also got second opinions from Dr. Joshua Hedman, DPM, a foot care physician and podiatrist, for his take on what makes a great insole.
The testers who helped evaluate the insoles are runners, with the experience needed to judge the positive and negative aspects of them. Their experience, along with their use of the insoles during runs on indoor tracks, treadmills, sidewalks, and trails, gives us the ability to evaluate how well these insoles delivered on their manufacturers’ promises.
Shoe insoles have a bad reputation. Frequently the subject of late-night infomercials and outrageous claims, it would be easy to write off the hundreds of insole models as nothing more than modern-day snake oil. And though they won’t help you run as fast as Usain Bolt or instantly relieve foot pain, they can make shoes more comfortable and supportive.
But first, sock liners: A sock liner is the basic, removable insole that sits between the foot and midsole of most shoes. Though sock liners can vary in thickness and comfort, their primary function is to prevent the foot from rubbing against stitching and materials that bind the upper and lower portions of a shoe together. Most sock liners that come standard with a new pair of shoes provide little support or cushioning. The midsole materials of the shoe provide the shock absorption and have the most impact on how the foot is supported, as well as whether the shoe feels soft or stiff.
For the vast majority of people, selecting the right shoe negates the need for an additional insole. When shopping for shoes, select a model that fits well and is specific to your chosen activity. It may sound silly but it’s not uncommon for beginners to try to run in basketball shoes, or play basketball in running shoes. This usually ends with blisters and ankles sprains.
But for those who suffer from foot pain, are recovering from injury, have diabetes or a true foot deformity, or just would prefer some additional support or cushion, over-the-counter or custom-made insoles can be a viable option. A study conducted in 2001 showed that “shoe inserts of different shape and material that are comfortable are able to decrease injury frequency. The results of this study showed that subject specific characteristics influence comfort perception of shoe inserts.”
The two main types of shoe insoles available are cushioned (accommodative) and supportive (functional). Every insole will fall somewhere on the spectrum between these two types. In order to provide cushioning, a shoe insole must be flexible, soft, and elastic. The opposite is true of supportive insoles: They must be firm, able to retain their shape, and provide structure under the load of our body weight during both walking and running.
True cushioned shoe insoles are made from softer materials and their primary purpose is to be more comfortable than the standard sock liners. They are not designed to provide support, but to provide a slightly softer feel. (If you want support, you’re going to need a more rigid insole—there’s no way around that.) It’s important to understand that the midsole of a shoe provides the majority of shock absorption and the shoe’s perceived soft or stiff feel. Insoles provide only a small addition to how a shoe will feel.
Another form of accommodative insole is one made from heat-moldable plastic. After a little time in a kitchen oven, this type of device can conform to the individual foot contours to provide a more customized fit. But because it doesn’t necessarily optimize the ideal position and structure of the foot, a heat-molded insole is best for people who want to relieve pressure from bony prominences or prefer something firmer than the true cushioned insole.
The need for additional support is another reason to consider an insole. Some people prefer shoes with a stiffer feel and a more rigid arch support that can help hold the foot in an upright and stable position. Standing, walking, and running put a tremendous amount of wear and tear on our feet. Most foot care professionals agree that wearing a supportive insole can help control motion, relieve strain, and stabilize a foot that might have arch or heel pain. Different insole brands and models put their own spin on how to balance the amount of cushion and support, but an insole must be rigid to adequately control the force and stress created during daily activities.
We talked with foot care professionals and searched the Internet for reliable expert reviews for insoles that were worthy of testing. When it comes to insoles, there are fundamentally two types: cushioned (accommodative) insoles, which tend to be softer and more comfort-oriented, and support (functional) insoles, which tend to be firmer and are designed (as the name implies) to correct or improve foot function. For both types, we started with sources including Runner’s World, Competitor, Backpacker, and customer reviews from retailers like REI and Amazon.
After discussing ideal materials and a range of options with sports medicine podiatrist Dr. Hedman, and after sifting through dozens of user reviews, we settled on support insoles that cost between $20 and $60. This range usually means quality materials and construction but not such a high price that you’ll flinch about replacing them. Cushioned insoles are less complicated devices so we went with a range of $10 to $60. Brands considered included Aetrex, CurrexSole, Dr. Scholl’s, Footbalance, New Balance, PowerStep, Sidas, Sof Sole, Sole, Sorbothane, Spenco, and Superfeet.
After eliminating the insoles that had obvious flaws according to online user reviews (e.g., poor construction, uncomfortable, difficulty fitting in shoes) we were left with a variety of styles from the top insole brands. While trying on the insoles we noted shoe fit issues, support, cushioning, whether the insole left adequate room for our feet in our shoes, any pain or discomfort, and signs of wear and tear.
Though considerably more expensive ($400 to $600), custom orthotics fabricated by licensed medical professionals are generally more durable and customizable than store-bought insoles. Custom orthotics are made from higher-quality materials and the cost of the devices generally allows for them to be repaired or adjusted by the medical professional. Beware of shoe stores, rip-off artists, or paramedical providers that claim to fabricate custom orthotics. With the costs involved, your best bet is to have a medical professional involved to provide clear expectations and guidance and help determine a comprehensive approach to improve your foot health. Many nonmedical providers are interested only in selling a shoe insert. With extensive knowledge and experience in the treatment of foot problems, board-certified podiatrists and orthopedic surgeons are the best gatekeepers to seek out.
After considering the person and the purpose of replacing the sock liner, the materials used in fabrication will determine how the insole interacts with the foot. Thermoplastics, especially polypropylene, are the most commonly used material to construct the arch of supportive insoles. The combination of being strong and lightweight makes it ideal for manufacturing supportive foot orthotics. When plastic polymers are combined with carbon fiber, insoles can be made that are thinner, lighter, and just as supportive as polypropylene.
Construction with polyethylene foams such as Plastazote and NickelPlast creates softer, more cushioned insoles. The trade-off is that polyethylene foams will provide less control and support than harder plastics and carbon fiber. Natural materials such as cork and leather can also be used to fabricate a more cushioned, less supportive insole.
A number of materials can be used in different thicknesses to serve as soft, accommodative underlayers or top covers. Common materials in this category include open-cell polyurethane foam (Poron), ethylene vinyl acetate (EVA) and closed-cell neoprene foam (Spenco). In order to better wick moisture, theses layers can be perforated and dimpled to allow for better ventilation. A top cover constructed of merino wool, bamboo fibers, and wicking synthetic materials can also aid in helping the foot remain drier during activity.
Our pick for best support insole for men, the Superfeet Green, finds the right balance between support and cushion, provides a comfortable fit, and is versatile enough to be the right choice for a large number of different shoe styles and activities. One of our testers commented, “It took up a bit of room in my shoe, but Superfeet Green were the most comfortable of the support insoles I tested.“ It’s more expensive than some competitors, but we feel it’s worth the additional cost for the features it provides.
The deep heel cup and arch support designed within the polypropylene polymer shell are the features that provide the Superfeet Green insole’s stability. The deep heel cup helps position the foot and fat pad on the bottom of the heel to maximize the body’s natural form of cushioning. The remaining portion of the plastic shell forms an arch that assists in holding the foot in an upright and supported position. In combination with a cushioned open-celled foam and antimicrobial fabric top cover, the insole provides support without sacrificing comfort.
Another strength of the Superfeet Green is its ability to fit into a variety of shoe types and be used for different activities. In order to control foot mechanics, insoles need to be bulkier than sock liners. In our testing, a number of insoles we tested were too wide and had difficulty fitting into standard running shoes. Superfeet Greens fit better in a wider range of shoe types than a number of other competitors.
We also like that a 60-day guarantee is included with all Superfeet products. If you get the wrong size or would like to try a different model, as long as the insoles are in good condition Superfeet will give you a credit or refund your money.
Shoe shopping can be a frustrating experience for people with wide feet. Not all stores carry shoes in a variety of widths and a custom order is sometimes needed just to try them on in store. For people with 2E to 6E wide feet, Superfeet WideGreen features the same supportive and cushion materials as our pick.
Flaws but not dealbreakers
Though less bulky than a number of insoles, Superfeet Greens will not fit all shoes. People with very narrow feet or who wear shoes with little space for an insole should consider a thinner, low-profile model. The closed-cell foam and plastic design of the Superfeet Green are not the most breathable or lightest materials to use in the construction of a top cover. So if you sweat a lot or want the lightest insole available, we recommend our upgrade model, the Superfeet Carbon.
Our women’s support insole pick, Superfeet Blueberry, is more than just a “pink” version of our men’s pick. A number of research studies have been conducted to prove female feet are not simply scaled-down versions of male feet. Men and women’s feet differ in a number of shape characteristics, particularly at the arch, the lateral side of the foot, the first toe, and the ball of the foot. A number of companies have taken into account these differences to design and manufacture women’s insoles.
Superfeet Blueberry combines the same high-quality materials as our men’s pick, Superfeet Green, but a with a design to better fit most women. Blueberry insoles take into account how anatomical structures of women’s feet are different than men’s, such as women having a wider forefoot and shorter arch length. Our pick provides both support and cushion and is versatile enough to be the right choice for a variety of different shoe styles and activities. A beveled closed-foam top cover provides a comfortable layer of cushioning over a supportive plastic arch support. And though it won’t fit into every shoe, we found Blueberry fit a large number of casual and athletic shoe styles in testing.
Flaws but not dealbreakers
Though the Superfeet Blueberry is designed specifically for women’s feet, it won’t fit all women. For women with wider than average feet, Superfeet Green or WideGreen are good alternatives (we don’t know of any insole that is women-specific and wide at the same time). Again, every pair of Superfeet insoles has a 60-day guarantee, so exchanging models ordered online or in store should not be an issue.
These will not work with any high heel or very narrow dress shoes. Supportive insoles need space in order to help control the mechanics of the foot and there is simply no extra room in those types of shoes. Superfeet and other brands sell tiny little insoles for these situations, but they provide very little support.
If you’re looking for a thinner, lighter-weight alternative to our top pick, we recommend the Superfeet Carbon. The slimmed-down design (compared with the Superfeet Green) allows it to more easily fit in a wide variety of shoes. In addition, an upgrade of the Green’s top cover and arch support materials make it lighter and more breathable without compromising comfort or support.
Aside from the reduction of overall bulk, the biggest noticeable difference between the Superfeet Carbon and Green is the type of materials used in their construction. The arch support and shallower heel cup of the Carbon are constructed with a blend of carbon fiber and polymer. The mix allows reduced overall weight but allows for the insole to retain strength and support. Along with Superfeet’s standard antimicrobial layer that prevents odor, the Carbon’s top cover is perforated to enable better ventilation.
Along with being more breathable and lighter, the Carbon’s thinner construction also allows it to fit in a wider variety of shoes than bulkier insoles. As Superfeet’s slimmest insole, the Carbon can fit into a larger variety of shoe types, including narrower athletic shoes and dress shoes that are too small to accommodate other insoles.
Small details like its lightweight design and beveled edges to better fit within shoes set the Carbon apart from the competition. For only $10 more than the Green, we feel that the Carbon’s quality and versatility make it a solid value for the additional cost.
The Carbon’s slimmer design also appealed to our testers. “They weren’t as soft as the Superfeet Green, but I like that they take up less space and provide a similar level of support,” said one.
Flaws but not dealbreakers
With a more rigid arch support and thinner cushioning, the Superfeet Carbon has a firmer feel under the foot than the Superfeet Green. Though this may be a welcome change for some, a less cushioned feel may prove uncomfortable to certain users. Before giving up on the Carbon, starting a more gradual break-in period may resolve the issue. If that doesn’t do the trick, Superfeet will provide an exchange or refund for 60 days after the purchase date.
If you wear shoes that can accommodate a deeper heel cup and prefer a more cushioned feel from your insole, you may want to stick with Superfeet Green. A deeper heel cup requires more space within a shoe. In order to be thinner and fit into more shoes, Superfeet decided to reduce the depth of the Carbon’s cup.
Our previous picks focused on insoles that support the foot. Though some people desire a firm and supportive fit from an insole, such a fit isn’t for everyone. Another category of insole can provide additional cushion and comfort to your shoes. If you want an affordable, cushioned sock liner replacement, the Spenco Comfort Insole is our pick.
The Spenco Comfort is a flat, shock-absorbing insole made from a proprietary form of neoprene foam. This soft, lightweight insole runs the full length of the shoe and can be trimmed for a perfect fit within your dress or athletic shoes. It also features an antimicrobial treatment to reduce odor. “I like that they are flat and don’t touch the arch of my foot as much as other insoles. They feel more springy than insoles that came with my shoes,” remarked one of our testers.
Pricewise, a pair of Spencos won’t set you back more than a decent pair of socks, and they cost the same as or less than the competition. Along with selling these insoles to the public, Spenco has a good reputation among foot specialists, and Spenco materials are very commonly used in the fabrication of custom foot orthotics.
Flaws but not dealbreakers
It’s unreasonable to expect these insoles to cure back pain or knee pain or absorb an increased amount of shock. They will help a lot of shoes feel more comfortable, but the majority of shock absorption and cushioning for your feet comes from the midsole of your shoes.The Spenco Comfort doesn’t provide any additional arch support. If you’re looking for a comfortable but supportive insole, you should look at our other picks.
The CurrexSole RunPro won’t help you make the next Olympic team, but it will improve the comfort and fit of shoes for some runners. What sets the RunPro apart are a deep heel cup that helps collect your foot’s natural cushioning, the materials used in construction, and the insole’s breathability. The RunPro’s purpose is to improve comfort and provide a bit more breathability than standard sock liners.
The bottom of the insole features two types of cushioned material. The foam under the forefoot is constructed with a firmer material that CurrexSole claims will aid in rebound and returning energy more efficiently to ground. The heel area is covered by a more cushioned material to help absorb impact for heel strikers. Our testers found the RunPro to be comfortable but not overly soft, and that it provided enough firmness to be responsive during runs. Its perforated, dimpled design provides increased ventilation for better breathability than most competitors.
These insoles come in models to conform to three different foot shapes: high arch, medium arch, and low arch (you’ll have to measure yourself if you’re purchasing insoles by mail; a good running-shoe store should be able to measure your arch if you’re shopping in person). A flexible plastic arch helps maintain the shape of the insole but has limited effects on controlling the biomechanics of the foot. Instead of being flat like the Spenco Comfort Insoles, the arch of the RunPro conforms to the shape of the foot for a snugger fit.
Flaws but not dealbreakers
They aren’t cheap. People seeking additional comfort may want to save $40 and try the Spenco Comfort first. But for runners specifically seeking additional comfort, a deep heel cup, and a more form-fitting running insole, the RunPro is a good option.
Don’t let its simple felt-and-adhesive design fool you—a Hapad Metatarsal Pad can bring significant relief to people suffering with forefoot pain. It accomplishes this by offloading and reducing pressure under the troublesome spots.
Hapad Metatarsal Pads are meant to be stuck directly to the sockliner or insole directly behind the ball of the foot. Most competing insoles don’t offer the option to customize their location. Everyone’s foot structure and location preference for the pads is a little different, so the ability to move the metatarsal pads around helps maximize comfort and relief.
Though Hapad Metatarsal Pads won’t relieve all forefoot problems, they are an inexpensive first option. If the pads do not help or the foot becomes increasingly painful or swollen, it’s advisable to consult a foot specialist.
Flaws but not dealbreakers
Hapad metatarsal pads won’t last forever and will likely need to be replaced every couple of months. If this is too time-consuming, there are a number of over-the-counter insoles that feature metatarsal pads. Take note that, unlike the Hapad option, the metatarsal pads in these insoles can’t be moved around. So unless your foot shape corresponds to the design of these insoles, these models may not work properly. A podiatrist or pedorthist can also fabricate an insole to incorporate a metatarsal pad in the right position.
Every foot has a unique shape. To accommodate these individual differences and provide a better fit, there has been a push from consumers for custom insoles to be cheaper and more widely available. (Custom orthotics do this, but at up to $600, many consumers understandably are unable to afford them.) Digital scanning and 3D printing of insoles is one way to go beyond the current limitations of standard molds and sizing. Established manufacturers like Superfeet and startup companies such as Wiivv and ShapeCrunch are investing time and resources into this new model of production.
At this point, 3D printers are able to fabricate supportive insoles with rigid, firm materials. There’s also the issue of capturing the true size and shape of your foot. Insole companies are racing to create a simple, fast, and accurate way to scan your feet. Podiatrists and other foot care professionals have done this for a while to create more expensive custom orthotics; insole manufacturers are still working on this technology. ShapeCrunch even has an app that claims to be able to construct a custom insole using photographs of your foot. If you want a softer, cushioned 3D-printed insole, however, you’re currently out of luck.
We’ll have to wait and see if the promise of a more custom insole will outweigh the ease of grabbing one off the shelf or ordering one from Amazon. We’ll keep an eye on commercial digital scanning and 3D printing of insoles over the upcoming months.
At the beginning, supportive insoles can feel firm or uncomfortable if worn too long or used in vigorous activity. It’s important to allow a period of time to break them in gradually. Most manufacturers suggest wearing them for one to two hours for the first few days and then increase by an hour or two subsequently until you’re wearing them for a full day.
Shoe insoles should be cleaned by hand with mild soap and lukewarm water. The heat and chemicals associated with machine washing and drying will destroy most insoles.
Insoles are not meant to last forever and will not prolong a shoe’s lifespan. Most manufacturers recommend replacing them with each new pair of shoes or every six to 12 months of “normal use.” Marathoners or more active people may need replace them more often.
To ensure the best fit, test the insole with the shoes and socks you’ll wear with it in the future. The true fit and how the insole interacts with your intended footgear are two of the most important considerations when selecting an insole.
Insoles add additional bulk to shoes, so remove the sock liners when trying them on. Some sock liners are glued in (mostly dress shoes), but it’s best to remove them to maximize the space for your foot and the insole.
In order to make sure the insole is the correct length for your shoes, remove the sockliner and place it on top of the insole. Though you can’t add additional length to the insoles, tracing the outline of your sockliner onto the insole and trimming the excess length will help create a better fitting insole.
After Superfeet, the brand that provides the best value and delivers a wide variety of insole options is Powerstep. The biggest concern with Powerstep Pinnacle and other models during our testing was that they are a bit larger and fit fewer styles of shoes. Otherwise, the company’s insoles are solidly constructed and affordable.
For our cushioned and upgrade support insole pick, we considered a couple of Sof Sole insoles. The Sof Sole Athlete provides more cushion than a standard sockliner, but at $20 was twice the price of our pick, the Spenco Comfort Insole.
Sof Sole Fit provides a similar feel as Superfeet Carbon with its stiff, supportive arch. Though this Sof Sole comes in three different arch heights, it lacks the little details, like perforation for ventilation and is a bit heavier than our upgrade support insole pick, the Superfeet Carbon.
Although we found during testing that Aetrex’s Lynco Sport Series and New Balance’s Performance 400 insoles fit a variety of shoes and provide a variety of styles, they were among the most expensive. With the majority of their offerings over $55, the features and benefits of the Lynco and New Balance insoles can be found in a number of lower-priced options.
If you’ve been to the foot section of your local drug store, you’re probably familiar with Dr. Scholl’s. Though Dr. Scholl’s are easy to find, they don’t provide much to your shoes except a little additional cushioning and odor protection. This is not a brand to consider when looking for a firm, supportive insole option.
For those looking for a heat-moldable insert, Sole has three different options that vary in thickness. Allowing the foot to dictate the overall shape of an insole is not the best way to create a supportive and corrective insole, so these are an option for those who have boney prominences that aren’t taken into consideration or cause irritation with off-the-shelf orthotics.
(Photos by Michael Hession.)
Originally published: March 31, 2017
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