The single most important piece of gear you can own is right under your feet.
What exactly is a footbed? First of all we’re not talking about orthotics. They are for people suffering from serious anatomical issues and are only available with a prescription. And we are certainly not talking about those foam insoles that come stock in all boots and shoes. While they might look hi-tech, they’re nothing but cheap throwaway space fillers. It’s virtually impossible for a footwear company to build an inner shoe or boot surface that can match and function properly with the bottoms of the nearly infinite sizes and shapes of a human foot sole. It is not because they are cheap or don’t care. You just need to fine-tune your underfoot “fit” by adding the aftermarket footbeds. So just go ahead and toss those factory insoles.
Premium off-the-rack footbeds are 3D shims, or molds, that fill in and around the normal voids under your foot thus allowing a relatively seamless interface between your unique foot anatomy, your shoe, and, ultimately, the ground.
Footbeds need not be overbuilt. The human foot and lower leg are incredibly well engineered mechanical devices designed to absorb shock and act as a propulsion device. Problems arise due to the fact that while the body evolved to walk barefoot over uneven, soft ground, modern humans spend most of their days working and recreating in a flat hard world. This often leads to biomechanical slop, misalignment issues and long-term problems. A footbed need simply help the body do the job it was designed to do. To this end, all footbeds should have a deep heel cup. This essential feature directs the heel strike, thereby keeping the heel bones and the shock-absorbing pad underneath.
When aligned properly, good rear foot control translates into effective mid- and forefoot control. All of this helps not only to minimize the negative aspects of pronation and supination, but helps the forefoot propel you forward all the while maintaining proper joint alignment up through the legs, hips and lower back.
The most popular brands share similarities yet also reflect differing design philosophies. Currently, the benchmark brand and the one I have the most experience with over the years is Superfeet (superfeet.com). Overall, the brand errs on the side of a more neutral forefoot and arch support design, with minimal cushioning.
Though still a relative newcomer, “self-molding” Sole Footbeds (yoursole.com), have quickly built up a strong following amongst performance-minded athletes. I spent last winter with a pair of Sole Footbeds in my alpine touring boots. Their more exaggerated arch profile fit hand in glove with my high arches and they worked splendidly from the first tour. And finally, there is Spenco (spenco.com). They offer a model with shock absorbing heel inserts as well as the “green” Earthbound model built with 55 percent recycled and renewable materials.
Given how beneficial footbeds are, they remain unsung and overlooked in the performance footwear purchase. At roughly $35-40 for a pair, they are one of the simplest and least expensive pieces of insurance you can buy.