by Diane Spicer
Let's examine in detail how a pair of the best hiking insoles can become a trusted part of your hiking gear.
Sore feet and hiking may go together in your experience, but it doesn't have to be that way!
Tips for alleviating sore feet after hiking are here... or stick with me here in this complete guide to using insoles to manage or prevent soreness during a hike.
The name gives you a pretty good clue, right?
The heels, balls and toes of your feet contact the surface of the footwear you wear on the trail, be it hiking boots, trail runners, cross trainers or trail shoes.
An insole is designed to be inserted into your footwear to help cushion your feet, acting as shock absorbent material for every footfall so you remain comfortable while you hike.
An insole can grip your foot more solidly, preventing movement, friction and hot spots that can lead to blister formation.
Wearing the best hiking insoles also helps evenly distribute your body weight and the weight of your backpack across the surface of your foot to prevent soreness.
In addition to these big jobs, you can expect the best hiking insoles to absorb the heat and sweat from your socks, directing it away from your skin and holding it in the insole material. This translates into cooler feet, and thus more comfort.
And it might even cut down on the stink associated with sweaty feet!
Sounds like finding a pair of the best hiking insoles might be a good idea, right?
Before we go any further, there's an important distinction to be made here when talking about insoles.
When you purchase a pair of hiking boots or other trail footwear, there are what are called "stock insoles" or "standard factory insoles" already in place.
Part of the price you're paying is for these insoles.
What we're discussing on this page is something different, and it has two names, acknowledging the fact that you purchase them either in addition to, or after you wear, your footwear:
And as a hiker, you should be looking at those which are designed specifically as sport insoles, also called support insoles, to provide stability and structure for feet that work hard on the trail.
So now that you are up to speed on lingo to make sense of the somewhat confusing world of insoles, let's move on to the next question.
The key word is customization.
When you invest money in a doctor's appointment and fill a prescription for custom orthotics, you are going to end up with custom made shoe or boot inserts.
Some orthotics are focused on providing support and cushioning for people who have diagnosed medical conditions, such as diabetes. By using prescription inserts, they are able to retain mobility with less pain.
Other orthotics are designed for arch support and correction of gait problems. Long distance athletes, anyone with biomechanics issues which impact function, and hikers with injuries might want to investigate what orthotics offer.
Now let's continue with our quest for the best hiking insoles by taking a look at hikers who could benefit from wearing them on a hike.
Maybe you'll spot yourself.
An argument could be made for everyone who walks!
After all, we all want feet that feel comfortable, cushioned and supported inside our daily shoes, as well as inside our boots or trail shoes, right?
And we want to keep taking step after step down the trail in order to reach our destination, without painful, burning, sore or tired feet.
But there are hikers who need to try a pair of the best hiking insoles for even more specific reasons.
Maybe you can relate to some of these hiking scenarios?
A podiatrist may have diagnosed your feet problems using this terminology:
If you've got a diagnosis, you're probably already dealing with sore feet after a hike, if not outright pain that keeps you off the trail.
Choosing the correct insole will prevent further problems, or can help you hike again.
Overpronation year after year as you accumulate hiking miles can flatten the arch of your foot, or even elongate it.
So in this example, a pair of insoles can be very helpful to prevent further trauma to your feet if you already know that you roll your feet inward as you walk.
If you've been on this planet for awhile, you've learned to cope with biomechanical problems like high arches when you shop for shoes.
Let's get specific.
With every pair of footwear you purchased in the past, you had to deal with how the sole of your foot did, or did not, contact the insole. An unsupported arch means tired, sore feet.
You are probably also aware of any heel slippage problems, when the front and middle portion of your foot fills the shoe or boot, but your heel has too much room and is able to slip around with each step.
A pair of the best hiking insoles can work hard to bring your feet into proper alignment, disperse the weight they are bearing, and keep you comfortable.
And here's something to keep in mind: female feet and male feet are not alike.
We'll look at unisex versus gender specific insoles in a bit.
If you've set yourself a huge hiking goal such as finishing the Pacific Crest Trail in one go, wearing the right pair of hiking insoles can enhance your athletic performance.
In other words, because your feet are going to take a pounding as a thruhiker, anything you can do to optimize your performance day after day will be important.
Insoles might give you just enough edge to keep trudging onward, with your feet not at the top of your "it hurts" list.
Wearing insoles might will also rob you of a thruhike or section hike souvenir like permanent foot problems (see sobering list above), something I know you can live happily without!
These days, trail shoes and even hiking boots are made of softer, less sturdy but more flexible material.
For example, the cushioning and support in lightweight trail running or cross training shoes may not be adequate for your feet when you're going for the long haul while bearing the weight of a backpack.
Purchasing a pair of aftermarket insoles which are designed for hiking feet inside a specific choice of lightweight footwear will give you maximum stability, support and comfort while you reap the benefits of lighter feet.
I happen to be in this category, and I'll bet I'm not alone.
After a hike of double digit mileage with some decent elevation gain, my feet are sore, sometimes into the next day or two.
And I can always gauge when I hit the ten mile mark during a hike, because the bottoms of my feet start to send me insistent messages, like "when are we going to be done here?"
And my arches begin to ache with each foot fall and push off motion, making it hard to concentrate on the beautiful trail.
Part of this is because aging feet lose their fat pads, making each step more jarring to tendons, ligaments, nerves and other soft tissues on the bottoms of our feet.
So if you can relate to achy feet as a hiker of a certain age, maybe it's time to provide those hard working feet some extra love in the form of cushioned, supportive hiking insoles.
Did you know that you can use heated insoles in your winter hiking boots to keep your feet warmer?
This option keeps you safer as well as more comfortable on those short, cold days of winter - you don't need to worry about losing sensation in your feet.
Here's an example:
Hotronic BD Anatomic insoles: contains a heating element in the toe area of your footwear.
You'll also need their Power Kit, so things can get pricey in your search for warm feet.
Sometimes, it's worth it, though!
Now let's focus on a strategy for how to look for the best hiking insoles for your unique feet, shall we?
We'll start with insole volume.
Don't let the word "volume" throw you if you're having traumatic high school geometry flashbacks. (Just me?)
Here, it refers to how much room the insole takes up inside a shoe or boot.
It also gives a nod to the shape of your arch, which we noted above as a biomechanical fact of life for your individual feet.
Here's the plain truth:
It's going to take a bit of experimentation to get the correct insole volume for your foot issues plus your choice of hiking socks.
So try on insoles with the socks you intend to wear on the trail. Socks + insoles are critical to making your final determination of the best hiking insoles for your feet..
A high-volume insole in a hiking boot can be perfect for a hiker with high arches.
Low-volume insoles can provide a supportive environment for hikers with extremely low arches, not by directly supporting the arch but by redistributing body weight across the foot and away from the arch.
several many things to pay attention to when you're seeking the best hiking insoles to prevent or solve foot problems.
Let's make a list:
These three examples are available at a company well respected by outdoorsy folks: REI Co-op.
Hiking For Her is an REI affiliate.
Clicking on the photos will take you to detailed descriptions and honest product reviews to help you select the best hiking insoles for your feet and preferred footwear.
It will also result in a small commission for HFH, but you pay nothing extra to support the flow of free hiking tips on this website.
Let's step through your volume options (see what happened there?).
Low volume, low profile, unisex, carbon fiber + lightweight foam insoles for hikers: Superfeet Support Insoles.
Also available in other volumes and styles to fit all of your footwear, on or off trail.
Medium volume, deep heel cup, unisex, high density EVA: Oboz O FIT Plus.
This insole can be used with footwear brands other than Oboz.
SOLE Performance insoles:
high volume (thick), moldable recycled cork base, unisex.
Available in other volumes, too.
Now that you've got a solid idea of what an insole can do for you, and which type might offer the best features for your sore feet, it's time to select a pair.
And then take good care of them!
If your feet don't have diagnosed problems and you have normal arches, maybe a pair of inexpensive cushion insoles that you cut to fit your current boots will be enough to bring your feet a little more comfort and stability.
However, if you've got feet that are anything other than textbook "normal" (and who doesn't?), it pays to head off trouble and to deal with the issues you currently have by selecting the best hiking insoles you can afford.
Uncomfortable feet = no hiking, so "afford" can mean many things beyond just money. Time investment, for example.
The insole examples above are all well known brands which hikers rely on (read the reviews).
Tread Labs is a company founded in 2015 by the guy who designed Chaco sandals, Mark Paigen.
Hiking For Her is a Tread Labs affiliate because of the quality medical grade insole designs, detailed product descriptions, and extensive customer support they offer.
Feet matter to a hiker, and this company takes feet seriously!
For example, there are 4 arch heights available to accommodate a wide range of foot contours.
And that's just for starters.
They offer a "find your fit" quiz to help you purchase exactly what you need for foot comfort.
A Hiking For Her Tread Labs hiking insole review for female hikers,
with more details about this direct-to-consumer company,
is available here.
When you step into a good pair of insoles, they will convey a feeling of support as your feet contact the inside surfaces.
But it's important to test exactly how much support you receive when the insole is outside of your boot or shoes, to assess how stable you feel when your foot is being cupped by the material.
Here's the best tip for shopping for the best hiking insoles:
Put one insole on the floor and step into it with your sock encased foot, bringing your body weight to bear on it. Now the other insole...
If you're a purist, you're wearing a backpack loaded up with your usual amount of gear.
Now it's time to put the insole into your boot/shoe to determine the level of support you feel, as well as how the insole interacts with the contours of your footwear.
You're keeping your mantra top of mind: comfort, support and stability.
Other things to look for as you test insoles:
Tip: Remember to remove the stock insole before you run this test, but keep it handy in case these insoles don't work out.
They're better than nothing while you're on your quest for the best hiking insoles for your feet.
Your feet are used to doing things their own way inside your boots.
Now you've introduced a brand new dynamic.
They might get a little miffed! And they might complain with a new set of aches and soreness.
So try out your insoles on a short hike, and build up to longer periods of time, before you chuck out the insoles and start over.
It takes a bit of time, body heat and weight to mold even the best hiking insoles (most expensive, highest quality materials, best design) to your contours.
After going through all of that time, and investing some cash, it makes sense to take care of your insoles.
Think about what you force the insoles to do, and then do the opposite:
Every time you remove the insoles for regular maintenance, give them a quick inspection.
Time to replace them, just as you would for worn out boot laces, socks with holes in them, or any other hiking gear.
Although brands vary, it's asking a lot to expect any pair of insoles to last more than a year under heavy usage.
But if you're a day hiker who doesn't hit the trail every week, you'll get several years out of a pair of insoles with regular care.
With Treadlabs (link above), you can replace just the fabric cover if the insoles themselves are still intact.
If you have a Flex Spending or Health Spending Account, check the rules to see if you can use this money to purchase insoles for all of your footwear. Chances are you can!
On a hiking trail, sore feet can compromise your safety by slowing you down.
Or by making it hard to navigate the changing terrain, including water crossings that require balance and stability.
So pay attention to your sore feet before you develop chronic conditions like the ones noted above.
If you're already dealing with foot issues, do what you can to keep yourself on the trail.
Best Insoles For Hikers
About the author
Diane is the founder of Hiking For Her.
She's been on a hiking trail somewhere in the world for 5+ decades & loves to share her best hiking tips right here.
All rights reserved.
Photo credits: All photos on this website were taken by David Midkiff or Diane Spicer except where noted.
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