Hooray for Superfeet, Part 1 of 2

Seven years ago, I became a Superfeet convert. Knees aching from long days on my feet, I put a pair of Superfeet in my shoes. And they made a huge difference. Now I use them in virtually all of my footwear.

Superfeet are after-market insoles used to replace the existing insoles in your shoes. They do two primary things. One, they provide substantial arch support underfoot. Two, they provide significant shock absorption. Superfeet are composed of a rigid plastic base that stretches from the arch to the heel. On top of that is a thin layer of dense foam, which features a pronounced depression, or heel cup, in back.

Superfeet provide shock absorption by taking advantage of the natural fleshy padding underneath your heels. Normally when you walk, all that padding spreads out to the sides As a result, your heel strikes the rigid calcaneus bone (the big bone in your foot that makes up your heel) as you walk. The pronounced heel cup in Superfeet instead collects all that natural heel padding underneath your ankle bone. The result is significantly more shock absorption.

Most other after-market insoles provide shock absorption with squishy gel-like materials (think Dr. Scholl's current "Are you gellin'?" ad campaign). These work as well, but once the squish has been worn out with use (usually within a few months), the shock absorption dies as well. Because Superfeet use a rigid plastic base to create their heel cup, they last much longer. I've had pairs of Superfeet last for more than two years of near daily use.

Superfeet also offer pronounced arch support, which helps prevent plantar fasciitis if you're carrying heavy backpacking loads or on your feet a lot—especially if you have a very pronounced arch that is otherwise not supported properly.

Superfeet are sized by a series of letters, from A (women's size 2.5-4) to H (men's 15.5-17). When selecting a pair, use their sizing as a guideline—but make sure to take them out of the box and stand on them. The most important element of fit is not length (they're all trim-to-fit inside your footwear anyways). Rather, the key aspect to watch for is the distance between the heel and arch. Everybody's feet are shaped differently, and the heel-arch dimension can vary significantly. When you stand on the Superfeet, the support should match your natural arch. If it's too far forward or back, go up or down one size accordingly.

According to Superfeet, there's quite a bit of science and research that has gone into developing their insoles. Their web site features a wide selection of articles on foot health.

Superfeet come in a bewildering array of styles, each meant for a specific activity: hiking, skiing, golfing, running, soccer, etc. For outdoor use, the hiking and running styles are where it's at. I'll cover the many varieties—and their differences—in my next post.

Equipped” is an AMC Outdoors blog, written by Matt Heid.