If there’s one thing that can totally ruin a hike it’s your feet. Boots or trainers that seemed perfectly comfortable every other time you’ve worn them become torturous. And your feet themselves, once so perfect you didn’t even notice them as you walked, become giant pads of pain.
The most painful experience I can remember whilst hiking was in the Faroe Islands. I had decided to walk to the village of Saksun, a beautiful remote settlement some 7 miles away from any bus stop. Getting there was fine. But when I started the walk back after some more walking around and a rest for lunch, my feet were having none of it. Every step against the road’s asphalt hurt and absolutely nothing about the journey back was enjoyable. In fact, by the last few miles it was plain horrible. 17 miles later, on the last walk back from the bus stop to my hostel, I knew what it must be like to walk life as a 90 year old.
From that day on I realised the importance of keeping my feet happy on a hike. So when I was asked to do a review for Sole’s new sport footbeds, designed to combat foot pain and improve general performance of your shoes and feet, I was more than happy to oblige. So for the last month I have been trying them out on a number of different hikes, walks and runs to see how they performed.
What are Sole Sport Footbeds?
Sole Sport Footbeds are inner soles designed to increase the comfort, fit and performance of your footwear. They’re made by Sole, who specialise in eco-friendly orthopedic footwear. The footbeds are suitable for a range of active pursuits and come in all sorts of types and sizes. The ones I tried out are the Sport Medium Footbeds, at 1.6mm deep.
How to they work?
They work in a number of ways; by equalising pressure distribution, enhancing your feet alignment, improving the cushioning on your heel and supporting the arches of your feet – all of which are perfect for hikers like me as this should reduce foot pain and increase comfort. They should also reduce the chances of injury by improving your balance at underfoot level and reduce plantar fascia strain, as well as improving general performance.
How do you use them?
You can either replace your shoe’s current innersole with them, or simply put them on top. Be careful if you’re just putting the footbeds on top of the ones already in your shoe, though – they might alter the fit of your shoe too much and make your feet sit too high in them. I definitely preferred them on shoes that I could replace the innersole with.
Then the great thing about these footbeds is that they’re customisable; Sole recommend you heat them up in the oven for a few minutes then put them in your shoes immediately and stand in your shoes for a few minutes. This means that they will mould more accurately to the shape of your feet. So that’s what I did. You can also trim them to fit your shoes, but I didn’t need to do this.
Then you’re ready to go! Cool, eh?
Ready to go
Okay, you’ve heard the theory, now it’s time to put them to the test. I wanted to do a comprehensive test of lots of different types of activities to see how they held up. Because your feet are required to do all different types of things, therefore these footbeds should as well. I was also keen to use them for an extended period of time, because it’s hard to gauge the overall effectiveness of such a product from a single-use test.
The footbeds are fairly rigid and a little harder than the default innersoles my trainers had inside them. At this point it’s not a good or bad thing, just different. I could definitely feel that I had better arch support and I could feel my heels sinking back into their shape. Overall they felt pretty nice – not uncomfortable or unnatural.
Test 1: Hiking and trail running in Slieve Donard, Northern Island
(850m, 6 miles)
This is a fairly easy hike with a rocky uneven path all the way up. It gets increasingly steeper and rockier the closer you get to the summit but there’s never any scrambling. It was a perfect hike to do some introductory testing and see how they held up.
To be honest, for the majority of the hike I barely noticed I had them in, apart from feeling the arch and heel support sometimes, which as I see as a good thing – my feet adjusted to them quickly and they didn’t introduce any new points of pain or rubbing.
Then on the way down I did some trail running in them and they performed brilliantly; my feet felt great! I could feel them around my foot and they absorbed the impact of the hard/rough ground well. Overall the whole journey felt smoother and I feel that the extra foot support helped my ankles and therefore general balance going down – I really got my speed up. At the end of the day my knees were the only part of me that felt tired, which is to be expected. So the combination of my Karrimor trainers and the custom footbeds gets a big thumbs up so far.
However, I didn’t feel much difference in terms of foot pain as this distance isn’t quite enough to make my feet ache much in any case. Therefore it was time to increase the distance….
Test 2: Mid-long distance walking/hiking (10+ miles)
A typical day exploring a city can often add up to a greater distance than a hike, and I find this type of walking much harder. The flat concrete really takes its toll on my feet as it’s so repetitive with little cushioning. Not only do my feet ache quicker whilst walking around like this, they often ache more as well, so I was looking forward to seeing if the soles helped with this.
So I wore them on days out that hit the 10-15 mile mark, including a day in Berlin where I tried to find all the remnants of Berlin Wall (that was a lot walking!). I found that the footbeds had great heel and arch support. They made less of a difference to the balls of my feet, though, as they don’t seem to offer as much support here, but this didn’t make much difference overall – my feet were still fine.
I was very happy with how the footbeds did here. By the end of the day I got a little foot fatigue, but nothing worth thinking about, and my trainers felt comfy throughout. I can say that the footbeds definitely worked to prevent foot pain/fatigue in these types of moderately demanding situations, wahey! They’ll be staying in my trainers…
Test 3: Road running
The final test for now; high impact over concrete. I prefer to do shorter high speed runs – something around the 5km mark – but I have cut down in the last year or so, opting for cycling or swimming instead because my knees and shins were starting to suffer. So how do the footbeds perform here?
I liked the feel of the footbeds in my trainers and how I ran with them in – with the heel and arch support they offer I felt that my gait was nicely balanced and the impact on my heels was reduced. There was a nice roll to my feet as I ran. I have a little bit of overpronation (when your feet roll inwards as you run), which means that footbeds like these are spot on. I would even go as far to say that my shins felt better too, which is very impressive! Another thumbs up here.
Sole Sport Footbeds: the verdict
I’m a big fan of the footbeds so far. I’m lucky; I’ve never had a proper leg/ankle/foot injury or any orthopedic problems. My biggest problem, as with most hikers, is just avoiding blisters and foot pain. It’s quite easy to prevent blisters with the correct footwear, and making sure they’ve been broken in and so on. The hardest thing to solve is the pain in your feet simply from walking too much, which is generally only solved through practice. And let’s face it, it’s hard to practice walking long distances regularly when you’re juggling a tonne of other things at the same time.
These footbeds from Sole did indeed help me with this problem. They go some way towards preventing foot pain when walking longer distances and generally I feel that they are giving my feet a better shape, and by the same token giving me a better, healthier walk (wearing sandals/flip flops for most of the year has definitely made me walk more flat footed!). I never had to wear them in either – they did their job from the onset, which is great.
And at £25 you can’t really go wrong. Even if you’re just looking for a bit more comfort and damage limitation I would say they’re a justifiable investment. But if, like me, you do experience foot pain due to more demanding or intensive activities then £25 to immediately reduce that pain and walk further is absolutely worth it. I would love to try out that walk in the Faroe Islands now…
I haven’t yet been able to use the footbeds to the extreme – for me, that’s hiking anything over the 15-20 mile mark when my feet are very likely to hurt (sadly I had to postpone my trip to Cornwall where I would have been able to). I’m keen to see how far I can walk in them before I reach that threshold, if the foot pain is in a different place (balls of my feet?), more tolerable, and so on. Now that they’re in my trainers permanently it shouldn’t be long until I can, and once I have I will be sure to let you know how I got on with them.