Best Insoles For Work Boots
If you work in the trades you know that the work boots you wear are every bit as important as any tool in your tool box. Without safe, comfortable footwear every day becomes a blister laden slog. While the quality of work boots these days is by and large higher than it was in your father’s day designing footwear is still an inexact science. That’s because a person’s relationship with their boots is affected by everything from the bone structure of their feet to their weigh, how they walk, what type of socks they wear, the material used to make the shoes and much more. The best way to neutralize the negative effects of structural conditions of the feet, as well as the deficiencies of the work boots themselves, is to use 3rd party insoles. But what are insoles and how do you know which ones are right for you?
The Value of Insoles for Work Boots
While most work boots these days are well built 3rd party insoles can make the difference between them feeling tolerable and genuinely comfortable all day long. There are essentially two different types of insoles: comfort insoles and support insoles sometimes called “sport” insoles.
- Comfort insoles have excellent shock absorption properties and are typically used by people, such as construction workers, who are on their feet for long hours every day. They are often made of gel or foam and are available in different lengths including full length, 3/4 length, heel and arch supports.
- Support insoles are recommended for people who have structural issues with their feet that manifest as pain and/or discomfort in the arches, ankles, knees, hips, back and neck. Support insoles may also be recommended for those suffering from plantar fasciitis, supination (rolling outward) or over-pronation (rolling inward of the feet). Support insoles are available in a variety of stock configurations and are only rarely customized to a particular person’s feet.
Insoles are also designed to occupy different amounts of space inside the work boot. The amount of space they take up is called the “volume” and the different volumes are:
- Low volume – Low volume insoles can be used in work boots but are more typically used for things like cycling shoes or even inline skateboard shoes. If your arch is naturally low your doctor will likely recommend low volume insoles.
- Medium volume – Medium volume insoles are a more all-purpose insole used for everything from casual footwear or walking shoes to formal shoes to work boots. They normally work well with different arch profiles.
- High volume – High volume insoles are the thickest type of insole and are usually recommended for hiking shoes and work boots. They often work best with people who have high arches but other arch profiles may also benefit from them.
Keep in mind too that the type of socks you wear (i.e. whether you wear compression socks or heavy wool socks with padded heels and toes) will have an impact on how your work boots fit and what type of insole you should choose.
Common Foot Problems That May Benefit From Insoles
Not everyone needs insoles. The first step in deciding whether or not you do is determining if any of the following issues apply to you.
Pronated feet – Pronated feet are feet with arches that flatten out somewhat when weight is applied to them. It’s the most common type of structural foot issue (although it shouldn’t be confused with flat feet, which we’ll get into shortly). There are a number of possible causes for foot pronation including an unstable heel, being overweight or nerve damage. But whatever the cause the net effect is that the foot rotates inward while walking. The negative effects of over-pronation can take years to show up but if the condition is ignored it may lead to joint damage in the ankles, knees and hips, back problems and more. Overpronation will also cause your work boots to wear unevenly. Which is often the first indication people have that they have pronated feet.
Supinated feet – Supinated feet are not always easy to diagnose. In most cases though if it seems like your weight is coming down on the outside border of your feet when you walk you may have supinated feet. With this type of condition, the arch is very well defined and has very little give in it, which is what causes your weight to bear down on the outside of the foot. If the exterior edge of your soles are worn down more than the interior edge of the sole you may well have supinated feet. Long-term ramifications of supinated feet can be ankle and knee problems and in some people the feeling that they are always just a bit off-balance.
Flat feet – With pronated feet the arches tend to flatten out somewhat when weight is brought to bear on them. With flat feet, the arches are always flat. The easiest way to tell if you have flat feet is to look at the bathroom floor next time you get out of the shower. If you have normal feet your footprint will include the toes and the ball of the foot, a thin strip along the outside edge of the foot and then the heel. There should be an empty crescent-shaped area in the middle where your foot rises into the arch. If the footprint is solid from toes to heel with no arch crescent you likely have flat feet.
In addition, if your shoe mostly fits well but allows the heel of your foot to slip up and down as you walk you may be able to alleviate this condition with high volume insoles. They’ll occupy the excess space that was allowing your heel to do its little dance and return order to your work boots. A stable heel is also a blister-free heel.
Are You Experiencing Pain?
Once you have determined what type of foot issue, if any, you are dealing with the next thing to consider is whether you have any pain associated with your particular condition. In most cases, if you don’t experience any type of pain after spending time on your feet you probably don’t need insoles. On the other hand, if you do experience pain the first question that needs answering is:
Where is the pain? – Any pain above the waist is likely not going to respond to insoles. While they will no doubt help improve your posture you’ll need to work with your doctor to find other remedies for upper back pain caused by structural problems in the feet. If, on the other hand, the pain is manifested below the waist – in the hips, upper legs, knees, ankles etc. – the right type of insoles may help alleviate it.
Potential Long-Term Issues
- If you suffer from over-pronation or supination as outlined above, and you do nothing to address it, it’s likely that in time the misalignment of bones in the feet and ankles is going to lead to degenerative conditions such as osteoarthritis. It may also play a role in your eventually requiring knee and/or hip replacement surgery.
- If you have a high arch but it is not associated with supination you may still suffer in the long term because your feet never get the right amount of support from your work boots. In time you may develop problems with soft tissues of the feet or the situation may even lead to your developing osteoarthritis, the same as if you had an actual misalignment situation.
The right insoles can help restore the proper alignment of bones in pronated or supinated feet. As such, they’ll not only make your workday less of an ordeal but they will also help stave off the aforementioned degenerative conditions and save you a ton of grief (and perhaps money) in the long term. In the case of a person with naturally high arches, they can also provide much-needed support that will prevent you from developing real problems down the line.
Caring for Your Insoles
3rd party aftermarket insoles for your work boots won’t take care of themselves. As is the case with your boots you’ll have to show your new insoles some TLC. If you care for them properly smelling fresh you may get several years of use out of them. This is especially true if they are supportive insoles rather than comfort insoles. Take the following tips to heart to ensure you get the most from your insoles.
Let them air out from time to time – It’s not fun being in your work boots all day. It’s hot and sweaty in there and a perfect breeding ground for bacteria and fungi. Give your insoles a break by removing them from your work boots on a regular basis to allow any moisture to evaporate so that microbes have nowhere to take root.
Keep them clean – Before you throw away the package they came in, make sure you take note of the care instructions for your insoles. Some can be machine washed but most will need to be washed by hand using a mild detergent and then air dried.
Keep an eye on them – When you remove your insoles to let them and your boots dry out, inspect the insoles for damage or signs that they’re starting to fall apart. If they are misshapen, flattened out, torn or otherwise in less than optimal shape go get a new pair.
Finally, don’t be shy about picking up an antifungal/antibacterial spray and using it inside your work boots from time to time. This will backstop your efforts to keep your boots clean and odor free and smelling fresh.