Insoles are a core part of every shoe — boot, loafer, sneaker, you name it. But they're typically lackluster, a thin layer of polyurethane or foam meant to offer separation between the sole of your foot and the rest of the shoe. In a pair of Koio sneakers, for example, the insole is roughly 22 millimeters thick and made from Ortholite foam. That makes the sneakers comfortable, for sure, but not incredibly supportive.
That's okay, too, because these sneakers are not classified as orthotic; most sneakers aren't, but most people need that kind of cushion. Cue inserts, or orthotic insoles.
Can Insoles Cure Foot Pain?
The good ones can make even a cheap, unsupportive sneaker feel like a luxe performance shoe, but they're hard to find — in your specific size, too. You see, plenty of bodily problems can be solved with better arch support. First, there's plantar fasciitis, tears in the band that stretches from your toes to your heel. Folks with flat feet are prone to this condition, because a flattened foot stretches the plantar fascia. (It should be curved, and, as such, much shorter.)
Secondly, there's supination or overpronation, terms you're probably only familiar with if you dance or figure skate. Supination is the foot's natural tendency to roll out onto its edges. Over-pronation is a term for rolling in when you walk or run. Overpronation is more common, but supination is often to blame for ankle sprains and twists — which I'm sure we've all experienced.
Lastly, there's simple structural misalignment, when the feet are off balance. Misalignment pain manifests in the feet first, but it can impact the knees, hips, back and neck, too, because everything's connected. Dr. Arthur Steindler, an orthopedic surgeon, proved so in 1955, when he referred to the body's interdependencies as "the kinetic chain."
What Is the Kinetic Chain?
According to the American Council on Exercise, "The kinetic chain describes the interrelated groups of body segments, connecting joints and muscles working together to perform movements and the portion of the spine to which they connect. The upper kinetic chain consists of the fingers, wrists, forearms, elbows, upper arms, shoulders, shoulder blades, and spinal column. The lower kinetic chain includes the toes, feet, ankles, lower legs, knees, upper legs, hips, pelvis, and spine."
Since everything works together, the theory states, addressing an issue plaguing one part could improve performance overall. In that same vein, footwear that values form over function — which is most footwear, to be fair — can worsen these problems. That's why supportive insoles have been sold by brands like Dr. Scholls for decades. But these, which are made from foam, gel and plastic, wear out fast and rarely come true to size. Instead, they're sold for different ranges: sizes 10-11, or 10.5-11, for example. Even though they're meant to help, not hurt, problems abound.
Meet Fulton Insoles
Fulton, a new, direct-to-consumer brand of cork-based insoles, wants to change that. The carbon negative company sells insoles that are true to size — if you wear a size 8 shoe, you order a size 8 insole. And each is made from three supportive layers: a shock-absorbing cork base, an antimicrobial latex foam middle and a cactus leather sockliner.
"My co-founder and I had foot and back pain, yet had no idea why living our daily lives led to body pain when we were young and otherwise healthy people. We asked around and found that this was the norm, not the exception: 77 percent of people experience foot pain, and 60 percent experience back pain. After speaking with podiatrists, chiropractors, physical therapists and biomechanics experts, we learned that whole body wellness starts with our feet — our shoes lacking arch support was the problem," Fulton founder Daniel Nelson says. "So, we put our heads together and built the Fulton... a cork-based insole that molds custom to the shape of your foot to comfortably support high arches, flat feet and everything in between."
The all-natural materials are not only better for the planet, but better for your feet, too. Over the course of the first 10 hours of wear, Fulton's insoles will mold to the shape of your feet — plus, how they move when you walk or run. They're stiff at first, for sure, but after a few weeks of consistent use, you'll acclimate, and they'll feel like they were native to the shoe. It's important to leave the insoles in the first pair of shoes they're put in. Every shoe is different, and forcing the insole to adapt to new contours can compromise its ability to support your arches.
How Do These Insoles Work?
But support your arches isn't all it can do. If you look at a typical insole, the heel is elevated; it's a platform, if you will. Fulton's have similar height, but they cup the heel to stabilize it no matter how you step (or stand). They also mold better to your feet, providing customized support versus a universal fit. Universal-fitting insoles are nice because of their easy break-in period, but they don't help click your kinetic chain back into place as well.
How Do They Feel?
At first, the Fulton insoles will feel totally different, especially if you're a seasoned insole wearer. There's less squish; far less bounce; but you can feel your feet being guided into the proper position. Your arches — or at least mine, which are nearly non-existent — slowly re-appear, reducing the stress put on your plantar fascia. The heel, which is often bears the brunt of a day in bad shoes, is elevated, and the pressure it typically takes on is redirected into the shock-absorbing cork base.
I'll admit, the break-in period was tough for me. No, it wasn't like wearing a brand-new pair of stiff leather boots, but I'm weak when it comes to shoe pain, which is why I'll always test run a pair before I'm required to wear them for a full day. The Fulton insoles tested my limit, at least for the first two days, when my wide feet rubbed on a spot at my inner left arch. However, as I wore them with improved consistency, the hot spot was slowly worked out, and they fit like a glove.
Notes From Another Tester
Senior Editor Steve Mazzucchi tested Fulton's insoles in a flatter, multi-functional shoe.
First off, I tested the Fulton insoles in Endura’s Hummvee Flat Pedal Shoes, skate-style mountain bike shoe that’s intended to be fairly functional off the bike, too. These have become an everyday walking/riding shoe for me, because they are comfortable, look good and still have a pretty firm outsole that’s great for bike pedaling.
I had first put the insoles in some Hoka Speedgoats, but I immediately switched to these shoes because those were so cushy, I wasn’t sure I could appreciate the insoles. The firmness of the Endura shoes mean that when you add a new, not-broken-in-yet insole, they really feel firm. But after a week of testing, I think I get what Fulton’s going for. The insole is starting to adapt to my own soles. As I stood there typing this, I could feel it squeezing my arches in a way stock insoles don’t. Comfortable is not the first word I would use to describe it, but supportive might be.
And I have to say, I wore these to an event the other day — OK, it was a protest — that involved hours of standing, a fair amount of biking and some walking. Overall, I was out for about five hours, and when I got home, I wasn’t thinking about my feet at all. Point being, these more “aggressive” insoles lent themselves nicely to pedaling, supported me standing and walking, and even though I don’t think of them as comfortable, they certainly aren’t un-comfortable. I also get the feeling that the more I wear them, the more they will mold to my feet and, one hopes, become truly as comfortable as they claim.
Sizing: Men's 8-14, Women's 5-12