Whether you are a runner, ultrarunner, adventure racer, thru-hiker, casual walker, or something in-between, you are probably always on the lookout for the right shoe. Maybe one of the magazines you subscribe to has a shoe issue, or occasional shoe reviews. Or maybe you scour the Internet reading reviews or pay close attention to what is written in email forums to which you subscribe. It’s the elusive search for the perfect shoe.
Can there be more than one shoe that is right for your feet? Are there perfect shoes? Christopher Willett went through four pairs of shoes on his 2003 Pacific Crest Trail thru-hike (2600+ miles) and bought them as he went. Wearing size 15 running shoes, he didn’t really have the option of buying from an outfitter along the trail. He would call or use the Internet from various towns along the way and have new shoes and socks sent up trail. He started in Brooks Adrenaline GTS and liked them in the hot 563-mile Southern California section. He wished the next shoe, the Asics Eagle Trail, had a more protective sole but liked the tread. While the New Balance 806s were structurally good, he felt they had a poor tread design and they are the only shoe that he would not wear again. He finished the last 670 miles in the Asics Gel Trabuco V and liked their durability and tread. Would one of the shoes have worked for his whole thru-hike? If they had been the NB 806s, the answer would be no. Probably any of the other three would have worked the whole way, but Chris might have had problems sticking with one shoe given the varying weather and terrain of the trail. Even the most perfect shoe can have small issues: breathability, tread design, cushioning, sole protection, and so on. Each of these issues can make them perfect for one set of conditions and wrong for another.
In reality, there is more than one shoe that is right for your feet. What’s important, regardless of which shoe you choose, is that the shoe fits.
Note: The photo shows part of the display of shoes at Zombierunner, Palo Alto. They have a great store.
In choosing footwear, fit is everything. You may buy a new pair of shoes, not get a good fit, and use them for short runs or races without much problem. But the longer you’ll be wearing them at a time, the more important the fit.
Here’s a trick to help get ensure a good fit.
Rich Schick, a physician’s assistant and ultrarunner, shared that he believes the key to getting the proper size shoe is the insert – often called insoles. “If the foot does not fit the insert, then the shoe will have to stretch to accommodate the difference or there may be excessive room in the shoe, which can lead to blisters and other foot problems.” He thinks there is too much confusion about straight lasts, curved lasts, semicurved lasts, and so on.
Rick suggests, and I agree, that you don’t need to know any of this if you use the insert to fit your shoes. The same holds true for the proper width of shoe. Simply remove the insert from the shoe and place your heel in the depression made for the heel (in the insert). There should be an inch to an inch and a half from the tip of your longest toe to the tip of the insert. None of your toes or any part of the foot should lap over the sides of the insert. If they do, is it because the insert is too narrow or is it because of a curved foot and straight insert or vice versa? The foot should not be more than about a quarter inch from the edges of the insert either. This includes the area around the heel, or the shoe may be too loose. Check to see if the arch of the insert fits in the arch of your foot. Finally, if all the above criteria are met, then try on the shoe. The only remaining pitfalls are tight toeboxes and seams or uppers that rub.
Remember to take into a account the type and thickness of socks you’ll be wearing. If you are going to replace the stock inserts that come with the shoes, make sure to follow this tip.
It is common for people who want comfortable feet to think they need to wear cushioned socks. As an example, my wife recently bought a new pair of golf shoes. They were Nike Air Go golf shoes, on sale—certainly a factor. She mentioned at the end of 18 holes, her feet hurt. So she tried on these sale shoes at a local golf course, with the socks she had worn that day. Normally, she wears a size 9. They were tight so she went up to a 9.5. Since they too were tight, she finally settled on a size 10.
She commented that they were tight because she was wearing her favorite socks—a highly cushioned pair of acrylic and cotton blend. She likes these socks because of their cushion. In her mind, it is the socks that make her feet comfortable. There is some truth to that—but it is not the only factor.
I was recently sent to pairs of insoles to review. Later this month I will talk more about these insoles and how much I like them. For now, I mention them to point out that a simple pair of insoles has increased my comfort level in my golf shoes. The stock insoles that came with the shoes were thin and offered little support or cushioning. Changing nothing else but the insoles greatly increased my comfort. The two sets of insoles I tried are very different. One is very cushioned and the other is slightly cushioned with support. They slightly cushioned one with support is much more comfortable for 18 holes of golf that the very cushioned pair.
The take-away from this is that cushioned socks and cushioned insoles do not necessarily make for a comfortable fit. In my wife’s case, she will purchase a few pairs of thinner socks with wicking properties, and still feel comfortable. Then I’ll get her new replacement insoles and she will see the difference. Over the next month, I’ll talk more about comfort. Even thought I talk about comfort and use golf shoes as an example, this applies to any foot wear.
In the meantime, here is the link to the World’s Softest socks website. I even wear them. They are soft and comfortable.