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.
Life has been busy this past month and I apologize for not posting more often.
As I read the my magazines, I find shoe reviews. As I open emails, I read people’s experiences with their shoes. As I check newsletters, websites and blogs, I read reports and reviews of shoes. And then, of course, there are the ads – everywhere.
The thing is, they all point out the features and benefits of their shoes. Is there one shoe for you? Yes, there is one – and many more that will also work. Some work better than others.
My feeling after all these years of providing foot care is that you could easily slip into a number of shoes and they would work. You read the ads, the emails on forums from other runners happy with their shoes, and you hear other runners in one-on-one conversations recommending certain shoes. Maybe you’re happy with your current shoes and simply want to try out another pair. Or maybe you find the shoes you like have been discontinued.
Everyone wants the perfect shoe – and some people find them. Others try on shoe after shoe, looking for the elusive “best” fit.
You could run a 5K or 10K or even a marathon in many shoes and not have a problem. But move up to an ultramarathon or a multi-day event and you could have problems. A small thing when training or running can be multiplied many times over with more miles and cause problems. When changing to a different shoe, pay attention to any changes in how your feet and ankles feel. Does anything feel funny or seem bothersome? Do you feel a twinge the next day – telling you that something is wrong? At some point, if this continues, you need to consider the shoes. Change back to your old shoes and see if the problem goes away.
Where this affects athletes the most is moving from regular shoes to minimalist shoes or even no shoes (barefoot). Changing to these takes time and a gradual slow process. Wearing minimalist shoes puts added stressors on the feet until they get used to the change. Give it time. Slowly. Recognize you should be changing the way you land on your feet and your overall stride.
There are lots of shoes that will work for you. Give them a try. I bet you’ll find several you really like.
When we wear footwear that is not meant for the activity we are doing, it can lead to our experiencing injury and poor performance. Let me give an example. You are a runner and decide to go backpacking. Off you go – in your running shoes. At the end of the day, you have turned an ankle several times, your gait is changed because the shoes do not give the necessary support – so your hip and back hurts, and you decide to shorten the four day trip and hike out the next morning.
Your problems are most likely related to the wrong shoes. Here are a few sport shoe shopping tips:
Walkers: Wear shoes specifically made for walking if you power walk. Power or fast walking creates a higher rate of foot/ankle mechanical action than running. Quality walking shoes have a lower heel thickness than running shoes, which aids the faster foot/ankle movement. Remember that a thick heel is not needed for walking due to less impact than running.
For cross training, wear cross training shoes that offer support for weight bearing exercises and activities such as weight lifting, lunges and squats. These shoes typically offer more lateral support (sideways) which gives weight bearing stability. Look for a cross training shoe that bends easily to prevent excessive foot pronation or supination. You want your heels on the ground rather than forcing your body weight on to the ball of our foot.
For running, select running shoes based on your weight, biomechanics, where you will run, and how much. Understanding arch and foot mechanics is always helpful. If you are unaware of your foot/ankle mechanics, ask a knowledgeable sport expert to help determine if your foot turns inward (pronate) or if your foot turns outward (supinate). Low arch runners tend to pronate while high arch runners tend to supinate. Knowing your foot mechanics will help identify a correct shoe match. Use knowledgeable running stores staff or a podiatrist to help determine if you need shoes made for motion control, cushioning, or a combination. If you have a history of unresolved foot or gait problems (lower leg, knee, back, etc.) you may benefit by being personally fitted for orthotics by a podiatrist or certified pedorthist.
Hiking and backpacking shoes and boots give the wearer much more foot and ankle support. These usually are offered in low, mid and high styles. Select one that matches well with the load you will carry and specifics of your feet. If you are prone to turned or sprained ankles, choose one that give added support.
Adventure racing is often done in lightweight hikers or trail running shoes. These athletes are often trained at a higher level of fitness because of their multi-sport involvement. For them, the fit of their footwear is of utmost importance. They want support, traction, protection, water draining capabilities, and lightweight shoes.
It is important to pick footwear based on what activity you will be going and then ensuring that the fit is perfect. I hope the tips above are helpful in understandings selecting footwear for your sport. Shoes are not created equal when it comes to athletic activities. Select your footwear based on function.
I found the article in the Pedorthic Newswire Issue # 228 a few days ago. The title of the article was “The Proper Fit: What athletes need to know about shoes.” It first appeared in a newspaper’s website in Ontario Canada and was written by a certified pedorthists.
The article started by telling the reader, “When selecting a running shoe, or any shoe for that matter, there are a few important features to look for.” It then went on to talk about a strong heel counter, a strong shank, the best time of the day to shop for shoes, wearing the same socks that you plan to walk or run in when trying on shoes, and measuring your foot every time you purchase new shoes. This is all great advice. I have talked about this stuff for years.
It was the next paragraph that I did not agree with. It read, “Features to avoid: Airbags, liquid gel, "shocks," "rebound," "bounce," although aesthetically pleasing, are characteristics that should be avoided. These features can create greater instability with walking and running if any biomechanical abnormalities are present within the gait cycle. Also, if there is a breakdown of the airbag, liquid gel, "shock," "rebound," or "bounce," the shoe itself becomes unstable, which places the foot in an undesirable position, leading to pain and discomfort in the feet, legs and lower back.”
Excuse me… I have owned many pairs of Nike Air running shoes with their little air bags. I love them. Several are many years old and still hold their shock absorbing value. Not to say one of the airbags could never blow or be punctured by a thorn, but I’ll take that chance. The same goes for the gel and other shock absorbing devices. If there were problems, I know the shoe companies would rework the shoes.
Here is an image from a patent website for United States Patent 6562427. It shows a schematic for a shoe airbag. It’d give you the full description but it would probably bore you. Here is just a bit of the text from the abstract for 6562427:
“An airbag for shoes has a plurality of elastically compressible cylindrical cushion members which are interconnected in a predetermined array by a connecting plate. The cushion members/connecting plate combination is encapsulated in a casing. The cushion members, connecting plate and casing are joined together to form an integral unit. The cushion members have a spiral groove formed in their outer surface which increases their compressibility during the initial phase of compression.”
Shoes with these features are valuable to those who need them. I think most of us are smart enough to know if the shoe suddenly felt “funny” or bottomed out because of a system failure, we would stop wearing the shoes. I will continue to buy any shoe that fits well and works on my feet – regardless if they have any one of the aforementioned features. I hope you will too. After all, my main goal is to keep my feet happy.
I was reading an article by the California Podiatric Medical Association where a podiatrist made an interesting statement. Daniel Altchuler, a board certified podiatrist, was talking about how when winter comes many people go from sandals to an enclosed shoe. His next sentence was, “And the biggest problem people face is that their shoes do not always fit properly.” He went on to say, “Feet change and it is amazing how many people are wearing the wrong-sized shoes.” I agree wholeheartedly.
Many of us buy shoes at the local store where shoes line the shelves and you help yourself. Row after row of different shoes, and based on the stores I have seen, no one to help make sure the shoes fit. So the general action is to grab a box off the shelf based on what you think your size is. Put the shoes on and, either they fit or they don’t.
I suspect in most cases, whether they fit is strictly dependent on the wearer’s sense of comfort. Fit can be simple – it seems comfortable; or complex – length, width, toe box height, arch, heel control, instep lacing, insole firmness/softness, etc. How many times have you bought a pair of shoes only to get home and discover they really don’t fit? Have you ever bought shoes only to find that in the first or fifth time, tenth time running in them, that they hurt or pinch somewhere on your foot.
So, my point is, take the time to have your feet sized whenever you buy shoes. The instrument you see pictured here is called the Bannock Device. This simple tool will tell you your shoe size.
It’s worth it to keep your feet happy and healthy.
Recently I bought a new pair of casual shoes. I tried them on in the store and they felt fine. Getting home I took them out of the box and set them in my closet. When I went to put them on one day I noticed they really fit tight. Hummm…
What happened of course is when I bought the shoes; I had on a thinner pair of socks. Pulling out a pair of everyday socks the day I was going to wear them for the first time; I grabbed a pair of thicker socks. So I set the shoes aside and forgot about them.
This can easily happen when we buy new shoes or socks. Your socks must match with your shoes for a good fit. We all have our favorite socks and shoes. We tend to pick them first because they are comfortable. But sometimes we buy new socks without thinking about how they will fit into our existing shoes. Going to thicker or thinner socks can lead to problems of hot spots, blisters, cramped toes, sore feet, and reduced circulation.
When you shop for new shoes, take along a pair of your favorite socks. Use them to help determine if the shoes are a good fit. Avoid the basket of shoes the store offers – who know how many feet they have been on and what germs they are harboring.
As far as my new shoes, I need new socks anyway so I’ll get a few pairs of thinner socks. I’ll be happy and so will my feet.
The other day I was reading one of my many outdoor magazines when I saw an ad for hiking boots. These are custom made boots – Esatto. The ad was small but it caught my eye. It showed a hiking boot, the header “Esatto Custom Boots” and the tag line, “The fit you’ve looked for all your life.” It was the tag line that made me tear out the ad.
Can the fit of a boot be that important? Have I really been looking for this fit all my life? In reality, I know the ad is perfect for someone who has struggled finding a good fit with off the shelf boots. Esatto boots are leather custom made by a very detailed tracing and pattern of pressure points of each foot. One tracing measures the off-weighted outline of the foot, another the weighted outline. This is important because of the foot spread as we stand, walk and run. Four measurements are taken at specific points of the foot. Then any abnormalities are noted and measured. This tracing is sent with a photo of each foot so the company can make a boot that fits each of your feet.
Is all this expensive? Yes, but… If you want a boot that fits perfect, that has been made to eliminate pressure points and reduce friction, and that has been made for each of your two feet, money may be irrelative. Esatto currently offers one boot and one walker but is planning more designs. If you are interested in Esatto boots, give them a look. Their web site is very informative.
The Esatto web site says, “We combine the skills and craftsmanship of old world shoe making with modern technology to provide you with footwear that fits precisely and comfortably. If I wanted or needed custom made boots, they have me sold.
In my next post I will tell you about boots I used when I went to BC Canada to help at the Raid the North Extreme. Not custom made, but I loved them.
A triathlete said after running a marathon: “My left instep is still quite bruised—it took a pounding from the stretchy triathlon shoelaces that I used and whoops!—never adjusted quite properly. Lesson learned: too loose is better than too snug.”
In other words, she put the laces in her shoes and ran in them without adjusting them to fit her feet. This is an easily made and common mistake. When you make changes to our footwear, learn to try… and then adjust as necessary. You can apply this same failure to other parts of your footwear.
Here are three “don’ts”:
1. Wearing new shoes for a walk, race, or hike without trying them first—it’s easy to miss a bad fit, a rough inside seam or a wrong fitting arch. Walk around the house in them for a few hours.
2. Wearing new socks in an event without first trying them inside your shoes—the socks may be thicker or thinner than your previous socks, making the fit different.
3. Replacing insoles without checking if they are thinner or thicker than the old ones, which can change the space for your feet inside your shoes.
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.