Soft vs. Firm Insoles: What is the Difference and How to Choose Which Experience is Right for You

Posted in: Health + Wellness
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When you select new running shoes or hiking boots, odds are you put a lot of work and research into choosing the right fit for you. From tread to laces, weight to durability, you take everything into account to find the perfect pair of shoes or boots. So why not invest the same amount of energy into selecting the right insole for that footwear? 

Think of it like this — you wouldn’t go out and spend a lot of money on a new Jeep Wrangler for intense four-wheeling adventures and then run stock tires on it. In the same way, you should not buy a new pair of hiking boots or running shoes and use the stock insole that comes with it. 

A little upgrade can go a long way.

The insole that comes with your shoe, sometimes called the sockliner, isn’t necessarily bad, it’s just designed for anyone’s foot. 

But you are not anyone. You are you, and you need an insole that fits your foot and needs well. But how to find that? Many people don’t know where to start. Well, good news, Superfeet is here to help. We know a thing or two about what goes into finding the right insole for the right foot. When it comes to hard vs. soft orthotics, we’ve compiled a little guide on how to find what works best for your feet,  and your adventures.   

Having a good hard or soft insole can make or break a good hike or run. Finding the right insole means you can focus on fun, not foot discomfort.

Soft vs. Hard Insoles 

After a long day, whether it is around town or on a trail, the last thing you want is to feel the wear of miles on your feet. Ideally, you want your feet to feel just as good getting in bed at night as you did getting out of bed in the morning. A good insole can make that dream a reality. 

Because there are lots of different types of feet, shoes, and preferences, Superfeet offers a wide range of soft insoles and hard insoles ranging from soft foam insoles, semi-rigid arch supports, and hard plastic orthotics. 

One of the first questions to consider when selecting the right insole for you is — how do you want the insole to feel?

Insoles are a little like mattresses in that some people prefer soft and cushioned, while others want something firm. To know the answer to the hard vs. soft orthotics question, it helps to know a little more about the differences, advantages, and disadvantages of each of these two types of insoles.

For many, the natural thought is that softer is better when it comes to selecting an insole, however, this is not always the case. Superfeet’s soft insoles provide an adaptive underfoot experience, full of flexibility, cushion, and step-in comfort, built on the foundation of the signature Superfeeet orthotic shape.  While soft or squishy insoles from other brands might feel good at first, they often don’t hold their shape and lack stability and support.

Inversely, harder polymer-based or carbon fiber-based orthotics offer more structure and responsiveness. These hard insoles are what Superfeet dubs a “responsive underfoot experience,” which offers more support and presence underfoot and is designed to be more present under your foot, which can accelerate the effect of the Superfeet insole’s shape. 

Think of walking on a warm sandy beach. As you approach the salty sea, the sand is warm, soft and cushy. Your feet sink in and have a comfortable experience at first but require pressure to walk and over time it becomes tiresome and even painful slogging through soft sand.

Now as you approach the water where the white frothy waves have lapped up on the sand, the wet beach is firm and responsive, and you sink in less. The hard wet sand is easier to walk on but is a little less forgiving on your feet. 

The orthotic shape of Superfeet is the firm sand providing a structure and base for feet to work from. You wouldn’t build a house on sand, and you shouldn’t make it the base for your feet either. The shape is the essential life-changing technology under every foot, and shape is the core of everything Superfeet does.

The right Superfeet insole depends on your specific foot shape, any pain you are experiencing and what activity you are doing. Consider that a tight shoe may require a thinner, hard insole, while a roomy shoe could fit a thicker, soft insole.

Soft Insoles Pros and Cons

A soft insole can feel like walking on a bed of clouds. 

There are many benefits to soft insoles, however, as with anything, there are also some things that you as the wearer might not like about a softer insole.

Some of the positives of soft insoles include:

  • Lightweight and gentle feel underfoot
  • Engineered with comfort and flexibility in mind
  • Maximizes each step’s cushion
  • Easy to break-in 

Some of the limitations of soft insoles are:

  • Can feel like not enough shape, especially if you are used to a harder orthotic
  • Relies more on the structure of the shoe to influence shape
  • Depending on thickness, can take up too much space in the shoe

A soft insole helps absorb shock and reduce friction as well in Superfeet’s three key areas:

  • Structured heel cup
  • Rearfoot support
  • Reinforced foundation 

Activities for soft insoles include:

  • Walking
  • Running
  • Hiking
  • Casual
  • Everyday use

While there are pluses and minuses to both, the engineering and materials used to create soft insoles from Superfeet are top of the line. 

Some of our more soft, flexible insoles use patented Adaptive Comfort Technology™. This is a fancy way to say the insoles adapt and flex to the way your foot moves. 

The durometer, the standardized measurement of the hardness of a material, finds that a polymer in a soft insole is lower. That means that the change in the shoe will be minimal and can work for any type of activity from walking, running, and hiking, to business meetings. 

Hard Insoles Pros and Cons

Responsive, structured, and ready to go — hard insoles are great for some situations but may not work for everyone.

Like soft insoles, hard insoles come with benefits and drawbacks as well. Knowing what these are can guide you in finding the correct insole. 

Some of the positives of hard insoles include:

  • A stiffer, more present feel underfoot
  • Maximum shape and support
  • Can be similar to the feel of prescription orthotics

Some of the limitations of hard insoles are:

  • Some people prefer a softer feel
  • Longer adjustment or break-in time
  • Available room in the shoe can become an issue

Activities for hard insoles include:

  • Walking
  • Running
  • Hiking
  • Casual
  • Everyday use

Firm or hard insoles are ideal for people who have previously used and had success with a custom foot orthotic or have suffered an injury or are trying to prevent injuries. Responsive insoles are there for your feet and assist in keeping you upright and moving in any situation. Think solid, as these insoles will be there when you need them. 

Hard insoles use a variety of high-quality materials such as polypropylene and carbon fiber to provide a responsive footbed. 

Superfeet hard insoles use EVOlyte® Carbon Fiber enhanced materials. Think of the carbon fiber materials used in a high-end bicycle — it is strong but lightweight. Superfeet harnesses the same material and benefits in insoles built with EVOLyte, our proprietary carbon fiber blend.

These hard insoles usually have a higher durometer number too. Think of it like turning the volume up on the footbed radio — you can’t miss the support. 

With hard insoles, good for skiing, hiking, running, walking, and everyday life, the structure, and shape stay present the entire life of the insole (for Superfeet, that’s 500 miles or one full year of use, whichever comes first). It is more resilient and responsive. 

What is the right option for me?

Now that you have all this knowledge about hard vs. soft orthotics, what is the right fit for you? Having hard or soft orthotics for plantar fasciitis or similar foot or leg pain can make or break a good hike.

With the right Superfeet in your shoes, you can enhance performance and run longer, hike farther, and walk pain-free all while reducing foot fatigue and helping to eliminate foot and lower leg injuries. 

The right insole for you depends on the activity you will do, along with your foot type, any injuries or ailments you may suffer from, and most importantly: your personal preference. Superfeet offers a wide range of insoles for every activity, including insoles for running, insoles for hiking, insoles for casual and dress footwear and even insoles for your hockey skates. 

Within each line, there are a variety of soft to hard insoles available. For a softer feel, check out Superfeet ADAPT insoles. If you prefer a more rigid feel, look for the EVOLyte logo — that means the insoles are built with a responsive, carbon fiber-infused cap. You can find EVOLyte in Superfeet insoles for running, for hiking, for casual use and for hockey skates.  

In the end, comfort is king and whatever feels best under your specific foot is what you should wear, regardless of the activity. 

Considering the wide array of activities, foot types, and Superfeet available, one of the best tools to find the right fit for you is the Insole Finder Quiz on superfeet.com. Or another great option is using the Store Locator function on superfeet.com and then going in to get a personalized fitting by a Superfeet specialist. 

By selecting the right insole for the right foot, you can alleviate discomforts like plantar fasciitis or Achilles tendonitis. If you suffer from shin splints, patellofemoral pain syndrome, or IT band syndrome, the technology in Superfeet may alleviate pain from such ailments. 

Ultimately, it may require the advice of a healthcare professional to best prescribe hard or soft orthotics for plantar fasciitis and other foot pain situations. A doctor can help guide you to the best Superfeet insole for you.  

How do I take care of my insoles? 

Just as you care for your car by washing and regularly maintaining it, you will want to do the same for your Superfeet. By taking care of your dirty insoles, you will prolong the life and effectiveness of both hard insoles and soft insoles alike.  

One of the easiest and best things that you can do to care for your Superfeet is to take them out of the shoe or boot and let them air dry after an activity. Just like you need fresh air after a long run, your insoles like to breathe a bit too.

Humidity, dirt, and bacteria are all enemies of soft foam insoles and can lead to a breakdown in the materials. 

It also helps to hand-wash both soft insoles and hard insoles occasionally with mild soap, lukewarm water, and an old toothbrush. Never machine wash or dry your insoles, and keep them away from heat sources. It’s best to just let them air dry or use a soft towel. 

With proper care and maintenance, you can count on reliable comfort and support from your hard or soft orthotics for up to 12 months or 500 miles, whichever comes first. 

You are sure to enjoy many comfortable adventures in that time, and your feet will thank you. 

Insole Finder Banner link to take a short quiz to find the best superfeet for youInsole Finder Banner link to take a short quiz to find the best superfeet for you
November 18, 2022