From Sustainability to Performance Benefits, Here’s What to Look for
There are many different types of insole materials used to add that extra cushion and support to all types of footwear. From gel, cork, and leather to polyurethane (PU) foam and latex, shoe designers and developers know well the many options available for insole materials.
But when it comes to offering optimal support and performance to customers – with sustainability a top priority as well – which insole materials have the biggest impact?
What Are the Different Types of Insole Materials?
There are many types of insole materials out there that are regularly used for footwear. Depending on the type of footwear (running shoe versus work boot) manufacturers would be right to select a different type of material to complement what the footwear was designed for.
Here is a list of the most common materials used for insoles.
At INSITE, we use different types of foams for our insoles, which allows us to offer a multitude of benefits for footwear such as comfort, performance, and support, as well as greater sustainability.
For the purposes of this post, we’re going to explain how different foams are used for insoles, and the benefits of each, and we’ll explain a little more about the other insole materials that are used for footwear.
It’s important to ensure your insole material fits the shoe. Insoles that offer excellent support and performance benefits are better for athletic footwear than an insole material that limits breathability and provides less support or performance. The customer experience ultimately should dictate the best type of insole for your footwear.
Foam is the most common material used for insoles because it provides excellent support. With greater rigidity than other materials, foam insoles maintain their shape well, helping to keep your foot in the best position during activities and creating proper weight distribution and alignment as you move.
Memory foam is a well-known type of foam insole, and while it’s touted for its comfortable design that molds to the shape of your foot, that same benefit can be a drawback if you suffer from a foot injury or condition. Memory foam will only conform to the way your foot currently moves, and will not provide any additional enhancement or support to correct existing issues.
Foam insoles can be made using many different materials, such as polyurethane (PU), neoprene, or ethylene vinyl acetate (EVA). Latex foam, which is a rubber and water mixture, is often mixed with other insole materials, such as cork, to provide greater structure and comfort.
Each type of foam has different qualities and ideal footwear applications.
At INSITE, we have successfully added a component of responsibly-sourced plant-based materials to our foams to increase their sustainability without compromising comfort, performance, or support.
We also employ manufacturing practices that reduce waste and energy and resource consumption by pouring PU foam into molds rather than cutting it out of sheets.
The name implies exactly what gel insoles offer – a squishy, cushion-y feel that softens under the foot. While it may sound quite lovely (and very comfortable), the drawback of gel insoles is a lack of support. Squishy insoles won’t hold the foot in position or provide any alignment during activities, and may even result in a knee or hip issue if the impact is displaced from the foot to another part of the lower body.
Gel insoles are comfortable and offer a nice alternative to a more rigid insole, but they don’t offer much in the way of rebound or shock absorption, and do not provide arch support, which is problematic for anyone with a foot issue or who is using gel insoles regularly for rigorous activities.
For insoles, cork can be used on its own or combined with latex. In either case, cork provides a primary benefit that has made it a popular choice for warm-weather footwear like sandals: cork is hydrophobic, meaning it repels water.
Issues of sweaty or smelly feet are less likely with cork insoles, which is highly breathable and prevents the buildup of odor-causing bacteria.
Cork also provides some level of cushion and shock-absorption, and because it is a naturally soft material, it will mold to the foot. However, similar to memory foam, it will not provide positioning or alignment for the foot during movement; it will simply complement the way the foot already moves.
For individuals who want an insole with maximum breathability, leather insoles are a popular choice. Leather insoles also are comfortable and will contour to the foot.
However, like other contouring insole materials such as memory foam, gel, and cork, the drawback is the lack of support for different types of foot movement. Without an insole that will maintain the foot’s placement and alignment, individuals can exacerbate existing foot injuries or even create new ones.
Anyone who has embraced wool socks for athletic activities knows its primary feature is exceptional breathability. Wool is naturally resistant to bacteria, making it an ideal insole material for hiking boots and other footwear that sees prolonged athletic activity.
For insoles, wool is often combined with foam to create greater arch support and increase durability for long-time compression.
Choosing the right insole material for your footwear is important for the overall shoe experience. An athletic shoe should have an insole that can not only hold up to the activity the shoe is designed for, but provide added benefits to make the experience even better – and repeatable.
Foam insoles are by and large the best option for a broad range of footwear that can deliver benefits for the majority of wearers. INSITE’s selection of foam insoles are designed using biomechanics research to match the already stellar properties of foam to the way people really move.
Not to mention, our foam insoles are made sustainably with responsibly-sourced plant-based materials.