We usually don’t give a second thought to what makes up the inside our duty boots. We lace up, get on the job, get in and get out. But when that duty takes you on a long-duration mission – be it military, law enforcement, EMS or firefighting – being on your feet for any length of time (marching, running, or drilling) with the wrong insole will have your feet screaming in pain. Choosing the correct insoles will not only spare you problems down the road, but will also improve your performance and make you more efficient at your work. And this is one issue that those who wear duty boots on a regular basis cannot afford to ignore.
What are insoles, anyway? Insoles are a removable layer inside a boot or shoe whose intrinsic function is to provide you with extra comfort, support and cushioning, and separate your feet from the midsole and outsole. If they are designed just right for your needs, they fight foot fatigue, joint injuries, blisters and a number of other problems that will slow you down on duty. More serious injuries like plantar fasciitis (a tearing and inflammation of the connective tissues in your foot), over-pronation (when your foot rolls inward in an exaggerated fashion, and supination (when your foot rolls outward in an exaggerated fashion); both result in muscle and tendon injuries.
And choosing the wrong ones will lead to a host of ailments that may sideline you from completing your mission – including foot pain, tired, achy feet, blisters, lower back, spine and neck problems, ankle and shin injuries, poor posture and sweaty feet that can lead to serious infection. Poorly selected insoles cause friction at the very least, and will make you miserable in no time. And no one wants to spend an entire shift in boots that give you pain with each step.
When you are on your feet for prolonged periods of time, the amount of pressure on your joints is enormous. What insoles do exactly is properly manage that pressure and distribute the stress from each foot strike evenly, increasing comfort and reducing pain from impact. Insoles are arguably the single most essential component of your duty boots for the simple reason that they are in constant contact with your feet; so you need to choose insoles that are best for your duty needs.
Insoles come in three basic types – comfort insoles, support insoles and custom orthotic insoles. Comfort insoles are flat or shaped for higher arches; they are usually made out of gel inserts or foam construction and are designed for exactly what their name suggests – comfort only. They come in full length, ¾ length and arch or heel inserts. For long-term wear and endurance over difficult terrain, comfort insoles may not be the best choice for duty boots.
Support insoles are manufactured from a harder foam and polyurethane, and usually have a center that offers increased support and stability. Some makers of tactical boots offer insoles that are molded single-density, designed with the professional athletic shoe foot class in mind, for the ultimate in shock absorption and stress impact distribution. Others also feature low-profile soling systems for versatility of movement and performance in rapidly changing conditions. Most make their tactical insoles out of lighter weight breathable material that still offer the same support as their heavier cousins, but keep your feet dry and healthy, and have wicking that keeps water away from your skin, no matter what over terrain your mission takes you.
Many insoles for duty boots have an antimicrobial option or coating, which not only kills off odor but wards off dangerous bacteria that can cause serious illness. Stronger support insoles are made of breathable polyurethane with a cork insert for increased stability in the heel and ankle. Many of them are filled with a polymer gel to absorb each foot blow, recoil quickly for the next foot strike, and relieve the stress on your pressure points through distribution of energy with each foot strike. Some are even waterproof, and blood borne pathogen proof for added protection.
The third insole is created specially for each individual by an orthopedist. Custom orthotics come into play when you realize you have serious foot and gait problems that normal insoles cannot handle, such as fallen arches, flat foot, plantar fasciitis, over-pronation and supination. While expensive, they may be the only option to keep you in the game.
So, how do you choose and fit your insoles properly? It’s more than just grabbing a pair off of a rack and heading to the register. You actually need to try them out first. Place them flat on the floor or ground and step on them. Balance on them with one foot at a time; were you able to hold your balance? Or did you wobble and weave? Did your foot feel stable in them? Another important detail to look for when choosing the right insoles is the way it fits your heel. You need to make certain your heel is cupped, and that the insole does not overlap. Next, put the insoles inside your duty boots and try them on. Walk around a bit. Are they too thick? Not thick enough? Pay attention to the reduction in foot volume in your duty boot once the insoles are in them. Too much thickness will only put more pressure on your feet, which defeats the entire purpose.
Since every human foot is different, and very few people run true to size, your new insoles may need to be trimmed to fit your duty boot properly. You can take them to a local shoe store to have them done while you wait, or if you are feeling confident enough, trim a bit off at a time with an X-Acto® knife.
Whatever insole you choose for your duty boot, caring for them is just as important as making that initial selection. Insoles have a lifespan of between 9 and 12 months, depending on how hard you are on your footwear. Wash them as often as you can with warm water and mild detergent (baby detergent works best for this), and let them air dry. Putting them in the dryer will cause them to shrink and be misshapen. And, even if they seem fine to you, replace them once that 9 to 12 month time frame is up; your feet will thank you.
Pick a reputable dealer that sells uniform and tactical duty gear, rather than walking into a generic shoe store. Chances are someone there will have a wealth of knowledge on what insoles are right for you and your job duties, and they will more than likely fit them and trim them right there for you. And, do yourself the favor of purchasing a spare pair. You never know.
Leg cramps, lower back pain, ankle and shin injuries, friction burns, blisters and foot fatigue – if you’ve ever worn a uniform you know exactly what these ailments feel like. Choosing the correct insoles can make the difference between successfully completing your job, and sitting on the sidelines. Research-driven technological advances means better insoles are out there. They can make your duty boots extremely comfort, perform more like professional athletic shoes, and help you navigate difficult terrain with ease. So do your homework and choose carefully so you can get the job done.
Click here to pick out the pair of insoles that’s right for you.