Ramble, Pace, Dash insoles shown in side profile, along with a top down view of 9 pairs of shoes that all have Tread Labs insoles in them.

What Are Insoles and How Do They Help?

by Mark Paigen 5 minute read

Explore the world of insoles, from factory inserts to custom solutions, and discover how they enhance foot health and comfort.

The Basics: TL;DR ---

  • Insoles, Inserts, Orthotics. These are removable layers inside shoes that provide added comfort and support. They may also be called shoe inserts, foot beds, or orthotics.
  • Types. From basic factory inserts to specialty orthotics, insoles are available in standard, semi-custom, and fully custom models.
  • Design Differences. They vary in material, arch height, firmness, and sizing, catering to different foot types and conditions.
  • Benefits. Orthotics offer many benefits depending on their design. They can enhance shoe fit, provide cushioning, improve support, and alleviate pain.
  • Choosing the Right Pair. Match your arch height for optimal support. Select firm ones for everyday wear and ultra firm ones for sports and performance activities.

What You Need To Know---

An insole is a removable layer inside a shoe that provides extra comfort and support. This guide explains the different types – from basic factory inserts to specialized custom orthotics – and how they benefit your foot health.

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Table of Contents

    18 pairs of shoes with Tread Labs insoles in them.

    An Introduction: What Is An Insole?

    Insoles, also known as inserts, footbeds, or orthotics, are removable layers inside your shoe that are designed to enhance comfort and support. Made from materials like plastic, foam, gel, or leather, they sit beneath the foot and provides a number of benefits.

    Shoes typically have basic inserts factory-installed, but many people upgrade to aftermarket orthotic insoles for better support.  Orthotics can improve shoe fit, provide arch support, cushion the foot, and help alleviate foot and joint pain.

    Orthotic footbeds cater to a wide range of needs, from casual walking to high-intensity activities. In this article, we'll explain the different types of insoles, their design differences, as well as their benefits.  We'll also share tips for choosing the most appropriate ones for your needs.


    Insoles Types: From Insert to Orthotic

    What is the insole of a shoe? Insoles range from basic inserts to specialized orthotics, each serving different purposes:

    • Basic Inserts. These are the factory-installed versions found in most shoes. They are typically made from thin foam and offer basic cushioning and minimal foot support.

    • Orthotics. Available for purchase separately, these come in a range of materials and designs, providing more specific support and comfort than basic inserts. These are typically called orthotic insoles, orthotics, footbeds or orthotic footbeds. They are available in number of different types:

      • Standard. Standard aftermarket orthotics offer one level of firmness and a single arch height. They are designed to fit a wide range of shoe sizes and offer improved support over basic inserts, but they do not cater to unique foot shapes or needs.

      • Semi-Custom. These offer a balance between basic footbeds and custom orthotics, catering to specific foot shapes and needs while remaining affordable.  All Tread Labs models are semi-custom insoles that can replace your custom orthotics at a fraction of the cost. See the diagram below showing all of the options.

      • Custom. Prescribed and custom-made for individual feet, these custom orthotics are designed to address specific foot conditions and alignment issues. They are the most personalized form of insole, providing targeted support and pain relief. Custom orthotics can cost 500-1000% more than semi-custom.


    Treadlabs Diagram: Choose Firmness: Firm, Extra Firm, Ultra Firm.  Choose Arch Height: Low, Medium, HIgh, Extra High. Choose Top Cover: Regular, Thin, or Short

    Differences in Insole Design

    Designs vary significantly to meet different needs, activities, and price points:

    • Material. Footbeds can be made from plastic, foam, cork, leather, or a combination, each offering unique comfort and support characteristics.  Read 'What Are They Made Of?' to learn more.  We recommend firm, durable materials for the best long-lasting support.

    • Arch Support. They range from flat designs to orthotics with high arch supports. Check out 'Arch Height 101' to better understand arch height. All Tread Labs models are available in 4 arch heights for a semi-custom fit: Low, Medium, High, and Extra High.

    • Firmness. The level of firmness varies, with softer footbeds for daily wear and firmer ones that provide more support during performance activities.  Tread Labs offers three levels of firmness:


    Firmness Firm Extra Firm Ultra Firm
    Recommended Use For people who need more comfort from their footwear, are light on their feet, or are new to wearing insoles. For people who suffer from plantar fasciitis, overpronate severely, or are especially heavy on their feet. For people who are performance athletes, overpower other insoles, or have especially flat feet.
    Tread Labs Model Ramble Pace Dash


    Tread Labs Review: Stephen Z  Verified Buyer  3 months ago Great product! These insoles are a fantastic alternative to pricey custom orthotics. I am on my feet all day as a teacher and I love the flexible support of the Ramble insoles for teaching and walking. I use the Pace insoles in my running shoes because those offer extra firm support. I appreciate the fact that you can replace the insole pad when it wears out and not have to buy a whole new pair. I highly recommend both of these products. Review left on: Ramble Insoles - Men 5-5.5 || Women 6-6.5 || EU 36-37 / Extra High 

    • Shape and Size: Most orthotics come in full-length, ¾ length, or as heel inserts, each designed for specific shoe types and individual needs.  Tread Labs come in full length or short (2/3) length.  While many footbeds are only available in a single thickness, Tread Labs are offered with a standard 5mm top cover or a thin 3mm top cover.

    • Special Features: Some orthotics have additional features like heat retention for cold weather or moisture-wicking for sweaty feet.  Tread Labs offers Shearling Top Covers for the colder months that are both insulating and moisture wicking.

    Understanding these differences and the benefits they provide will help you select a pair that meets your specific requirements, whether for daily use or specific activities. Let's dive into the benefits:


    The Benefits: How They Help

    Insoles offer various benefits that enhance both comfort and health:

    • Add Comfort: They provide cushioning and shock absorption, reducing foot fatigue and discomfort during prolonged standing or walking.

    • Enhance Support: Orthotic footbeds offer arch and heel support, essential for maintaining proper foot alignment and reducing strain on joints.

    • Alleviate Pain: Particularly beneficial for those with foot conditions, orthotics can alleviate pain and discomfort in the feet, ankles, knees, and even the lower back.

    • Improve Shoe Fit: They can improve the fit of loose shoes, ensuring a more secure and comfortable experience.

    • Increase Shoe Lifespan: By absorbing impact and reducing wear on the shoe’s interior, aftermarket footbeds can extend the life of your footwear.

     Hikers legs and feet in shoes, descending a ridge with a mountain in the background.

    How To Choose The Right Pair

    Choosing the right shoe insole involves considering your specific needs and foot characteristics. Match the insole to your individual arch height for optimal support, and think about the activities you'll be doing. Need to determine your arch height? Use this technique. For everyday comfort, choose a firm footbeds that is not too stiff. For performance sports or activities that demand peak performance, opt for extra firm or ultra firm ones. Also, take into account the material, size, and shape of the orthotics to ensure they fit well in your shoes and provide the desired benefits.

    Our Insole Finder makes choosing the perfect pair easy:


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