When you hear the term insole, your mind might first jump to something like custom-made orthotics or Dr. Scholl’s insoles that tout their cushy, cloud-like feel, contoured arch and extra padding in the heel. Since we’re here to talk about minimalist and barefoot shoes and focus on strengthening our feet, the insoles in this blog post are a bit more basic, but still very helpful.
Why add insoles to barefoot shoes?
Insoles for barefoot shoes are very minimal, usually only a few millimeters. They’re also flat, so they’re not providing arch support or creating a heel drop by adding extra cushion to the sole. These are the main reasons I would consider adding an insole to a barefoot shoe:
If you’ve just started your transition to barefoot shoes, you may not be ready to have so little cushion in your shoes. While you’re adjusting, you may find it more comfortable to add an insole with a few millimeters of extra cushion.
Even after wearing barefoot shoes and very minimal soles almost exclusively for the last few years, I still appreciate the extra cushion at times too. If I’m going to be walking long distances on hard, flat surfaces all day, I’ll usually consider adding some cork insoles for comfort.
Better fit for Low Volume Feet
Not every foot takes up the same amount of space. If you find that your shoes fit the length of your feet, but feel loose around the ankles or instep, you make want to add insoles to take up some of that extra volume. This is especially true for me with slip-ons, where I can’t tighten down the laces to make the shoes fit securely. A thin, lightweight insole can make a big difference here.
Wearing barefoot shoes in cold weather is all about compromise, and you want to keep your feet warm. Most barefoot boots start with thicker soles than many of the warm weather versions, but an additional insole made from something like wool or felt can make your boots even warmer and add extra insulation from the cold ground.
The thin soles in barefoot shoes do a lot to give our feet better ground feel, but we’re still missing out on the textures and sensory experiences we get from walking with bare feet. A company called Naboso makes insoles designed to stimulate and activate the thousands of nerve endings in our feet.
A few things to keep in mind
- A few millimeters goes a long way for adding cushion, comfort and warmth.
- Most of these insoles included in this post are from barefoot and minimalist shoes companies. I’ve found other cork, wool and felt insoles online from a lot of different companies, but unfortunately the toe box shape is a lot narrower, so they’re not a good fit for most barefoot shoes.
Insoles for Barefoot Shoes
Cork is lightweight, breathable, and provides good shock-absorption along with a little bit of cushion. I’ve found cork insoles to be a great option for an everyday insole if I want a little extra cushion for a few days, or I need to take up some extra space in a higher volume shoe. Here are a few options for cork insoles:
Feelgrounds Cork Insoles | 3mm thick | $11.90 | Come in the same size and shape as Feelgrounds shoes. Completely flat, so may work with other brands as well. You could order a larger size and cut the insoles down if you’re trying to fit a shoe with a slightly toe box different shape. Shop Feelgrounds Cork Insoles.
Lems Cork Insoles | 3.8mm thick | $5.99 | Lems has two different cork insoles that are shaped for their different shoes – one specifically for the Drifter, and another for other casual models like the Chillum, Boulder Boots, Nine2Five, Chukkas and Primal Zen. These do have a bit more contouring around the heel, so these insoles may not work as well with other brands.
Vivobarefoot Cork Insoles | 3mm of recycled foam with a natural cork deck | $12 | These curve up a bit around the edges to fit specifically in Vivobarefoot shoes. Use Code KELLY10 for 10% off on Vivobarefoot.com.
Naboso insoles are pretty unique. They’re not just for extra padding or warmth. Naboso insoles were developed by podiatrist Dr. Emily Splichal to provide a richer sensory experience in our shoes by stimulating the nerves in our feet.
The insoles are lightly textured, so it’s like stepping on something soft but bumpy. I was intrigued when I first heard about these and definitely wanted to try them out, but wasn’t sure if they’d be something I’d want to wear regularly. Well, turns out, they actually feel great and I put them in one of my most worn shoes.
The Naboso Insoles come in sizes small through extra large, with a size range associated with each. I ordered a medium (I’m usually an EU38), and cut them down to fit in my shoes. You can easily switch them between shoes with a similar shape.
There are four different types of Naboso insoles, each with a slightly different purpose. I use the Activation insoles that are meant for everyday wear. You can order these insoles on Naboso’s website and use code KELLY10 for 10% off.
Here’s what Naboso recommends the Activiation insole for:
- Everyday use to offset foot fatigue and strengthen feet
- Minimizing foot fatigue and foot pain associated with plantar fasciitis or arch pain
- Reducing foot pain in standing employees such as nurses, hair stylists, trainers
- Those looking to improve posture and body alignment
The company NorthSole makes foam insoles for barefoot shoes. They’re flat and flexible, and made with high quality foam that doesn’t squish down with wear. These insoles come in two different thicknesses: 3mm and 6mm. The insoles come in sizes S – XL so you can cut them down to the exact size and shape of your shoe.
Warm insoles for winter – wool, sheepskin, felt and thermal
Next up are warm insoles to keep your feet warm in the winter! There are several different types of materials used for warm insoles. If you plan on using a thicker version, just keep in mind how much space that may be taking up in your shoe, and consider sizing up for your winter shoes.
Wildling Felty Insole | Wool felt | approximately 5-7mm thick | $9.90 | For the best fit, order the insole one size down compared to your Wildling shoe. For example, I wear a size EU38 Wildling shoe and use a size EU37 insole in them.
Wildling Wooly Insoles | Loden wool | approximately 4mm thick | $11.90 | Same as above, the insole should be one size smaller than your Wildling shoe.
Softstar Sheepskin Insoles | $35 | These come in two different shapes to fit Softstar’s different styles of shoes. These look kind of thick and fluffy at first, but the fibers lie flat under your feet so while these provide good warmth, they do not provide a significant amount of cushion. These can easily be cut to fit shoes other than SoftStar styles.
Feelgrounds Vegan Felt Insoles | 3mm | $11.90 | These provide a little extra cushion and warmth.
Vivobarefoot Thermal Insoles | $14 | Many of Vivobarefoot’s cold weather shoes come with thermal insoles, but here you can replace ones you already have, or add them to a shoe if you want to use them during transition months. These thermal insoles use Outlast® Technology developed by NASA. You can find out more about how it works here, but the gist is that these insoles store excess body heat when you need it, and then release the stored heat when you start to cool down. They basically respond to the changing temperatures of your feet to keep them warmer or cooler.
While you don’t need a different insole for every pair of shoe, it’s a great idea to have a few to mix and match between your shoes. Let me know if you have any questions, or feel free to share any tips or tricks that have helped you with insoles for barefoot shoes.