Understanding the components that make up a shoe from the ground up can help you find the best footwear for your feet.
As barefoot running and the special barely-there footwear rose to prominence in recent years, the trend sparked many conversations about what we should and shouldn’t put on our feet. Along with challenging age-old philosophies about shoe prescription, it also put a spotlight on the pros and cons of shedding your shoes altogether.
Perhaps the biggest lesson we learned is that each one of us is highly individual. What works for your running buddy or walking partner may not for you.
Recent research suggests that feel is the best way to determine if a shoe is going to be the right one to support your active pursuits, and help prevent injuries.
“Comfort is the most important aspect of selecting shoes,” says Paul Langer, DPM, a Minneapolis-based podiatrist and author of Great Feet for Life. “Runners perform better and are less likely to get injured when they run in comfortable shoes.”
This fact is emphasized by the American Academy of Podiatric Sports Medicine, which asserts that certain generalizations can be made about shoe prescription by looking at someone’s “foot type,” but the majority of runners and walkers respond to shoes in highly individual ways. As a result, they recommend that you educate yourself on the anatomy of active footwear in order to make an educated guess on what might work best for you. Once you’ve honed in on a model you think is appropriate for your feet, you should rely on comfort as your guide.
We’ve put together a primer on the basic components that make up a shoe, as well as a few pieces of expert advice, so you can be an informed shopper. While a bit of trial and error is often involved in finding the best shoe, understanding a shoe’s makeup will help simplify the process. This, along with the guidance from an informed salesperson at a running and walking specialty store, can go a long way in keeping you healthy and achieving your fitness goals.
Outsole Fit Tip: Many running shops will recommend looking at the wear pattern of the outsole. In certain circumstances, unusual wear patterns can provide a piece to the puzzle of guiding someone to the best shoes for his or her feet.
Langer warns not to rely on this too much, however, saying, “A large percentage of runners wear the lateral aspect of the heel, and this is perfectly normal because 80-90% of runners are heel strikers and tend to land slightly on the lateral aspect when heel striking.” Put simply, if you’re wearing the outside portion of the outsole's heel, this isn’t anything to fret about. With that said, other less common wear patterns may offer important information to an expert assisting you with shoe prescription.
Midsole Fit Tip: A shoe with stability built into the midsole is a good place to start for runners and walkers who overpronate, which means their feet roll inwards with each step. In most shoes, stability is provided via a multi-density foam built into the arch of the midsole to provide greater support and control of that inwards roll. For people who don’t overpronate, shoes with less support and more cushioning in the midsole is often most comfortable
Upper Fit Tip: Some strategy should be involved with identifying an upper that will work for your feet. “The single-piece uppers that utilize thermoplastic overlays and welded seams instead of multiple-piece uppers with lots of stitching are much better at minimizing pressure points,” explains Langer. If you have bunions, hammertoes, or other boney prominances on your feet that may rub the wrong way, be sure to pay attention to where the upper’s overlays hit those spots. While the color of the upper is also often a consideration, design and comfort will always win out a few miles down the road