Your ski boots suck. Your snowboard boots, too. Why? Because just about every manufacturer tosses a soft, foam insole (footbed) into their boots and calls it a day. Here’s the thing, though: you really can’t blame them. No one has come up with an insole that is going to fit every foot right out of the box. That’s why we have heat-moldable liners and aftermarket insoles. Your feet are different than my feet are different than your friend Jorge’s feet. And we try to stick them all into boot shells that are the same shape! In an effort to solve the footbed problem we stopped by the Superfeet booth at SIA last year and got a set of Superfeet Custom Carbon Winter Insoles. After a year on the insoles, we went back to Superfeet this year and went through the process again, documenting every step. Here’s what we learned…
Why is an insole so important?
It’s all about the arch. No need to get into foot anatomy, but suffice to say that when you close a boot, it presses down on your foot and can collapse your arches. That is really uncomfortable! Until last year, we relied on off-the-shelf solutions. They helped, but weren’t really stiff enough to maintain foot position. Which brings us to our second point – if your foot isn’t held in position inside the boot, how do you expect it to properly transfer your movements to the ski or board? It will slide or rotate, reducing control. All of these things are bad…very bad.
The goal of any footbed is to support and control the foot. A rigid footbed is going to do a better job than a soft one. A custom one will be better than an off-the-shelf one. So, by the transitive property, a custom, rigid footbed is going to kick all kinds of booty, right? Well, we’re not done quite yet. There are two schools of thought when it comes to custom footbeds. On one side, you have companies that believe that you should be standing on the insole while it’s molding. On the other side, you have Superfeet, who believe that an unweighted mold of the foot is the way to go. Superfeet believes that a weighted mold copies all of the problems you already have with your feet. They also told us that a weighted mold will flatten the heel, reducing its ability to hold your foot in position.
We’re not going to say one way is better or worse. What we can say is that based on our experience in comparing the Superfeet Custom Carbon Winter with an insole that we heat-molded at home in a weighted position, the Superfeet was better for us. It captures a neutral foot position. As an added bonus, using carbon means the Custom Carbon Winter can be thinner without losing support. That means it fits in more boots.
How does it work?
The process of getting molded for a pair of Custom Carbon Winter footbeds is quick, easy, and relaxing. You’ll start with a foot measurement. In our case, we had to size up – length-wise we were a D (7.5-9), but width-wise we were an F (11.5-13). Because the insole was so much longer than the foot, we actually had to trim the carbon piece before molding it; your metatarsals should land beyond the carbon cup.
The technician will then place the carbon piece into the oven and warm it up while getting your foot ready. Have a seat and put your foot up on the machine. Superfeet’s device includes a laser to align everything. The beam should intersect your second toe and run straight up your shin bone to ensure your leg is aligned and not pronated or supinated. The technician will attach a vacuum hose to your ankle with a strap. Once the carbon piece is warmed up and pliable, it is placed on the footbed and aligned. The adhesive allows some movement before setting. Another strap loosely holds the footbed to your foot and plastic bag gets sealed around your foot. The technician will then turn on the vacuum pump which will suck all the air out of the bag. You’re then using air pressure to mold the carbon piece to your heel. That may seem like a weak force, but really, about 14 lbs is pressing every square inch of the footbed against your foot. After 60-120 seconds, you end up with a perfect mold of your unweighted foot.
How does it feel?
We played around in three sets of demo boots at the Snow Show. The stock footbed in one was so bad we couldn’t even tell there was on installed at first. With each of the stock footbeds, our feet were in pain or numb by the end of two runs. On day two, we decided to quit with the idiocy and just wear our own boots with the Custom Carbon Winters installed. All day comfort, better control, no problem. Granted, this isn’t the best comparison – demo boots vs. our boots than have been punched and molded. But, looking back to when we first installed the Custom Carbon Winters to replace some moldable, off-the-shelf insoles, they solved a lot of problems. Superfeet made it very clear that these are not for everyday walking around. They have too much support for that.
Superfeet Custom Carbon Winters feature Outlast technology to help regulate temperature. Outlast uses tiny capsules of phase shifting materials to keep things around your foot at a more constant temperature. When your feet get hot, it absorbs the energy and stores it. When your feet get cold, it releases the stored energy to warm them back up. That’s a very rudimentary explanation, but if you want to get more in depth, you can read about it here. Practically speaking, our feet stayed warm in 7°F temps almost through the entire second day of the On Snow demo. On the flip side, do the cool? Eh…not that we could tell. Shoving them into closed-cell foam Intuition liners probably doesn’t help.
Takeaway from this post?
Stock insoles are terrible torture devices. Do yourself a favor and upgrade. We can recommend the Superfeet Custom Carbon Winter footbeds. To find a location near you that does them, head over to Superfeet’s retailer locator, enter your zip code, and click on “What’s your color?” and select Custom Carbon Winter. Or, if you just want an off-the-shelf option, you can buy Superfeet at REI.com or Backcountry.