It came about quite randomly, I was on Murphy Street in South Yarra, Melbourne. I was strolling around in a pair of penny loafers I had sourced on Ebay to patina. I always take the chance that they won't fit properly, I always have. I'd love to buy great English shoes in Australia but outside of Double Monk the number of stores that sell them are few and far between, what is on offer is limited. I wish I lived in England, just kidding, but for shoes it would be a great place to live. You have Cleverley there, Gaziano & Girling, John Lobb, Foster & Son, Churches, Crockett & Jones. No matter how hard those poorer nations try to catch up, the English keep their edge in style and construction.
The penny loafers were slipping. I stopped in at the bootmaker and asked him if he had good quality insoles. He did. He had German ones. I put them into the shoe and boyakasha, it was a perfect fit. That was March. Since then I have done some research and I wish to report back on my overall experience of the insoles I have played with.
It is worth noting that the average sports shoe company spends just 6 cents on your insole. So getting additional ones that are made of quality materials and have supportive functions can increase the longevity of the shoe, improve your ability to run or walk by up to 25% per day and, most of all, give you a more comfortable journey.
THE TOP BRANDS
By far the most comfortable and supportive ones I tried were the Birkenstocks but there are issues with these that I will explain later. Then second to that is the brand SUPERFEET which offers the most comprehensive range as well as the best quality and most unique materials. Finally, I tried a really comfortable insole called GELAXY.
REASON FOR INSOLES
My primary concern was to try and make shoes that were slightly too big or that had stretched too much more comfortable to wear day to day. The main issue was that because I mostly wear 'loafer' or 'slipper' style shoes, the bigger the insole the less functional it would become because the heel of your foot could slip out on a more rigorous stride. The aim of the game was to find something slim but well constructed.
Overall these are very good insoles and offer great arch support and a very comfortable journey. The problem was they were only function in deeply set sneakers. In fact, there were very few shoes in my wardrobe that could actually work with the Birkenstocks owing to the depth of the cushion from the front to the back of the shoe. There was not even a slight chance they would work in a penny loafer, alas, they now reside in an old pair of Nike low cuts.
GELAXY AND BERGAL
The Gelaxy and another German brand Bergal became the best overall slim comfort insole which worked best for penny loafers. They were sleek and well made and the gel aspect to both of the shoes greatly improved the hard and often unforgiving nature of well made English shoes. They say that a well made bespoke shoe is totally wonerful to wear, but I do not believe that. All English shoes, as comfortable as they might become, start out painful as buggery and it takes a good deal of time before they become yours. By using a Gelaxy or Begal I was able to slightly layer up inside the shoe without having the toes rub against the leather which is an ultimate no no on as a stroll across Hyde Park and you will have blisters for the rest of the week.
This was ultimately my favourite overall brand of insoles - a combination of range, purpose and material qualities was what came to make me a proper fan. Of the models that I have tried I would say my favourite are the merino wool ones which wicker away sweat whilst keeping the foot dry in the way that wool does. It kind of keeps your foot warm and somewhat moist but not wet. It's hard to explain but the best example might be when you walk around the house in Ugg Boots on a cold day. These insoles are almost impossible to use in low cut loafers but are possible to use in high top sneakers and a slightly too big chelsea boot.
The Superfeet Carbon range can fit a loafer or an Oxford and ought to be considered as your first go to in the Superfeet range if you are looking for additional support in a regular shoe. They are light and with a low profile but you really need to check the depth of your shoe before proceeding as they too won't work on any old shoe.
The bigger Superfeet insoles really should be used for high tops and trekking boots. It would be pointless to try them in low cut shoes. But the function I most enjoyed about them is that often I go to the beach in the morning and regular insoles seem to be difficult to slide into with remnant sand on your feet. These new insoles were great for getting in and out of the beach in the mornings and to date they remain in my favourite running and high tops that I use for sports and swimming.
Finally there is the heel only insoles by Superfeet. They are great when you can't afford to to pad the front of the shoe owing to room but your heel is slipping. In my opinion these ones need to be direct stuck, so there is the issue that you will potentially have to keep them in the shoe for the duration of owner ship and the aesthetic and snobbery factor of losing the nice looking logo that's stamped into the sole of your shoe when or if you have to pull them out.
In short, insoles are wonderful for your feet and can really improve the comfort of a shoe, especially if you happened to purchase something a little too large on Ebay. As times goes by and you experiment with them you will find what works for you. Personally the two that remain the finest of the bunch would be the Bergal for loafers and Oxfords and the Superfeet Merino for high tops.