How to Buy Ski & Snowboard Boot Footbeds/Insoles

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Quick, what’s something you can’t see that gives almost all elite skiers and snowboarders an edge over mere mortals? Nerves of steel? Insanely fast reflexes? Finely tuned foot-eye coordination?

Sure, all of these things help, but one key to making sure your every intention is translated from your feet to your edges is having proper fitting and supportive footbeds, also known as insoles. Don’t believe us? Keep reading.

Benefits of Proper Footbeds

A good footbed performs several functions. It distributes pressure evenly over the entire foot, quickening response and enhancing comfort. Pain in the balls of your feet, arch fatigue, slow turn response and inability to maintain consistent pressure on your edges throughout the turn are all problems that may be alleviated by a properly supportive footbed. Though most ski and snowboard boots come with some sort of stock footbed, very few of them offer more than token support and none are custom fitted to your feet. Even if you don’t experience pain with stock insoles, having uniform support under your entire foot rather than contacting the bottom of the boot with only the ball and heel of your foot will redefine your notion of control.

If you have issues with stability – arches that collapse when you weight them, or a foot that rolls heavily under load – a footbed can help stabilize your foot and ankle in a position in which the foot is neither pronated (ankle rolls in) nor supinated (ankle rolls out). A neutral or near neutral subtalar position (different people have different philosophies about which is better) means that the space between the talus and calcaneus ankle bones isn’t compressed (or not very much) to either side, and helps most people by causing less fatigue and facilitating more natural movement at the ankle.

A supportive footbed can also help constrain your foot in both the length and width, allowing you to wear a smaller shell size and gain more precision in your fit. It can help make your turn mechanics more efficient and alleviate “hookiness” caused by too much pressure on your inside or outside edges.

Trim-To-Fit Footbeds

Footbeds come in many different styles, materials, and price points. If the arch of your foot is average in height and length and your foot is fairly stable, a trim-to-fit (TTF) footbed may provide enough support at an affordable price. Simply take the stock footbeds out of your boots, align the heels with the new footbeds, trace around the toe with a pen or marker, and trim them to match the length and shape of the old ones.

Many manufacturers offer trim-to-fit footbeds with heat sensitive foam that mold to your feet with use, creating a semi-custom fit. If the shape of the footbed is quite close to that of your foot out of the box, these may be a good choice and are only slightly more expensive than basic TTF models.

Custom Footbeds

People with a very high or very low arch, or one that is very long or short, as well as those with pronation problems (rolling into the medial side of the boot shell and often putting pressure on the navicular bone) may have better results with a custom footbed. Customs also come in many styles, but must be heat formed by a shop with the proper equipment to take an impression of your foot. The advantage is a footbed that matches the shape of your foot exactly and offers the ultimate in control.

Most footbed manufacturers offer a basic custom model, usually with heat moldable supportive layers laminated through the heel and arch areas. These footbeds are heated, placed in impressions made by your feet to shape the footbed, and then trimmed to fit in your liners. Prices typically run in the $75-100 range.

Fully custom footbeds involve a custom moldable base that’s first formed to the user’s foot, then further supported by adding layers of foam or cork underneath and then sanded or ground to match the contours of your bootboard and boot shell. This is what bootfitters refer to as a “posted” footbed, and it typically costs between $150 and $200. Though not cheap, this is often the best solution for people with very high arches or serious stability issues. Custom posting materials vary in hardness, so you have a choice of how much cushion to build in. Very firm posted footbeds are favored by racers and skiers who want the most precise and quickest response, soft posted footbeds are often preferred by people with very rigid feet or those wanting a bit of cushion between their feet and the bootboard, and medium density posted footbeds are for most of the rest.

Footbed manufacturers and bootfitters have different theories when it comes to the “best” way to mold custom footbeds. The methods range from unsupported, subtalar neutral vacuum forming (Superfeet) to semi-weighted forming (Conform’able and Instaprint) to fully weighted forming on foam blocks. There is no single “right” way to make custom footbeds, and each method has its proponents. The skill of the bootfitter and their ability to analyze your particular stance and biomechanical needs are often as important as the method used.

Keep in mind that there will likely be a break-in period for any new footbed. If you haven’t been using footbeds in your ski or snowboard boots, you may find the pressure under your arch uncomfortable at first. It takes time for your foot to acclimate to the new support. Try alternating your new footbeds with the original stock footbeds for a while and gradually increasing the time spent on the new ones until you get used to them. If you are still feeling discomfort after a several full days, custom footbeds can usually be altered; there may be  too much support.

Things to Consider When Choosing Footbeds

How high an arch do you have, and how long or short is it? If you have an arch that is fairly average in height and length, you may do fine with a trim-to-fit footbed. Try standing on a sample footbed on a hard surface with your feet riding width apart and see how it feels. Trim-to-fit footbeds come in various heights, so you may have several options to try. If the dimensions or shape of your feet don’t match up well with stock trim-to-fits, you may be a candidate for a custom footbed.

How stable is your foot when you weight it? Does it pronate or supinate? If your arch collapses substantially when you weight it, or if your ankle rolls inward (pronation) or outward (supination) when you weight it, you’ll almost certainly benefit from using footbeds. Ask a bootfitter whether or not custom footbeds are the best solution.

Do you have an issue with instep height in your boots? Instep height is sometimes mistaken for arch height – the two are often associated, but not necessarily so. Instep is the sensitive bony area on the top of your midfoot, while arch is under your foot. It’s possible to have a very low arch and still experience tightness at the instep. If you have a tight fit over the instep with the thin stock footbed in place, adding one with more support may make the problem worse.

Can I use the orthotics my podiatrist made for my street shoes in my ski or snowboard boots? Some people do, although hard orthotics (especially half length) can be uncomfortable in hard bottomed ski boots and are often too wide to fit a ski boot shell. Ski-specific footbeds offer the same sort of custom support along with some flexibility and superior cushioning – remember that ski boot interiors are normally rock hard, while street and running shoes have some give. Orthotics are also meant to be corrective, while most custom footbeds support and balance rather than correct an issue. Orthotics are only made by certified Pedorthists and Podiatrists. 

Can I swap the footbeds I’m using in my old boots over to the new ones?  In all probability, yes. As long as they are physically intact and don’t smell too bad, there’s no reason not to reuse a footbed you’re satisfied with if the length of your new boots is the same.

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Learn more with our other Ski Guides:
Skis – How to Choose & Size Chart
Skis – Kids' Size Chart
Skis – Rocker Technology
Alpine Touring Skis – How to Choose
Skis – Weight Chart
Ski Boots – How to Choose & Fit Guide
Ski Boots – Size Chart
Ski Boots – How to Try On
Ski Boots – How to Make Your Boots Fit Better
Alpine Touring Ski Boots – How to Choose
Ski Boots – Weight Chart
Ski Boots – Boot Sole Length Chart
Ski Bindings – How to Choose & DIN Setting Chart
Alpine Touring Ski Bindings – How to Choose
Ski Bindings – Weight Chart
Ski Poles – Size Chart
Skiing – How to Get in Shape

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