As if buying running shoes wasn’t complicated enough, here’s another fun thing to do – finding a pair that can accommodate a custom orthotic or aftermarket insole.
There are hundreds of running shoe models in the market. So how do we find a shoe with sufficient room to accommodate a thick insert without severely affecting the fit and ride dynamics?
Making things harder are variables such as the type of orthotic. The shoe-insole compatibility also depends on whether we’re talking about an all-foam orthotic or structured insole with a rigid frame.
So what happens if an overly cushioned or structured insole is inserted into just any running shoe?
If the existing (stock) insole happens to be thinner than the incoming orthotic, then the interior room becomes the first casualty.
A thicker insert will push the feet upwards to create a tighter and uncomfortable fit – something that no one wants. The foot will also sit higher inside the shoe, potentially resulting in heel slippage and a tighter fit over the instep.
Off-the-shelf and custom insoles are loosely classified into three groups. The first kind is a cushioned orthotic made of foam or foam+gel.
These insoles are designed to provide additional cushioning with optional arch support. A Spenco RX Comfort insole, or the Spenco Arch Cushion would be examples of this construction.
The second kind is a cushioned-support insole. Here, a soft foam base is layered over a supportive frame that’s usually situated under the midfoot and heel. This category forms the majority of aftermarket orthoses, with the Spenco Total Support being an example.
Corrective insoles are the third kind. If you’re familiar with the uber-popular Superfeet Green, then you know what we’re talking about.
Here, a rigid frame made from Nylon or TPE cups the foam layer. Technically speaking, even the first two insole categories can be ‘corrective’ from a functional standpoint. Having said that, rigid molded frames are less pliable than their counterparts made of foam or Gel-Foam hybrids.
An orthotic can be either thick or thin in any of the said categories. For instance, the Superfeet Carbon is a ‘corrective’ insert by our definition but its thinness allows it to be placed inside most running shoes.
A few things need to be considered when matching a shoe with orthoses. With the rare exception, most stock insoles provided with running shoes do not have a heel-to-toe offset. The insole thickness stays the same throughout its length; insoles are ‘zero drop’ components.
The same thing can’t be said of custom or aftermarket insoles. Many inserts have a higher heel, thus adding thickness to the overall rearfoot stack and altering the heel-to-toe drop.
Let’s say that we have a running shoe with a 4 mm heel-to-toe offset. However, if the aftermarket orthotic has a 4 mm heel drop, the combined heel drop will be twice the original stack. That’s worth bearing in mind when purchasing or custom building an orthotic.
An insert usually affects the collar fit, so the last lacing row – also called the heel-lock lacing or runner’s loop – should be utilized for an optimal fit experience.
The stock insoles of most $100+ shoes are thick enough to be replaced by foam-based cushioned orthotics or slim corrective insoles.
If you love wearing Saucony or are open to trying the brand, here’s a simple hack to free up room inside many of their models. This way, it’s possible to steer clear of the bulky running shoes that feature on this guide.
Many Saucony shoes have a Pwrrun+ (previously Everun) ‘Topsole’ and a removable insole. This E-TPU layer is glued to the lasting but can be easily removed with minimal effort. Once you do that, there’s enough room to accommodate even the thickest orthotic without messing up the upper fit.
Here’re a few models to get you started. The Saucony Ride 14 is a versatile neutral trainer, and the Guide 14 is its ‘mild support’ counterpart.
The Kinvara 12 is a 4 mm trainer that’s excellent for quick runs and everyday training alike. For more cushioning, the Saucony Triumph 18 should be your go-to. Do note that the Carbon-plated models – namely the Endorphin Speed and Pro – do not have a topsole.
On the other hand, if you don’t prefer Saucony running shoes or yanking on Topsoles, here you go. Our list of orthotic-friendly running shoes is listed alphabetically.
1) Brooks Beast ’20
When compared to the previous versions, this is an entirely different Beast. That’s mainly because of its switch to a midsole that no longer uses a medial post.
Instead of the firmer density foam wedge, the Beast 20 uses raised midsole rims called Guiderails. First seen on the 2014 Transcend, these high sidewalls cup the foot on both sides.
The inner Guiderail on the arch side is firmer than the outer side, and that’s why it’s a separate component glued to the midsole. On the outer side, the softer Guiderail is a part of the midsole molding.
Regardless of the changes, the Brooks Beast is still a very supportive and cushioned shoe. Even without the medial post, the wide midsole and outsole create a stable foundation. The Guiderails help too. The upper does a good job of securing the foot while providing interior comfort and space.
The midsole is medium-soft at best. For whatever it’s worth, the Beast 20 is the softest of all the Beast models we’ve reviewed since 2014.
The Beast continues to be an orthotic-friendly shoe. The thick sockliner and spacious upper make it easy to slip in an aftermarket insole.
2) Brooks Dyad 11
Except for the minor upper redesign, the Brooks Dyad 11 is very similar to the 10. The ride is identical due to the same midsole and outsole being carried over.
In sensory terms, we’d describe the Dyad 11’s ride as very supportive and cushioned – but with a firm undertone. The wide midsole produces a planted feel, and the full rubber outsole delivers smooth transitions with the traction to match. There are multiple flex grooves so the shoe isn’t as stiff as it appears.
One of the factors that make a running shoe orthotic-friendly is its spacious upper. The Dyad 11 passes that test. There’s enough room to accommodate slight changes in the insole thickness. It helps that the Dyad’s stock insole is fairly thick to begin with.
By the way – if the Brooks Dyad 10 can be acquired at a bargain, do that. The 10 and 11 are nearly identical.
3) Brooks Addiction GTS 15
Guiderails, guiderails, everywhere – that seems to be Brooks’s mantra for many of their recent releases.
The Seattle-based brand is overdoing it with the raised midsole sidewalls. Because after a point, differentiation will become a real issue. For example, the performance gap between the Beast 20 and Addiction GTS 15 is nearly non-existent.
The Brooks Addiction GTS 15 is likely the replacement for the Addiction 14. We can’t say for sure, since at the time of writing this piece, both models are available for sale.
And what is the Addiction GTS 15? It’s a supportive shoe with an ultra-wide midsole and outsole, but minus a medial post. The midsole uses raised sidewalls – aka the Guiderails – to cup the foot on both sides.
That’s all good, but there’s a reason why the Addiction GTS features here. Its spacious upper can comfortably fit an orthotic once the stock insole is removed.
The roomy upper means that the fit performance isn’t adversely affected after inserting an aftermarket insole.
4) New Balance 940 V4
The 940V4 is a conventional stability running shoe – it has a large medial post on the inner midsole, a plastic midfoot shank, and a ride quality that delivers stability through its firm cushioning. Though the V4 is ‘lighter’ than the V3, it is still 13-ounces heavy.
Remove the thick stock insole, and there’s enough room to accommodate a footbed of various dimensions.
The upper fit is an improvement over the V3. New Balance has replaced the clunky overlays with fused layers that make the interiors smoother and relatively spacious.
5) Saucony Echelon 8
The Echelon is a stability shoe, but not the kind one generally expects. There’s a visible lack of a ‘stability’ feature like a medial post or raised midsole edges.
Nonetheless, the Echelon 8 is very supportive. An ultra-wide outsole footprint leads to an increase in the contact area, and that matters even more when the midsole is made of the firm Pwrrun foam. A comparable shoe would be the Brooks Dyad – neutral yet very supportive at the same time.
There’s no dearth of firm and stable cushioning in the 12.5-ounce (354 gram) shoe. Saucony uses the thick ‘Foundation Fit’ sockliner for this model to add a cushy top layer of softness.
This footbed also happens to be thick enough to be replaced with an aftermarket or custom orthotic.