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.
A recent development has suddenly turned new Saucony introductions to orthotic-friendly running shoes. Instead of the earlier set-up of a ‘Topsole’ and insole, models like the Ride 15 and Guide 15’s insoles are made of expanded PU foam that Saucony calls Pwrrun+.
These new footbeds are thick enough (around 8 mm) to be substituted with an orthoses.
1) Saucony Ride 15
The Ride 15 has been thoroughly refreshed for 2022, and a part of that transformation includes a brand-new footbed. Unlike the Ride 14 and prior, the insole isn’t made of EVA foam.
Instead, the Saucony Ride 15 has a responsive Pwrrun+ foam (E-TPU) insole.
It’s thick enough to be replaced with an insole of your choosing, so that will not affect the upper fit. The upper also has more room than the previous model because of the lightweight mesh and updated interiors.
Despite all the changes, the Ride 15 continues to be an excellent neutral trainer for different use cases.
The taller foam stack and Pwrrun+ insole make the shoe more comfortable for high-mileage runs, whereas the firm midsole and rocker profile make the transitions efficient. Our review is here.
2) Saucony Guide 15
The Guide 15 is the ‘stability’ version of the Ride 15, but in the absence of a medial post, both shoes are somewhat alike.
For example, both share a similar design language – be it the tall midsole or the flush outsole geometry. Even the upper materials and construction appear similar from afar.
They’re not identical though; the Guide 15 has a plastic support structure on the medial side. This feature adds stability to the inner midsole.
That being said, the Guide has a ‘supportive neutral’ character without any bias. Just like the Ride 15, the Guide is a versatile trainer that works for daily runs of various paces and mileage.
If there’s one identical part that both the models share, it’s the removable Pwrrun+ insole. This isn’t your regular EVA footbed, but a cushy layer of foam that’s thick enough to be replaced with an aftermarket Orthotic. Our comprehensive review has everything that you need to know about the G-15.
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.
6) 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.