March 2, 2024

Insoles seem deceptively simple: They’re basically just foam inserts in the general shape of a foot, right? Well, sort of. But, if you’re serious about supporting your feet, it pays to know what the best insole is for you. So, before you head to CVS to grab the first $10 pair you can get your hands on, here are a few things to consider:

Type of Insole

The first question to ask is: What are you buying new insoles for? There are general-purpose insoles. But the best insoles are designed with a specific purpose in mind. Some are best for providing additional cushion and comfort; some are built for extra support; and others can help relieve chronic foot pain. As our list above shows, it’s often easiest to shop insoles by activity type (e.g., hiking, running, working, etc.).

Arch Support

Arch support is usually the biggest deciding factor in how comfortable your insoles are. Without visiting a podiatrist, it can be difficult to self-diagnose your arch height. “A lot of time patients come to me and they say, ‘I have a really flat foot. I’ve always had a flat foot.’ Then I look at their foot and it’s normal or high arch,” says Shapiro. This is best determined by a specialist. But, if you can’t justify a visit to the foot doc right, consider a pair of insoles with “Medium” arch support as a starting point. After a day or two of wear, you should be able to determine whether you need to go lower or higher.

Insole Material

Insoles typically use some combination of cork, plastic, foam, and composite. There is no one best insole material. In general, cork is the most pliable which can offer a more “custom” fit and feel. It’s also plant-based and naturally breathable. Foam is softer, cheaper, and less supportive, while thermoplastic is the most rigid, best for strong arch support and designed to last. The right composite insole combines the best features of all of these materials.


Custom orthotics are always more expensive—sometimes significantly so—than off-the-rack insoles. If budget is an issue, there’s no harm in trying a pair of reasonably priced store-bought insoles first. If they don’t provide the relief from discomfort or foot pain you need, talk to a podiatrist about your options. Sometimes it’s worth consulting a specialist who can point you in the right direction for new orthotics that might help. Even though custom insoles could run north of $300 per pair, it’s a small price to pay to alleviate chronic, and potentially life-altering, foot, ankle, or back pain.


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