I’ve always loved products that are over-engineered. You know, products that are designed to meet lofty standards and survive extreme conditions the likes of which I am not likely to ever encounter. Recently I’ve discovered two products for my feet which fit into this category- Icebreaker socks and Unequal Insoles.
First the socks-
Icebreaker makes a wide array of products from merino wool; everything from underwear to coats. The idea behind all of their products is that merino is an ideal material for clothing that performs well in all weather conditions. In warm environs, the wool wicks moisture away from your body to keep you cool. When it’s cold, the merino keeps you warm, as their website says, “through a molecular process called heat of sorption“. That basically means that when the wool fibers draw moisture from the atmosphere, the process produces heat. It’s just a tiny bit of heat to be sure, but it’s enough that your body feels warmer in wool than in other materials. The merino wool in Icebreaker products is finer, softer and does not itch. And if that’s not enough to sway you, also consider that the material naturally does not retain odors. Their marketing materials say that the record for wearing an Icebreaker product non-stop in severe conditions was 196 days! I don’t know if I believe you can wear anything that long and not have it stink, but that’s the whole point of over-engineered products- you’ll never subject them to what they’re capable of (assuming you shower more than twice a year!), and as long as they perform even close to what they advertise, you’ve got a winner on your hands. These socks are definitely winners. Details such as the fit around the heel and the strength in the toe area are top notch. And best of all, these are the only pair of socks I own which stay snug to the calf so you don’t have to keep pulling them up every hour. Nobody likes socks with poor elastics which continually fall and gather around the ankles like 80’s leg warmers. Get a pair of Icebreakers and put your Flashdance days behind you. Retail price is $16.99 a pair for the Ultralite Crew socks pictured above, but they have a wide range of styles and colors at different prices.
But keeping your feet happy takes more than great socks. The other new product I’ve become a fan of are these Kevlar insoles from Unequal Technologies:
Yes, they’re made with Kevlar, the same material used in bulletproof vests. The revolutionary idea here is that insoles should not just provide cushioning, but actually absorb shock. By using Kevlar to absorb the shock of every step, you’re reducing the amount of impact stress transmitted upward thru your feet, legs and back. These insoles (as well as other Kevlar products) are already being used to great benefit by professional sports teams. So do they work? In a word, yes. Could they be better? Also yes. There are two different pairs of insoles in my picture- the Comfort Insoles on the left and the Sports Insoles on the right. The Comfort ones are thinner and narrower, probably intended for dress shoes. The problem I have with them is the width. I found them a little too narrow so that when inserted into any of my dress shoes, they did not fit snugly up against the sides of the shoe. You could still walk in them and everything felt fine from a comfort standpoint, but it is somewhat annoying when you can feel there’s a gap between the side of the insole and the side of the shoe. The Sports Insoles are wider and fit perfectly in every shoe I tried them in. I would be inclined to wear the Sports Insoles in even my dress shoes, but the slight extra thickness of them would make the fit a bit too tight from top to bottom.
From a performance standpoint though, Unequal Insoles really work. While the insoles feel firmer, not as soft as cheapo drug store insoles like Dr. Scholls, they actually leave your feet feeling better over a longer period of time. I’ve done plenty of walking over the last few days and both the Comfort and the Sports insoles both worked their magic. At first blush, you wouldn’t notice that much of a difference from regular insoles, and in fact each step would probably feel firmer under your feet. But if you were to walk a long distance or perhaps jump and stomp around for a bit, that’s when you would notice and appreciate what the insoles are doing. I guess the best way to describe it is that they dampen any harshness from the impact of each step and it turns out that’s more important than cushioning when it comes to keeping your feet happy. Surprisingly, these insoles also come with a lifetime replacement warranty. The catch is that you can only get one replacement pair per year and you have to pay like $10 for shipping and handling, but still, that’s pretty darn good. Retail for the insoles are $24.99 per pair. Small price to pay for happy feet!