I’ve had a couple of pairs of trail shoes come through for testing recently which were perfectly good shoes and performed well but I found horrendously uncomfortable. It wasn’t necessarily through any fault of the shoe design, but most likely just because they didn’t fit my particular foot shape correctly. And that’s something that reviewers have to look beyond; a bad fit doesn’t make a bad shoe. But it does make for sore feet, so I was keen to take up Sidas on their offer of a custom footbed (insole) fitting.
It’s kind of embarrassing, having a stranger take hold of your feet and examine them in a shop, but that’s exactly what I found myself having done last week at the excellent footwear retailer Anything Technical by a Sidas podiatrist. What he was looking for was the shape of my feet and the way in which I use them to walk on, and the end result was to be a pair of thick, bespoke insoles which cup and support the arch and heel of each foot.
I was sat next to a young lad and his dad. The kid had a pair of casual football-style shoes which looked absolutely knackered. I mean fit for the trash ruined with all the support of a slice of bacon. And yet after careful poking the guy examining them decreed that they had plenty of life left in them and merely needed a replacement footbed. That was impressive.
The process of being fitted starts with a look at your feet for obvious signs of problems – extra toes, callouses etc. And then a view of what happens to your feet when you put weight on them using a clear step and mirror system. This simple solution allows the trained technician to spot all kinds of problems from fallen arches to alignment problems and factor these in for the fitting.
The fitting machine comprises two bean-filled silicone bags which you stand on and which mould to the exact shape of your feet. The air is then pulled out of the bags and they remain set in to the shape for all to see, like footprints in snow. The technician shifts your feet around, making sure that there is plenty of material under the arches and around the heel, and then as you step out of the bags makes sure that any edges are smoothed off for comfort purposes.
Simultaneously, a pair of heat-moulded custom footbeds will be being baked in a panini-style grill next to you, giving off a faint odour of warm plastic and making the whole experience feel more technical and wondrous.
When the footbeds are warm and supple they are placed in to the footprints you’ve just left, and you’re asked to stand on them to press them in to shape. The technician makes sure that the fit is snug by coercing any stubborn areas in to your feet.
The cooling process takes 3-4 minutes, which is enough time for your feet to absorb a load of heat and start sweating to make you feel self-conscious. No worries though because the foot examination is now over and the technician is only concerned with your shoes and matching up the new footbeds with whatever has just come out of them.
The cutting and grinding and fine-tuning steps take almost longer than the foot-fitting and it’s this devil in the detail which makes the custom experience so worthwhile. When the new footbeds are slipped in to a pair of shoes which had, merely 30 minutes previously, been really uncomfortable, the transformation is astounding. They now fit perfectly and snugly, and standing up all day feels easy.
SUMMARY: We all have different feet and the comfort of any shoe is a wholly subjective thing. Custom made footbeds can transform the fit of a good-quality, but badly-fitting shoe and make for a truly bespoke feeling. It isn’t a cheap process, but then what price for proper support on feet which work hard in so many conditions.
Price: Ballpark £80 depending on fitting centre