Gear Review: For the feet — Part One

Kimberly Nicoletti
Gear Review
Sportiva Ultra Raptor.
Courtesy photo

Feet take a lot of pounding, and poor footwear can add to ankle, knee, and hip problems. Here are a few products that’ll put a pep in your step — indoors and out. I’ll continue reviewing footwear in Part Two.

La Sportiva Ultra Raptor II

I love footwear that performs spectacularly in outdoor sports while still looking great with casual outfits, and this shoe fits that bill perfectly. Of course, the most important aspect of a shoe, when you’re out on the trail, involves its comfort, and these shoes also excellently check that box with their stability, cushion, and great fit. Unlike other hiking shoes, they didn’t require any break-in period on my part — no discomfort, even on long treks. These sporty shoes are light and grippy, which makes them perfect for both long-distance running and hiking through uneven and rocky, muddy, and slippery terrain. The rock guard and ultra-sticky rubber outsole act like a snow tire, providing dependable traction and excellent stability on varying mountain terrain. The side and heel mudguards keep dirt out, while the rubber toe bumper prevents toe stubs. Meanwhile, the extremely light Airmesh shoe — weighing in at about 10 ounces — keeps my feet cool and dry.

On the interior, a compression-molded midsole absorbs shock and provides cushioning for ease on the joints. I have an extraordinarily narrow heel, so footwear selection isn’t my favorite activity; usually, no matter what shoe or boot I choose, I find my heel slipping at least a little. But the Ultra Raptor’s heel stabilizer mitigates that problem well, keeping my heel snug. The removable — and breathable — insole allows for washing, which is always a plus; though I haven’t had to wash mine, they’re made from what the company states are durable PU foam cells and recycled rubber, so I suspect they’ll hold up to my machine.

I always appreciate when companies pay attention to the environment, and Sportiva fits that bill, as well as constructing footwear from recycled or environmentally-friendly and responsible materials. I take between a 7 and 7 ½ (usually the latter), and Sportiva states that they run just a bit small, so the 7 ½ fit me like a glove. Italian shoemakers are known for quality, and La Sportiva does not disappoint in terms of performance, durability, and comfort. The shoes come in a gorgeous ink/topaz, which I chose, and the more fiery denim/rouge. $165,

Smartwool Hike Light Cushion Low Ankle and Crew socks

Smartwool hike, light, low ankle.
Courtesy photo

All summer, I hiked in Smartwool’s ultra-soft Hike Light Cushion Low Ankle sock and thoroughly enjoyed it. As fall creeps in, I’m wearing the women’s Hike Light Cushion icy-range print crew sock — a fun icy-range print depicting a bear on the foot and a mountain range on the lower legs — primarily because I think socks should be cheerful and artistic, as well as comfortable and durable.

Even around the house, particularly on tile, I appreciate the “light” cushion, which feels luxurious — and more like “deep” cushioning — on my feet. Merino wool (56%) keeps feet from sweating while hiking and also controls moisture and odor buildup. I’m pickier with toe seams in ski boots, but I like the fact that both of these have a virtually seamless toe, as well as the perfect amount of cushioning for summer and warm fall hikes.

One of my pet peeves about socks is when they wear out in the heel or toe or get floppy in the elastic; but so far, these socks have held up like new to several washes, even when it comes to the low-ankle ones (unlike other brands). Though I have a pretty thin, lower leg profile, many crew socks feel too tight at the top and leave a red mark, but these are actually comfortable — and stay put. On the low-ankle model, the slight rise on the back acts as a shield for dirt, mud, and small pebbles. The company advertises “indestructawool technology with extended durability zones” and “additional body-mapped mesh zones for added breathability.” All I know is, so far, so very good. Available in small, medium, and large, the socks fit snuggly and comfortably and don’t rub, slop around, or gap. Crew socks: $24, low ankle: $20,

Superfeet All-Purpose High Impact Support and Support High Arch

Superfeet high impact support insole.
Courtesy photo

I have fairly high arches with knees that fall inward, so insole support just makes my joints and back feel more comfortable. My summer shoes are either very supportive sportswear, supportive Chacos , or quite honestly, flat-footed but cute and casual sandals to just socialize in. However, I wear insoles mostly in my various pairs of boots — my go-to everyday footwear in fall and winter.

First, I tried Superfeet’s All-Purpose High Impact Support, which felt so comfortable in my boots that I hardly knew they were there, except possibly for how they positioned my foot higher, as every insole does. That said, these insoles are “max” thickness, and Superfeet insoles come in two, lower thickness profiles. These are engineered for high-impact activities, though my highest-impact fall activity in my boots involves walking miles and miles as I mill about, and, during the holidays, shopping, which often gives me a sore lower back my mom and I refer to as “shopping back.” I covered miles at the Denver Gem and Fossil show this month with no problem or pain wearing these insoles. It makes sense: The American Podiatric Medical Association has approved both of these insoles.

The High Impact insoles have a more flexible mid- and toe-area than the Support High Arch, but I didn’t notice any difference when the insoles actually sat in my boots. The high-density foam pad does make a difference, though; it feels very natural (as opposed to bouncy), while still providing wonderful cushion and support. One of the features I most appreciate about these insoles is the heel cups, which really do keep my narrow heel from sliding up and down (The Remind insoles, which I review in the next foot installation, slipped just a bit more). After trying the Support High Arch with the higher arch, I found even more support there.

As I’ve mentioned, I appreciate companies that support our planet, and Superfeet is making huge strides in becoming carbon-neutral, achieved by reducing packing waste, using recycled materials, and running its headquarters in Washington completely on renewable energy. It also donates 1% of sales, as well as over 1,000 volunteer hours, annually. Insoles come in five different women’s sizes, six different men’s sizes, and two kids’ sizes. High Impact; $59.99, all-purpose; $54.99,

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