A Barefoot Guide to Insoles For Minimalist Shoes

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Manitoba, NorthSole, Naboso, Vivobarefoot

When I got rid of my orthotics I assumed I was done with insoles too. I was going all in on the barefoot movement, and I didn’t see how insoles could factor in. But after bumbling through my first year in minimalist shoes (in more pain than I cared to admit) I had the opportunity to try out NorthSole insoles. It was immediately obvious to me that I had been wrong and needed to revise my perspective on insoles. Today I use them on a regular basis for a variety of different purposes.

Insoles have 4 main uses for the barefoot-er:
1. Comfort
2. Warmth
3. Performance
4. Shoe Fit

1. Comfort

It’s easy to underestimate the stress of walking barefoot when our joints have been cushioned for most of their existence. In hindsight, it makes a lot of sense that I had trouble walking long distances and on hard ground in my barefoot shoes. Insoles help bridge that period of transition when you no longer need arch support but still aren’t accustomed to your feet on hard ground 24/7.

Some people, no matter how long they’ve been wearing barefoot shoes, will always want cushion because of their particular anatomy or the environment they walk/stand in. There is absolutely nothing wrong with this. You feet will still reap the benefits of your flexible, spacious shoes and they will continue to strengthen. You can even get ground feel in cushioned shoes.

After I experienced NorthSole insoles I bought some for my husband too and they are the reason he’s been able to stop wearing his orthotics with his barefoot shoes. NorthSole insoles are my favorite for comfort purposes, but any insole that adds extra cushion will be effective.

Now that been a solid 2+ years of barefoot shoes and strengthening exercises I find I’m a lot more comfortable completely barefoot and in thin soles. But that’s been a long time coming and I still sometimes want extra cushion for comfort.

2. Warmth

Besides being in pain that first year, I was also freaking cold. Barefoot shoes are thin. You can talk about your fancy insulating thermal insoles all you want but if you’re feet are sitting on frozen ground, they gonna get cold. Any insole that adds height will also keep your feet warmer, but my favorite for warmth are sheepskin insoles.

You can get wool or sheepskin insoles lots of different places, but my favorite is Softstar. I got some for my son’s Vivobarefoot boots and they worked like a charm (he refuses to wear them without the insoles because they’re too cold otherwise). They come with a little sticky piece, but we didn’t use it so we could move the insoles to different shoes.

Sheepskin Insoles are really thick, so that presents a challenge with fit sometimes. They work best in shoes that have an insole you can replace, otherwise you want to factor in the extra space you’ll need. I usually size up in my winter boots for this purpose.

Felt insoles also work well for warmth and don’t take up as much space. If you’re looking for a warm vegan option, check out these faux fur insoles.

3. Performance

Performance insoles, like Naboso, use nerve stimulation to improve your gait and posture. Movement originates in the nervous system, so getting the nerves firing through your feet and legs makes it easier to move optimally.

I have been wearing Naboso insoles for a year now, and when I wear them my legs feel more stable and alive. They also help fill in extra space in my shoes, since I have low volume feet and often need that. It’s a perfect combo! Naboso insoles come with different amounts of stimulation depending on how comfortable you are with texture on your feet. I am wearing the 1.5mm one, but they also sell 1mm ones that are less stimulating.

Xero makes a sandal with a Naboso insole which is very intriguing to me! Use code ANYAREVIEWS10 for 10% off the Naboso e-shop.

4. Shoe Fit

*For more tricks on getting your shoes to fit better, check out this video.

Nowadays, this is what I use insoles most often for. I have low volume feet, so I frequently need to slip in a thin insole to keep my foot from sliding around inside the shoe.

Sometimes this pushes my foot too far up inside the shoe, in which case I ditch the insole and put a felt sticky or moleskin in the shoe upper. Sometimes I even need both an insole and a felt sticky. Having a few insoles at my disposable has made many a shoe fit perfectly.

The convenient thing about insoles is that their purpose can double up. You can make shoes fit better, and get more comfort, or extra warmth. This works out great for me, because so many of my shoes need an insole to fit well anyways.

Vivobarefoot shoes almost always come with a removable insole (exception being their dressy flats), which I really appreciate since I use my Vivobarefoot insoles in a lot of other shoes. Several barefoot brands make their own insoles that you can add on for an extra cost.

Do I own a pair of insoles for every shoe?

No! I have accumulated more over time, mainly from my Vivobarefoot shoes. But for the most part I move the insoles around depending on what I’m wearing. Sometimes that’s annoying if I forget where I last used them, but it saves a lot of money.

List of barefoot insole options

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27 thoughts on “A Barefoot Guide to Insoles For Minimalist Shoes”

  1. Exploring insole use–those bison wool felt insoles are precut and are extremely narrow for use in a wider shoe. But I have and want to use them. If I put them in my Joe Nimble boots on top of the existing insole, the edges are noticeable. Thoughts on whether putting them underneath would still offer me more warmth?

    1. I just swapped out that link for a cut your own option that I’ve been referring people to instead, thanks for the heads up! It would help with the warmth for sure, it’ll insulate the whole shoe and put a little more distance between you and the ground. Maybe not quite as cozy as having it next to your skin, but it’ll help.

      1. Thanks. I bought the sheet of wool felt available on Amazon, I believe you had a link to it. The thickness of that is the same as the pre-cut bison insoles I have. The bison ones feel denser.

        I used the bison felt ones in a pair of sheepskin slippers. Periodically I’d need to remove pieces of super-felted material from the insoles, until they eventually wore through. That’s normal–that’s how felt’s created in the first place, from heat and friction applied to the natural fiber.

  2. Thank you for your recommendations! I’m transitioning to barefoot/minimalist shoes because of 2+ years with plantar fasciitis and other foot problems. I’m pleased that I’m walking about 4-5 daily without orthotics in barefoot shoes. But when I stop or stand for a while, I notice in a few minutes that some extra cushion would be nice! Also, I’d like to start running again, and I just can’t imagine running right now without a little more cushion. Have you done any running in any of these? If so, which would you recommend?

  3. I know you’ve mentioned it, but can’t remember where… what do you use when the back of the shoe runs on your foot? Can you link what you use for that? I have a pair of Mukishoes that I love, but they run the skin above my heel and irritate it. Thanks!

  4. would you get the fully waterproof Tracker II or the natural waterproof but not total waterproof – Tracker Forest?
    If it rains hard I want my feet to stay dry but some people say that waterproof boots make their feet sweat. Not sure if the Tracker II would make your feet sweat.
    Or would you get the Tracker Forest and wear waterproof socks if it is really wet?

    1. The Tracker Forest just came out this summer and I haven’t had any opportunity to wear them in really wet conditions. But they come with a waterproofing sealant you can use on the leather. My gut is to say that unless you’re going to be standing in puddles for a long time they probably will stay dry. The Tracker FG I only wear in cold weather, so the sweating has never been a problem for me. But it’s something I hear from others who want to wear them in warm conditions. If I could only have one pair I would probably choose the Forest.

  5. Hi! I’m just trying my first pare of barefoot shoes from Vivobarefoot. I think I have a low volume foot and I wear a half size. I ordered up a half size, but without the insoles, the shoe is a bit big for me. Do you personally recommend sizing down or sticking with what I have and using insoles/other tricks to try to make it more comfortable?
    My one foot is slightly larger, so I’m a little worried that the size down may make my toe space crammed. I’m new to barefoot shoes, though, so I’m not used to them being so roomy!

    1. If the shoe fits well with the insole then I say stick with it. It can feel odd to have so much toe space, but if you’re comfortable and nothing is sliding or flopping then you should be good.

  6. Hi there, would you order primal or regular soft star Insoles for the vivo barefoot tracker? I’m not sure which shape will suit that shoe best. What would you choose now?

  7. Hi, I am on the hunt for some thin (but durable) insoles to put in my altra lone peaks. I wear them for everything (trail running, backpacking, construction, bushwacking, etc) but find I have to take the insoles out so they aren’t too squishy (and I hate arch support). However, I have found that on long runs or extended backpacking trips I get blisters on the bottom of my feet and I have a hunch it’s because the inside of the shoe without the insole is kind of sticky. Any suggestions?

    1. Hmmmm, not sure actually. You could try a thin cotton with duct tape on the underside (the sticky side on the insole, smooth side touching the inside of the shoe). Supposedly that keeps them from sliding around. You could also swap an insole from another barefoot shoe, like from Vivo. Or just order Vivo insoles separately. They’re pretty thin and not very squishy.

    2. I just use regular, thick wool felt. Bought some at a fabric warehouse, cut it to fit and sewed two pieces together to get the extra thickness I wanted. Replaced the squishy, too high-arches, in my Olukai Moloa slippers, and has worked perfectly. They can pill a little, but I’m also wearing them barefoot cuz they’re slippers. I haven’t tried to run in them (a fair bit of dancing around the house though)!
      The thicker the better for the felt I think. I found some that’s close to 1/8″, maybe 3/32″ thick and doubled it. With that thickness it doesn’t move around or bunch up.

    1. Wildling sells kids insoles and those are good (find them here). You can also make your own by cutting down an adult size, or cutting a piece of felt and lining the back with duct tape (it keeps it from sliding around).

  8. Hi Anya,

    I’m looking for warmer undersoles for my Vivobarefoot Gobi Hi IV boots, which are not warm enough. I’m interested in the Softstar Sheepskin you recommended, but they have a number of different cuts (Standard N/R/W, and Primal R/W). Which cut do you think fits the Vivobarefoot cut best?


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Hi. I'm Anya.

Hi. I'm Anya.

I first discovered barefoot shoes after a long history of foot issues. By changing my footwear and strengthening my body I was able to completely transform my life. Anya’s Reviews is my way of sharing with the world that healthy feet are happy feet!

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