Low, lightweight shoes lend themselves especially well to off-road running in the UK where conditions are often soft and uneven so it makes sense to sacrifice some cushioning for the extra stability and flexibility provided by a shoe with a low stack height. With this in mind, many fell running shoes like Inov-8 Mudclaws, X-Talons, Walsh PB’s or the Salomon Fellcross and Fellraisers feature low levels of cushioning and do not have a rock plate. This type of design works fantastically most of the time but there are occasions when I find myself wishing that I had a little bit more insulation against getting jabbed by sharp objects without having to opt for a taller, bulkier shoe. If you’ve ever suffered a bruised metatarsal head you will know that it absolutely sucks and can put you out of action for a long time.
I was first made aware of Sole Armor removable rock plates by a reader a few weeks ago and they immediately struck me as being a great idea. They are essentially a foam insole with a flexible plastic rock plate built into to them which can be retrofitted to your shoes, either in place of or in addition to your existing footbed.
I opted for the ‘ProProtect’ version of the product which offers 2.25mm of foam and 1mm of rock plate. Sole Armor also produce a ‘Regular’ version which has a thinner plate at 0.75mm thick. The Sole Armour’s are understandably a little heavier than a standard 3mm foam insole at 44g each vs 25g for my US size 10.5’s but I found that this wasn’t noticeable unless I used both footbeds together.
The US size 10.5’s that I received suited my UK 9.5 Inov-8’s and UK 10 Salomon’s perfectly in terms of length but if you are in any doubt over the sizing it is best to order them a little larger than you think you will need as they can be trimmed to get them just right. As you will see from the pictures above, the shape of the Sole Armors doesn’t exactly match any of the standard insoles of the shoes I tried them in but this isn’t noticeable in use and I never found that I could feel the edges of them underneath my feet.
The Sole Armor’s are a similar thickness to most standard insoles so it is unlikely that you will notice a difference in the fit of your shoes if you use them on their own. However, if you decide to install them underneath your standard footbed they will obviously make the fit snugger and this is worth bearing in mind if your shoes are already a bit tight. In my case for example, doubling-up worked fantastically in Inov-8 ‘Standard’ fit shoes but I could only use them on their own with ‘Performance’ fit models.
I was generally very happy with the performance of the Sole Armor insoles. They provide a noticeable increase in protection without completely eliminating ground feel, reducing flexibility or adversely affecting the normal characteristics of the shoes that I used them with. This left me feeling like I could push a little harder over sharp rocks with a reduced chance of injury and this is exactly what I was hoping for. Clearly, they still won’t offer as much protection as you would get with a heavily cushioned shoe but they provide a middle-ground which I think a lot of people might find very useful.
A combination which worked particularly well for me was when I fitted them underneath the standard footbeds in my X-Talon 200’s during a recent trail marathon. When doubled-up in this way the increase in cushioning and protection is quite significant and it’s almost like running in a completely different pair of shoes. I felt that they really helped keep foot fatigue at bay, especially during a slightly rocky section near the end of the race when my form had slipped and my footfalls became heavy.
I think that the Sole Armor insoles are a complete steal at $21.99 (about £15) although the manufacturer does not currently have a UK distributor and this makes the shipping cost is a bit pricey at $16 (about £11) for a service that took 3 working days in my case.
This product was supplied as a free sample for testing by the manufacturer. Please refer to my gear review and advertising policy for more information.
Sole armor insoles can be purchased from Steep Canyon Running who are based in California.
Got any questions or thoughts? Please drop me a line in the comments section below.