I've got bad knees. Big time. I wrestled competitively from first grade through my senior year of college, and despite wearing double knee pads for the last four years (and consequently looking like a giant scrub), my DIII legacy is mostly felt about half an inch beneath my kneecaps. Now, they aren’t so awful that I have trouble walking, but I certainly can’t kneel on hard surfaces, and I have a hard time running without patella straps. The various orthopedists I’ve seen over the years all agree that I’ll have to get them swapped for the titanium stuff at some point—though to be honest, I’m looking forward to the medical advances in knee replacement that I assume will allow me to squat thousands of pounds and dunk a basketball (on a nine-foot rim).
I’m always on the lookout for products that promise pain relief, and though braces and straps help while exercising, it wasn’t until a few years ago that I discovered how much popping a pair of orthotic insoles into my shoes helped with my shitty knees. I have flat feet, so say the feet docs and the running store clerk, so the added arch support really does wonders for the ol’ joints. And, as someone who runs (well, mostly walks) through a few pairs of Dr. Scholl's each year, when I heard of Fulton—a sustainable insole brand aiming to disrupt the orthotics industry—I was intrigued.
First of all, yes: They're truly out here trying to disrupt everything these days, and insoles are just about the least cool thing you could try to spin as slick, enviable, and in touch with, IDK, TikTokers. However, while all of the buzzwords and millennial branding on their website might raise a few skeptical eyebrows (making insoles aesthetic is pretty funny), I thought the product might be worth a shot, given my knee situation.
According to the team at Fulton, the company is “a modern brand of arch support that empowers customers to live a healthier, more comfortable life, starting from the ground up. Fulton creates sustainable insoles that offer customized arch support and superior comfort to enhance the body’s alignment and prevent injury.” Here's how it went.
Snug as a bug. (Ian Burke)
So, I copped my Classic Insole kit, took the thin soles out of my basic-yet-trusty pair of Adidas Stan Smiths, and slid the Fultons in. Now, with Dr. Scholl’s and other drug store orthotics, you usually have to either have just the right foot size or you have to cut the insoles down to fit the inside of your shoe, which is usually a crapshoot and almost always a hassle. With Fultons, though, you can select your individual size (currently, they offer women’s 5–11 and men’s 8–14). Mine fit perfectly into my shoes, and while I had to loosen the laces a touch, they didn’t feel cramped at all, like with some of the other insoles I’ve tried in the past. They’re also incredibly smooth, due to a vegan, cactus-leather sole that feels like what I imagine a dolphin feels like. (I was too scared to pet them at SeaWorld when I was eight.) They’re so soft, actually, that if you wanted to, you could probably go sockless and avoid any bottom-of-the-foot blisters. (Attempt at your own risk.)
I will say, they do feel particularly stiff and uncomfortable when you first try them out, but that’s normal—they actually mold to the shape of your foot after around 10 hours of wear, so don’t get nervous if you don’t like them at the jump.
And even if the Fultons didn’t fit snugly, the cork on the bottom of the insoles would prevent them from sliding around under your feet. They’re also carbon-negative and (most importantly for pain) shock-absorbing—to which I can personally attest, as I put these bad boys through the ringer. After a hard, hard night of dancing and jumping around (and apparently some late-night UFC reenactments in the bar with my buddies), I woke up the next day with tons of pain; all of which was in my head—none of which in my feet, knees, or back.
Post-party shoes. (Ian Burke)
Though my knees were a little bruised from errant banging and clanging against bar booths, the usual knee pain that I get after a night of dancing wasn’t there. Basically, these orthotics work just as well—if not better—than any of the drug store insoles I've tried, but are less geriatric-looking, generally better for the environment, and you don’t have to cut them down to fit them into your shoes. And, at $48, The Classic Insole is definitely worth it, especially since a single pair lasts as long as a new pair of shoes, or around a year and a half. I have to say, I have never before felt that insoles... rock.
If you’ve got flat feet, plantar fasciitis, or knee/back pain, these could be a game changer for your everyday routine. Plus, they cost less than most pairs of shoes, and your joints will thank you for the investment.
Orthotics might not be for everyone—but if the shoe fits, amirite?
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