Have you ever driven up the 101 between Novato and Petaluma? If you answered yes, then chances are you have seen the Birkenstock building with its pointy roof.
I can remember driving by in the mid 90s on the way to visit a friend at Sonoma State and admired the unique building. The building is quite an eye-catcher.
If I recall correctly, I was wearing my grey Birkenstocks for the drive. In those days I rarely took them off. I thought about how heavenly it would be to have access to that building and all the Birkenstocks inside. Funny thing is that I still feel the same way today. The building is a warehouse with a separate office building in the back. Unfortunately, Birkenstock does not sell its shoes out of the Novato Office.
Last week I found myself on Redwood Blvd in Novato less than 1 mile from the Birkenstock building. At the time, I had already decided that I was going to blog on Birkenstocks. I decided it was essential to take a detour and get a picture of the Birkenstock building, up close, for my blog.
Here is a photo of the building:
In the past, I had only seen the building from the freeway. I have never driven along the frontage road and seen this building up close. It is more massive than I anticipated. Can you image all the glorious shoes hidden away in this iconic building? Ahhhh…
Birkenstocks are a big ticket item when it comes to footwear. I spent an enormous amount of time researching this brand last year while deciding on whether or not to invest in a pair of Birkenstock sandals. I read hundreds of reviews. Reviewers were commenting on “soft footbed” Birkenstocks. Some people loved the soft footbed (easier to break in), other people did not (not as much arch support). Soft footbed Birkenstocks?! Tell me more.
Nothing about the Birkenstocks I owned in the 90s were “soft” in terms of the footbed. This new term intrigued me. My research continued. I came across a great article, by Rebecca Mead, on the history of the Birkenstock brand in The New Yorker. In this article, Rebecca Mead explains that Birkenstock introduced the soft footbed in 2000.
Here is the definition of soft footbed from Birkenstock USA: “a foam layer is inserted between the cork layer and the suede liner of the classic Birkenstock footbed. This layer features an extremely high degree of rebound capacity which permits long-lasting cushioning.”
Birkenstock has an entire page dedicated to explaining their original and soft footbeds. Please review this helpful page before deciding which might work best for you.
Birkenstock describes each part of the foot bed as:
1 - More Toe Room
Allows toes to move naturally, which promotes better balance and correct foot alignment
2 - Raised Toe Bar
Encourages natural gripping motion of your feet
3 - Contoured Footbed
Four arches ensure even weight distribution and proper posture
4 - Deep Heel Cup
Cradles the heel and keeps natural cushioning right under the heel bone
5 - Shock Absorbing Sole
Flexible, durable and lightweight
6 - Jute Fibers
Two layers – one wicks away moisture, the other adds strength
7 - Cork Footbed
Firm, resilient cork/latex base for maximum support
8 - Footbed Liner
Soft suede keeps your feet comfortable and dry
1 - Suede Leather Lining
2 - Extra Layer of Foam
3 - Upper Jute Layer
4 - Cork-Latex Core
5 - Lower Jute Layer
6 - EVA Outsole
Could an extra layer of foam make a great shoe even better? I had to find out.
It was difficult to find a pair of soft footbed Birkenstocks locally. Most local stores like Nordstrom and REI only carried narrow width Birkenstocks for women. It’s unfortunate for those of us with a wider width foot who would prefer to support a local business. I turned to the internet. Thankfully Birkenstock and Birkenstock Express carry a number of styles in narrow and regular width and provide several options in terms of original vs soft footbed.
I ordered the Arizona style with a soft footbed in my size and they fit like a glove. The extra layer of foam certainly made it easy to wear this shoe right out of the box. They felt amazing and I didn’t want to take them off.
A few months later I wanted to try another style.
I purchased a pair of Gizeh’s in blue with the original footbed. The original footbed was much stiffer right out of the box and it took me about 2 weeks before these felt like they were custom made for my foot. One thing I learned with my purchases it that I wear the same size shoe in the original and the soft footbed.
I have come to my own conclusions about which footbed I like best. My preference of footbed may be different compared to your preference.
I find the soft footbed is easier to wear right out of the box. The toe bar is much less pronounced with the extra layer of foam. The break in time is far less than that of an original footbed Birkenstock. However, I find that the soft footbed does not conform to my foot as well as that of an original footbed Birkenstock. The original footbed provides me with more arch support compared to my soft footbed Birkenstocks.
I love all my Birkenstock shoes despite the type of footbed. My feet tend to crave the original footbed. I usually wear my Gizehs when I will be spending a lot of time walking. In the evenings, I slip comfortably into my soft footbed Birkenstocks and wear these as slippers. Both footbeds are amazing and will likely provide more overall foot support than any other shoe you have ever worn.
I highly recommend taking your time to slowly break in your Birkenstock shoes (more to come on another post). Give them time and they will probably become your most comfortable pair of shoes -- ever.
We all have different shapes and sizes of feet, so what might work best for me, may not for someone else. What is true for everyone who wears Birkenstock shoes, be it the original footbed or the soft footbed, is that the shoe becomes more comfortable with time.
Original footbed or soft footbed, the choice is yours. Give them a try and let me know how you like them. It is safe to say -- in either footbed -- that I Love Birkenstocks!
NOTE: Want to know whether Gina Mama currently prefers soft or original footbeds? Then read this blog.
Birkenstock makes amazing shoes. You have to find your correct size and width to ensure that the shoes have a custom made feel. If you have a size that is too big or too small the benefits of the shoe will be negated. If you have a wide foot and are trying to squeeze it into a narrow footbed the arch support will feel lumpy because it is in the wrong spot. On the flip side, if you have a narrow foot and get a regular footbed you will feel like the shoes are flopping around with each step.
I highly recommend that you find a local retailer that carries the Birkenstock brand and get properly fitted before you purchase your first pair. If you are not in an area that carries this brand then be sure to purchase your shoes from an authorized Birkenstock dealer. There is a lot of counterfeit Birkenstock merchandise online. Consider purchasing directly through Birkenstock or Zappos.
In regards to sizing, Birkenstock shoes come in European sizes.
Birkenstock has a Size Conversion Chart to help you find your European size.
For reference, I typically wear a size 8/8.5 wide in my running shoes (Saucony) and a size 8 in boots. If I followed the Birkenstock conversion chart, I would wear a size 39. However, after getting fitted, I learned that my foot fits best in a size 38 in Birkenstock sandals and a size 39 in Birkenstock boots.
Now comes the tricky part: width. People get confused with the widths that Birkenstock offers. Birkenstock makes shoes in narrow and regular widths. Narrow width Birkenstocks are really not what Americans consider “narrow”. A narrow Birkenstock fits people with a narrow or medium width foot. A regular width Birkenstock accommodates a regular or a wide width foot. The beauty of Birkenstocks is that they can be adjusted with the straps. One can easily add extra holes (either to loosen or tighten) on a strap with a leather punch. You just need to make certain that the arch support of the footbed is in proper alignment with your arch.
I recently purchased a new pair of Birkenstock sandals from Birkenstock USA and they came in a newly re-designed shoebox. On the inside panel of the box was a guide to help one determine one’s size and width. If the side of your foot falls outside the blue line it is recommended that you purchase your shoes in a regular width.
To determine if the shoe is a narrow width or a regular width you need to look at the footbed. To the left of the shoe size is an imprint of a foot. If the shoe is narrow the foot icon is solid. If the shoe is regular width the foot icon is shown as outlined.
A narrow width foot icon would look like this:
The regular width foot icon looks like this:
Once you nail down your shoe size and width you have to decide whether you prefer the original footbed or the soft footbed. Deciding between an original and soft footbed is an entirely different blog post topic.
The beauty of the Birkenstock brand is that you can customize the fit of your shoe without having to pay for custom made shoes. Another reason why I Love Birkenstocks!
In the early 1990s I was a teenager and begged my mom to buy me a pair of Birkenstocks. They had become stylish again and were everywhere. My parents, non hippies, who grew up in the 60s in Berkeley, did not understand why I would want hippie shoes in my wardrobe. After some nagging, my mom finally gave into my request. Perhaps she wanted to see me wear something besides my Doc Martens.
I vividly remember the day she drove me up to Houston's Shoes in Berkeley for my big purchase. Houston's was a large shoe store on Shattuck Ave. with a magnificent window display. I stood outside the store peering at the selection of Birkenstocks. Back in the 90s, there were slim pickings of styles and colors offered. I really only remember having the choice of the Arizona style in neutral colors like brown, taupe, and black. As I scanned the selection, I eyeballed a lovely grey pair and knew that those babies were coming home with me.
The sales person at Houston's properly measured my foot. 38 regular. They fit like a glove. I wore the shoes home from the store. I felt so special.
I remember the price of these shoes were $80. Which, at the time, seemed like an outrageous sum of money to spend on a teenager. Let me tell you, those were the best pair of shoes I ever owned. The footbed provided me with incredible support and I could wear them with anything. It took me a decade before these shoes wore out and that was with heavy wear and tear. That averages $8/year for the investment. Best shoes ever.
You might be asking why I didn't replace the shoes after they fell apart. Honestly, I don't remember. I was in my 20s, entering the workforce, and started to wear what was work appropriate. In my 20s and 30s I wore more "feminine" shoes. At the time they looked cute. After two decades of cramming my wide feet into narrow shoes with no arch support, I started having arthritic pain in feet and sciatic pain. Proof that these "cute" and "feminine" shoes only caused health problems.
I tried a number of different brands of shoes to help relieve the pain in my feet and back. Nothing worked. Then one day I saw an add for Birkentocks on Zappos. I thought, why don't I order a pair and try those again. They were the best shoes I ever wore. In July 2015, I ordered a pair of red nubuck Arizonas with a soft footbed and my love with Birkenstock shoes was rekindled. I was amazed at the variety of styles, colors, footbeds, and materials that Birkenstock offered 25 years after my first purchase. Once I started wearing my new Birks, the pain in my feet and back improved. Amazing. I Love Birkenstocks!
NOTE: To learn more about my love for Birkenstocks, please read this blog.