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 USA and Zappos 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!