Two major consumer trends have captured the attention of footwear companies. First, shoppers on tight budgets want versatile products that deliver more bang for the buck. And, second, they want products they can customize to meet their own needs. When it comes to outdoor footwear, consumers are looking for shoes that go from the trail to town and allow them to achieve a custom fit.
Wolverine’s series of ICS (Individual Comfort System) shoes have a mechanism in the heel that adjusts the cushioning so the shoes work well in a variety of conditions. Plan on walking all day? Then, set the heels for firm support. Plan on standing around for hours? Dial up more cushioning. Or maybe you want to place the majority of support on the inner side of the heel or the outer side to suit high or low arches, or to counter the supination or pronation in your stride.
Typically, if you want to customize the level of support and cushioning in a shoe, you have to buy an aftermarket insole from companies such as Superfeet, Sole or Shock Doctor. But casual shoes and boots in the Wolverine ICS line have a removable disk made of flexible, synthetic material that you can set to one of eight positions, with each position providing a different level of cushioning or resistance. There are four main positions -- Firm, Cushion, Inward, Outward -- and there are also four intermediate positions between these.
The soft disk has eight raised areas, like little peaks, and these peaks nest inside the valleys of a firm plastic disk that is attached to the heel. The interaction of the soft peaks and firm valleys determines the cushioning.
Over the course of a few months, we tested the Monroe, a slip-on men’s shoe with ICS, and found that the system worked moderately well. Overall, the Monroe is well-built and comfortable, while the central feature -- the ICS adjustment -- makes a bit of a difference, though its effects are subtle.
The first thing we liked about the Monroe was that Wolverine placed the ICS in what is otherwise just a really good casual shoe that can handle light duty on trails. The suede leather upper kept its good looks even after months of wear in extremely wet fall conditions. We subjected it to muddy trails, wet fields of grass and the typical around town wear and tear. There are some nice details, like a full-grain leather liner, a padded collar to protect the ankle, and a durable outsole that provides moderate traction, but doesn’t have huge lugs to appear clunky. Because the Monroe is a slip-on, we didn’t feel comfortable using it in rugged terrain, but it works well for a stroll on packed trails. On sidewalks, city streets and in malls, you can walk and stand comfortably for hours.
Of course, the main element of the Monroe is its insole, which includes the ICS. We first noticed that the insole is beefy, with thick foam cushioning from heel to toe, plus a strip of raised foam at the arch. Imbedded in the heel of the insole is the firm plastic disk, and the soft disk rests in it, flush with the rest of the sole.
Imprinted on the base of the insole are the words F-Firm, C-Cushion, I-Inward and O-Outward. The flexible disk has corresponding letters -- F, C, I and O -- and you align these letters with an arrow imprinted on the sole to set the desired level. We tested the shoe on every setting, on different types of terrain, paying close attention to see if we could detect changes in the feel of the shoe. We liked that it was easy to slip the shoe off, pull out the insoles and quickly change the position of the disk. The process was simple enough that we really could envision a person dialing up different settings to suit the moment.
Our testers said they did feel the difference when it was set to Cushion or Firm. In these settings, we noticed a definite softness or rigidity with each stride. However, the Inward and Outward settings were so subtle that our testers had a hard time detecting a difference between the two. The intermediate settings were even less discernable.
One of our testers who over-pronates set the disk to the Inward position to reduce the degree to which his foot rolls inward. But over the course of many walks, he could not feel a great advantage compared to the times when he walked with the disk set to the Outward position. Granted, some people might supinate or pronate to a greater degree, and they might be able to better detect the difference. Since we felt a definite change from Cushion to Firm, we know that the system does have some effect. We just can’t predict that every consumer is going to slip these shoes on and declare that they can feel a change, or rely on this system to correct their stride.
When we first glanced at that the ICS adjustment, we had our doubts and thought it might be a bit of a gimmick. But we think Wolverine is on to something here. The technology seems to have some merit, and it’s easy to use, made of durable materials and incorporated into a comfortable and attractive shoe. Plus, it addresses consumer demands for things that are versatile and can be customized to suit their needs. We’re intrigued to see how this concept evolves.
SNEWS® Rating: 4.0 hands clapping (1 to 5 hands clapping possible, with 5 clapping hands representing functional and design perfection)
Suggested Retail: $125
For more information: www.wolverine.com