It must have been a stinky task, but in 2010, a research lab in Germany intricately scanned the feet of 2,500 athletes. The project, funded by Danish footwear giant ECCO, had a goal to build a new kind of dataset based on the true, crowd-sourced shape of the human foot.
A product line, called BIOM, was launched by ECCO soon after. With the scans, the company created sets of foot-shaped anatomical molds, or “lasts,” and it built shoes around them. The resulting footwear, the company markets, mimics the foot’s true shape by coupling a wider toe box with a snug heel.
I’ve tested BIOM shoes in the past, but this month, I got four distinct pairs in house to put side by side for a collective look.
ECCO applied the anatomical edits across sandals, casual shoes, runners and boots. The models I looked at are drastically different but hold a common denominator of being built on lasts culled from the same German scan test.
In truth, the foot-scan shoes are not all that different from other high-end footwear. And feet are so different person to person that any individual could find ill fit from the line, or the shoes might “fit like a glove.”
My feet are more in the latter mold — the BIOM shoes fit great on my medium-width, size-12 feet. My toes splay about right in the Ultra Quest, the trail runners in the line. The boots, the sturdy BIOM Hike 1.1 model, are comfortable for me after miles on a trail.
On the other end of the spectrum, I put on the company’s sandals for a short hike. Beefy and supportive, the BIOM Chiappo sandals feel more like shoes than flip-flops. A treaded outsole and “shock absorption” in the midsole further perpetuate the shoe comparison.
Add to this a healthy price tag of $130, and you have some esoteric open-format footwear that can be worn casually or taken on a hiking trail.
Finally, of all the BIOM models, I like the Lite 1.1 shoes the best. ECCO calls these “high performance sports shoes,” though their look, with precisely perforated leather uppers, makes them more at home in an office or a city setting.
But looks fool.
I have run a 5-mile loop on pavement near my office in the Lite 1.1s on a few occasions. They are flexible and low to the ground with no pronounced, padded heel. Their hybrid design — wear them to work, take a jog at lunch — makes them do-all shoes I can put on any day of the week.
In the end, the BIOM line and its foot-scan premise is no panacea to guaranteed perfect fit. As noted above, feet anatomy ranges, and it can be risky to make broad claims. But for me the German lab research — and the 2,500 scans they took — has resulted in a shoe line that works.
Stephen Regenold writes about outdoors gear at www.gearjunkie.com.