What are shoe trees?
Shoe Trees are inserts of any shape that keep your shoes in amazing shape as they age. This means that even crunched up newspaper or old cardboard stuffed into shoes technically qualify as ‘Shoe Trees’.
That said, quality shoe trees made of raw cedarwood and shaped like feet has a plethora of additional benefits: absorbing moisture, preventing lining rot, freshening the interior, and preventing creases and cracks more effectively. This drastically extends the life of your shoe – especially important if you have splurged on them!
Why do I need shoe trees?
1. It’s cheaper in the long run
Although pricey, fine footwear is capable of lasting literally a lifetime and maybe more – but you’ll have to take care of it. Quality Shoe Trees are an investment, much like a durable Spigen phone case for your new iPhone! A good pair of shoes cost between $300 – $1500, excluding bespoke shoes, whereas a pair of shoe trees only costs $35 – an insignificant amount when considering that they extend the average lifespan of the leather upper from 3 years to 30 years. That is 1000% more value for about 3.8% more that you pay. No wonder the highest-end shoes come with shoe trees, retailers cannot risk them spoiling before sale!
Shoe Trees work a lot like hangers, keeping your shoes in shape and preventing creases. If you do not store your best shirts without a hanger, why would you store your shoes without Shoe Trees?
Apart from keeping your shoes in shape, quality cedarwood shoe trees also bring a whole plethora of additional benefits:
- Absorbing moisture from sweat
- Maintaining the strength of the leather
- Preventing cracks
- Preventing lining rot
- Freshening the shoe interior
- Prevent feet infections
- Driving insects away
2. Keeps Leather Strong and Prevents Cracks
At the microscopic level, leather is made up of a tangle of fibers held together with protein bonds. Fats and oils keep the protein bonds from breaking.
When water (from your sweat or from the rain) penetrates into leather, it forms temporary bonds with the oils that bond the leather fibers then floats them to the surface as it evaporates. The leather fibres become brittle and cracks when flexed.
Quality Shoe Trees made from cedar wood is porous and absorbs moisture before it can penetrate the leather, maintaining the strength of your leather for decades!
3. Prevent Lining Rot
Leather is animal skin and, like your skin, it will rot under constant damp conditions. The interior of your shoe does not air as well as the exterior, making it particularly susceptible to rotting especially if you sweat in it everyday. This will,
- Destroy the leather
- Cause your shoes to stink
- Cause smelly feet and feet infections, including athletes foot.
The absorbent properties of Shoe Trees destroy that moist environment and inhibits bacterial and fungal growth. In addition, aromatic wood species like cedar emit an invigorating scent that also freshens your shoe!
When should I use shoe trees?
Once you take off your shoes
You should insert shoe trees everyday immediately after taking off your shoes, when the leather is wettest from a whole day of sweating. This helps remove moisture before it can penetrate into the leather. By unfurling the sole and filling out the leather upper as the shoe dries, it makes sure the shoe dries into the proper shape without creases. There is no need to bring along shoe trees when visiting your relatives, but once you reach home, the shoe trees should be in for a night’s of work.
After your shoes get wet
Whether you were caught in the rain, or you had something spilled onto your precious footwear, you should dry it up with some newspaper, then get a pair of unfinished (without any coating) cedar shoe trees into your shoes sooner rather than later to wick all that moisture out. This will minimize the loss of essential oils from the leather due to water, keeping it strong and supple.
How should I use shoe trees?
The ShoeTree Project’s Shoe Trees are simple to use. Simply:
- Compress the Split-toe mechanism together and fit the head into your shoe
- Holding the knob, push the head of the shoe tree in until the Twin-tube compresses and fit the heel in.
If the Shoe Trees do not fit on maximum compression, they are too large. If they rattle around when fully extended, they are too small. At The ShoeTree Project, you get a FREE Size Exchange in these cases!
Types of shoe trees explained
Spring Shoe Trees
Spring shoe trees probably shouldn’t qualify as Shoe Trees at all. These mass produced objects not only do not keep your shoes in shape, they run a high risk of distorting them.
The head of these shoe trees are inserted and the tail is bent and lodged into the heel of the shoe. Because the tail is so narrow instead of being shaped like a heel, it places excessive pressure on one point of the shoe and overstretches the shoe away from the shape of a regular human foot.
They are mass produced in one size only, so the spring has to be extra long, meaning that they nearly always place too much pressure across the shoe, unless you have monster-sized feet.
Full-toe Shoe Trees
Full-toe Shoe Trees usually have a spring mechanism along its length, which helps to unfurl the sole and prevent some creases. However, the head is a simple solid block and does not fill out the toebox. Full-toe Shoe Trees are also less versatile, unable to accomodate a large range of shoe shapes. It’s generic head shape does not imitate your feet well, so it may not dry your shoe in the ideal shape. This is a cost-friendly option for cheaper shoes, though the absolute savings are only about $10 from a proper Split-toe pair.
Combination Shoe Trees
Combination Shoe Trees combine the Split-toe and Full-toe designs into one for a (marginally) cheaper option to the Split-toe. The Combination Shoe Tree is able to both extend to unfurl the sole, and expand sideways to fill the toebox. Like the Full-toe Shoe Trees however, they utilise a generic head that is easy to mass produce. Hence the expansion may deform the front of your shoes away from the shape of your feet.
Split-toe Shoe Trees
Split-toe Shoe Trees are a 3-part Shoe Tree (aka Epic Shoe Trees) that have been engineered to closely approximate the shape of your feet, instead of using a generic symmetrical head like the Full-toe and Combination Shoe Trees.
Split-toe Shoe Trees usually employ two spring mechanisms that exert biplanar (along the shoe and across the toebox) pressure, imitating the pressure of your feet against the shoe upper. The spring-loaded Twin tubes push a fully crafted heel and ergonomic head to unfurl your sole with even, distributed pressure, while the Split-toe (also spring loaded) stretches out the vamp of your shoe. Together, they work to keep your shoe in the correct shape and prevent creases without distorting the shape of your shoe.
Because of the width of the head can be varied, Split-toe Shoe Trees can fit a very wide range of shoe shapes, and provide the next best fit after lasted shoe trees – for a tiny fraction of the cost.
Lasted Shoe Trees
Lasted Shoe Trees are copied from the shoe last – the mold upon which a shoe is constructed, which determines the shoe’s size and shape. This means that a lasted shoe tree will fit your shoe perfectly, but only on that pair it was built for. Lasted Shoe Trees are able to keep your shoe in its original shape without the Split-toe mechanism as all the dimensions have been made to measure.
You can get lasted Shoe Trees from your shoemaker. However, they are quite pricey costing upwards of $100 as they have to be made specially for you. Are they essential or practical? Not really, but neither is putting in custom interiors into your Ferrari. You do it because it looks good, and completes the purchase. You could live with the stock interior or the cheaper shoe trees. It won’t deteriorate the product, only make it less attractive. If you do get the >$5000 bespoke shoes that are made exactly to the shape of your feet though, lasted shoe trees in the shape of your feet will likely be included for free.
Shoe tree materials
Plastic Shoe Trees are light, cheap, and easy to produce by the thousands via injection molding. They do help to keep your shoe in shape. However, they do not have the absorbent properties of wood to wick moisture from the leather linings, and may even inhibit its drying by reducing contact with air. This leads to all sorts of problems in the long run, including lining rot, cracked leather, and really smelly shoes.
Getting plastic shoe trees for its price is like pumping unleaded fuel into your Lamborghini – saving a few dollars and spoiling thousands.
These are Shoe Trees made from wood, but finished with a layer of varnish to make them shiny and more elegant. However, they are also water proof, meaning that they are essentially a more expensive, heavier, and more aesthetic version of plastic Shoe Trees. Hence, they will also pose the same problems as plastic imitations, namely lining rot, cracked leather, and smelly shoes.
Usually, these Shoe Trees utilize lower quality sapwood (instead of heartwood) that are not resistant to decay, hence the need for a protective layer. Sapwood is also structurally weaker.
Unfinished (raw) cedarwood
Unfinished (or raw) Cedarwood is the prime option for a pair of Shoe Trees. Without any external coating, Shoe Trees made from this porous material are able to absorb moisture and prevent lining rot.
In addition, the unique properties of cedar bring a whole plethora of additional benefits:
Cedar wood absorbs the odour of your feet and replaces it with its signature crisp, tangy fragrance. You’ll look forward to wearing your shoes and never fear taking them off in public again.
2. Resistant to decay
If your cedar Shoe Tree is made from heartwood (wood from the center of the trunk), it will be resistant to fungal decay.
3. Repels insects
The aroma of cedar not only freshens your shoe interior, it also repels insects. The last thing you need is to insert your feet into your shoe for a nasty bite from a nesting creeper!
4. Lasts a lifetime
The decay-resistant properties and durable structural makeup mean that cedar Shoe Trees last literally a lifetime.
This is true even for its unique fragrance – as soon as it weakens, simply sand the Shoe Tree lightly with sandpaper* and the aroma will return strong as ever!
*included as Free Gift
The ShoeTree Project only uses the most durable, unfinished heartwood from the Juniperus Virginiana (American Red Cedar), which is the most fragrant species of cedar. You differentiate this premium material from its distinct reddish-pink hue with white strips.
Beech and Schima Superba wood are alternatives to cedar and cost around the same as well. They are usually in a yellowish-white colour, which some people may prefer for its looks.
Beech and Superba are less capable than cedar at wicking moisture from your leather interior, with Superba being slightly less effective than Beech. Both Beech and Superba do not have any natural fragrances, and therefore do not provide a freshening effect for your shoe interior.