If you’ve shopped for running shoes in the past few years, you’ve likely found yourself drowning in kicks with long, obtuse names like “Nike Free RN Motion Flyknit” or “Mizuno Women’s Wave Rider 20 GT-X”. Rarely do these names tell you anything useful about the shoe, or the technologies therein.
Innovations in athletic footwear have been regular occurrences since the 1970s, when Nike co-founder Bill Bowerman accidentally created the “Waffle Trainer,” thus revolutionizing the track-and-field landscape — and making Nike an ocean of cash in the process. These days, pricey running shoes from top brands are built using several different technologies to maximize comfort and durability.
If you’re wondering what all these technologies actually do, you’re not alone. In the interest of making informed purchases, we’ve compiled a handy guide (organized by brand) explaining how these technologies work and what the peculiar names actually mean.
When searching for the right pair of runners, you might come across some unfamiliar vocabulary. To aid your quest, we’ve put together a short glossary of related terminology with which you may or may not be familiar. Some of these terms might be included in descriptions of brand-specific technologies below.
- EVA: A light, flexible copolymer or cross-linked foam composed of ethylene (E) and vinyl acetate (VA). Made up of lots of minuscule cells filled with air, EVA compresses when weight is placed upon it; over time, it doesn’t decompress as effectively.
- PU: Polyurethane. Similar to EVA but heavier and denser, resulting in less natural compression. Generally more durable than EVA and it lasts longer before wearing down.
- Collar: The part of the shoe that surrounds your upper heel.
- Crash zone: The area of your foot that strikes the ground first, absorbing the most impact.
- Drop: The height difference from heel to toe. Usually measured in millimeters.
- Footstrike: The moment (while running or walking) when the entire foot lays flat on the ground.
- Forefoot: The front section of the bottom of your foot. Also sometimes called the “ball” of the foot.
- Gait: A person’s style of walking or running.
- Lugs: Rubber treads on the outsole, generally meant to improve traction.
- Midsole: The cushioned layer between the upper and outsole. Usually made of foam.
- Outsole: The bottom layer of a shoe, designed to come in contact with the ground or floor. Usually made of rubber or carbon.
- Pronation: The foot’s natural roll following a footstrike. Overpronation occurs when the foot rolls excessively inward.
- Toe box: The front of the shoe, housing the toes.
- Treads: The part of the outsole that comes directly into contact with the ground or floor.
- Upper: The part of the shoe that wraps around the foot. Usually a combination of materials.