Footwear lingo 101: Running shoe technologies explained by brand

running shoes sneakers
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.

Glossary

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.
Emerging Tech

Awesome Tech You Can’t Buy Yet: camera with A.I. director, robot arm assistant

Check out our roundup of the best new crowdfunding projects and product announcements that hit the web this week. You may not be able to buy this stuff yet, but it sure is fun to gawk!
Outdoors

Nike’s Adapt BB shoes let you tighten your laces with an iPhone

The new Nike Adapt BB shoe comes with smartphone connectivity that allows the user to tighten the laces using a smartphone while providing the ability to adjust tension throughout the game.
Outdoors

Snooze soundly anywhere you lay your head with the best sleeping bags

A proper sleeping bag has the ability to make or break a camping or backpacking trip. Here are our picks for the best sleeping bags on the market to help you choose the correct bag for any type of outdoor adventure.
Gaming

Transport your Nintendo Switch in style with these nifty cases

The Nintendo Switch, which boasts both wired and handheld modes, needs a good case to ensure it doesn't get beat up while you're on the go. We scoured through dozens of Switch cases to bring you the best ones.
Emerging Tech

Where are they now? A look back at last year’s Top Tech of CES winners

What happened to the 14 prize-winning products we singled out as the coolest things we saw at last year's CES 2018? Join us as we take a look at what the past 12 months has meant for them.
Emerging Tech

You may soon be able to summon an autonomous wheelchair like an Uber

At CES 2019, autonomous wheelchair company Whill unveiled its vision for a world in which people can summon its wheelchairs by app, in locations such as museums, airports, and city centers.
Emerging Tech

Yamaha’s new app lets you tune your motorcycle with a smartphone

It used to be that if you wanted to tune your motorcycle’s engine and tweak its performance, you needed specialized tools and even more specialized knowledge. Yamaha’s new Power Tuner app changes that.
Emerging Tech

Furrion’s luxurious smart yacht looks like the perfect vessel for a Bond villain

Forget smart watches and the like: when it comes to the biggest smart technology at CES 2019, the literal answer can be nothing other than the 78-foot, high-tech luxury smart yacht, Adonis.
Emerging Tech

Look forward to your morning commute with one of the best ebikes available

A proper ebike is perfect for commuting or a trek along the trailhead, with most offering pedal assistance and a long-range battery. As more brands offer their own take on this innovative way to get around, it's hard to distinguish the…
Outdoors

Here are all the best rain jackets on the market right now

From high-tech, lightweight shells to modern-looking, waterproof trench coats, check out our list of the best rain jackets built to keep you dry and looking stylish in any season.
Emerging Tech

The best solar chargers for your phone, tablet, and other battery-powered gear

Looking for a gizmo that can help you charge your phone while on the go? Here, we've outlined the best solar chargers on the market, whether you're looking to charge your phone once, twice, or three times over.
Outdoors

Drink what nature provides with the best water purifiers

Looking for reliable water purification? Staying hydrated is important, especially when you are hiking or camping far from civilization. Check out our picks of the best water purifiers for your camp, backpack, or pocket.
Deals

REI drops prices on North Face and Columbia during its winter sale

Looking to shop top brands like North Face, Columbia, and more? REI is offering up to 50 percent off during a winter sale so you can save big on new jackets and hoodies. This deal will last until January 22, so take advantage on this huge…
Deals

The 10 best windproof umbrellas to help you weather the storm

The rains have come and they have no mercy. Can your current umbrella handle everything nature can throw at it? Here are 10 of the best windproof umbrella deals available now to help keep you safe and dry.
1 of 8