When you’re in the market for a new pair of shoes, you probably prioritize features such as style and comfort. However, unless you’re a footwear aficionado, you may not take the time to look into every individual element of the shoe’s design and construction.
But when you want a shoe that offers optimized aesthetics and unbeatable comfort, it’s important to examine certain elements that go into the engineering of a shoe, as well as the material the item is manufactured with.
One of the most crucial features of a pair of shoes is its outsoles. Though they’re often overlooked, this simple feature can have a huge impact on the longevity, comfort, and look of your footwear. Read on to learn everything you need to know about shoe outsoles and how to select the best ones.
Anatomy of an Outsole
Before we can dive into the intricacies of which design and production elements make an outsole truly exceptional, it’s important to understand what outsoles actually are as well as the purpose they serve within the structure of shoes.
If you’ve ever wondered, “what is the outsole of a shoe?”, then don’t worry, you’re not alone—but you are in the right place to learn more.
Put simply, the outsole is the hard section of the shoe that makes direct contact with the ground.
Positioned at the very bottom of a piece of footwear, this feature is incredibly important because it must stand up to the wear and tear that comes with repeated exposure to the elements as well as the friction of regular movement.
At the same time, outsoles can’t be too rigid because a certain amount of give is needed to make the moving experience comfortable and easy.
As you can see, in order to provide optimal support for the wearer without sustaining serious damage, outsoles must strike a delicate balance between:
Achieving the Ideal Outsole Balance
Different outsoles achieve this balancing act in different ways, and the type of outsole that will work best for you is dependent on how and where you wear your shoes. The two main areas where outsoles typically differ from one another are:
In this way, outsoles are much like the different types of tread on tires.1
Just as different tire tread patterns provide ideal traction for varying surfaces, the composition and make of an outsole have a significant impact on the wearer’s ability to enjoy a seamless walking experience on their terrain of choice.
Think about the significantly different traction needs of specialized shoes such as walking shoes, running shoes, hiking shoes, dress shoes, and even safety shoes. When you understand just how much footwear performance needs can vary, it becomes clear why outsole design is such a science.
Now that you have a clear picture of what a shoe outsole is, we’ll take a closer look at the individual considerations one should keep in mind when examining the outsole of shoe designs.
The Role of Outsoles in Slip Resistance
The outsole of a shoe can completely make or break how slippery or secure the walking experience of the wearer will be.
Just imagine how different varying types of terrain feel to walk on. Walking atop an icy lake would be a completely different experience from walking on a paved road, for example.
The outsoles of shoes work the same way. When you’re walking, the interaction between the material on the bottom of your shoe and the terrain below will determine if you’re able to stride with safety and confidence or if you’ll feel insecure and prone to slip at any second.
To illustrate this concept even further, let’s examine a real-life situation where slip-resistant outsoles are frequently utilized:
If you’ve ever worked in a restaurant, you were likely required to buy and wear special non-slip shoes. This footwear is designed with outsoles that provide excellent traction and better grip, even on wet surfaces.
But you don’t have to work in any particular field to enjoy the benefits of anti-slip outsoles. You can find everyday stylish shoes that provide high traction from brands that go the extra mile to optimize their outsoles.
The best material for slip resistance is high-quality rubber, and that’s why at Vionic, we use durable rubber outsoles for many of our most popular styles. Even our Rejuvenate Recovery Sandal, an open-toed design, features a slip-resistant rubber outsole.
How Outsoles Prolong Shoe Life
The materials that make up the body of a high-quality shoe can be quite delicate.
In order to achieve maximum breathability, flexibility, and comfort, the upper and inner sections of a shoe may not always be the most durable.
Therefore, it’s the responsibility of an outsole to protect. Much like a shield can extend the lifespan of a warrior in battle, an outsole can prolong shoe life by keeping a strong and solid layer between the more fragile bulk of your shoe and the ground beneath you.
Outsoles serve as the shoe’s foundation. Without a strong base to stand on, footwear would deteriorate within a few months, if not weeks.
The Aesthetic Influence of Shoe Outsoles
As outsoles are the bottommost part of a shoe, they are outwardly visible and are therefore an integral element of the shoe’s overall appearance.
Some shoe manufacturers choose to go bold with the outsoles of their products and make the bottom of the footwear a focal point (any iconic red-bottomed shoes come to mind?).
Others choose to keep this area discreet so it simply blends in with the rest of the shoe.
Our advice: find a shoe with an aesthetically appealing outsole that still offers incredible functionality.
All of the shoes in our collection feature outsoles that are classic and timeless. At the same time, they offer supreme functionality and practicality. We believe that neither comfort nor style should ever have to be sacrificed when choosing a shoe.
Exploring Orthotic and Cushioned Outsoles
For individuals seeking extra comfort in their shoes, outsoles that make use of orthotic technology or extra cushioning can be a game-changer.
Since outsoles control how soft or firm a shoe feels when in use, footwear featuring cushioned outsoles can make a world of difference for people needing additional support.
“Orthotics” is a term used in the podiatry industry to refer to small shoe inserts that help take pressure away from particularly sore or weak spots. They can help lessen the load that the feet, ankles, and lower legs take on to reduce health problems in these areas.2
Our 23Walk Classic Sneaker, available in models tailored for both men and women, are crafted with special outsoles to optimize the walking experience. These shoes feature outsoles which are made with:
- Durable rubber for improved traction
- Flexible material
- Cushioning for comfort
The 23Walk Classic Sneaker also comes equipped with a podiatrist-developed biomechanical orthotic.
Together, these features make it easy to enjoy a comfortable walking experience. Instead of needing to buy special orthotic insoles separately and go through the hassle of fitting them into your shoes, you can simply invest in sneakers that have these elements built-in.
Material Matters: Rubber, EVA, and More
Here at Vionic, we love to use rubber when engineering our outsoles. While outsoles are sometimes made from alternative materials like leather, we find that rubber works best for shoes that will be used for casual or active purposes alike.
When it comes to a perfect blend of high-quality materials, our Walk Strider Sneaker is unmatched. This shoe is specially designed so that the insole and outsole work in tandem to provide superior foot support.
For the footbed, or insole, of this shoe, we utilize removable, mesh-covered EVA. Ethylene-vinyl acetate (EVA) is a soft and elastic-plastic composite that’s lightweight and shock-absorbent.
This comfortable, breathable material seamlessly transitions into the more hardy rubber outsole for maximum durability.
This combination of materials affords the wearer an ideal blend of foot protection, stability, and extra shoe cushioning. No matter what kind of terrain you plan to tackle, this sneaker will support you.
Outsole Maintenance: Extending the Life of Your Shoes
In old shoemaker shops where formal footwear was meticulously handcrafted using materials such as leather, the complete resoling of shoes was often an option.
With modern footwear, especially shoes meant to provide support for more functional activities such as walking long distances without discomfort, replaceable soles are not common.1
Therefore, it’s crucial to preserve your outsoles and by extension, increase the longevity of your footwear investment as a whole. When you take care of your shoes, they’ll take care of you.
To keep your outsoles in optimal shape for longer, try to avoid:
- Walking on extensively rugged terrain
- Bending or stretching the shoe unnaturally
- Subjecting shoes to wet conditions
Giving your shoes a break every now and then can also help them stay stronger for longer. For instance, if you enjoy reaping the benefits of walking daily, consider rotating between two pairs of walking shoes to give each one a rest in between uses.
Enjoy Optimal Outsole Support With Vionic
We hope this comprehensive guide has once and for all answered your question of, what is an outsole? Though they are often overlooked, shoe outsoles significantly influence how footwear looks and feels.
When you’re looking to invest in shoes that will serve you well for years, be sure to seek out options with optimized outsoles. Our collection of performance and recovery shoes here at Vionic are all meticulously designed to offer a harmonious balance of comfort and style.
Browse our selection to find your new favorite shoe: our 23Walk Classic Sneaker, Walk Strider, and Rejuvenate models are perfect if you’re seeking superior outsole support. To learn more about the anatomy of shoes, check out our blog post breaking down all the different parts of sneakers.