What is an Outsole?

Shannon Kietzman

The outsole is the portion of an athlete’s shoe that functions primarily as a means of providing traction. In addition, the outsole reduces the amount of wear endured by the shoe’s midsole. As a result, the outsole also increases the overall durability of the shoe.

The outsole of Z-Coil® shoes includes a spring for added shock absorption.
The outsole of Z-Coil® shoes includes a spring for added shock absorption.

The outsole was originally made of either rubber or leather, and was modified as necessary in order to suit the wearer’s needs. A running shoe to be used for a track event, for example, typically had an outsole containing numerous nails driven into the bottom in order to provide traction. In modern times, the outsole used in a track shoe has a plastic plate molded within it. This makes it possible for the athlete to switch out the spikes on the bottom of the shoe as necessary for each specific track event.

An outsole is commonly worn by basketball players.
An outsole is commonly worn by basketball players.

The basketball shoe also benefits from the use of an outsole. The first basketball shoe was made with a rubber compound that gave the shoe a certain amount of cushioning. Unfortunately, this material had a tendency to wear out easily. In addition, early basketball players did not fully realize the importance of traction in the game of basketball when it comes to pivoting and running.

Today, basketball shoes are made to meet the needs of playing on certain surfaces, such as outdoor concrete courts or indoor wooden courts. These different needs are addressed with the design of the shoe’s outsole. In addition, the outsole of the basketball player’s shoe must be able to grip well when the athlete is running, but not when he or she is pivoting. Also, the shoe cannot stop suddenly when the basketball player attempts to stop. Otherwise, it can result in a twisted ankle.

The outsole can also provide stiffness to a shoe. A cyclist, for example, requires a rigid shoe. Any unnecessary flexing of the foot results in wasted energy. In order to keep the shoe stiff, a somewhat inflexible outsole is used in the cyclist’s shoe.

While the outsole of a shoe will eventually wear out, designers create them in such a way to provide the most durability in the areas that get the most wear and tear from normal use. For this reason, it is possible for the outsole to still be in good shape while other parts of the shoe, such as the cushioning, are no longer in optimum condition. For this reason, it is important to inspect more than just the outsole when determining whether new shoes are needed.

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