Vulcanized Soles: Feel and Grip
It’s probably safe to say that just about everyone has owned a pair of shoes made with a vulcanized soles. Many brands that pretty much everyone grew up with use this type of construction. It’s one of the oldest ways to make a sneaker. And, it was featured on what may people consider the first big-hit sneaker: the Converse All-Star.
Amazingly, despite it’s age, there are still many people who go out of their way to shop shoes with this style. Let’s take a look at this type of sneaker construction, how it’s made, and what are the benefits and drawbacks.
How it’s Made:
Vulcanized shoes are actually a reference to the production of the rubber outsole. Vulcanization is a process of heating rubber with certain chemicals, both extending its durability and flexibility.
When making a shoe this way, first the rubber outsole is molded into the desired shape, then attached to the upper. The shoes are then put back into the furnace to be heated again with the proper chemicals. This is why some call these shoes “twice baked”.
The outsoles need to go through this process twice because vulcanized rubber is notoriously hard to attach compared a lasting board. In fact, even after this process the shoes are not completed, as the sole would just fall off. Once pulled out, a thick piece of rubber is added around the base of the shoe where the outsole meets the upper. This rubber, known as foxing tape, holds everything together.
As a finishing, companies typically add one final piece of rubber on the heel of the shoe (typically a logo) to prevent the foxing tape from unraveling. A skate-oriented shoe will also add another piece of rubber across the front to protect the structural tape.
This style of construction requires a visually high side-wall and a flat bottom.
Benefits of Vulcanized Soles:
It’s no accident that this style of footwear has been around for more than 100 years. For many people, this style of construction is the first type they look for.
With a particularly durable outsole and a manufacturing process that isn’t kind to foam, almost every type of shoe that uses this construction has almost nothing between you and the ground. For people who are looking for a lot of feel out of their shoes – like skateboarders – almost nothing will match the feel of a vulcanized sole.
As one of the most basic forms of shoe construction out there, this type of shoe is often incredibly cheap. Well-known brands in classic styles can often be had for less than $30 dollars on sale.
Little to No Break In:
With such thin and mailable materials, these shoes will bend around your feet immediately. They will be as comfortable as they ever will be on day 1. Further, in case you bought the wrong size, they will stretch to the shape of your foot.
Drawbacks of Vulcanized Soles:
Of course, there is a reason that only a small number of brands still use this form of construction today. There are plenty of drawbacks to using this style of construction
The biggest is probably the comfort of the shoe. While there are exceptions, most shoes made this way will be completely flat. They offer no arch support and, with no cushioning other than a thin insole, no impact protection. The same things that allow for good feel of a skateboard allow for feel of the ground on every step.
While the outsoles of these shoes are long lasting, especially considering how thick they are, the same can’t be said for the rest of the construction. In fact, these shoes will normally break where the foxing tape meets the upper before the outsole is worn through. Since the only thing holding this high wear area together is a bit of glue, these are one of the shortest lasting styles of construction you can buy today.
With the requirement for a thick piece of rubber running along the bottom of the shoe, there is only so much that can be done in the design of the shoe. While many, including myself, don’t mind the design, it is still extremely limiting in what a brand can do with this style of construction.
Companies that use Vulcanized Soles
A lot of people might be surprised by the number of companies that use this type of construction. That being said, every company listed below does not exclusively use this style. All of them make shoes with other types of construction as well.
When Should You Pick a Vulcanized Sole Shoe?
This style of shoe oozes the laid-back skater lifestyle. This includes both the people who are looking for the ultimate in board feel so that they can make sure they land properly – as well as people who want to look like they can, but have not touched a skateboard in 15 years.
They are easy to break in, easy to style, and are almost always so cheap that you never need to worry about taking good care of them. Sure, you might not want to wear a pair made this way if you plan to walk around a city on vacation. But that isn’t what they are made for. Picking up at least one pair is a no brainer for just about everyone.