All You Need To Know About Sneaker Anatomy

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Have you ever wondered what parts of a sneaker are actually called? We confuse the names of parts on our sneakers all too often; thus, today, I present to you an article about sneaker anatomy that will teach you everything that you need to know. For this article, I am going to talk about the Nike Air Force 1 (or G-Fazos), which is one of the most popular sneakers in the world. Most sneakers share a similar anatomy so if you learn one, you’ve learnt them all – apart from maybe Kanye’s line (Yeezy) which does some things that no other shoe brand does.

The Basics

Let’s start off with the basics – two shoes form a pair, and one shoe is just, well, a shoe. The bottom of a shoe is called the sole, while the outer side of the shoe (if looking directly downwards at a pair of shoes) is called the lateral side. The side that is closest to your body is called the medial side. The top portion of the shoe which is usually made from leather, suede, nubuck or synthetic materials is called the upper. The part of the sole which actually kisses the ground is called the outsole. The bit of the shoe that is housed between the outsole and the upper is called the midsole of the shoe. On the Nike Air Force 1 that I have in front of me, it says ‘AIR’ on the midsole.

Midsole & Outsole

The midsole of a shoe is usually made from something called ethyl vinyl acetate (EVA); it is the same material used on orthotic top covers but is much firmer. As a rule of thumb, the firmer the midsole, the heavier (and stiffer) the shoe. Thus, shoes that are primarily made for sports (like basketball shoes and running sneakers) have supple midsoles that are quite flexible. The outsole of the shoe provides traction and grip – therefore, different shoes require different types of outsoles. Running shoes typically have outsoles that are specifically designed for running purposes only – this is because runners may require more grip and traction compared to the ordinary user. The outsole is commonly rubber (like the one on the Air Force 1) but can also be high density PU or EVA foam. However, dress shoes may have leather bottoms as obviously, they don’t require the same amount of traction as running sneakers.


Moving upwards from the outsole and midsole comes the insole which is sometimes known as the sockliner. The insole makes direct contact with your feet (or your socks!) and thus is usually comfortable. The insole is usually made from foam, rubber or leather but companies like New Balance and Nike have adapted special insoles for their running sneakers (for example, the New Balance 1080v11 has a different insole to all New Balance’s lifestyle and casual sneakers). In my cleaning guides, I always recommend taking the insoles of a sneaker out as they are hard to dry and if wet, can make you not want to wear a shoe at all. I would describe the insole of the sneaker as one of the most important parts of a shoe but it is often neglected. A comfortable insole (such as those with memory foam in them) can make a sneaker so much more comfortable than it usually is. Insoles also are used for adjusting to different people’s needs; for example, if you have high arched feet, you will require insoles which provide a higher arch and make your feet more comfortable. Additionally, orthopedic insoles are also available now to help those who require support – they work by supporting parts of the foot that may not be aligned properly and can greatly help those who suffer from conditions involving the musculoskeletal system.


The back of a sneaker is called the heel – some shoes have a cupped heel (which can help fasten your foot into the shoe) and some have a normal, rounded heel like present on the Nike Air Force 1. The heel of the shoe (on the inside) usually has a bit more padding compared to the rest of the inner of the shoe – this is because the back of your foot makes a lot of contact with the heel. For me, the heel of a shoe can make or break a shoe – I own a pair of dress shoes that rub on the back of my feet, and the heel of the shoe really digs into the back of my foot. Since buying them (online!), I have only worn them once, even though they did set me back a pretty penny! Therefore, I would definitely recommend trying on a shoe before you buy it as a range of factors can play into whether or not you should pull the trigger on a pair of shoes.


The middle part of the upper is known as the mid-panel or the quarter. The front of the shoe, which wraps around your toes is called the tip of the shoe. The part of the shoe that runs down the side of your foot (in the upper) is known as the mudguard while the main bit of the upper is known as the toe box. The toe box is usually perforated (like on the Air Force 1) to help with ventilation and to allow your foot to ‘breathe’. The toe box of the shoe is the part of the shoe that usually gets creased, no matter how hard you try not to crease it.


The laces are called the laces – no technical name there! The holes that the tips of the laces go through are called the eyelets and the piece of leather (at least on the Air Force 1) that houses the eyelets is called the eyestay. The piece underneath the laces that makes contact with the upper of your foot is known as the tongue of the shoe – this is also padded more than other areas inside the shoe as your foot rubs up against the tongue a lot.



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