How To Sound Like You Know What You’re Talking About When You Talk About Running Shoes

emma_shoesLooking at the display of shoes at your local running store and the clerk comes over to help:

You should definitely try these. The last seems to fit most people’s feet really well, with plenty of room in the vamp, but good lockdown through the midfoot. Some people feel a little bulge underfoot on the medial side, but you should try them and see how you like them.

You nod, put them on and go outside for a jog around the store.

“So, what did you think?” the clerk asks, looking down at your feet.

“Oh, uh …”

You know what you want to say, they felt good in general but the pinky toe area seemed a bit tight and the top part of the shoe cut in a little bit, and the squishy part seemed too squishy. But how do you say it so you sound like the expert you are? You know that you know what you’re talking about, but you want to start sounding like it. So take a time out, read the rest of this article and be transformed into a shoe nerd.

General Shoe Terms

  • Shoe vs. Foot: The first thing that will help you sound like you know what you’re talking about is recognizing that there is a difference between your foot and your shoe. If you are talking about how your foot feels in the shoe, use words like toe and heel and arch (for example: my toes feel squished, my heel is slipping). If you want to talk about the shoe itself, use shoe words (for example: the tongue is too short, the vamp is too shallow).
  • What’s a Last? Have you ever wondered why different shoes from different companies and sometimes different shoes from the same company fit your feet differently? It’s probably because of different lasts. The last is the foot form that a shoe is built around. Different models may fit different people better depending on how well their foot shape fits the last of the shoe.
  • What’s the Offset? If you’ve read many shoe reviews, you’ve run across “the offset” before. This is a measure of the difference between the height of the heel and the height of the forefoot. For example, a shoe would have an 8mm offset if the heel height was 16mm and the forefoot height was 8mm. Lower offsets are sometimes referred to as “natural” because it’s more like being barefoot; your foot has no offset. However, runners often have calf or Achilles issues when running in very low off-set shoes. High offset shoes often force a heel strike, as the heel is so much taller than the forefoot.
  • The Shoe Compass: When referring to the parts of a shoe, it is important to be able to identify their location. Most of the technical words used here are easy to remember, and really not technical at all. The upper part of the shoe (the fabric part that goes over your foot) is generally referred to as the UPPER and the bottom part of the shoe (under your foot) is called the BOTTOM. The front of the shoe can be easily referred to as the FRONT (or the toe) and the back is the BACK (or the heel) . Really the only complication has to do with the sides of the shoe. Though some among the Salty crew were lobbying hard for “Port” and “Starboard”, the side of the shoe on the inside of your foot is actually called the MEDIAL side, and the outside is called the LATERAL side. So, if the shoe is cutting into your big toe, you can say that the medial tip area feels too shallow (or sharp depending on the situation).

Shoe Anatomy

This is where it gets a bit complicated. You can get by perfectly well without these names just by pointing or using creative, descriptive language as demonstrated in the top photo by the lovely Paprika, but it’s fun to know the more technical names as well!

Shoe Anatomy!

 1. The Tip – commonly called “bumpy toe protector thing,” “toe,” “tip overlay” or “that part that gets dinged up when you trip on things.” As described in those creative terms, this part of the shoe serves the dual purpose of protecting your toes from the terrain and protecting the more fragile mesh of the upper from tears and snags.

2. The Vamp – commonly called “forefront,” “front top,” or “toe box.” This is the part of the shoe that holds your toes. It is below the tongue, so it’s not adjustable, therefore it’s important that the shoe naturally fits you in this area (not too tight, not too sloppy).

3. The Quarter – commonly called “mesh,” “midfoot,” “the side” or “main material.” This is exactly what it is commonly called: the mesh in the midfoot on the side, but officially it is referred to as the quarter.

4. The Eyestay – commonly called “that colored part where the shoelace holes are,” “laces holder,” or “the thing with the lace holes.” This part of the shoe reinforces the lace holes or eyelets so that when you tighten your shoelaces they don’t tear through the quarter mesh.

5. The Tongue –You totally already knew this one. It protects the foot from the laces and allows for variability of fit when laces are tightened.

6. Lace and Aglet – You know this one too. The lace tightens the shoe and holds it shut. The aglets, those little hard bits on the ends of the laces, make it easier to thread the laces through the eyelets and stop the laces from fraying.

7. The Collar – commonly called “the part where my foot goes in,” “chafey bits around the top” or the Salty favorite, “the foot portal,” refers to the area around the top of your foot. Often there is added foam and cushioning in this area to make the shoe comfortable around your ankle and to help lock your heel in.

8. The Heel – also called “foxing” or “heel cup” is often a material overlay in the heel area. This component helps add security to the heel fit and works together with the Heel Counter, which is inside of the heel area, to lock your foot into the shoe.

9. The Midsole – commonly called “the foam part,” “cushion,” “sole,” or “the squishy part” is the part of the shoe that provides cushioning.

10. The Outsole – commonly called “the rubber part,” “sole,” or “tread” is the part of the shoe that provides traction.

Whew! Okay, so those are the basics! I could dive into more details, but I’m confident that if you can master the details above, you will be able to articulate most of what you want to say without having to hedge around with inexact phrases (however entertaining they may be).

What terms have you used to refer to the parts of your shoes?

I'm a proud resident of Portlandia, ex-running store employee, pulmonary emboli conquerer and connoisseur of high fives. I write about running community, trail running/training and anything else that grabs my immediate interest. I'm currently running for fun with my crazy friends - no races on the horizon YET.

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1 comment

  1. I have to side with you on this one Oregano, most shoes in the market cause foot pain, and yet the salesperson market them as the best shoes for you. It’s just easy to pick the trendiest and coolest design on your sneakers, but you’ll forget how stylish they are when you’ve got some heel pain and even plantar fasciitis. This guide is great so you’ll be able to articulate most of what you want to say when going shoe shopping, and avoid being carried away to buy stylish yet uncomfortable shoes.