Sneaker Anatomy 101
Welcome to Sneaker Anatomy 101. A place where we will help you to spot the difference between a toebox and insole – and everything in between. We’re using the Nike Air Force 1 as our blueprint, and while parts may vary on other models, the terms are fairly universal.
Before getting into specific parts, let’s get something out of the way. A single foot is a shoe. Left and right feet form a pair of shoes. So please, when you’re at a sneaker store trying on a single foot, don’t ask for the ‘other pair’.
Let’s dive into the compass points of a sneaker. Standing up straight and looking down at your feet, you can see the top of the shoe. The side facing the middle of your body is the medial side. The opposite side is the lateral side. And the bottom side is the sole.
Jot down your notes, and let’s keep going. Refer back to the image above and one below later to see what each part is labelled as.
The entire top portion of the shoe covering your foot is known as the upper.
The top panel protecting the toes: that’s the toebox. This is the part that flexes and creases. When the toebox is made from leather, it’ll form crease marks. It’s a fact of life – unless you adopt a robotic gait. Often, perforations are made across the toebox to aid ventilation. However, some toebox materials – e.g. mesh – breathe better than others.
The front panel is known as the vamp, while the part that generally wraps around the toe and ends along the front ball of the foot is called the tip. The sides that run along the upper make up the mudguard.
The eyestays run along the length of the shoe, generally on opposite sides. Housed along the eyestays are the eyelets. These are the holes that the shoelaces are threaded through, sometimes staggered to adjust the width of the shoe at certain points.
The technical name for shoelace tips is an ‘aglet’. Some are fancier than others, made from luxury materials like gold. However, all aglets serve the primary purpose of binding the shoelace material to prevent it from unwinding and fraying.
The middle part of the upper can be called just that: the mid-panel. But if you want to sound super technical, that section is referred to as the quarter.
Like the back of the human foot, the back of a sneaker is called the heel. Between the upper and inner liner of the heel is the heel counter, which is often a curved insert made from firm material such as plastic, to cup the heel and prevent excessive movement. Some shoes have the heel counter on the outside, or none at all.
As for Nike’s iconic branding symbol, it’s called a ‘Swoosh’. Not a ‘tick’. Nothing draws ire more than incorrectly identifying this key component of the sneakersphere. Honestly, we’d much rather you refer to it as the ‘Nike logo’ over a ‘tick’.
The part of the sole that actually contacts the ground is called the outsole. Colloquially, it’s also referred to as the sole. Like we’ve said many times, gum rubber is an excellent choice for outsoles.
The part between the upper and the outsole is called the midsole. This is where the cushioning technology is contained. In the case of the Air Force 1, the outer walls of the midsole are solid rubber, housing an encapsulated Air sole inside.
Above the midsole and inside the shoe is the insole, also known as the sockliner. It’s the part that the sole of your foot contacts directly. Usually made from foam, rubber or leather, insoles can immensely change the feel and fit of a sneaker. For example, if you have high arches, you may need a different insole with arch support. Some insoles are removable, while others are glued down.
You may have missed the dubrae. What’s a dubrae you ask? It’s also called the lace lock or lace jewel. What does it do? It’s part ornamental, another part functional, working to centre the laces once threaded and tightened on the shoe. The Air Force 1 currently uses a rectangular type.
That’s all for Sneaker Anatomy 101: the main parts of a shoe. We hope you were paying attention, because now it’s time to revise and identify your lateral midsole logos from your medial quarters!