The Future of Running Shoes

A couple decades ago we thought that by the time the 2000s rolled around we would be jetting about in flying cars and taking pills instead of eating food.  You’ve probably even heard about shoes with mini jet packs meant to make even the slowest of the slow run fast, but we have yet to achieve any of the above.

Still, our shoes are changing little by little and it’s worth looking into the the future of running shoes.  With that we present The Future of Running Shoes.  It’s a forecast of what to expect in 2011, as well as a sampling of concept designs floating around in the ether.

While not every running shoe company is moving in the same direction for 2015, it seems that the cult of barefoot running is not only growing, but become a downright movement.  To that end, many running shoe manufacturers are investing in minimalistic designs meant to provide protection while mimicking the barefoot experience.

Most innovations this year strive to make a lighter, more svelte running shoe that’s closer to the ground.  The new technology that used to be relegated to brands like Vibram Five Fingers and other barefoot manufacturers has spread to even the more traditional brands like New Balance.  While this may seem like a fad, it’s a shift that may affect shoe design overall in the years to come.

New Balance’s big move into the minimalistic running experience includes their Minimus line, a series of three shoes with a 4mm heel to toe drop.  Weighing in at just below 8 ounces, this shoe provides more cushioning than the traditional minimalistic brands, but supports people with a neutral gait and Vibram outsole.  New Balance has taken the principals of their Minimus line and started applying them to other shoes.  Case in point, their 915 trail shoe is 2 ounces lighter than its predecessor.

Perhaps most important, is the fact that New Balance is committed to educating the consumer when it comes to transitioning to a more minimal running shoe.  In the spirit of that mission, their Minimus shoe won’t be available online initially so that every consumer is exposed to a knowledgeable sales representative.

Rather than pass the minimal running shoe movement off as some sort of movement, strategic business unit manager at New Balance Katherine Petrecca, says that this currently niche market could become 10 to 20% of their total sales in two to three years.

Other brands diving into the minimally constructed market with updates and new models for 2011 include Vibram, Merrell, Ecco, Inov-8, Terra Plana (Evo), Saucony and Keen.  To add to the list, Solomon introduced their 9.2 ounce XR Crossmax 1, the lightest trail runner ever made.

Still, not every brand is moving minimal.  Hoka and Tecnica are both bring the foot much higher off the ground with the Hoka Mafete trail running shoe and the Bondi B running shoe with firm foam from Tecnica.  Both shoes are incredibly stable and proficient in preventing pronation.

While the breadth of the industry proves there’s not just one shoe for every person, some people are going above and beyond what we’ve ever seen before.  Below we highlight a couple concept designs looking to propel the industry forward.

Concept Running Shoes

ONO Running Shoe Demo Video:

While many of the changes we see in the near future of running shoe designs will be minor, you may soon find shoes with built in electronic components grow in popularity so that people can measure their runs through a micro chip.  This marks the next step in devices like Nike+ and others. Others predict the emergence of battery operated shoes with lights for the night jogger and you can find a couple more in depth designs in progress below.

Solay Running Shoe

The Solay running shoe takes the idea of sustainability seriously.  Its advanced modular design features a removable midsole that can be easily replaced by the consumer.  This not only extends the life of the shoe, but also helps the environment and lets runners wear shoes that have already been broken in (or become lucky) even after the foam midsole loses its resiliency.

It sounds like a simple design modification, but its one that could change the natural cycle of how often consumers need to buy running shoes. And that could make a big impact not only the environment, but the running shoe industry as well.

The Brightwalk

While putting lights in shoes may feel like a nostalgic call toward childhood and L.A. Lights, it’s also a matter of safety.  Alberto Villarreal responded by adding a shoe that uses Piezo-electric transducers and electroluminescent polymers to generate light for your shoe with every stride.

The result is a self powered running shoe that lights up at both the front and back to alert cars and keep runners safe at night.  Perhaps most interesting, the kinetic lighting shoe designers are even toying with the idea of creating custom lighting designs for the runner who hopes to achieve both high safety and unique style.