Materials Used in Making the Heels & Soles of Shoes

By Karen Boyd

The obvious purpose of soles on shoes is to protect the bottom of the foot of a person wearing the shoe, but different materials also serve different purposes. The sole and heel of a running shoe are naturally made of different materials than that of a ballet shoe or a hiking boot. Although the materials used in making the heels and soles of shoes have changed with new technology, some of the original materials are still used.

Bottom of shoe, close-up
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The soles of shoes protect the foot, provide extra traction and are fashion statements.


Cobbler working on sole of cowboy boot in workshop
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Wood is a traditional material used in shoe making that still is used regularly in modern shoe making. According to Every Clog Has Its Day, shoe makers use wood as varied as cherry, alder, poplar, maple, and walnut. According to Jim Barnier, a shoe maker, the weight of the wood is more important than how hard the wood is, and lighter wood is better. Shoe makers put a layer of rubber on the bottom for comfort and to protect the wood.


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Cork heels are both attractive and effective at absorbing shock.

People have used cork in shoes since the 14th century. Cork insoles mold to the wearer's foot, making it both comfortable and protective. The flexibility of cork allows the shoe to bend and makes walking in cork shoes a more natural motion than walking on a rigid sole.


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Rubber is usually used for the soles of athletic shoes.

Natural rubber has been used in soles for years and is now supplemented with a variety of synthetic rubber and rubber compounds. Among the forms of rubber used are carbon rubber—a mix of synthetic rubber and carbon, solid rubber—a mix of natural and synthetic rubber, DRC—solid rubber with additional additives to increase durability, Duralon—a soft, synthetic rubber, and gum rubber—a combination of natural and synthetic rubber that provides good traction, but less durability.


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Leather-soled and -heeled shoes include ballerina slippers, men's dress shoes, and hiking boots.

Leather soles of shoes can be soft, thin Italian leather or thick, rigid leather. Leather-soled shoes occasionally have thin rubber additions to help protect the leather and increase traction. Some shoes are made of a combination of leather and rubber, where the majority of the sole is leather, but the ball of the foot has a rubber insert.