Athletes, it’s hard to resist the temptation of lacing up in performance sneakers that aren’t branded with an oversized Swoosh or Three Stripes logo—we know, we get it. But open your eyes: there are other, lesser-known, footwear options out there that have dedicated themselves to helping athletes of all levels realize their performance potential, whether its on a soccer pitch or tennis court.
With that said, to help expand your horizons (or at least inspire you to give the little guys a shot), we’ve put together a list of underdog specialty footwear brands that have flown somewhat under the radar. Here are 10 Great Performance Footwear Brands You’ve (Probably) Never Heard Of.
Brand: Topo Athletic
Category: Running, Training
You've only heard of the brand if: You're a seasoned runner
The brainchild of former Vibram CEO Tony Post, Topo Athletic is a running specialty brand that specializes in split-toe shoes. Launched in 2013, the brand's unique design of the split-toe shoe is inspired by natural motion running (something Post is well-versed in thanks to his Vibram FiveFinger days). Topo shoes aren't for all runners, but if you've run in shoes like Brooks' PureProject collection, or the aforementioned Vibram FiveFingers, then these are worth giving a go.
Category: Running, Soccer, Futsal, Handball
You've only heard of the brand if: You've dabbled in the sport of street soccer, particularly overseas.
Munich may be a newcomer in the US market, but the Spain-based footwear company has been a know player in numerous sports oversees, including: soccer, futsal, golf, and even running. The brand offers an eclectic collection of performance footwear with a fashion-forward approach—the most popular of which fall under its Futsal category. Whether it’s a game of street soccer or just some training in the gym, the Munich “X” shoe combines technological advancements in both performance and style to give you a comfortable and durable sneaker option.
Brand: Peak Sports
Category: Basketball, Running, Soccer, Tennis
You've only heard of the brand if: You follow the NBA sneaker game closely
One of the leading active wear and footwear brands in Asia, Peak has seen fast growth around the world, particularly in the basketball world. Here in the states, Peak has been endorsed on the hardwood by a steady stable of NBA athletes including: Tony Parker, Ron “Meta World Peace” Artest, Shane Battier, Kevin Love, Carl Landry, and more. The brand still has a ways to go before it makes a real dent in the US basketball footwear market, however, with the opening of its headquarters in Los Angeles a few years back, it looks like Peak has plans to stick around for a while.
Brand: Power Footwear
Category: Running, Training, Hiking, Basketball, Soccer
You've only heard of the brand if: You're hitting the gym in Canada.
Known as the Nike of Canada (ok, not really), Power Footwear is a do-it-all brand that is well-versed across a multitude of sports platforms including running, training, soccer, basketball, tennis, and hiking. But it doesn't stop there. Power even offers performance footwear in more niche areas like cheerleading and skating. The one downside? Despite its North American roots, Power has a very limited inventory (if any) available in the US market. In other words, getting your feet into a pair won't be so easy.
Brand: APL (Athletic Propulsion Labs)
You've only heard of the brand if: You like to nerd out about all things basketball
"Stop Dreaming. Jump Higher" is the mantra basketball brand APL Athletic Propulsion Labs preaches to ballers in need of some extra hops via a spring-loaded forefoot construction. Unfortunately, the NBA, who banned the shoes from the league a few years due to an apparent "unfair competitive advantage," isn't buying it. Still, because of the hooplah, APL gained its fair share of notoriety and fame and is still arming basketball shoes with its Load 'N Lock technology for current-day athletes.
Brand: Topper Sports
Category: Soccer, Rugby, Tennis
You've only heard of the brand if: You caught the 2013 US Open action
While its been around for quite some time, footwear brand Topper first caught our attention on the hard courts at the 2013 US Open. However at closer look, the brand's reach extends beyond the world of tennis. Headquartered in Brazil, Topper offers an extensive lineup of performance shoes for sports like soccer and rugby as well.
Category: Running, Training
You've only heard of the brand if: You live, eat, and breathe trail running
Inov-8 is arguably the one footwear brand on the list that has received most coverage over the years, but perhaps we're just suckers for a good trail running shoe. And really, in a nutshell, that's what Inov-8 is--a running specialty brand dedicated to help consumers conquer the off-road trail. More recently, however, Inov-8 has managed to expand into the training category with its recently-launched collection of footwear geared towards CrossFit athletes.
Category: Running, Soccer, Tennis
You've only heard of the brand if: You're a track star
Spanish sportswear brand Joma has a fairly large following amongst track athletes and soccer players, especially on the international level. Joma cleats and spikes have been featured on some of the world's biggest sports stages, and even some smaller ones (like handball).
You've only heard of the brand if: You have porcelain ankles
Don't get us wrong, Ektio makes one decent looking basketball shoes. But at its root, the specialty footwear brand has dedicated itself to function over form. Designed to help eliminate ankle injuries (a common injury in basketball), Ektio is a no-nonsense basketball shoe that has redefined the support element of performance shoes. Besides, it's created by a doctor, so it has to work. Right?
Category: Soccer, Lacrosse, Training
You've only heard of the brand if: You know your way around the lacrosse or soccer pitch
A subsidiary of New Balance, Warrior is a maker primarily of lacrosse and hockey footwear, but has expanded into the soccer and training markets in recent years. In 2012, Warrior made waves in the sportswear industry by becoming official kit sponsor for Liverpool Football Club, and since, has continued to expand its reach in the soccer world via an impressive collection of cleats and turf shoes.
Gurvinder Singh Gandu is a New York City-based writer and wear-tester for Sneaker Report, and contributor to Complex Media. Follow him @GurvinderSG for the latest in performance footwear and gear.