Performance footwear these days are often a mixture of scientific breakthroughs and terrific design, so it's natural to assume that the more materials and technologies are discovered, the more innovative and performance-enhancing our shoes will become. With some of the most compelling and dynamic footwear we've ever seen being released recently, let's take a look at back at the 20 Sneakers That Changed Performance Footwear Forever.

RELATED: The 10 Most Creative Performance Sneaker Designs of the Past 5 Years

vans half cab

No. 20 - Vans Half Cab

A skate shoe truly developed out of functional needs that became legendary among an entire generation of pro skaters that redefined the sport. Originally a high top skate shoe, Steve Caballero noticed skaters were cutting his signature shoe down to a mid-top for better performance. Hence the ‘Half Cab’ was born, changing skate performance footwear forever.

reebok pump

No. 19 - The Reebok Pump

A collaboration project between Reebok’s, Paul Litchfield, designer Paul Brown & Industrial Design firm, Design Continuum, the Reebok Pump not only changed the game from a technological standpoint, but they also stretched how much consumers were willing pay for performance footwear. By Reebok proving that there was a market for a higher priced performance footwear, they allowed other brands to develop more technologically advanced (more expensive) footwear.

nike waffle racer

No. 18 - Nike Waffle Racer

Another shoe with an incredible story, the Waffle Racer was really what started it all, at least for Nike. Released in 1972 and inspired by a waffle iron, the shoe quickly became incredibly popular with runners due the soles lighter weight and a higher level of traction. Bill Bowerman created a sole that would forever change performance footwear.

puma disc

No. 17 - Puma Disc

Creating alternative methods for shoe fastening has always been tough, generally it’s either too gimmicky, complicated or just no where near as functional. However in 1994, Puma released the Disc’s, and brought to life a fastening device that not only worked well, but also actually added to the aesthetics of the shoe. Puma really set itself apart with this shoe, and changed performance footwear for the better.

nike sock racer

No. 16 - Nike Air Sock Racer

Released in 1984, in an era where sole innovation was considered to be paramount, Nike shifted the focus of design to the upper of the shoe. The Nike Sock Racer, made from a synthetic mesh upper, was one of the first performance shoes to experiment with a one piece, slip on construction, a formula which has since led to some of the best performance sneakers released to date.

hyperfuse (HFW)

No. 15 - Nike Hyperfuse

High Frequency Welding (HFW) or ‘Hyperfuse’ technology has made it possible to create a super clean and stitchless upper that if done correctly can create an incredibly clean and futuristic looking shoe. Influencing performance footwear across the board, from soccer to basketball, HFW has had a huge impact on the footwear industry.

zigtechNo. 14 - Zig Tech

Released in 2010, the innovative sole construction and marketing of this sole unit rocked the footwear industry. With a super aesthetically aggressive sole, Reebok created something that really hadn’t been seen before in the runner/cross trainer category, opening the eye’s and minds of many in the footwear industry.


No. 13 - Jordan XI "Concords"

Tinker once again completely changed the face of performance footwear from a design/material perspective. There aren't too many shoe’s that have such a great story to them, but from MJ retiring, to Tinker being inspired by lawnmowers and dress shoes (adding patent leather to a performance shoe hadn’t been done previously) and the randomness at which the shoe’s appeared on-court, all add to the greatness of this shoe. Any sneakerhead or basketball player can tell you how much this shoe altered their perception of performance footwear.

nike flyknit

No. 12 - Nike Lunar Flyknit Racer

Challenging the way we look and think performance uppers should look and be manufactured, the knitted uppers of both of these shoes completely shook the performance footwear industry. It will be exciting to see how this manufacturing method evolves and brings us even more innovative and visually exciting performance footwear.

Vibram 5 Fingers

No. 11 - Vibram FiveFingers

Creating a shoe that not only was incredibly thin soled, but also had individualised compartments for your toes was a feat of engineering. Since it’s conception, the Vibram FiveFingers have influenced brands like adidas and Reebok to come out with a similar use of technology, as well as a plethora of other shoe brands and creating a cult like following with barefoot runners.

nike foamposite

No. 10 - Nike Air Foamposite 1

Released in 1997 and inspired by a moulded sunglass case, designer Eric Avar decided to create something a little special for Penny; a shoe with single piece of molded polyurethane across the vamp. This shoe totally altered the way performance shoes were looked at, and has influenced countless shoes since it’s release.

new balance SLS

No. 9 - New Balance 3D Printed Shoe

Whether it’s the 3D printed Nike Vapor Laser Talon, or New Balance’s ‘Selective Laser Sintering’ (SLS), 3D printing has undoubtedly already had a huge impact on performance footwear, and it’s still in it’s infancy. The potential with the technology is scary (in a good way), and will without a doubt completely change the landscape of how performance shoes are manufactured, designed and sold, forever.

kobe iv

No. 8 - Nike Zoom Kobe IV

For Kobe’s fourth signature shoe he wanted something a little special, something minimal, and most importantly, something low. Eric Avar took on the challenge of essentially creating the first low top basketball sneaker of the modern era. Creating a low cut silhouette embedded with Flywire and Lunar Foam, Kobe got his wish while also changing the way we think about & design Basketball sneakers today.

nike shox

No. 7 - Nike Shox

Released in 2000 (though being developed since the mid 1980’s), the Nike Shox gave runners an innovative, never seen before technology; a midsole with four cushioning polyurethane foam columns, paired with extremely supportive TPU heel counters that look like something of of a sci-fi movie. Creating such a complex, futuristic looking sole really opened the minds of designers & developers and changed the performance footwear game forever.

jordan 3

No. 6 - Air Jordan III

The first Jordan shoe to sport the visible air sole, and the shoe that stopped Jordan from moving on to a different brand (most likely Adidas). This alone is reason enough for the shoe to be featured on this list, as without Tinker working his magic the Jordan brand may have been just a small blip in Nike’s history.

nike air max 1

No. 5 - Nike Air Max

Air cushioning was originally introduced in 1979, but it wasn’t till the legend that is Tinker Hatfield offered up a slightly different take on the technology that it really took off. Inspired by Pompidou Centre in Paris and it’s visible plumbing & electrical conduit, Tinker wanted to make the air cushioning technology visible, showing the inner workings of the shoe. Something i’m sure we can all agree was quite a good idea.

nike terra tc

No. 4 - Nike Terra T/C 

In 1981 Nike introduced us to Phylon, a super lightweight & responsive cushioning material comprised of compressed ethylene vinyl acetate foam pellets expanded via heat and cooled in a mold. The creation of this innovative material gave Nike a plethora of new and superior performance aspects to their footwear. Even though it was created more than 30 years ago,  Phylon is still used to great effect today.


No. 3 - adidas Superstar 

In 1969, the revolutionary Adidas Superstar basketball shoe was released. Featuring a moulded rubber toe cap for toe protection, the ‘Shell toe’ soon caught the attention of NBA & NCAA players, most notably, Kareem Abdul Jabbar. Within a couple season the Superstar’s basically had the league in a stranglehold, being worn by over 75% of all NBA players. The shell toe’s impact on performance footwear and footwear culture is undeniable.


No. 2 - Nike+ Technology

Having a technology embedded into your footwear that essentially tells you almost every biometric statistic possible is a complete game changer. As the technology evolves and becomes more readily available, tracking your speed, agility, jump, etc...will be information that is easily available to anyone, at any time. Nike + tech creates a higher level of competition within ourselves and against others, which can only help push us to reach our full potential as athletes (and to show boat about how we beat our friends that day).

cholchester rubber company

No. 1 - The Cholchester Rubber Company's First Basketball Sneaker

Founded in 1888, The Colchester Rubber Company produced the first ever basketball shoes, just a year after the sports creation by Dr. James Naismith in 1891. These shoe’s are largely responsible for the shoes you put on when playing basketball today, having influenced many brands since their creation. These shoe’s didn’t just change performance footwear, they helped to create it.

RELATEDThe 10 Most Creative Performance Sneaker Designs of the Past 5 Years