The Defining Running Shoes of the 70s

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Up until the 1970’s, running shoes were nothing more than laces and thin fabric. But as the sport gained sudden popularity in the years following, established brands and newcomers alike met the demand for more performance-enabled running shoes head on.

Though, interestingly enough, while the running market was already dominated by the likes of adidas and Onitsuka Tiger, it was newcomer Nike who led the charge in using innovative materials and designs to kick-start the evolution of modern-day running sneakers. In fact, looking back at running sneakers of the ‘70s, it’s no surprise that the more memorable models are branded with the Swoosh. Join us as we flip through the sneaker archives. These are The Defining Running Shoes of the ‘70s.

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No. 11 - Nike Bermuda

Year Released: 1979

The Bermuda didn’t necessarily get the same royal treatment as some of the other Swoosh-branded running shoes of the time, but it helped pave the way for how materials would be fused together in future shoes. The Bermuda featured a unique  nylon/suede/mesh upper, combined with a waffle sole, to create a shoe that was truly ahead of its time. It also featured a variable width system, where the lace holes were positioned in a zig-zag layout for a more custom fit.


Brooks RT-1

No. 10 - Brooks John Walker RT-1

Year Released: 1976

Much like John Walker’s speed on the racetrack, the existence of the Brooks RT-1 is nothing more than a blur. But when a shoe is designed and worn by the first person ever to run a sub-3:50 mile, it certainly deserves iconic status. Following his record setting 3:49 mile in 1975, Walker was asked by Brooks to design a racing footwear line. The John Walker Racing Series featured a collection of high-performance spikes, though the RT-1 racing flat, with its open mesh nylon upper and Varus Wedge, was no slouch either. In fact, even though it was only around for a couple of years, the shoe left its mark.



No. 9 - Nike LDV

Year Released: 1978

In 1978, Nike showed love to long distance runners with the release of the LDV racing flat. One of the first running shoes to feature a breathable mesh upper, the LDV kept runners cool and comfortable on the road. The shoe featured a aggressive waffle outsole pattern that could even be taken off-road.



No. 8 - Nike Moon Shoe

Year Released: 1972

By pouring liquid rubber into his wife’s waffle iron, Nike co-founder Bill Bowerman created perhaps the single most innovative running technology: the legendary waffle outsole. As a result, the Nike Moon Shoe was born. In 1972, Bowerman and Nike handed out the shoe to athletes competing at the U.S. Olympic Trials in Eugene, Oregon. Like a shoe the running world had never seen before, the Moon Shoe was an instant hit. It paved the way for more greatness to come from the Swoosh.



No. 7 - Nike Boston

Year Released: 1973

You simply can’t start a conversation about legendary running shoes and not mention the Nike Boston. Known in Japan as the Oberi until 1973, the Boston got its name thanks to marathon runner John Anderson, who won the Boston Marathon in a pair of the iconic shoes.



No. 6 - Nike Waffle Racer

Year Released: 1973

Worn by legendary distance runner Steve Prefontaine a year prior at the 1972 Munich Olympics, Nike released the Waffle Racer to the rest of the world a year later. Featuring the famed waffle tread on the rubber outsole, it didn’t take long for the Waffle Racer to find success amongst runners looking for a breakthrough sneaker. The shoe became so popular that it inevitably crossed over to the lifestyle dept., and now can most likely even be found (replica of course) at your local J. Crew. But make no mistake about it, at heart, the Waffle Racer has, and always will be a performance sneaker first.


Onitsuka Tiger California

No. 5 - Onitsuka Tiger California

Year Released: 1978

Released in 1978 following the jogging boom that took off on the west coast, the appropriately named Onitsuka Tiger California quickly gained popularity, helping slingshot it into iconic status. The shoe’s mesh upper was the first of its kind and the 3M reflective material on the heel helped joggers be seen at night. It was one of the first shoes to be designed specifically for jogging, with arch and toe support a key. The California has built up an impressive fan base over the decades, and the shoe continues to be re-released even today.



No. 4 - Nike Marathon

Year Released: 1972

The design of the Nike Marathon may look simple compared to running shoes of today, but back in 1972, the shoe was considered to be one of the most technologically advanced ever. Made in Japan, the Marathon was one of the first Nike shoes to have a nylon upper for a lightweight build. It was also one of the first shoes to feature a heel counter, which helped reduce shock absorption on impact.


Nike Waffle Trainer

No. 3 - Nike Waffle Trainer

Year Released: 1974

Often mistaken for the Nike Cortez, the Waffle Trainer was designed as an all-season running shoe. It offered a bit more room in the toe box compared to other running shoes of the time, and borrowed a lightweight upper from the Nike Boston. A full-length sponge midsole gave the shoe excellent shock absorption, and its trademark waffle outsole was designed to rip through virtually any type of terrain. The shoe is a legend in every sense of the word.



No. 2 - Nike Cortez

Year Released: 1972

After the partnership between Nike and Onituska Tiger faltered, in 1972, the shoe known as the Tiger Corsair was renamed the Cortez. The iconic shoe was originally released with a leather upper, and featured a foam wedge in the heel for extra cushioning. The innovative design of the Cortez truly put Nike on the map in the running world.



No. 1 - Nike Tailwind

Year Released: 1978

Today, Air Max can be found in nearly every Nike performance shoe, but it all started with the Tailwind. In 1978, Nike changed the course of running shoe history yet again with the introduction of air pockets in the outsole for unparalleled cushioning and shock absorption. As if that wasn’t enough, the shoe also featured Nike’s trademark waffle shoe, giving it twice the innovative goodness.

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.

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