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Do you remember the last time you thought about how you tie your trail running shoes? For many of us, tying our shoes is something so habitual that our mind goes on autopilot when we’re doing it. We follow our shoe tying instincts, perhaps using a tying method that was taught to us years ago by our parents or kindergarten teacher. Although tying shoes seems like a simple subject, there are actually a myriad of ways in which runners secure shoes to their feet.
Similar to how runners gravitate towards their preferred shoe models and brands, runners also find certain shoe ties and shoe fastening systems that work best for them. Different types of lacing patterns, knots and fastening systems create an extensive number of ways you can secure your shoes to your feet. This article will help you understand the distinctions among the many types of fastening systems used for running shoes and includes examples from both elite and recreational trail runners of how they like to tie their shoes. After reading this article, you may rediscover how to put on your favorite kicks!
Shoe Fastening Systems: Listed below are some of the most common fastening systems for running shoes. Do you know of any others? If so, please feel free to share them with us!
This is the most common fastening system used to secure running shoes. Traditional lacing systems consist of a pair of shoe strings, which include stiff sections known as anglets, at both ends. On the shoe itself, there are eyelets, or small holes, which the strings pass through. These strings can be laced and tied in a variety of ways to tighten the shoe and secure it to your foot. Most shoes have 6 sets of eyelets and may utilize loops or hooks to further secure and guide the shoe string.
PROS: Versatility. Depending on the lacing pattern and the way you tie your shoes you can have a completely different shoe feel. Secure fit.
CONS: Can come undone while running (so be sure to double knot and tuck the extra shoe string under the already tied laces). Lace lengths and materials vary from shoe to shoe, which changes how you may tie them. Not quickly adjustable or always easy to get on and off (this is especially important for triathletes or for runners who need to switch shoes during races).
Fun Fact: In a standard shoe with six pairs of eyelets there are over 2 trillion ways to tie your shoes. Don’t believe it? See the math here.
More commonly known by the trademarked name, VELCRO, this fastening system consists of two fabric strips, one with tiny hooks and the other with tiny loops that join together to secure the shoe. Some running shoes use hook-and-loop fasteners in addition to standard laces to increase adjustability. Click the links to see examples of hook-and-loop fastening systems from Vibram and Altra.
PROS: Can easily be taken on and off. Secure fit. Adjustable.
CONS: The strips can collect dirt, dust or moisture which weakens their ability to stick together over time. Fit may become looser over time.
Slip On (no laces!)
Slip ons shoes use materials that conform to and secure the foot without adjustable laces or systems that tighten or loosen the shoe. The Nike Flyknit and Hoka One One Cavu are examples of popular slip on running shoes. Former US Mountain Running Team member Allie MacLaughlin slips her traditionally laced shoes on and off.
PROS: Can easily be taken on and off. Consistent fit.
CONS: Not always the most secure fit, especially for faster, more aggressive or steep downhill running.
Speed or Bungee Lacing
Variation on traditional lacing that uses elastic laces and a locking device to tighten and loosen the laces. Sometimes built into the shoe, but can also be purchased as a shoe accessory to replace classic laces. Popular brands include Nathan, iBungee Laces, Salomon Quicklace System and Lock Laces.
PROS: Easily adjustable fit. Can be applied to almost any shoe. Can be taken on and off quickly.
CONS: Can have a looser fit which allows your feet to move inside the shoes. The locking device may not hold the tension of the lace during faster or more aggressive running. Most classically laced shoes aren’t designed with the intention of having elastic laces. This may change the way the shoe feels and how it’s designed to function.
BOA® Fit System
The BOA® Fit System uses an adjustable dial to tighten and loosen laces integrated into shoes. The system enables faster, more powerful directional changes, delivers more explosive action and unparalleled accuracy and saves energy by improving circulation and efficiency. BOA works closely with brand partners to integrate their performance fit system into trail running shoes powered by the BOA® Fit System. A few of the many trail running shoe brands who work with BOA include Icebug, New Balance, Saucony and adidas Terrex.
PROS: Every shoe model and BOA hardware are designed to work together, ensuring you are not compromising performance or fit. Lace tension can be adjusted within seconds. Shoes can be put on and taken off quickly.
CONS: Only available for certain shoe models. Not widely carried in most running stores (yet!)
Fastening system using metal or plastic interlocking teeth to bind together fabric or other materials. Zippers are often used for running shoes in conjunction with speed lacing systems, similar to many ski boots. Several examples of zippers in running shoes include the Nike Air Zoom Pegasus, Salomon Snowspike and Nike Zoom Pegasus Turbo Shield.
PROS: One of the best ways to keep water or snow out of your shoes. Can be easily taken on and off.
CONS: Is often not enough to secure your foot in the shoe and requires an additional fastening system such as speed lacing. If broken the zipper can be difficult to fix. Can come unzipped if the zipper is not properly designed
How do you tie your shoes? Send us a video of your favorite way to tie your shoes.
Editor’s Note: Many of the brands mentioned in this article are American Trail Running Association corporate members including BOA® Fit System, Saucony, Nike, Salomon and Altra.