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The Vibram sole – it’s much more than just rubber


Yellow octagon Vibram logo on the black sole of a shoe
The yellow octagon on the sole is Vibram’s iconic logo

I mean, who isn’t familiar with the yellow octagon on the sole? That bright and friendly colour that pops up every time you take a step – that’s the iconic logo known round the world, the symbol for the global leader in the manufacture of rubber soles.

The success Vibram has had over the years is quite impressive: their soles are now a testament to the quality of shoes of all kinds.

Vibram was the first manufacturer, to produce a rubber lug sole for mountaineers. It was dubbed “Carrarmato” and has striking similarities with the sole used for contemporary mountaineering boots, despite it being 80 years old! This is the first sole, which was manufactured by the company’s founder Vitale Bramani as early as 1937 in Albizzate, Italy. This marked the foundation of a success story as the global leader in all things related to high-quality soles.

It was also Bramani who used the first two letters of his given name and the first three letters of his surname for the name of the company. Since then, Vibram has been manufacturing a variety of different rubber soling materials, each of which is tailored to the specific demands of a certain sport. The spectrum of soles is mind-blowing. Vibram produces 150 new models each season and has a sole for every kind of sport, be it water sports, climbing, trekking, trail running, cycling, motor sports, ski touring boots or just your casual shoe – Vibram’s got it all. So, basically, you could say that there’s a Vibram sole for almost every athletic discipline. However, there are three things that all Vibram soles have in common: a high level of comfort, security and excellent traction.

What makes a sole good?

Due to their unbelievable success, we can only assume that Vibram is doing everything correctly when it comes to manufacturing rubber soles. But, what really makes a sole good?

1. It’s combination that counts

SALEWA-MTN Trainer Mid GTX - Wanderschuhe mit Vibram Alpine Approach Besohlung
SALEWA-MTN Trainer Mid GTX – Walking boots with Vibram Alpine Approach soles

The right rubber compound is extremely important for both the traction as well as the durability of the sole. In what temperatures does the rubber work? Is the compound soft or hard? Vibram has developed special rubber compounds to meet the unique demands in different conditions. For shoes used for high-altitude mountaineering, the very tough Mont compound is used, which offers reliability on very technical terrain in sub-zero temperatures. Climbing shoe rubber compounds, such as the XS Grip2 sole, can be a bit softer for more precision and sensitivity. Other compounds, such as the XS Edge climbing shoe sole, the Idrogrip sole for water sports or the MegaGrip for rocky terrain, provide the perfect balance between flexibility and enough stability to shine on virtually any shoe. Special soles, such as the heat-resistant Fire&Ice can be found on shoes made for firemen.

2. Lugs – the heart of the Vibram sole

SALEWA-MS Wildfire Leather - Multisportschuhe mit Vibram Schuhsohle
SALEWA-MS Wildfire Leather – multisport shoes with a Vibram sole

A sole’s tread is the most important thing to a mountaineer, and it is not only the shape of the lugs that is important, but also how deep the grooves are. Deep grooves between the lugs ensure that the lugs will grab hold of soft surfaces, thereby guaranteeing plenty of traction. The Vibram soles found on mountaineering boots have lugs that are self-cleaning, thereby keeping them free of debris and mud. Omnidirectional lugs provide the security you need on rocky terrain, regardless of how your foot falls. There are also soles with lugs that face different directions at the front and back of the shoe. These serve to drive you forward and provide traction on uphills, whilst enhancing your braking abilities on downhills.

3. Longevity

The longevity of a sole has a lot to do with the rubber compound. In general, we can say: the harder the rubber compound, the more abrasion-resistant the sole is. Vibram manufactures extremely long-lasting soles that are made to withstand the wear and tear they’re constantly subjected to. And, of course, the durability of the soles is subject to several rigorous tests over the course of their development.

Climbing shoes with the Vibram XS Edge sole: "La Sportiva - Katana Laces
La Sportiva – Katana Laces – Climbing shoes with the Vibram XS Edge sole

The abovementioned rubber compounds specifically made for climbers have made Vibram a popular and reliable partner to manufacturers of climbing shoes such as Scarpa and La Sportiva. When you see that yellow octagon on the sole of your shoe, don’t you just automatically have more trust in it? The extremely durable and high-quality rubber compounds are called XS Edge and XS Grip2. The XS Edge is a stiffer sole that retains its shape and is intended for edging. Plus, it is resistant to drastic changes in temperature and thus very durable. The XS Grip2 compound delivers excellent traction, stability for edging and sensitivity.

What’s new?

Well, Vibram continues to come up with cutting-edge ideas. One in particular is the ”intelligent” sole called the self-adaptive lug This sole boasts diamond-shaped lugs with deep grooves in between. As a result of the lugs’ unique shape, the shoes are supposed to provide enhanced traction without sacrificing the foot’s flexibility. Vibram also developed the Vibram Smart Sole, which can communicate with smartphones and smartwatches via an interface. The integrated LED lights in the Smart Sole are there to help you see where you’re going in the dark.

So, the fact that you see the yellow octagon on the soles of so many mountaineers, climbers, hill walkers, hikers, trail runners and other athletes is definitely justified, as Vibram soles are not only high quality but also extremely durable and have tons of traction. Considering the sheer number of different soles out there, you’re bound to find one to meet your demands.

Buy shoes with Vibram soles >>

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6 Comments on the Article

  1. John L King 15. Mai 2021 09:08 Uhr

    What d oes a green dot or plug on vibram sole indicate? Are they still for sale? I have a pair of hiking boots made at the Meindl factory in Bavaria with a green dot....

  2. Nicolas 15. Mai 2021 09:08 Uhr

    Hello, Since the arrival of the megagrip rubber, which is reputed to stick extremely well on wet rocks, is the idrogrip rubber obsolete ? Vibram focus the commercials on the ability of megagrip to stick wet rocks ! But they have already a special rubber for this : Idrogrip. Or, maybe idrogrip is for smooth rocks (dry and wet) and megagrip is for non-smooth rocks (dry and wet)... I don't think so... So, what is the differences between idro and mega ? If anybody could enlighten me, I would be grateful !

  3. Dan Patterson 15. Mai 2021 09:08 Uhr

    Do vibrant sole boots only have the yellow plug on them? Are black plugs to be trusted?

  4. Stephen Morgan 15. Mai 2021 09:08 Uhr

    Hello, I have always found Vibram soles have given me less grip when climbing wet trees and the compound has seemed harder than the competitions. I'd like to try another boot that has a Vibram sole now a few years have elapsed . What might be the most grippy Vibram sole that I should look for. I'm happy if I can get a year from my boots as long as they're super grippy daily in all weathers. kind regards Stephen M Arborist

  5. Matthew Hudson 15. Mai 2021 09:08 Uhr

    In reply to Stephen M, I think you will struggle to find something that grips consistently on wet wood. however, I can say from my experience that Vibram Mega Grip is preforms brilliantly on rocks both wet and dry. I have been using some La Sportiva TX4 fitted with 'Mega Grip' for 6 months now and have been super impressed. the rubber isn't far off the type of grip you would expect from the xs edge you would find on a climbing shoe, and wear seams acceptable given the level of grip. The best solution i could think of for you would be something like a canyoning boot, potentially the Terrex Hydro, which I believe comes equipped with a 510 stealth rubber sole. Hope this helps! Matt

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