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Vans shoes have a deep history steeped in Californian skate and surf culture and from their humble beginnings in 1966. They have since become hugely popular, not only with skateboarders but fashion-conscious lifestyle customers alike.
Of the many models that Vans offer, it is their Classics that have the most appeal. These are the Authentic, the Era, Sk8-Hi, Slip-on and Old Skool. Vans also produce the Vans Skateboarding line, which is tailored and engineered specifically for skateboarding. They feature Vans technology, designed specifically for skateboarding, such as Duracap, StickStick, PopCush and more. These technologies improve comfort and durability, which is essential in all aspects of modern skateboarding. These skate-specific versions will also work well for anyone seeking longer life from any regular Vans shoe. So they can be worn off the skateboard as well as on it.
We’ll go into detail around all the Vans models below but read on to find out more about the technology that goes into making Vans shoes so good for skateboarding and how they improve the durability and lifespan of the shoes.
Explaining Vans Technologies
Most Vans shoes and all of the Classics line are made with a vulcanized sole unit, this is a rubber bonding process that moulds the Vans Waffle sole to the upper of the shoe with a full wrap of what is called ‘foxing tape’. This is most often the white (or sometimes black) rubber strip that circles the entire shoe. It is bound together with the red Vans ‘heel tab’ at the back that states ‘Vans Off The Wall’. This construction process is the hallmark of Vans shoes and it shapes how they feel on your feet. Often feeling softer and with improved grip due to the nature of rubber, which is how they naturally lend themselves to skateboarding so well.
Duracap is rubber underlays, largely found in the toe-box area of a Vans shoe. With skateboarding creating high-abrasion points in the frontal areas of the shoe, (from the griptape as you perform tricks), the need for reinforced zones is amplified. These extra layers are applied beneath the suede or canvas material of the shoe, so once that has worn through, you’re not scraping your toes. Duracap has even been employed beneath the front rubber bumper, for the same reason, to give an extra layer of wear before they completely wear through.
PopCush are Vans insoles, or sockliners, they are designed using an improved foam formula that provides comfort, first and foremost, but also impact protection from heavy skateboard use. They also combine this with ‘board feel’, so the thickness of the insole is not a hindrance and you can feel your deck. They work hand-in-hand with the Waffle outsole to collectively bring a result that is tailored for skateboarding use.
Similar to PopCush but a further defined sockliner using polyurethane and providing maximum cushioning. It retains board feel but carries a higher impact protection rating to keep your feet safer during the extremities of skateboarding. It also returns energy upon impact minimising any bruising from potentially ‘bottoming-out’.
WaffleCup is a sole construction that feels like a regular Vans vulcanized outsole but it is actually a cupsole. Cupsole shoes differ in their construction in that the sole unit acts as a ‘cup’ and the entire upper of the shoe sits within this, then glued and stitched on. Vulcanized is a sole unit bonded together entirely with glue and using ‘foxing tape’, which is the outer rubber wrap (usually white) around the whole shoe with a further frontal bumper for extra wear. Vulcanized construction is the hallmark of almost all Vans shoes so WaffleCup is Vans version of a more regular sneaker build that you will find from other brands.
Sick Stick is an improved rubber formula used on the sole of a Vans shoe. The famous Vans Waffle sole is grippy, but Sick Stick promises additional grip offering the best possible traction alongside great wear capabilities to bring longer life. This innovation is only available within Vans Pro Skate shoes and signature models and was tested by Vans professional skateboard team.
Other Vans Technologies
Luxliner is a bootie-style construction as part of the tongue of the shoe, it wraps your foot in the area towards your toes, and with it moving independently of the tongue, it keeps your foot still and held, which brings comfort, stability and a snug fit. It can reduce hotspots or rubbing due to the soft material encircling your foot.
UltimateWaffle is Vans finest rubber outsole formula. It was designed to give maximum grip, but also provide durability and cushioning for all day use when skateboarding. It slightly differs from Vans regular Waffle sole and StickStick, in that it’s Vans best performing sole unit and is offered on higher-tiered shoes.
Rapidweld is a stitchless process where two panels of a shoe are seamlessly bonded together. Illuminating stitching means there is zero chance of the thread being worn away through griptape abrasion from skateboarding. It features on Vans higher-tier skate shoes such as the AVE Pro and also within the Ultrarange, where resistance to water is required. Stitched panels are also prone to giving hotspots inside the shoe, which can result in blisters. It’s a modern technology that is pushing shoe design given what is possible without stitching.
Explaining The Vans Line-up of Shoes
This was the shoe that started it all and kicked off Vans as a footwear company. Its beauty is its simplicity, a rubber vulcanized sole unit with a canvas vamp and upper. Suede was later added to offer more wear, but this morphed into the Era, which has slight differences to the Authentic. Often coming in many colors of canvas, with red, blue and white as the most popular colors, also many patterns, such as the famous Vans black and white checkerboard. It’s the most basic model that Vans offer, from a build and construction perspective, and really brings that US collegiate style to any look. It’s called the Authentic as it really is the founding shoe, which aside from skateboarding, was great for use on boats, in a very similar way to the Sperry Topsider.
Many people might not know the difference between the Era and the Authentic as it’s quite subtle. The difference is the Era has a padded collar around the top, which at the time of it’s launch, offered more padding and protection for skateboarding. This is because the original Vans Era was not a shoe specifically designed for skateboarding, more a shoe that skaters just took too. The Era was built with skateboarding in mind with input from professional skaters Stacy Peralta and Tony Alva.
So if you plan on skateboarding or just want more padding and comfort than the more basic Authentic, then side with the Era. Often the stitching of this collar is two-tone, often in white, so they give a slightly different look to the rear of the shoes in side-profile. They also a touch wider to give your foot more space and movement, but this very slight. Era’s also come in more material options, with suede and leather being available.
Vans Old Skool
The Old Skool was the first Vans shoe to feature the ‘Side Stripe’, which was a doodle that founder Paul Van Doren did and then incorporated on to a shoe. Whilst the Side Stripe never quite became as famous as the Swoosh or the Three Stripes, it does make the Old Skool and Sk8-Hi, uniquely Vans. Extending the design philosophy from the Authentic and the Era, the Old Skool was the first Vans shoe to feature leather panels, namely the toebox piece for durability. Like all Vans Classic shoes, the Old Skool is a vulcanized build and often comes with a suede toe cap and canvas upper. Blue and black are the most popular colors with white Side Strides and white side bumper. The Old Skool and the Sk8-Hi are hallmark skate shoe silhouettes and have made their mark with skaters, musicians, artists and creatives the world over.
The name of the Sk8-Hi gives it all away, it was designed as a skate shoe offering ankle protection with a higher build. Based largely on the Old Skool silhouette and carrying over the Vans ‘Side Stripe’, it quickly became hugely popular and offered a very different look to previous Vans. It’s arguably the most unique Vans shoe in terms of it looking wildly different from Era’s or Slip-Ons and anything else on the footwear market. It is still the highest model that Vans produce and its unique nature plays into its popularity today.
Again, like the Old Skool, it largely has a suede toe piece, canvas upper and comes in a world of color options. Popular collaborations on the Sk8-Hi have been with giants such as Iron Maiden, Slayer and even Supreme and Stussy. It’s a bonafide classic and extremely important to the history and style of Vans.
The Sk8-Low is a newer and low-top version of the Sk8-Hi, it’s a bit like the Vans Half Cab story, in that in the early 2000s the Sk8-Hi was a touch a high for some skaters, so Vans cut it’s height and continued to bring that style in a low version. It offers all the features of the Sk8-Hi, just less ankle protection but increased movement for the many skaters who prefer ankle flexibility over protection.
Another of the classic Vans models that have become so iconic for the brand. Since its launch in the late 70s, the Slip-On has become an entity in itself and is arguably the most famous laceless sneaker ever. The most famous version is the black and white checkerboard, which has become engrained within modern American culture. The large frontal canvas area lends itself really well to prints and colors, with many Slip-Ons coming with stripes, graphic prints and in a host of different colors.
The major feature of the shoe is their comfort, with the one-piece canvas covering the whole front of the shoe, there are no points to cause any issues with your feet. Plus the ease of being a slip-on shoe means they are quick to put on and easy to wear, with Slip-On’s being popular beach and holiday wear. They are also durable enough for skating due to their vulcanized build and Waffle grip. To read more on Vans Slip On shoes, read here.
Vans Half Cab
The Half Cab was originally a high-top and was designed as a Steve Caballero pro signature model launched in 1992 and was named simply the ‘Caballero’. Originally designed with vert skating in mind, which was Caballero’s favored style, it soon found its way to the streets as the early 90s brought an explosion of street skateboarding that ushered in more technical tricks than vert or pool skating. Also, the high-top was an 80s thing, the 90s kids wanted lower and skaters around the world took to cutting down their Cab shoes to make a lower DIY version. Vans cottoned on to this and soon after, the lower and newly names ‘Half-Cab’ was born. This is also a reference to a fakie-180 ollie, half of the fakie-360 that Caballero himself invented and more commonly known as a ‘Cab’. (See here for more on the history of Vans).
Vans Half Cabs have been forever popular with skateboarders as they offer the amazing grip and feeling that all Vans give from the vulcanized build and tacky gum ‘Waffle’ sole. Half Cabs are also super durable due to the multi suede panels in the upper and toebox region, offering great wear and protection for skating. The shape and design have simply become iconic over thirty years of production and Half Cabs seem set to continue as a skate shoe of choice for many years to come.
Vans Ultrarange is shoes for urban exploration. Built upon a super lightweight Pro Vulc Lite construction they are slightly beefier than Vans Classic shoes and they provide all-day comfort and wear for any city terrain or travel adventure. Inspired by archival Vans shoes, they feature Rapidweld technology for better water resistance between panels and some models have also featured Gore-Tex fabrics to really take the shoes outdoors. The LuxLiner internal sock build brings further comfort and refined fit, reducing any potential rubbing or hotspots. The Ultrarange Hi versions, such as the Ultrarange EXO Hi MTE are built for further afield of the great outdoors, bringing much more of a hiking style and increased water repellency due to a leather build and shearling lining for winter warmth. If you’re after an adventure shoe for the city streets or even mini-hikes then consider the Ultrarange.
The Vans Lampin or style #86, is a much more modern Vans shoe in comparison to an Era or an Old Skool, despite its; look and classic vulcanized build. It was Vans first shoe for a long time that arched back to their 60s and 70s roots and was designed for a modern streetwear look to sit alongside Puma Suedes, Converse One Stars and adidas Superstars. First launched in 1993, the soft-suede offerings were hugely popular within their intended street culture, worn by the Beastie Boys, surfers and skaters alike. To this day it still flies under the radar as a Vans Classic with the Authentic, Era, Sk8-Hi and Old Skool grabbing all the attention. Consider these if you’re after a 90s celebration, which is why Supreme and Slam City Skates choose this model for their Vans collaborations.
Vans AVE Pro
The AVE Pro is the signature model of professional skateboarder Anthony Van Englan. Released in 2018 it combined a fusion of original Vans aesthetics, complete with Side Stripe, along with modern features such as a translucent UltimateWaffle sole unit for max grip and bonded panels, eliminating stitching, and therefore improved the durability. This is what Vans call Rapidweld and is used in various Vans product, such as the Ultrarange, which in this case improved resistance to water and snow. The Vans AVE Pro debuted in a clean white and ice blue colorway and was an instant success tiered as their pinnacle skateboard shoe. Numerous colorways have since dropped along with a Fucking Awesome collab and a Beatrice Domond designed color. They also feature LuxLiner construction, which is an internal liner from the tongue to the footbed, providing a locked-in fit and feel. It is still Vans most highly rated skate shoe to date and a must on any list of potential skate shoes you maybe are considering.
Vans Skate Sport
The Skate Sport model is a vintage-inspired shoe that actually features quite a few Vans technologies that are not seen to the eye. The retro styling houses what Vans call StickStick, which is their soft gum rubber compound that is optimized for skateboarding grip. Duracap underlays also bring more durability, which is, again, unseen. The new Skate Sport shoes fit within Vans new Classics line of skateboard shoes that have seen a complete redesign of the upper, moulded heel counter and tongue-straps to keep the foot stable and locked in.
Vans Gilbert Crockett 2 Pro
Gilbert Crockett is a longtime Van professional skater from Virginia and he is currently on his second Vans Pro model. The Gilbert Crockett 2 differs from regular Vans in that it uses Waffle Cup construction, which is a cupsole offering the grip and feel of a vulcanized shoe. It was designed to Gilbert’s specifications using a range of materials in suede, canvas and leather details. Being a signature model it features other premium Vans innovation such as PopCush and Duracap.
Vans Chima 2 Pro
Another lengthy Vans Pro rider, hailing from Australia, Chima Ferguson has had a signature Pro shoe since 2013. Vans then updated this model and introduced the Chima Pro 2 in 2018. It’s a paired down and stylish retro-looking shoe but Chima Pro 2 houses the usual Vans Pro series level of technology. This includes Ultracush insoles and Duracap underlays. Its versatility shines through in this being offered for any type of skating, from the streets to pools and skateparks.
Vans Kyle Walker 2 Pro
Kyle Walker first received his pro shoe in 2016 following his Thrasher Skater of the Year award. This was redesigned in 2020 for the Kyle Walker Pro 2, which removed the laces and featured an easy one-strap velcro closure. Kyle wanted a fresh take on his favorite Vans Slip-On’s, so he designed the easy closure, beefed up the sidewalks and heel counter for more durability. Importantly it also adopts Vans WaffleCup build, with the cupsole construction offering a further rigidity. Sporting a longer toe box giving maximum movement to your toes it also features Vans Duracap and PopCush.
Vans Berle Pro
Elijah Berle dropped his first Vans Pro shoe only a few years ago in 2019. Launching as a clean no-nonsense skate shoe it features extra gum-wall enhancements in hard-wearing frontal areas. It further pushed the Pro signature series of shoes into their own bracket and away from more classic Vans styling. Also featuring Vans Luxliner bootie construction, which maximises comfort and stability for a snug, close fit.
Vans Rowan Pro
The Rowan Pro is the first signature model for pro skater Rowan Zorilla. Launched in 2020 it is a mid-top style shoe, which takes some inspiration from the Vans Half-Cab. Being a signature shoe, it houses Vans premium technology, such as Duracap, StickStick and PopCush and is constructed in a suede and canvas mix. The skateable features will be more than upto the job and this shoe will be durable and comfortable. The Rowan Pro is a refreshing new take on Pro shoes, fusing classic Vans archival styling to inform a modern silhouette.
Geoff Rowley and this shoe, in particular, played a huge role in the reemergence of classic Vans styling. It was the first Pro shoe to really incorporate the old-school nature of Vans and brought back vulcanized construction to the skate market, which was predominantly cupsole at the time, with even Vans producing less of their Classics. The Rowley was also extremely slim and low profile, whereas other skate shoes in the late 90s were puffy and bulky. Launched in 1998 it also saw the return of the iconic Vans Side Stripe. All backed up by Geoff’s incredible skateboarding it has stood the test of time, with only small internal improvements and even further slimming of the silhouette has brought it up to date with today’s technology and style. It’s a bonafide Vans classic and makes the top ten of all skate shoe hall of fame.
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