Ripple soles – fun or function?

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A while back I wrote a post about shoe soles, listing up the most important types and ranting a bit about ones I consider to be confusingly misnamed. One sole I decided not to include in that post were the ripple soles. Why? In my ignorance I considered it a bit of a novelty sole. In my defense it’s not one of the main types and I usually see it only on more specialist offerings from companies such as Yuketen and Fracap.

Vintage advert for footwear with a ripple sole, "You'll whistle while you walk!"

Vintage advert for footwear with a ripple sole, “You’ll whistle while you walk!”

Ripple soles, the history lesson

I was wrong to dismiss the ripple sole as a mere novelty sole though. As soles go it’s actually one of the more noteworthy. Why? It has a genuinely kickass story behind it. Indeed it does.

From the ripple sole patent application, 1955.

From the ripple sole patent application, 1955.

 

An inventor with the evocative name Nathan Hack patented the ripple soles back in 1955. Being a proper engineer, Mr Hack described his new soles as: “A resilient shoe sole formed with a series of spaced parallel resilient projections extending transversely of said shoe sole and at right angles to the length thereof, said projections being inclined rearwardly, whereby weight thereon causes a straight forward movement of the sole as said projections yield under weight.” (This is a description I found in the documents in a later court case upholding his patent).

Ripple soles on vintage army boots for sale on eBay.

Ripple soles on vintage army boots for sale on eBay.

 

The big idea behind them though was to reduce the amount of leg injuries experienced by Paratroopers when landing.So the result of having the ribs, or ripples, along the sole was to both increase traction and to providing better damping. And on top of that he created some very distinctive and functional soles indeed.

Fracap M120 with ripple soles.

Fracap M120 with ripple soles.

 

These days they are mainly used on Italian mountaineering boots and American heritage-inspired footwear. The fact that they are so distinctive means opinion is divided as to the look of them, some adore the cheeky style, while more conservative eyes find them a little frisky.

Another vintage advert for ripple soles, "To put you on easy feet!"

Another vintage advert for ripple soles, “To put you on easy feet!”

Ripple soles, a verdict?

What is the actual functionality like though? I’ve been unable to contact any paratroopers with actual experience of them, although Google did produce results indicating that they can put a bit more spring in your step. My concerns in this respect would be using them in snow, where the traction in a strictly forwards direction should be about as optimal as you can imagine, but if there are sideways forces at play, such as when traversing a hill, those ripples could see you sliding sideways with nothing to reduce friction. Perhaps not such a common occurrence in urban areas, but surely a potential issue when doing a spot of mountaineering?

Ripple soles on Yuketen Derby shoes.

Ripple soles on Yuketen Derby shoes.

As goes for most soles today, it is Vibram that produce the ripple soles, although you’ll find them listed in the “Dress & Casual” section under Lifestyle soles. This is on the other side of the screen from the hardcore mountaineering soles. So while the story of Mr Hack and his paratrooper innovations gives a nice historical backstory, we can safely assume that the state of the sole art has seen further innovation in the 60 years since.

Vintage ripple sole with "HACK" molded into the rubber.

Vintage ripple sole with “HACK” molded into the rubber.

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16 Comments

  • Scratch 19/03/2015 at 10:35

    I have never owned a ripple sole shoe but I’ve always liked them. However I cannot remove the thought of just how catastrophic it would be if you were to stand in a dog egg while wearing a pair.
    Dog eggs notwithstanding, those Yuketen Derby’s are really, really nice.

    Reply
    • Well Dressed Dad 19/03/2015 at 10:48

      In the ripple soles favour though it must be a lot easier to hose them off than a pair of commando soles, where a toothpick might be required to remove it from the intricate narrow pathways.

      Reply
  • Scratch 19/03/2015 at 11:23

    It’s certainly a visceral image so thanks for that.

    Reply
    • Well Dressed Dad 19/03/2015 at 11:32

      I’ll take that as a heartfelt compliment, though will point out that I was not the originator of the original image of a splendidly soled pair of shoes standing stoicly in the sphincteral solids of a slavic shepherd. Or something to that effect.

      Reply
  • Sid 05/04/2015 at 13:06

    I used ripple soled running shoes (Kingswell brand?) about 1966-70 for cross-country running. Worked well in extreme mud, shed the mud well on the dry sections and were nice on tarmac. I loved them. The sole itself was rather heavy because there was lots of rubber.

    Reply
  • Bobby 08/08/2015 at 08:39

    I just picked up a pair of 1950’s Endicott & Johnson black leather low ankle shoes with the Nathan Hack ripple sole in excellent condition at a thrift store for $5! Found this site while looking for information about them. Thanks for the good read!

    Reply
  • Leo Hernandez 25/10/2015 at 16:47

    This Ripple Sole section was very informative as I am a fan of the Ripple Soles. I have been a Border Patrol Agent for approximately 19 years. For those of you that don’t know, we walk a whole lot in my job, still utilizing the old Native American techniques of sign cutting/following foot prints.

    I have worked in various terrains such as the deserts of Arizona, Texas and California. In Arizona it is not unusual for an agent to walk anywhere from 6 to 11 miles through the mountains and desert following a group of undocumented aliens. In 2004, I worked and walked many miles of the Southwest border with Mexico. And yes, I was wearing my Vibram boots, that I had recently resoled with Ripple Soles at a local “old fashion shoe repair place”. Their gripping action, while climbing and descending hills or mountains, were extraordinary. The dampening action is also extreme to note. I weigh 265 lbs. and stand 72 inches tall, so it made a difference in the springing action when I walked on hard surfaces, such as concrete or even at the office. All in all, I love my Ripple Soles! Thanks Mr. Hack for your invention.

    Reply
  • Net King 05/06/2016 at 01:13

    They were very popular when I was young and seeing people wear them drove me crazy especially when they squished on smooth floors as the ripples bent and flexed caressing the floor. I have come across a few other guys on the internet who were also driven crazy by them but loved it. I purchased three pairs at different times – downsides were that the heel wore down too quickly and they could lose traction on wet surfaces.

    Interestingly Altama has stopped making ripple military boots. I wonder why? Did they fall out of favor with the armed services?

    Reply
  • David 14/06/2016 at 17:24

    Ripple Sole have to be one of the most unique ideas in footwear. Thanks to a man named Nathan Hack who invented these wonderful soles way back in the 1950’s. I have worn them since my high school days back in 1968 and still have quite a few of them in my wardrobe to this day.
    I must admit I have always had a passion for Ripple Sole Shoes and as the previous guy stated I used to love to listen to the squishy noises they made on polished floors. So many of the boys wore them in school and the sound of them were probably most annoying to the teacher.
    Fond memories of Ripple Sole Shoes

    Reply
  • Paul 25/12/2016 at 08:24

    In my opinion, the ripple sole is excellent. I had my issued boots re-soled with them for my second deployment to Iraq in 2004 where they performed great in the desert as well as the urban terrain. I still use those boots to weedeat around the house with those same soles. I am a state trooper working in Appalachia now and am going to have ripple soles put on my uniform shoes. There’s nothing better for traction when trying to run up a muddy hill. The design allows for flex in the sole so cleaning is very easy just by banging the bottom of the shoe on a hard surface.

    Reply
    • Steve Richmond 31/12/2016 at 15:58

      Really enjoyed your comments about the Ripple Soles. One thing I found is that you can’t enter a room quietly and discreetly (especially if you’ve been out in the rain) because of the squeegee-squeegee sound they make on a well polished wood or tile floor. Everyone looks at you and whispers “Sh, you’re making too much noise!!”

      Reply
      • nick 31/12/2016 at 16:05

        Thanks, Steve!

        Reply
  • Joe Goergen 05/03/2017 at 18:40

    As a security guard in the late eighty’s & early ninety’s I had a couple pairs of Knapp brand shoes with those ripple soles. Really did help my legs while standing on granite floors inside a bank. I have had those shoes resoled over the years with the same style soles. A bonus for me was the extra traction I received on my steep concrete driveway while shoveling snow. Yes if you turned sideways to the slope you would start sliding downhill. A previous reference to dog eggs or what I call dog mines can addressed with a hand held weeding tool. The kind I mean is shaped like a large screwdriver and has a good sized v-shaped notch on the business end. This really helped. Are there any brands besides Yaketen or Fracap that make a men’s basic black shoe with a Ripple sole?

    Reply
  • Pat 25/10/2017 at 18:41

    They were awesome on ruck marches and going up hills. Coming down slippery slopes, not so much.

    Reply
  • gordon turner 02/01/2018 at 19:17

    Where can one order this ripple sheet in black to be put on a nice pair of Stacy Adams black dress shoes.
    Mr.G

    Reply
    • Joseph goergen 03/01/2018 at 00:18

      Mr. T, I was able to get my pair of old Knapp shoes resoled at a local shop. If that is possible where you are you might ask if you should bring the new shoes in right away or put a few miles on them to break them in for yourself. Good luck.
      Joe

      Reply

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