Ripple soles – fun or function?

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 was the ripple sole. 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.

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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.

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From the 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).

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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.

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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.

ripplesole

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 occurence in urban areas, but surely a potential issue when doing a spot of mountaineering?

Yuketen Derby shoes with ripple soles

Yuketen Derby shoes with ripple soles

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.

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

 

 

9 Responses to “Ripple soles – fun or function?”

  1. Scratch

    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

      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
    • Well Dressed Dad

      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
  2. Sid

    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
  3. Bobby

    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
  4. Leo Hernandez

    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
  5. Net King

    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
  6. David

    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

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