Squeaky Shoes Are Ruining My Life and Big Sneaker Design Is to Blame

The science of squeaky sneakers.
October 23, 2017, 4:30pm
Image: Shutterstock

My new sneakers won't stop squeaking and it's ruining my life.

An ear-screeching siren announces my entrance to a room. Eyes dart to me before politely looking away. After wearing them almost every day to break them in, there's been almost no improvement.

I need an explanation.

The problem is obviously in the rubber part of the shoe. If the squeak was from the inside of my shoe (between my foot and the sole), the squeak would be slightly muffled, like a high-pitched fart.


Thankfully, it does not sound like I am constantly farting.

After spending the last hour researching, I learned that there's a design flaw in sneakers that causes squeaking.

Image: Martyn Shorten & Xia Xi

BioMechanica researchers Martyn Shorten and Xia Xi figured out that distinct squeaking sounds are caused by the herringbone—the geometric patterns carved into the bottom of a shoe for traction.

When something flexible moves against something hard, the flexible object vibrates, which is known as the "stick-slip phenomena."

Herringbones are rubbery and flexible. When shoes slide across a hard surface like wood, air jams into the herringbone's cracks, causing vibration. The vibration creates a dreadful squeak.

"Shoes with different sole patterns elicit squeaks with a characteristic frequency," the study reads. "Also, squeaks appear to occur at the beginning and end of ground contact."

The herringbone of one of my sneakers.

There's a way to make shoes that don't squeak, according to a New York Times interview with Nike Basketball Footwear Design Director Leo Chang. Unfortunately, players didn't like these shoes in tests.

"The squeak is reassurance to a lot of players," Chang said. "They listen for it. It gives them that audio sense of reassurance that they're sticking."

Converse maintained its basketball shoe design even after marketing to the masses.

Basically, shoe shrieking is engrained in basketball culture, and now everybody else has to suffer.