Heeluxe Wrapped 2022 is our opportunity to share the shoes that set high performance benchmarks in our lab this year. Our hope is that this encourages brands to test against the best shoes, regardless of what type of shoe they make. This blog will share the winners from each category and provide more details on the testing methods, the details of the shoes, and some “honorable mentions”.
First up is Highest Energy Return (ER). Shoes with higher ER are common in athletic shoes for sports like basketball, tennis, running, and skateboarding shoes. To test ER Heeluxe utilizes ASTM F1976 standard on a machine from Exeter Research. ER is described as the percentage of impact energy returned to the missile as it rebounds after striking the sample material and is one of many ways to analyze a shoe with ASTM F1976. For our Best of 2022 we focused on our largest database, 5Kj, and eliminated any shoes tested in 2022 that were prototypes. Over 400 shoes were compared for this best of category.
honorable mention: Saucony Endorphin Pro 3, Asics Metaspeed Edge, Jordan XXXIV (best basketball shoe)
Many brands talk about their shoes having ‘smooth ride’ but never provide data for this measurement. Our research on shoe ride or “transition” is inspired by the work of Christopher Lam and Marlene Giandolini at University of Calgary. Using a 5-point scale we ask our testers to score shoes based on the smoothness from Heel Strike to Push Off. This measurement is shown to be helpful in understanding customer experience in walking, hiking, and running shoes. The co-winners of this category this year are both from Women’s Walking, and they have much higher scores than the database average of 3.98/5 (SD=.55).
honorable mentions: Nike Pegasus Trail 3, Hoka Bondi 6
Fit is the #1 influence in customer comfort across all of the shoe categories. Heeluxe pioneered the use of pressure sensors to quantify shoe fit and now SmartLast enables Heeluxe to measure fit accurately in seconds. SmartLast’s fit database grew by 1,466 styles in 2022 which gets us closer to the goal of identifying the best fitting shoes in the world. Our human testers also rate the fit of every shoe they test in Heeluxe’s lab on a 5-point scale (Tight/Snug/Normal/Roomy/Loose) in both the heel and forefoot. Standard tests include 8 human testers that have average foot dimensions based on tape measure and 3D scan measurements. To determine the best fitting shoes of 2022, we identified shoes that had 100% of testers score a shoe as fitting Normal in both the Heel and Forefoot and have SmartLast data scoring the shoe as normal ball, toe, and length. To confirm that the shoe has good fit for a large number of consumers, we analyzed online purchase data to ensure that >80% customers identify the shoe as having normal width and length. The New Balance Arishi v3 Women’s walking shoe has the best fit of all shoes tested at Heeluxe in 2022. Below you can also see how Arishiv3 compares to SmartLast’s Women’s Casual shoe database.
honorable mentions: Hoka Speedgoat 5 and Koolaburra Koola Short
Shoes have been getting lighter since Heeluxe’s databases were developed over 12 years ago. In 2022 we continue to see shoes getting lighter across all categories–from high heels to hiking boots. The benefits of lighter shoes are vast, from lower emissions in shipping to improved efficiency when working a long shift or climbing a mountain. The best light weight shoes do not sacrifice other important shoe features–such as durability, comfort, or stability–to save a few tenths of an ounce. All shoes in Heeluxe’s inventory are weighed on a scale accurate to .01g. The lightest production shoe tested in 2022 is a walking style from Oofos, the Ooahh.
honorable mentions: Nike FreeRN Flyknit (lightest full upper, closed toe shoe)
Best Subjective Scores
Combining objective performance measurements from sensors and force plates with subjective feedback about what customers feel about a shoe is one of the keys to, “Making Better Shoes.” Heeluxe analyzed the top subjective scores for our entire database in 2022 from every shoe category. 2 shoes were clear leaders, and both came from our Women’s database. Heeluxe’s standard subjective test survey utilizes a 7-point scale and asks testers to score the Initial (or Step-In) Comfort, Overall Comfort (what they feel after doing the shoe’s intended activity), Heel Cushioning, Forefoot Cushioning, Flexibility, and Stability. These 6 areas were averaged together to determine the “Average Score” shown in the image below. While our standard subjective survey also includes Ride, Fit, and “Pick Your Favorite Shoe in This Study”, these 3 areas were not factored into the Average Score.
honorable mention: Dr Scholls Grayton
Lowest Impact/Softest Cushioning
Low Impact on machine testing is “softer” cushioning. It’s no surprise that the shoe with the lowest force impact in our testing this year is a super stack (>40mm) shoe. Is softer cushioning always best? No. But it’s great to see companies push how soft we can make a shoe and still offer great performance in other categories. For Impact testing, other measurements are important to consider when making a soft shoe, like dwell time and maximum penetration percentage. When we measure cushioning on humans, the shape of the foam is also important to consider–the best foam with bad midsole geometry will not have the best cushioning. Finally, it is crucial to consider the activity someone is doing when considering a soft cushion. Soft shoes like the BestOf2022 AdiZero Prime X may be great for running, but a firmer cushion is preferred for court sports like tennis, volleyball, and basketball or sports where ground feel is required, like boxing or skateboarding. Over 400 shoes were compared for this best of category.
honorable mentions: Li Ning Essential Speed Bullet +, Nike AlphaFly Next%, New Balance SuperComp Trainer, Asics Novablast 3
Heeluxe’s Time Machine Rapid Durability Testing grew over 54% in 2022 thanks to our new Heeluxe Garage testing facility. This new space features 3 Time Machines that can be individually tuned for running or walking testing. The testing protocols have been updated to include measurements of treadmill belt abrasion and more accurate measurements of shoes before and after. The researchers put these tools to good use in 2022, with our machines completing over 25 million steps.
In 2022 Heeluxe ran multiple studies on insoles, comparing tester preference with our Comfort and Impact testing objective results. We’ve uncovered two measurements from our 3J Impact testing that are great at predicting if a tester will like the comfort of an insole. The first is Force (N). Lower N is more comfortable regardless of the style of shoe that we’re testing. After testing over 250 insoles in 2022, this insole has the lowest Force in our database:
Maximalist shoes were very popular in 2022, where Heeluxe tested everything from Platform Wedge Sandals to “Super Stack” running shoes. In contrast, we see thin shoes coming for minimalist outdoor activities, boat shoes, rock climbing, and fashion (of course!). We use Ned Frederick’s method for measuring shoe thickness, and this shoe was the thinnest we tested this year:
Are there any other “Best of 2022” shoes that you’d like to learn more about? Let us know by emailing [email protected].