Run The Planet (USA) Article
Apr-2006: Lengthy article highlighting the importance of shoelaces to runners, walkers and hikers. It's also where the pseudonym “Professor Shoelace” first appeared.
- Article for: Run The Planet (USA)
- Article submitted: 08-Apr-2006
“The Importance of Shoelaces”
By Ian Fieggen, Run The Planet, 18-Apr-2006
People often underestimate the importance of shoelaces in footwear. Most people reckon they learned all they need to know about shoelaces in kindergarten. In fact, with today's many alternatives (such as Velcro), it's possible to get by without shoelaces altogether. However, if you want good shoes or boots for running, walking, hiking, or in fact for pretty much anything other than fashion, the overwhelming majority come with shoelaces.
There's many reasons behind this, chief of which is that lacing is both cheap and simple, yet very effective. The shoelace runs through the eyelets, which act as a series of “pulleys”, ensuring relatively even distribution of the tension that holds the sides of the shoe together. In theory, shoelaces are an elegantly simple device needing no further thought than pulling them tight and tying a shoelace knot.
In practice, there's a whole lot more to shoelaces, especially for active people that depend heavily on their footwear. The type of shoelaces, the way they are laced and the shoelace knot technique all have a bearing on the resulting comfort and reliability.
Type of Shoelace
The shoelaces supplied with most shoes may look great and really complement the shoe, but they often have many shortcomings. The biggest problem nowadays is synthetic shoelaces, which are far more slippery than cotton shoelaces and are thus more prone to coming undone. This is especially true for active sportspeople: A shoelace coming untied during a race can destroy one's time; during mountain climbing, it can be fatal!
Another common problem is that shoes nowadays are often supplied with laces that are far too long. This excess then needs to be tucked in or double knotted to prevent the ends from getting underfoot.
The correct shoelace length is tricky to calculate. It's based mainly on the dimensions of the shoe, the number of eyelets, and the lacing method used. These can all vary widely, so don't pay too much attention to the “guides” that come with many shoelaces! The easiest way to determine the correct length for YOUR shoes on YOUR feet is to use a cheap piece of string. Lace your shoes, tie your knot, cut the ends to your desired length, then remove the string and measure it.
The profile of the shoelaces is also important. Laces with a rounded profile are generally less comfortable than those with a flat profile because they form “ridges” that press into the foot. Flat profile laces also generally stay tied more reliably.
If you reckon it's worth looking after your feet, spend a few dollars on them and buy some better shoelaces!
Shoe Lacing Method
Most people still have their shoes laced the way they came out of the box, which is almost always with the standard lacing known as “Criss Cross”. This is still the simplest and most efficient method, and for the majority of people is perfectly adequate.
Runners probably put the most strain on their feet, so it's no surprise that many runners use alternative lacing methods. The most common method is “Straight Lacing”, which is also known as “Bar Lacing” or “Lydiard Lacing” (after the runner of that surname). The laces run straight across on the outside of the shoe and vertically on the inside of the shoe. This has the advantage of reducing pressure on the upper ridge of the foot.
Another common method is “Bow Tie Lacing”, in which crossovers are “skipped” in tight areas of the shoe. The crossover is replaced with the laces running vertically on the inside, then out through the next higher set of eyelets. This gives a looser fit at that point in the lacing. For even more control over tension in certain areas, some people use “Segmented Lacing” (or “Zoned Lacing”), in which sections of the shoe are laced more tightly or loosely, then tied off to maintain that tension independently of the rest of the lacing. Other problems of fit can be corrected somewhat with methods such as “Sawtooth Lacing”, which pulls the shoe inwards at an angle.
Some hikers use a method known as “Bushwalk Lacing”, an inside-out version of “Straight Lacing”, which allows the knot to be positioned towards the insides of their feet (between the ankles). This keeps both the knot and loose ends away from snagging undergrowth. Cyclists use this in reverse, keeping the knots towards the outsides of their feet, away from bicycle chains and cranks.
Those that run or hike downhill may benefit from a technique known as “Lace Locks”, which helps prevent heel slippage. In fact, many running shoes come with twin sets of eyelets at the top of the shoe that lend themselves well to this method. The lace that emerges through one of those eyelets is fed into the second eyelet on the same side, forming a “loop”. Same goes for the other side of the shoe. The lace ends are then crossed over and fed through each other's loops. Whilst pulling tight, those loops act as pulleys to tighten the lacing just that little bit extra. Once tightened, the loops also lock down somewhat to hold the lacing more firmly as well.
There are dozens of lacing methods, each with it's own advantages and disadvantages such as ease of tightening or loosening, binding strength, speed, comfort, appearance, wear and tear, even to adjust for shoelaces that are too long or too short. Some people use hybrid methods, combining features of various techniques into a lacing totally tuned to their shoes and feet.
Try experimenting with your lacing to see what works best for you. It may turn out easier (and cheaper) than replacing your shoelaces.
Most people are surprised to know that there is more than one way of tying shoelaces. In fact, there are more than a dozen known methods!
The “Standard Shoelace Knot”, where a loop is made and the other end is wrapped around and through, is the most common method. The next most common is the “Two Loop Knot” (or “Bunny Ears” method), where two loops are made and simply tied into a knot. Interestingly, if tied correctly, they both result in the exact same finished knot.
If tied incorrectly, either of these standard knots becomes a “Slip Knot” (or “Granny Knot”). The difference in technique is only subtle, and depends on whether the starting knot and finishing knot have the same orientation, which twists the knot out of alignment and makes it less secure. The result is a shoelace bow that will not only sit crooked but will regularly come undone, which can be disastrous for sportspeople! Many people suffer needlessly, blaming their shoelaces, shoes, socks or clothing, their activity or inactivity, even the temperature or humidity, totally unaware that a minor change to their technique will fix the problem.
The solution is to reverse either the starting knot or the finishing knot. For example, if you currently tie your starting knot by putting the left lace over the right lace, the solution is to put the right lace over the left lace instead. This re-balances the knot, making it not only sit straight but also stay secure.
For even greater security, there are a number of different “Secure Shoelace Knots”. The most common is the “Surgeon's Shoelace Knot”: Make a loop, wrap the other end around, pull a loop through, but before pulling tight, wrap that loop around and through for a second time. This forms a double loop in the middle, which is many times more secure than a regular shoelace knot. Most of the other secure knots are variations on looping around and through more than once.
One crude method that's commonly used is to tie a shoelace knot, then to tie another overhand knot with the loops. The resulting “Double Shoelace Knot” is quite secure, but is very difficult to un-tie. By contrast, the other secure shoelace knots can be un-tied simply by pulling the loose ends, exactly as is done with a regular shoelace knot (albeit a little firmer).
In fact, many people employ the “Double Shoelace Knot” because their normal technique results in a “Slip Knot”. Once that problem is fixed, most people find that their shoelaces stay reliably tied without even needing to learn a new “Secure Shoelace Knot”.
Triathletes may benefit from the “Ian Knot”, the “World's Fastest Shoelace Knot”. This takes only a split second to tie, as opposed to several seconds for other regular shoelace knots. Whilst it may seem trivial for triathletes to be looking at shaving a few precious seconds from their transitions, most people who've learned the “Ian Knot” wonder why ANYONE would use the slower method!
For many people, the process of learning to tie their shoelaces as a child was enough of a trauma the first time that they have no inclination to even attempt to go through it again. But if you're someone who can see the advantage of one of the better knots, or especially if you're someone who's constantly frustrated by their shoelaces coming undone, a change to your shoelace knot technique may be the best thing you learned since kindergarten!
This has been just a brief look into the largely ignored world of shoelaces. Hopefully you'll have found some tips that will relate to your particular field, whether it be running, walking or hiking, and that you can use one or more of them to fine-tune your shoelaces. Your feet will thank you for it.
– Ian Fieggen (aka. “Professor Shoelace”)