Plated shoes, explained
Plated shoes have a strip of rigid plastic or carbon embedded in the sole that adds additional durability, stability, rock protection, and even propulsion. Plates run either the full length or 3/4 length of the shoe and are sandwiched within the foam of the midsole. The use of plates started in the road racing game, with studies showing notable speed gains in plated shoes versus those without. In trail running, our speciality here at Alpenglow Sports, we turn to plates for more benefits than just speed.
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How to spot a plated shoe?
For something that's embedded in the sole of your shoe, plates are remarkably easy to spot. In almost every plated shoe we carry, brands have made a point to show the plates escaping the midsole in dramatic fashion. Salomon exposes the energy blade on the outside edge of the forefoot in the M's and W's Pulsar Trail. The North Face Vectiv line of plated trail shoes exposes the plate at both the forefoot and the heel. The only exception that we carry is the Hoka Tecton X2, which modestly hides its plate. Frankly, this makes explaining plates quite easy as you can actually see where they are in the shoe. This is particularly helpful for highlighting one of the main benefits of a plate: additional stability.
How do plates add stability?
The plate in a North Face Vectiv shoe is forked into three tines, like Zeus' pitchfork. The two outer tines extend all the way to the edge of the shoe right at your forefoot. Because carbon is a rigid material that wants to snap back into place when bent, these outer tines can help you avoid rolling your ankle. For example, as you start to roll right or left, the opposing outside tine will gain resistance the more it bends, and will want to correct by pushing back down into the ground. It then provides significant pull in the opposite direction, helping to correct your foot's angle towards neutral. You can feel this with the shoes in your hand. When you try to bend these shoes laterally, they resist your movement and snap into place. The plates desire to maintain their shape also explains another benefit: durability.
Durability, thanks to a plate
The plate in a North Face Vectiv shoe is far from flat. Each plate is 3D molded into the shape of the sole. Traditional, non-plated, shoes show wear when the EVA foam becomes softer and more pliable. As such, the shape of the shoe changes subtly. You bought a nice rockered shoe because you liked how it launched you through your toe-off. After a while, that shoe will no longer be as rockered as it was. A plate in the shoe will help the shoe maintain its shape long after the midsole is blown out. Plated shoes are showing remarkable durability in racing and as daily training shoes.
Plates also help protect you from rock hits. Need we say more? Imagine a rock is impacting the outsole of your running shoe. That rock is hell bent on biting your heel, and it's getting close! Now, consider that rock's dismay when it impacts a solid plate and gets sent packing. A few of our plated shoes have plastic or TPU plates instead of carbon. These plates are less snappy, but will do just as well at stopping rock impacts from getting at your feet.
Carbon Plates create propulsion
Back to carbon! Its unique snappy behavior makes it capable of creating legitimate propulsion as you run. Your "toe-off" is the part of your gait where you bend at the metatarsals, apply power, and push off the ground. When a plated shoe bends through the peak of your toe-off, it gains energy until that pivotal, last moment where you push off the ground. At that moment, the plate snaps free and propels you forward. Congratulations, you just went a little bit faster. Apply that same boost over the 5,000 steps you take each run, and you are quite a bit further down the trail than you would be otherwise.
Choosing the right plated shoe
We carry six plated shoes in both men's and women's variants. The main dividing line is between carbon plates and TPU plates. TPU plates are less snappy meaning they will offer less stability and less propulsion. Your TPU plated shoe options include the Salomon Pulsar Trail, North Face Vectiv Endurus, and North Face Vectiv Infinite. One of the main reasons to go for a TPU plated shoe is you can get plated benefits for reasonable prices. Your carbon plated shoe options are the Hoka Tecton X2, North Face Summit Vectiv Sky, and North Face Summit Vectiv Pro. We've made a collection of all our plated shoes to help you choose.