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80s Running Shoes – Would You Wear Them Today?

by Mackenzie

In the 1980s, running shoes were becoming more and more popular among everyday people and serious athletes. The 1980s saw the rise of Nike, which dominated the running shoe market with the launch of their Air Jordan line of shoes. During the 1980s, Nike was also releasing shoes such as the newton, which was Nike’s first cross-trainer shoe. As a result, many other companies that specialized in athletic gear began to enter into running shoe production.

The 1980s also saw a shift in how running shoes were designed by manufacturers. In the early 1980s, running shoes had been heavier, with more cushioning to absorb impact from jogging or running on pavement or concrete surfaces. However, manufacturers noticed that as people began to run more frequently on softer surfaces such as dirt paths or trails, they needed less cushioning and a lighter shoe.



As a result, some companies began to design footwear with less cushioning that could be used for both indoor and outdoor use. This led to a trend of lighter-weight cross-training shoes featuring “terrains” as their central design concept (Reebok CrossTrainer) or “suspension” systems (Puma SGB).

As the 1980s rolled on, the market for running shoes was increasingly dominated by a few large manufacturers. In the early 1980s, companies such as Riddell and Avia had been big names in athletic wear.

However, the market for running shoes became increasingly dominated by Nike and Reebok, who were also producing athletic gear for basketball, baseball, and other sports. As a result of this power shift, many smaller companies either went out of business or were bought out by larger companies.

By 1982, Sports Illustrated was reporting that 50 million Americans were now regularly participating in jogging or other running activities (Walsh). This demand led to an increase in both running shoe production as well as research into better materials and design features for running footwear.



One trend that emerged during this decade was the increased use of synthetic materials such as nylon in place of leather (Reebok Freestyle) or more expensive animal skins (Nike Air Force 1). Another popular design feature that emerged during this decade was the addition of colored stripes or other prints to the sides of some running shoes (Nike Cortez).

Besides, to improve performance and comfort for runners, shoe manufacturers began to add features such as air pockets or inner tubes in their shoes. Air pockets were small holes in the sole of the shoe that allowed air to be pumped into the shoes through a valve.

This increased cushioning and made running easier on the runner’s feet. These shoes became very popular during this period (Reebok Freestyle).

One of the most popular running shoes of this decade was Nike’s Air Jordan line. The first pair of Jordans was released in 1985, and they quickly became a hit with both athletes and fans alike.



The Air Jordan line continued throughout the decade, with new models being released each year. Though they were not designed specifically for running, some people jogged or walked in their Jordans due to their popularity among fans and athletes.


Here are the other popular running shoes in the 1980s


Nike Waffle Trainer (1978-1980)

Waffle Trainers were first introduced in the fall of 1978 and immediately became the rage. The Nike Waffle Trainer was designed by Bruce Kilgore after he noticed how the waffles his wife made for breakfast looked like the cushioning of a running shoe.

The Nike Waffle Trainer was an instant hit and sold more than 10 million pairs in 1978. Its popularity resulted in the nickname “Waffler” for anyone who ran in them. This was also the first shoe to use Nike’s new “Air” technology, which was a light, cushioned sole with nylon and polyurethane for maximum cushioning.



Although the Waffle Trainers were extremely popular, they were not very durable and fell apart easily. After selling 10 million pairs in 1978, Nike only managed to sell 2 million pairs in 1979 before they were discontinued. They were replaced by a new lightweight running shoe called the Tailwind, which was built on the same platform as the Waffle Trainers but without the waffles on the outsole.


Nike Tailwind (1979-1982)



After discontinuing its wildly popular Waffle Trainers, Nike introduced its new lightweight running shoe: The Nike Tailwind. The Nike Tailwind had a similar look and feel as its predecessor but it weighed less than half as much – yet it still had just as much cushioning as before.

The Nike Tailwind was a massive success and sold over 10 million pairs between 1979 and 1980. It was so popular that it even won the “Athletic Business Magazine” award for “Outstanding Performance Product of the Year” in 1981.

In 1983, Nike released an updated version of its popular lightweight running shoe called the Air Tailwind.


Nike Air Tech Challenge II (1989)



The Nike Air Tech Challenge II was designed for high-mileage runners who wanted something lightweight but durable. It weighed less than 6 oz. and featured an outsole that provided great traction, cushioning, and durability – making it one of Nike’s top-selling running shoes in the mid-1980s. It also had an upper design that improved on its predecessor by making the lacing system more durable and the upper material flexible enough to provide a snug fit.


Nike Air Safari (1987)



The Nike Air Safari was designed for women and featured a more feminine look. This was Nike’s first shoe specifically designed for women who are runners and it became the best-selling female running shoe of all time. The Nike Air Safari also introduced a new outsole design called “Air Traction,” which was an improvement on Nike’s previously used “waffle” outsole pattern.

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