Athletic shoes come in many different styles, colours, sizes, prices and specialities, including road running shoes, trail running shoes and training shoes, to name a few. Regardless of what they're called, most athletic shoes are made of the same basic materials, and each of them serves a function.
Synthetic fabrics like nylon are the most commonly used on athletic shoes. They're used on the top part of the shoe, covering the top of your foot and making sure the shoe securely fits. Synthetics are used because they're weather- resistant and easy to clean; just wipe them down with a damp cloth or a drop of washing powder. Synthetic fabrics are also durable and resist tearing.
Polyurethane is elastic like rubber, but is also tough and durable like metal. It's used in the midsole of the athletic shoe to provide cushioning and support. It often comes in either gel or foam form, depending on the manufacturer. Polyurethane also works to protect your joints; it cushions the impact that occurs when your foot strikes the pavement.
Vinyl can be found in the sole of athletic shoes in a mesh format. This mesh is used to form the insole layer, or the middle layer of the sole of the athletic shoe. Vinyl is a flexible and durable material that adds cushion to the sole and eases your ability of motion while wearing the shoe.
The portion of the athletic shoe you see, also known as the outsole, is made of rubber. There are two types of soles used, soft ones made from blown rubber and harder ones made from dense, compacted carbon rubber. Soft outsoles are more comfortable and they're flexible, allowing you to move easily, but they're not as durable as harder outsoles. Hard outsoles are best for those running on rough terrain or for long distances; they're durable and resist tearing.