The technology behind shoe outsoles has advanced significantly in the past several decades, and it’s made outdoor shoes far more complicated for both new and experienced hikers.
Many might already be familiar with Vibram® soles, a classic exterior sole style designed to maintain traction and insulation during cold-weather hikes.
There have also been innovations by Salomon, a classic brand specializing in high-quality outdoor footwear and equipment.
They have provided a vast line of products featuring Contagrip, an extremely durable outsole with thick ridges capable of keeping a steady balance thanks to some sharp and thick ridges.
These two might seem quite similar in terms of the goals they aim to accomplish, but the decision between Vibram vs Contagrip is worth considering for most aspiring hikers and trail runners.
If you have to choose one, here are a few things you should know about each style of outsole and how they compare in the real world.
- 1. Vibram® Technology
- 2. Contagrip Technology
- 3. Comparison: Vibram® vs Contagrip
- 4. Which One Is Better?
1. Vibram® Technology
The first style of outsole to discuss is Vibram®, which has its roots in the Italian company it gets its name from as far back as 1937. This year featured the first instance of Vibram® outsoles, with the main focus being mountaineering and climbing.
These activities require strong, more tactile outsoles, leading to much research going into making more effective and efficient shoes and, over the decades, led to tons of other Vibram® grips for all kinds of activities.
Don’t miss: 9 Italian Hiking Boots Brands: Our Top Picks
(Sports shoes with Vibram soles)
As for what materials these outsoles use, the main material is vulcanized rubber, which is generally sturdier than many other types of shoe rubber while also providing more insulation.
This feature is only the start of what makes this material so great of outsoles, though, as they can also be waterproof and hardly degrade over time, making them a good investment for your hiking funds.
With the founder of Vibram® focusing so much on mountaineering, it’s no surprise that these are as warm as they are durable, but even more impressive is that they are capable of many more types of movement than originally intended.
There’s no specific or singular pattern the outsoles need to take, although you’ll most often find them on boots to compliment the thicker leather materials found on these styles of garments.
Since the vulcanized rubber is also slip and electric-resistant, they can also be ideal work boots for those working in kitchens and various trade jobs.
With each type of Vibram® shoe comes its own shape and lug positioning, and while they all share the traits mentioned above, there are a few that are worth mentioning as specific styles of Vibram® shoes to try out.
This isn’t a comprehensive list, but it features some examples of Vibram® outsoles you can find.
- Ripple Soles: Unusual wave ridges that provide a great level of bending at no cost to traction, letting you make lighter and larger steps on rough and inconsistent terrain;
- Casual Wedge: Lightweight version of the Vibram® sole with great grip on indoor and paved surfaces, made with a slightly thinner Morflex rubber for a unique grip;
- Kletterlift: Powerful outdoor sole meant for mountain ranges, with its thick rubber and strategically-placed ridges giving excellent shock absorption and comfort on long hikes.
2. Contagrip Technology
While you’d be surprised at the versatility that comes with Vibram® outsoles, Contagrip soles are better for a wide set of activities.
They come from Salomon, a general outdoor equipment French brand that started with producing ski boots and grips but now prides itself on durable and high-quality gear for all kinds of outdoor activities.
Contagrip is used for their own shoes rather than Vibram®, which is on many other shoe brands. The design has to do with different densities of rubber, with the perimeter of the outsole having higher densities to provide durability, while the center has lower-density materials for greater traction and flexibility.
(Hiker wearing Salomon hiking boots)
This design is simple, but it ends up being a comfortable design that makes movement and bending feel more natural, rather than fighting against an invincible boot’s rubber base.
That isn’t to say Contragrip soles aren’t durable, as they are weatherproof and not easily damaged by rough surfaces, but it’s clear that Contagrip prioritizes mobility on a level that’s remarkable compared to other outdoor equipment brands.
It also is slightly thinner at the tip of the shoe than many other brands, meaning you have slightly less safety at the front of your foot to provide better speed and mobility thanks to a better distribution of weight.
Just like Vibram® shoes, there are a wide variety of different shapes that Contagrip shoes can take. It would take a while to list all of them, but these are just a few examples of Contagrip layouts you can find.
- Speedcross: Heavy lugs with excellent traction on muddy terrain while being relatively thin across the full outsole;
- Fellraiser: Much more numerous lugs to give exceptional traction on any surface while being much thinner at the center and base for additional flexibility;
- X-Scream 3D: Extremely thin lugs that work much better for forestry and pavement trails, being much flatter but being far more flexible than similar outsoles.
Don’t miss: Are Trail Running Shoes Good for Hiking?
3. Comparison: Vibram® vs Contagrip
Now that we have a mild understanding of what makes each outsole unique, it’s time to stack them against each other.
While they might not vary in every category you’d expect a shoe, there are some key categories you should strongly consider if you plan to get a shoe with one of these styles of outsoles.
Traction and Mobility
For the most part, these two outsoles are generally equal when it comes to traction since it depends much more on the style of the lugs rather than the material itself.
Both use fairly strong rubbers, and while Vibram® uses a stronger vulcanized rubber, both technologies can provide excellent traction on whatever terrain the shoe they’re on is designed for.
That said, mobility deserves a special mention since there’s a clear difference between the flexibility of Vibram® compared to Contagrip. Vibram® is far less bendable, and while that weight helps maintain traction and keep your foot protected, it can be less beneficial on lighter trails.
Contagrip ends up being much more superior here, as its weight and density distribution lead the outsoles to let you move on a more versatile amount of surfaces with greater ease.
But again, the overall mobility will depend on the specific type of the Vibram or Contagrip outsole and the shoe design.
You might also like: 10 of the Best Hiking Boot Brands You Should Try
Insulation is where Contagrip will likely take the second place in this comparison, as the different densities of rubber will lead to fairly inconsistent padding, though it isn’t generally noticed in most climates and situations.
Contagrip provides less warmth in cold-weather hiking and mountaineering due to a large amount of weaker rubber in the center, requiring you to move with a bit more caution.
Vibram® lacks this entirely, being so thick and dense across the board that it manages to resist everything from frozen snow to electricity.
Almost no non-physical hazard or condition can penetrate Vibram® soles, and because they’re usually a solid sheet of vulcanized rubber, they’re some of the most invincible shoes to any hazard or element they may encounter.
Durability And Longevity
The majority of hikers, mountaineers, and runners at all skill levels are likely to see very few differences between Vibram® and Contagrip soles, primarily because both are strong compared to fewer premium brands of outsoles.
They’re both meant to resist tough trails and surfaces, and while Vibram® may have generally better insulation, you’re not going to see either of these brands degrade or become damaged easily.
That said, it’s probably more likely to see Vibram® shoes last longer since their solid vulcanized rubber has fewer weak points where damage could take place.
You’re not bound to be disappointed by either technology, but you’ll probably want to gravitate towards Vibram® soles if you want a slightly more secure material.
4. Which One Is Better?
For the most part, neither material is better than the other, but that’s not to say there aren’t any differences. At their core, they’re both incredibly strong and tactile technologies, and when you’re hiking or running on challenging surfaces, you’re not going to feel like either puts you in danger.
That said, they have different strengths that lend themselves to different styles of shoes.
Contagrip’s thinner nature makes them better for lighter shoes, particularly trail running shoes and light hiking shoes. Their weight distribution helps them maintain comfortable speeds, something most slower and treacherous hikers don’t want or need.
Vibram, meanwhile, is much better for challenging trails and hazards, particularly when it comes to temperature. As work boots, they’re essentially going to last for years, but with hiking and mountaineering, they’re bound to last longer than most other outdoor footwear products.
If you choose either style of outsole, you aren’t going to be disappointed, and they’ll be equal for most adventurers.
If you’re more experienced and want a finer-tuned material, though, you have to choose the outsole that fits your style of hiking or running best.