If you dive a bit into the subject of skate shoes you often see them described as vulcanized or cupsole. The difference is how the soles are made and how the sole connects to the upper part of a skate shoe. There are many differences between ‘cups’ and ‘vulcs’ but it mainly comes down to board feel, comfort and durability.
Cupsoles are more durable than vulcanized skate shoes but provide less board feel. Vulcanized skate shoes offer the most board feel and flexibility, but offer less protection and wear faster. Let’s take a closer look at both types of skate shoes.
What Are Vulcanized Skate Shoes?
Vulcanized shoes are produced by chemically heating the outsole, which molds the rubber and makes it more durable. Once the outsole is attached to the shoe a second heating procedure takes place. After that foxing tape (a thick rubber band) is added to the shoe to hold it together.
This process is called vulcanization, hence the name Vulc. If soles aren’t treated by the process of vulcanization, you’ll be left with a non-flexible outsole which would make it a terrible skate shoe. By vulcanizing the rubber, the sole becomes more durable and flexible.
Foxing tape is added later because the outsole don’t bond very well without the extra thick rubber band. The fox tape is easy to spot and a strong visual cue that you’re looking at a vulcanized skate shoe.
Vulc shoes have many advantages over cups, but also a few downsides that are hard to ignore. They wear faster than cupsoles, offer less support and are less suitable skate shoes for long walks.
What makes vulcanized skate shoes the preferred shoe of technical skaters is the boardfeel and flexibility. Some cups feel like bricks and make it harder to perform trick flips, for example. The thin sole of vulcs makes it easier to feel your skateboard deck.
Last, there is more surrounding rubber around crucial areas like your flick spot. This will make these areas last longer and your flicks more consistent.
What Are Cupsole Skate Shoes?
Cupsoles are easy to spot. Usually you can see the seams on the upper port of the sole. Cups are made with a U-shaped rubber sole which is sewn into the upper part of the shoe. Cupsoles offer more comfort because of the increased cushioning, arch support, and heel support, which helps to prevent injuries from impacts.
Cupsole outsoles don’t go through a heating process like vulcs which makes them more sturdy, but less elastic. Because of this, more layers can be added which offers the much needed impact protection, at the cost of boardfeel.
In our experience, cupsoles last longer than vulcanized shoes depending on the brand, and the amount of rubber around the sole. They also require a longer time to break in, wearing them before skateboarding will speed up the process.
Cupsole VS Vulcanized Skate Shoes Compared
Because vulcs offer more board feel, it’s often preferred by skateboarders that do lots of technical tricks. As always, skate shoes are about preference. Some people prefer cupsoles for technical tricks over vulcanized shoes.
It’s not a matter of which is the best skate shoe, but it helps to be aware of the differences. Cupsoles offer much more protection and comfort, so if you often have sore feet or painful heels, try cups. A cupsole has more cushioning, more arcs support, and more heel support but less board feel as a trade-off. The thicker sole might cause you to feel your board less, but that doesn’t go for everyone.
Go for cupsole skate shoes when:
- You ollie large drops or stairs.
- You often grind rails and ledges near bigger drops.
- Need extra impact support for your feet.
- Need more arch support.
- Skate half pipe or bowl
For those who are in doubt about vulcanized skate shoes, how much boardfeel do you need? If you do lots of flatground tricks, hit the park often, or shred the streets, vulcs would be a good choice. If your feet hurt when jumping bigger drops you can always consider a different insole.
Go for vulcanized skate shoes when:
- You want a shoe that is consistent and predictable for flick tricks.
- You need little arch or heel support.
- You mainly skate flat ground, skate parks, or street.
- Board feel is extremely important to you.
Here’s a little overview of the pros and cons of vulc and cupsole shoes:
|Cupsole Shoes||Vulcanized Shoes|
|Advantages||– Durable shoe|
– More heel and arch support
– Sturdy, keep their shape longer
– Can still offer enough board feel– Fewer injuries
|– Offers the most board feel|
– Flexible shoe, great for flick tricks
– Break-in rather quickly
– Often cheaper
– Less board feel– Can be more expensive
– Take longer to break in
|– Less support and protection|
– Looses its shape sooner
|Best For||Cups are great for those who ride half pipe, bowl, drops and stairs. Offers more protection and foot support.||Vulcs are great for street skating, skate parks, and flat ground and offer the most board feel|
The choice is yours, sure there are differences, but it comes down to preference and the type of skating you most often do. I skate cupsoles because I often get heel bruises and my feet just hurt from years of skating, running, and whatnot.
The extra support really makes a difference. I can’t even wear vulcanized skate shoes for too long because they just don’t offer enough support. But that’s just me, some of my buddies don’t want to skate anything else than Vulcs because it fits their style much better.
How To Tell If Your Shoes Are Vulcanized Or Cupsoles
This one is pretty simple, and I briefly mentioned this before. Let’s look at a couple of examples to help you recognize a vulc or cupsole.
Vulcanized shoes are easy to recognize by the foxing tape, which is the rubber band around the outer sole. Second is the lack of stitches. If you hold a vulcanized shoe, you’ll notice it’s quite flexible and easy to bend in all directions. This improves your flicks and board feel.
Cupsoles are easy to spot by inspecting the outsole which is one piece of rubber. Secondly, sometimes you can see a seams on the side of the outsole. In most cases, cupsoles also have less rubber around the front of the toe box area.
Here’s an example of a cupsole skate shoe where you can clearly see the outsole which is one piece of rubber. The shoe on the right is a dead giveaway, the stitching means its a cupsole.
Recommended Vulcanized Skate Shoes
Nike offers great Vulcanized shoes that offer extreme board feel, great for those who want to up their technical skating abilities. Not all Nike vulcs are great, but one that really stands out is the Janoski.
There is a good reason this shoe is very popular among technical skateboarders. It just offers lots of flexibility, board feel and can last between 60 and 80 hours.
Recommended Cupsole Skate Shoes
If there is one cupsole I’d recommend, it’s the Adidas 3ST. One of the most surprising things about the shoe is how flexible the shoe feels. Quite remarkable for a cupsole.
Second is its extreme durability. If you treat this shoe right, you can skate it between 150 and 180 hours.
The toe area comprises high-quality suede that takes grip tape a long time to chew though. Obviously, this shoe offers the much needed impact protection and comfort for big drops.
So I hope this sheds some light on what cups and vulcs exactly are and their purpose when it comes to skateboarding. I must admit when I was younger that I didn’t know the difference and just bought shoes on sale. Anyway, if you love a shoe, it’s probably best to stick to it. Going from vulcanized skate shoes to cupsoles might be a challenge, unless you need the extra support.
Cupsole skaters probably need less time adjusting to vulcanized skate shoes, you could give it a try some day.
I’m an aged skateboarder and I still shred responsibly. I started skateboarding 25 years ago but also love surfing, snowboarding, or anything that involves a board.