Bowling alleys are a wondrous place; the echoes of bowling balls striking the pins, the screeching of shoes gliding across the lanes, the ambient beeps and boops of the screens, and the tantalizing smell of fresh hotdogs and nachos filling the air.
But without appropriate bowling shoes, you can only admire it all from afar.
If you’ve ever been to a bowling alley, even as a casual bowler, you already know that you can’t step foot on the lanes in your regular footwear. Instead, you have to rent out bowling shoes or bring your own pair.
But why do you have to go through so much trouble to bowl? The reasons have to do both with the bowler’s safety as well as the preservation of the bowling lanes.
Why Do You Need Separate Bowling Shoes
Having to switch out your regular shoes for bowling-specific shoes might seem annoying and pointless to you. Why can’t you just wear your favorite pair of kicks while bowling? After all, they do a pretty swell job in every other physical activity.
But trust us; when you’re on the lanes, your regular sneakers aren’t up for the challenge.
You see, bowling lanes are specifically designed to accommodate the motion of your delivery, from the approach to the release. Specifically, the lanes are intentionally made slippery to allow you to slide across the polished wood as you release the ball.
At the same time, bowling shoes have special soles that interact harmoniously with this kind of surface. This bowling-specific footwear helps you out by:
- Protecting the lanes. Your regular athletic footwear tracks in a lot of dirt, grit, and moisture, which can compromise the sensitive protective layer of the lanes. A compromised surface can lead to injuries such as sprains, slips, and falls. Moreover, regular sneakers often have a hard rubber sole which can permanently damage the bowling lanes.
- Cutting you some slack. Swinging and releasing a heavyweight such as a bowling ball is an unnatural motion, which is why you must be able to adjust your plant foot and “go with the motion.” Unlike regular sneakers, bowling shoes have a “give” that lets you adjust your plant foot to neutralize the momentum of the swing. Without this give, you can sprain your ankle, knee, and hip.
- Allowing you to slide. A crucial element of a successful bowling delivery is sliding one of your feet right before you release the ball. The sliding helps you with accuracy as well as easing the torque off your planting knee.
How to Choose the Best Bowling Shoes
If you’re a casual bowler who likes to hit up your local alley a few times a year, you should be fine renting your shoes. At just a few bucks per game, it makes financial sense.
But if you’ve taken on bowling as a frequent hobby or even a profession, you would be better off buying your own pair of bowling shoes.
With that in mind, how do you choose the right pair of shoes to win the game? Here are a few things to consider:
Sliding Soles vs. Traction Soles
The one distinguishing feature of bowling-specific footwear lies in the soles of the shoes. While your everyday running sneakers often have a tire-like tread on their soles to maximize grip, bowling-specific shoes don’t have this grip-optimized sole.
On the contrary, these shoes need to enable the bowler to glide as they release. Hence, they feature sliding soles.
At the same time, a little bit of traction could come in handy sometimes, especially for competitive bowlers. Only one shoe, ideally the one you wear on your planting foot, features a traction sole. This allows you to produce more power in your release and pivot your body more easily throughout the delivery.
Athletic Style vs Performance Style
Generally speaking, there are two types of bowling shoes: athletic-style and performance-style.
You can think of athletic-style shoes as regular sneakers that have been tweaked to be more suitable for a bowling alley. In fact, they even look like your typical everyday sneakers, only with bowling-appropriate soles.
Athletic-style shoes are perfect for beginners or bowlers who don’t frequent the alley. Both the soles on these shoes are sliding soles that are well-suited for only one alley.
On the other hand, competitive bowlers often favor performance-style shoes. The thing that sets these shoes apart is the fact that either shoe of the same pair has a different sole: sliding and traction.
Interchangeable Soles and Heel Pads
When it comes to competitive bowling, there is such a thing as sliding too much and past the foul line. For this reason, higher-end bowling footwear often features interchangeable soles and heels, allowing you to adjust your slide.
This feature especially comes in handy when you’re visiting a different alley for each play. Not all bowling lanes are built the same, and you need to calibrate your shoes according to the lane surface.
Overall Fit And Comfort
Lightweight, flexible shoes, as opposed to rigid shoes, are much more favorable when it comes to bowling. Once again, this has to do with how your entire body moves throughout your delivery.
Basically, you build up a lot of momentum as you swing the bowling ball. Subsequently, your feet need to be able to make minor adjustments to ride out the momentum instead of opposing it and potentially causing injuries.
The more flexible the shoe material is, the more adjustments you can make to your stance.
Can You Turn Regular Shoes Into Bowling Shoes?
This might come as a surprise to you, but you can actually transform your regular sneakers into bowling-appropriate footwear. Here’s how:
- Find a comfortable and stylish pair of lightweight, flexible shoes that can withstand constant sliding, such as Loom waterproof sneakers.
- Purchase a pair of slide pads and wide velcro that can cover the forefoot portion of the soles.
- Stick on the velcro pads onto the soles and trim the excess.
- Adhere the slide pads onto the velcro.
- If you want to add a slide to your heels, you can repeat the same process for the heel portion.
This method is preferable because you can remove the slide pads and use the shoes for regular wear whenever you want.
As an alternative method, some people actually take their shoes to the cobbler to remove the sole altogether and permanently replace it with a sliding sole.
Top 5 Bowling Shoes To Ace Your Delivery
Dexter T.H.E 9
If you’re looking for a next-generation bowling shoe for a shot at a perfect game, the Dexter T.H.E 9 will definitely deliver.
- Performance bowling shoe
- Interchangeable heel and soles
- Hyperflex dual hinges for proper alignment
- Lace closure combined with a BOA dial system
The titular abbreviation stands for “Toehold Hyperflex Engineering,” which manifests in the advanced sole interchanging system. As any professional bowler would know, removing and replacing soles can be quite challenging, especially in terms of alignment.
However, Dexter’s hyperflex dual hinges technology allows you to line up the sole perfectly and secure it in place through the toehold grip.
But that’s not all.
The sole’s Hyperflex dual channels actually increase sole flexibility, allowing it to flex at both points. This not only offers more of a give but also reduces cracking.
All in all, the Dexter T.H.E 9 is arguably the best high-end performance bowling shoe on the market.
- The symmetrical outsole system allows you to interchange the outsoles on either shoe without any trimming.
- The leather material is unnaturally soft and flexible yet equally sturdy and durable.
- The notched thumb grip allows for easy removal of interchangeable soles and heels.
- These shoes are one of the priciest options on the market.
KR Strikeforce Mesh Flyers
Just because you’re a casual bowler doesn’t mean that you can’t enjoy a high-performance bowling shoe, and the KR Strikeforce Mesh Flyers are the perfect testament to this claim.
- Athletic-style shoes
- Universal microfiber slide pad
- Mesh upper
- Non-marking rubber outsole
One of the best things about the Strikeforce Flyers is their unbelievable comfort factor. Made from mesh material, these shoes promise breathability and flexibility— and boy, do they deliver on that promise!
Not only that, but the shoes accommodate a wide variety of feet sizes. Usually, bowling shoes aren’t too kind on people with wide feet. In fact, many brands feature a narrow, streamlined design to win over their customers.
But KR Strikeforce prioritizes diversity. Hence, the medium and wide shoe sizes will cater to almost all bowlers. Speaking of which, the universal soles also add to the shoes’ all-embracing features, enabling both left-handed and right-handed bowlers to enjoy this footwear.
As far as athletic bowling shoes go, it really doesn’t get any better than this.
- For an entry-level bowling shoe, the Mesh Flyers offer one of the best slides at its price range.
- The shoes are comfort-oriented, with padded tongues and collars and breathable uppers.
- The white shoes only come in a medium-width variety.
- The canvas mesh upper isn’t the most durable or sustainable material.
The most common gripe that professional bowlers have when it comes to performance-style shoes is the sheer lack of long-wear comfort. Luckily, the Pyramid HPX is here to save the day!
- Performance-style shoes
- Soft full-grain leather upper
- Biomechanically contoured sizing
- Thermal polyurethane outsole
- Interchangeable soles
Straight out of the box, the Pyramid HPX is a comfortable fit, requiring almost no break-in period. The upper is made from 100% soft grain leather, which adds to its comfort, flexibility, and durability.
But their real time to shine is on the bowling lanes.
Equipped with a removable Ortholite insole, these shoes offer unparalleled stability throughout your delivery. You can especially feel the benefit of the stabilizing insole as you release the ball and plant your foot.
Moreover, the polyurethane outsole allows you to glide across the lane in full glory. Rest assured, you don’t have to worry about tripping over yourself from the inertia of your delivery.
Performance and functionalities aside, the HPX Pyramids are easy on the eyes as well, boasting a modern sneaker-like design.
- These are the most comfortable performance bowling shoes on the market.
- The shoes are compatible with alternative brands’ interchangeable soles.
- The HPX Pyramid shoes are one of the most affordable performance-style options.
- Pyramid is infamous for having tricky sizing, and the HPX line carries forward the legacy.
- The shoes do not feature universal soles, which means you’ll have to choose between right-handed or left-handed shoes.
With so much potential for an aesthetic design, a surprising number of athletic-style bowling shoes leave a lot to be desired in terms of their visual appeal.
But not the Brunswick Vapor bowling sneakers.
- Athletic-style shoes
- 100% synthetic upper
- Foam padded collar and tongue
- Microfiber slide soles
- Extra-light molded EVA outsoles
Featuring a modern, minimalist design, these shoes will make you feel like you’re dressed for success. They come in two color options: black and white and black and copper— both elegant contrasts.
But there’s more to these shoes than just vanity.
On the contrary, the Brunswick Vapor shoes offer optimal comfort. With a 100% synthetic upper, padded collar and tongues, and extra-light EVA outsoles, these shoes will make you feel like you’re walking on cloud nine.
As far as their slide goes, the microfiber slide soles give you impressive control over your delivery.
- The Brunswick Vapor is the most affordable athletic-style bowling shoe on our list.
- The synthetic upper allows your feet to breathe even after a full day of wear.
- Some bowlers have observed that the soles leave track marks on the lane.
Traditional-style bowling footwear had its own appeal, and the BSI Classics are the perfect proof of their appeal.
- Athletic-style shoes
- Artificial leather upper
- Glued universal slide soles
- Padded tongue and collar
Boasting an old-fashioned design, the BSI Classics are the ideal amalgamation of aesthetics and functionality. The shoes feature a padded tongue and collar with an EVA footbed, which allows them to conform to the shape of your feet. Hence, sizing will not be an issue.
You might be put off by the non-removable sliding soles, but hold your skepticism. Sure, you may not be able to change the soles, but you’ll barely feel the need to do so since the soles are universal and adaptable for different alleys.
As far as entry-level bowling footwear goes, the BSI Classics are at the top of the game.
- The BSI Classics are extremely affordable for entry-level bowlers.
- The synthetic leather upper is surprisingly durable.
- The material isn’t too comfortable for long-term wear, especially in terms of breathability.
We hope you now have a good idea what makes a good pair of bowling shoes, and what are some of the great options. If you visit bowling alleys too often, bowling shoes are a perfect addition to your shoe rack.