Behind Vibram: The Unexpectedly Interesting Story of Those Grippy Soles on Your Boots

by | Nov 17, 2023

Have you noticed that most hiking boots/shoes have “Vibram soles?” You’ll also find Vibram soles on work boots, trail running shoes, and even some dress shoes.

What are Vibram soles and why should we care?

What Is A Vibram® Sole?

Vibram soles were born out of a tragedy. In 1935 on a climb in the Italian Alps, six of Vibram founder Vitale Bramani’s friends died of exposure. Back then, hiking boots had heavy leather soles with hobnails that weren’t appropriate for steep ascents or descents, causing climbers to change into uninsulated felt-bottomed boots for tough conditions. But the felt-bottomed boots were slippery in snowy and icy conditions which impeded climbers’ ascents or descents. Bramani thought that if his fellow climbers had been wearing appropriate footwear, they would have been able to descend the mountain in a timely fashion and avoid dying of exposure.

So Bramani set out to create soles that would provide traction to allow hiking and climbing in all conditions. Working with Leopoldo Pirelli (of the Pirelli tire company), Bramani developed soles out of vulcanized rubber that had much better traction due to a lugged tread pattern. Bramani named his tread pattern “Carrarmato” (loosely translated from Italian: “tank tread”), which is still used today. Here’s a picture of the Carrarmato tread pattern (you probably recognize it):

The combination of better insulation and better traction led to safer hiking expeditions and fewer cases of frostbite, hypothermia and exposure. Vitale Bramani founded the Vibram® sole company in 1937 and the name a combination of his first and last names (Vi-Bram). And it is pronounced “vee-bram.”

Vibram Soles Are Favored by All Sorts of Shoe Manufacturers

Today, over 1,000 footwear manufacturers use Vibram soles in their shoes. Vibram soles are known for being durable, grippy, and flexible.

Vibram has designs that are appropriate for many different uses. For example, here’s Nike’s Ultrafly trail running shoes:

Here they are on some Samuel Hubbard dress sneakers:

Here are my Hoka x Cotopaxi hiking shoes that I tromped all over Tasmania in sporting Vibram soles:

Some Merrill hiking boots:

Some Patagonia work boots:

And Vibram’s own minimalist running shoe, the “Five-Fingers”:


  1. Saved me on my Yosemite hike!

  2. Thanks for sharing very interesting facts.

  3. Very interesting and nice to see another fine example of a thriving family owned business–nearly 80 years old and doing great! Thx for sharing! Luv2Nap

    • Yes. It is still a family-owned business!!!


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