The 8 Coolest Running Shoes of the 1980’s

Running as a sport would not be what it is today without the “fitness boom” of the 1970’s. Maybe it was because foods got fattier, or technology allowed people to not have to work as hard. Whatever the cause, people began to put on more weight, which forced them to get out and exercise and lead healthier lifestyles.

With the increase in running for people of all shapes and sizes, there came the need for better footwear. Better cushioning, lighter yet durable materials, better support; it all became necessary for running footwear, which hadn’t changed much in the prior fifty years when only track and field athletes were running. With the added demand for running shoes, the footwear brands began to compete for every runner’s business. This is what led to the rapid advancements in technology from the early to late 70’s.

By the 1980’s, the running shoe really hit its stride, as many brands including adidas, ASICS, Brooks, New Balance, Nike and Reebok all had countless models for any type of runner to choose from. More or less, by the end of the decade the modern running shoe as we know it today had evolved. Technology has continued to advance, but the basic foundation for what we think of as a running shoe was established.

To celebrate the decade in which the running shoe matured, today I present my picks for the 8 coolest running shoes of the 1980’s.

Nike Internationalist – 1980


The Internationalist is in a lot of ways the quintessential early 80’s runner from Nike. It has a classic two-toned color block, suede and nylon construction, and a chunky midsole with waffle rubber outsole. They get bonus points for being rocked by Anthony Michael Hall in the classic 80’s film

The Breakfast Club


Nike V Series – 1985

Scan via

All three models of the “V Series” go hand-in-hand, so I’m cheating and putting all three in the list together. The Vengeance, Vortex and Vector (left to right in this image) can be thought of as transitional models from the early 80’s suede and nylon designs by Nike to the more techy, lightweight and stylish models of the late 80’s.

Reebok GL 6000 – 1986


The most classic and popular 80’s runner from Reebok is the GL 6000. Thanks to its recent resurgence in the retro market, the shoe is being enjoyed by a whole new generation—although as a casual sneaker, not as the high performance runner it was back in 1986.

Nike Air Max 1 – 1987


The revolutionary Air Max designed by Tinker Hatfield changed running footwear forever thanks to its large Air window, which prompted other sneaker brands to make their own technologies visible, setting the tone for 1990’s sneaker design. Visible tech or not, the Air Max 1 is one of the most popular sneaker silhouettes ever, re-released in almost countless new colorways and iterations each year.

New Balance 996 – 1988
New Balance made in the USA

with the same quality as an original pair.

Nike Air Flow – 1988


They may not be for everybody, but there’s no denying this funky and daring design from Nike with its duckbill-like toe and neon colors is one of the coolest runners from the 80’s. Or at least most interesting.

Nike Air Stab – 1988

via Flickr user airkeung88

Short for ‘stability’, the Air Stab combined awesome style with stable performance for over-pronators. Historically not very concerned with their looks, the Stab is one of the rare sought-after designs of the often clunky stability models from Nike or any other brand.

adidas ZX 8000 – 1989

via eBay

We close with the adidas ZX 8000, which combined high performance with awesome and unforgettable style. A plastic heel counter and Torsion support bar in the midfoot supplied the technology, while vibrant colorways like the “Aqua” version you see here made the ZX 8000 one of the most iconic runners in all of adidas’ catalog.