What are the Types of Uppers for Running and Basketball Shoes?

Shoes for basketball and running are very popular today, and even those that don’t play the said sports are buying these shoes just because of how comfortable they are to wear and for walking, doing errands, or just simply strolling in malls or parks. There are thousands of basketball shoes and running shoes that have been designed and released throughout the years, and some of these shoes can even be called “vintage” or “classics” because they never go out of style.

Of course, shoes would also evolve over the years in terms of durability and comfort. Gone were the days when only two types of material were used for the upper of running shoes and basketball shoes, as many brands have already formulated and designed various materials that are stronger and more comfortable than the ones used on vintage shoes. Here are the types of uppers for running and basketball shoes that are available today.


One of the very first materials used for basketball shoes is canvas, which is a type of plain-woven fabric that is mostly made of cotton. Canvas is arguably one of the softest materials for shoes, and it is quite flexible, thus making them suitable shoes for people that move a lot. The canvas used for shoes is much thicker than what you would normally find in other products or items, so they are fairly durable.

However, canvas is not really as strong as some of the other materials that will be used for running and basketball shoes later on, as the material would often have holes in high-pressure or high-friction areas. Moreover, canvas also doesn’t provide support for your feet, although some vintage brands have reinforced some parts of the shoe, particularly the ankles and the toes, with more canvas for extra durability.


Another material that is also widely used in vintage running and basketball shoes is leather, which is supposed to be stronger and more rigid than canvas. Leather uppers are particularly known for their rigidity, as they don’t flex much as canvas, although they do provide more protection for the feet since they are typically thicker.

Despite its rigidity, leather would actually become softer after several uses on the basketball court or on the road. However, much like canvas, leather doesn’t usually offer much support for the feet, so they are often reinforced with extra leather or with tougher materials in order to support the ankles or the toes. Furthermore, leather uppers aren’t particularly lightweight, so they will feel quite heavy, especially for runners that want to stay light while running.


Suede is a type of leather that is typically made from the skin torn from the underside of various animals like goats, pigs, and lambs. While the typical leather is the exterior of an animal’s hide, the typical suede is the interior of the hide, which is normally hairier and softer compared to leather. Also, suede is usually lighter than suede, thus making them perfect for running shoes. So, running shoes in the 80s and 90s would usually have suede as their upper for lightness.

If you want to have the durability of leather but the lightweight and soft qualities of canvas, then you should definitely pick suede as an upper. However, the downside to suede is that it can be quite difficult to clean since dirt and grime can stick to the hairs of the suede easily. Moreover, suede is also less durable than leather, although it can last longer compared to canvas.


The most popular type of upper material that you will find in almost all running and basketball shoes today is mesh, a fabric that is typically made from polyester, nylon, and polypropylene. These great materials are then woven together to form the mesh fabric. Since mesh is woven loosely compared to canvas, they offer the best breathability out of most types of upper materials. 

You wouldn’t worry about your feet overheating or getting too hot during the summer while running or playing basketball if your shoes have ample amounts of mesh. But, because mesh is loosely woven, it is usually not as durable as leather and other more rigid materials. However, to remedy the durability issues of mesh, some brands reinforce the mesh upper with other materials in high-wear areas of the shoe.

Knitted Upper

For the ultimate flexibility and breathability, running shoes and basketball shoes would have a knitted upper. A knitted upper is quite different from the canvas as they are typically softer and stretchier, although they are still durable since the knit is reinforced by nylon or polyester yarn. 

However, through prolonged or frequent use, knitted uppers would eventually have holes in high-wear areas, although those areas are normally covered by PU laminate or leather pieces to prolong the life of the upper. Most of the high-end basketball and running shoes that you can buy today have a knitted upper.

Synthetic Leather

Basketball and running shoes that have a less expensive price tag would usually have a synthetic leather upper. As its name suggests, synthetic leather is a man-made material that has the same qualities as leather but is actually lighter and more breathable. Those that want to have cruelty-free products would typically buy shoes with synthetic leather, mesh, and canvas materials.

As leather is becoming more expensive in the market, many brands like Nike and Adidas are already using synthetic leather as an alternative material for their general release items or mass-produced products. The downside to synthetic leather is that it is not as durable as leather, but if you regularly replace your shoes after years of use, this wouldn’t really be a drawback for you.

And there you go, the popular and common types of uppers for running and basketball shoes that you should know about before actually making a footwear purchase. Besides the upper, you should also take a better look at the soles of the shoes to know if they are comfortable and durable. Also, check out reviews of basketball and running shoes to know which ones are considered the best by many players and runners.

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