Indoor vs Outdoor Basketball Shoes – The Key Differences Between Them

Basketball Court Background

Basketball originated as an outdoors sport but in the modern USA, almost all competitive and official games are now indoors. This raises a few issues for basketball shoe manufacturers, the main one being the different surfaces on the indoor and outdoor courts. Since shoes have to cater to the specific surface they’re stepping on, companies making them had to create indoor and outdoor models. In this article, we will compare indoor vs outdoor basketball shoes and see what their pros and cons are

There are quite a lot of aspects based on which we can compare indoor and outdoor basketball shoes. The main ones are:

  • Sole
  • Tread & Traction
  • Materials & Durability
  • Cushioning & Comfort
  • Ankle Support
  • Ventilation
  • Price

Before we dive deeper into each of those features, make sure you check out my buyer’s guide on some of the best basketball shoes for ankle support. Now, let’s get into this!

Sole

Apart from being one of the key components when it comes to the shoe’s comfort and grip, the sole also plays a vital role in foot support. How durable it is and what materials it is made from will also determine how long will it last on your feet. This is one of the main differentiating factors between cheap and expensive brands, as premium manufacturers use more expensive rubber in their insoles and outsoles. This makes them last longer and grip onto different surfaces better.

In general, outdoor basketball shoes have tougher outer soles. In addition to their strength, they are also often thicker. This makes them last longer when played on rough surfaces. Indoor shoes, on the other hand, have a thinner sole that can quickly get ruined if played on asphalt or pavement courts. The reason for that is because indoor courts are almost always well-polished and flat, resulting in little to no wear and tear to the sole.

Tread & Traction

Having the right grip on the court is one of the keys to jumping higher and having more control over your movements. This is why the tread, traction, and grip of the shoe are extremely important. As with the other features here, there are some obvious differences between outdoor and indoor shoes in this regard. Outdoor basketball shoes often come with larger thread patterns. These are designed to provide good lateral stability as well as proper grip on all types of surfaces.

If you’ve noticed at the bottom of indoor shoes’ soles, they often have circular flat spots on them. This allows them to grip smooth and flat surfaces better, almost in a suction-like fashion. That is why they will provide a lot more traction on wooden courts. Play with the outside, however, and you will find that they are more slippery than you’d initially thought. The reason for that is because they don’t have a ton of thread, allowing them to slide over the asphalt, especially if it isn’t very smooth.

Materials & Durability

Portrait of a basketball player

This is one of the aspects in which outdoor shoes really shine. Since they are specifically made to withstand nature’s elements, these shoes have to be built differently. The materials used in them, from the sole to the body of the shoe, have to be durable. What’s more, they have to withstand UV rays, moisture, dry hot air, and more. Of course, cheaper outdoor models won’t have these properties and might discolor and wear faster. However, good outdoor models will allow you to wear them on and off the court without worrying too much about their overall state. They are even often good enough to play on an indoor court with them, assuming you wash them beforehand. Many indoor courts prohibit you from playing with outdoor shoes because the chips stuck in their threads might scratch the polished wooden floor.

The majority of materials used in outdoor shoes are synthetic such as polyester for the body and natural rubber for the thicker sole. These materials have naturally good resistance to UV rays and other outdoor conditions. Since materials are typically thicker and have more than one layer, these shoes are often much heavier than their indoor counterparts. This might not mean a lot to beginners but is an important factor when it comes to the shoe’s performance on the court.

Indoor shoes are also often made out of synthetic materials, although premium models use real leather for their bodies and natural rubber for their soles. The body is thinner and lighter, however. As we already mentioned, the soles are also thinner. All that results in a much lighter and versatile design. This takes a lot away from their outdoor durability and that is why I won’t recommend using your indoor shoes on outdoor courts. The softer rubber soles might chip and even rip if you use them on anything other than an indoor court.

Cushioning & Comfort

In order to protect you from the harder outdoor surfaces, outdoor basketball shoes have to have a few extra features that will improve comfort. Apart from the thicker soles, they also have thicker insoles which damped most of the impact when you’re jumping high on hard surfaces. Lateral comfort is also improved and thickened on outdoor shoes in order to provide better lateral support and even some insulation. Since players can often play basketball in colder temperatures, these shoes have the hard task of being good at insulating your feet but also allow a fair amount of breathability. This is why some of them use a mix of synthetic materials combined with zones lined with mesh materials.

Indoor shoes have thinner outsoles and insoles because they don’t need to provide a ton of cushioning for your feet. They also have thinner lateral walls to provide better breathability for your feet and reduce sweating and heat.

Ankle Support

Ankle support is one of the most important features of both indoor and outdoor basketball shoes. This is why all models, no matter the type, heavily focus on that particular feature. Indoor courts have a wooden surface that is typically more grippy than outdoor surfaces. This creates more stress for the players’ ankles when they make sudden lateral motions. That is why you often see indoor shoes with high ankle support. While some players still prefer lower support for their indoor shoes, higher and tighter support is well-established in indoor models.

Outdoor models, on the other hand, are often without a ton of ankle support. This is why they are typically lower to the ground. That makes them easier to put on and off and it also makes them easier to lace up. That particular part of them is also what makes them much more wearable off the court, contrary to indoor shoes which might even prove to be fairly uncomfortable in a casual situation outside the court.

Ventilation

basketball players

If you’ve ever played indoor basketball, you know how hot your shoes can be after a decent practice. Despite their thinner and lighter nature, basketball shoes can get quite hot, especially if you’ve been through intense training or a game. This is also one of the main reasons for bacterial growth which leads to bad odors. While odor eliminators often do the job, there are plenty of other things to consider before that. Some indoor shoes have excellent ventilation properties and are made out of breathable materials. Leather, despite what your logic might tell you, is quite breathable. Now, combine leather with a few mesh zones and some thinner synthetic materials and you have the perfect recipe for breathability.

Even on these occasions, however, you should let your shoes vent for at least 30 minutes after each practice or game. Outdoor shoes typically don’t need a ton of breathability since they are used mostly in the open where feet don’t get as hot. If you play on hot days and hot surfaces, however, you might have to look for thinner and lower-profile shoes. These will have your ankle more exposed but will also allow for better breathability. Pairing that with breathable basketball socks often does the trick and keeps your feet dry and cool.

Both indoor and outdoor models can have ventilation holes on the inside of the shoe but these typically have limited functionality.

Price

Price-wise, basketball shoes, in general, have a ton of price differences from their budget class all the way to some premium shoes. Brands like Adidas, Under Armour, AND1, and Nike all offer cheaper models which are often meant for multi-court use or outdoor use. However, their most expensive models are almost always geared more towards indoor games. The reason for that is because most professional and semi-professional games are played indoors, which makes the players get the most out of their gear, which is often reduced down to the basketball and the shoes.

That being said, if you’re looking for a cheaper shoe, outdoor models will come at a much better price. If you want to spend a little bit extra and have something that will be good both on and off the court, I suggest getting an indoor shoe that is a bit more versatile.

If you want to learn how to properly clean and take care of your basketball shoes, make sure you visit my article on the topic!

Frequently Asked Questions

Can you wear your indoor basketball shoes outdoors?

In general, indoor basketball shoes aren’t meant to be worn outside. However, a lot of players wear their shoes out of practice exposing them to different surfaces and different weather conditions. While this won’t necessarily ruin the shoes, it will speed up the process of aging and will make them lose their grip faster. Another reason you might want to avoid wearing them outside is that they can discolor.

Can you wear basketball shoes casually?

Similar to the previous answer, yes, you can wear them. Still, as they are not meant for outside use, this will deteriorate them faster. There is nothing wrong with wearing your old indoor basketball shoes casually, though.

How do I get rid of the bad smell in my basketball shoes?

Thanks to bacterial proliferation, bad smells tend to accumulate inside your basketball shoes. Prevention-wise, you can let them breathe after each practice for around 30 minutes. If they are already smelling bad, you can try putting them next to a heat vent or another heat source that will dry them up completely. This tends to kill the bacteria inside and deals with the bad scents. Putting them in the freezer is also an effective way to deal with this issue, as it is yet another way to kill bacteria. Using shoe odor eliminators can also do the job if you spray them before every practice.

Should you tighten your basketball shoes?

Lacing your shoes too tightly can cause your feet to blister. This uncomfortable result can hurt quite a bit making you miss practices. On the contrary, having them too loose will prevent them from having the proper ankle support for your feet. This is one of the most common reasons for a rolled ankle in basketball.

Final Words

When comparing indoor vs outdoor basketball shoes, you have to take a few things into consideration. One of the main differences is in the materials used in them and their sole. Indoor shoes are designed to have more traction on wooden surfaces thanks to the shallower thread patterns. This improves their grip, allowing quick lateral changes of direction on wooden courts. Outdoor shoes, on the other hand, are far more resilient towards nature’s elements and will wear out slower even when played on asphalt or concrete courts on hot days.