Can You Wear Bowling Shoes Outside?

Bowling is popular in over 90 countries, and the USA boasts 70 million bowling enthusiasts of the estimated 100 million worldwide. The ubiquitous bowling shoe is estimated to have been around since 1888, and though it serves its purpose in the alley, can you use them outside as a fashion accessory?

Bowling shoes have a specifically designed smooth outer sole and you should not wear them outside. The non-grip sole may cause wearers to slip on slick surfaces and cause injury. Irregular outdoor surfaces can also damage the specialty sole cover, affecting your game. Damaged bowling shoe soles can also damage bowling lanes.

The nature of a bowling shoe’s design makes it perfect for sliding and braking on alley surfaces, but this design could cause serious problems when using bowling shoes outside. They are purpose built tools created for specific use only. Read on to learn more.

What Makes Bowling Shoes Different From Regular Shoes?

Bowling shoe uppers are made to fit the shoe on the bowler’s foot and usually made of leather suede or synthetic materials. There is not much difference between regular shoe uppers and bowling shoes except where the uppers are usually embossed with brand name, size and possibly the bowling center logo or other mark. 

Bowling shoes generally make use of removable insoles, which follow a similar pattern as regular shoes. Removable insoles prevent moisture build-up and provide support to the foot’s arch. Midsoles and insoles provide ground reaction force and shock absorption and follow similar purposes in regular sports shoes and bowling shoes. 

The fundamental difference between a regular and bowling shoe comes down to the design of the outsole. The outsole’s design has the specific purpose of providing for the sliding and braking in bowling delivery. Players need to take a stride and then slide and brake consistently and smoothly to release the bowling ball effectively into the lane. Therefore, bowling shoes exhibit these defining features:

  • Slick area for sliding. Bowling shoes have an exterior bottom or outsole with a smooth area usually made of microfibers or leather that enables them to effect a proper slide action.
  • Traction pad for braking. The shoes incorporate a higher friction area commonly made of rubber to enable the player to brake.
  • Sliding soles. Bowling footwear makes use of sliding soles on each side of the shoe to allow for both right and left-handed bowling actions. These sliding soles are typically soft and have no heels as opposed to regular tennis shoes. These sliding soles can be adjusted so that the bowler can regulate their friction to suit different alleys.

Why Are Bowling Shoes Different?

There are several reasons why bowling shoes are mandated in bowling alleys. The most important is to facilitate bowling actions and prevent injury while bowling. Regular shoes are not designed to facilitate the specialized physical movements during bowling maneuvers, causing impaired action or even injury to the bowler.

See my bowling shoe recommendations

Effective Movement and Safety

Due to the unique requirements for bowling, bowling soles mirror the bowling lane’s slick surface. The slick undersole enables a smooth motion while bowling, prevents the bowler from sticking to the surface while delivering a controlled strike, and allows the bowler to slide. The slide action is essential to bowling and enables the bowler to use momentum when delivering the throw.

The need for consistent repeatable action and controllable slides and stops is why you can’t bowl without bowling shoes.

The smooth surface area of the sole also prevents injuries due to the bowling ball’s increased weight and extreme forward motion of the bowling action. If a bowler was to stick mid-swing, the twisting action or sudden change of direction might cause several common injuries, including:

  • Ankle sprains, inversion sprains, and deltoid ligament sprain on the ankle joint’s inner side caused by the force of improper landing, sudden direction change, and twisting motions. 
  • Knee joint ligament injuries can result from improper actions in bowling because much of the force of the bowling action is centered on the one knee joint.
  • Shoulder injuries may be caused by an abnormal bowling motion and result in shoulder ligament tears or rotator cuff injuries.

Maintaining the Bowling Surface

The approach area of the bowling surface is the most crucial area of play. This surface is where most of the bowling activity occurs when preparing the ball for release. Therefore it is imperative to keep this area of play smooth, flat, and free from any debris that may cause injury. The correct bowling footwear ensures that:

  • Bowlers do not bring in debris or slipping hazards from outside into the approach area. Moisture, slippery substances, or sticky substances may injure yourself or other bowlers in the bowling area.
  • Bowlers do not damage the approach surface by scuffing and marking the surface with non-regulation footwear.
  • Bowling shoes slide across the bowling surface to ensure that no damage to the alley’s wood or synthetic surface is not compromised.

Controlling the Bowling Environment

By using bowling shoes compulsory, bowling alley owners may maintain the sole surface standards and eliminate customers from bringing in debris from outside the alley. In this way, proprietors may protect their patrons from seemingly insignificant hazards such as a piece of gum under a shoe. 

Controlling the bowling environment is crucial to ensure that patrons do not harm the surfaces or track outdoor hazards into the bowling environment. Rain, snow, oil, or foreign matter can easily be tracked into the alleys without patrons being aware of its danger. 

Does Wearing Bowling Shoes Outside Harm You?

In 2013, New York Assembly Bill A04739 was proposed making it compulsory for bowling centers to post warnings on each entrance and exit to warn patrons of wearing bowling shoes outside. This proposed bill was in reaction to an upswell of lawsuits by consumers who were injured by wearing their bowling shoes outside. This proposal brought attention to the risks of bowling shoe-related injuries.

This proposed signage would ensure that bowling centers would no longer be liable for injuries that occurred by patrons falling or slipping when wearing bowling shoes. The specialized nature of bowling shoes that makes them perfect for use in bowling centers is the exact reason why they are potentially hazardous to wear outdoors. These factors include:

  • The soles of bowling shoes do not have the grip that is commonly used in outdoor footwear such as sports shoes and trainers.
  • The smooth under the sole of bowling shoes makes it easy to slip on slick surfaces and moisture when walking outdoors.
  • Wearing bowling shoes outside a bowling center and returning inside increase the likelihood that debris and moisture may cause the wearer to slip, fall, or stumble inside the alley.

Can You Wear Bowling Shoes As Regular Shoes?

If you insist on stepping outside the bowling alley, you should change to your regular shoes or ensure that your bowling shoe soles are properly clean. Debris and moisture on bowling shoe soles can be a hazard to yourself and other players in the center and damage the bowling surface.

Bowling is such a fun sport, and it would be sad if your bowling shoes cause you an injury when you should be having fun. Bowling shoes are created for the bowling surface, and one should not be tempted to wear them as outdoor shoes (even if you love their look.)

There are several differences between bowling shoes and tennis shoes, for example.


Bowling shoes have been designed for use in a bowling environment and don’t lend themselves to use outdoors. All the features that make them perfect for your bowling tournament make them hazardous for everyday wear and exclude them as items of fashion. So, to protect yourself and others, and keep your favorite bowling surface in high sheen, rather choose a shoe that is suited for the outdoors.


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