Marty McFly’s self-lacing shoes have arrived from the future—and they’re here to stay.
On Thursday, Nike introduced the game-changing new HyperAdapt 1.0, the first self-lacing sneaker and a dream of sneakerheads and sci-fi geeks alike ever since Michael J. Fox slipped on a pair of custom Nike MAGs in Back to the Future Part II.
As the name implies, the HyperAdapt is built around the concept of an “adaptive fit,” which basically means that the shoe actually “senses” the contours of your foot and tightens the laces just enough to wrap it up snugly.
Basically, the HyperAdapt works by giving your feet a hug.
The compact blue box in the Phylon midsole houses a battery-powered motor, which connects to thin wires that run along the sides of the shoe and connect to the laces. (One of the designers, Tiffany Beers, told us she can’t say exactly how it works, because the patent paperwork isn’t finalized just yet.)
Hold down one discreet button on the shoe’s collar, and the motor whirrs, loosening the laces—actually braided nylon bands—before automatically cinching them tight. Hit another button and the laces tighten a little more—if you’re about to start up an intense workout, say, or you just want an extra-snug fit. The blue box also lights up as a row of LEDs pulse across the back of the heel.
We’ll admit we expected the HyperAdapts to be a bit clunky—at 14 ounces, a size 9 is certainly heftier than your average cross-trainer—but they feel surprisingly light. We wore the HyperAdapts through a quick basketball practice, a treadmill run, and agility drills, and in each case, it was surprisingly helpful to quickly loosen the laces (when on the run) or lock things down (when cutting across turf) with a simple button tap.
The HyperAdapt comes in any color you want, as long as it’s black with a white midsole and blue highlights.
That deceptively simple technology is the product of a decade of work in Nike’s most secretive labs, where a team led by legendary designers Mark Parker, Tinker Hatfield, and Tiffany Beers created the real-life version of McFly’s MAGs that Parker and Hatfield first designed back in 1988.
“In the lab, we constantly thought: ‘How is the athlete going to use this? Because the experience has to be amazing,’” says Beers, who spearheaded the HyperAdapt project through a decade of development and testing (even while juggling other shoe projects like the Air Jordan 29). “We engineered the entire thing to perform, comfortably. To adjust your laces on the fly, for the lace pressure to be balanced across the foot, to have an auto-lacing system—those are non-negotiable.”
The tongue of the left shoe is emblazoned with the project’s code name, E.A.R.L, which stands for “electro adaptive reactive lacing.”
Throughout the HyperAdapt’s design process, Beers and her team often hit on new shoe technologies that ultimately became ubiquitous features in Nike’s mainstream lineup. When Nike first introduced the suspension system Flywire in 2008, Beers says, it solved the problem of connecting the laces to the power unit. Flyweave, a specialized Nike fabric introduced with the Air Jordan 29 in 2012, provides the flexibility and strength to keep the shoe together around the Flywire. (Other parts were literally bootstrapped: Part of the collar is held together with 200-lb. test fishing line, she says.)
Sometimes, the breakthroughs came outside the lab. When Beers and her team were first designing the prototypes, the batteries lasted 20–30 minutes, tops, Beers says. But thanks to advances in battery technology over the design process, the production versions can hold a charge for five to six weeks. The HyperAdapts also come with charging “pucks,” which stick magnetically to the bottom of the shoe and charge the battery wirelessly, as the Apple Watch does.
“Remember, this is a consumer electronic and a shoe,” she says. “So as we look to take this worldwide, we’ve had to be sensitive to different regulations on tech around the globe.”
Beers with the HyperAdapt. ‘MT2’ on the sole stands for Mark, Tinker, and Tiffany—the design team’s signature.
All that innovation comes with a hefty price tag: At $720, these sneakers are in the same league as your boss’s Ferragamos. They’ll be sold by appointment only—they come with a manual—and customers have access to an exclusive HyperAdapt hotline in case they have questions.
If you want to get a pair of HyperAdapts now, you’ll need to make an appointment at one of two Nike stores in Manhattan—and they’re already booked up through the weekend. (Nike says it’ll be available in major cities across the U.S. in mid-December, with plans to go worldwide after that.)
Price aside, the question remains: Why, really, would anybody wear the HyperAdapt?
First: This is undeniably a monumental sneakerhead cred-builder, even if you’re not a Back to the Future fanboy. And if you are a Back to the Future fanboy, then it’s still cheaper than a working hoverboard. (Or, y’know, a new DeLorean.)
Second, the HyperAdapt is also a major feat in sneaker engineering. By packing a lithium-ion battery and a cinching motor into the sole of a shoe, the Nike team has once again changed expectations of what a shoe can do. Plus, consider Parkinson’s patients (like Michael J. Fox), who can now tighten their shoes with the touch of a button.
And, of course, thanks to their adjustable laces, HyperAdapts are also capable all-around sneakers. And while they’re almost definitely too pricey for everyday wear, we know they can hold up to your toughest gym routine with ease.
But if you’re still not sold, you can hold out for version 2.0. “I’ve already put in thousands of hours trying to think about what’s next, and what’s down the road,” Beers says. “You’ll be impressed.”
Marty McFly would be totally stoked.