Since the beginning of time, man has been crafting coverings for his feet from leather, so its only right that we start with easily the most recognizable sole. Leather soles are most commonly found in dress shoes. They provide the lowest profile and create a sleeker look. However, they are also unfortunately the least weather resistant soles money can buy as all it takes is slightly prolonged exposure to water, snow etc to destroy even the most expensive leather sole.
Dainite sole. Edward Green Sandringham. Image from Leffot.com
Probably one of the most recognizable, the commando or lugged sole is the classic work boot rubber outsole. It's also found commonly on hiking boots. Due to its thick, tread, the commando sole offers traction and weather resistance. However, this traction comes with a price as it has a chunky profile. Italian inventor Vitale Bramante created the sole after six of his friends died in a climbing accident in 1935. He thought their deaths may have been prevented had they been wearing better footwear. He patented the design and soon founded the company Vibram, which now sells the soles.
You probably recognize these soles from the Clark's desert boot that they've been making for longer than I've been alive. Crepe rubber is rubber that comes literally directly from the source. Latex is coagulated off the rubber tree to create the soles, which was how they were made for the longest period. However, most of the crepe rubber soles these days are synthesized. Crepe soles are known for their somewhat unusual wrinkly texture, the cream color and the weight they add to the shoes. The British Army popularized the sole when they put them on their standard issue boot for troops fighting in North Africa in WWII. In today's environment, you can find crepe soles on a range of shoe styles.
Leather sole. Image courtesy of Oliver Sweeney
Dainite is a British company that makes low-profile rubber soles with recessed rubber studs. Initially quite popular on country style shoes and boots, Dainite is now seen on everything from suede chukkas offered by brands like SuitSupply to footwear from shoe makers like Crockett & Jones and Edward Green. Dainite products have been produced by the Harboro Rubber Company since 1894 and are the very definition of made to last as you don't run into the same weather related issues that you could with leather soles.
Commando sole. Loake Mulligan Boot. Image from SartorialLife.com
Cork nitrile is a rubber composite workboot sole that still has an exceptionally low profile. Mixing pieces of cork with the rubber saves some weight in the sole without losing much in the way of durability. Cork soles usually lack a tread, so nothing sticks to the soles–including snow and ice.
Cork Nitrile sole. Alden Indy Boot. Image from Epaulet.
Crepe sole. Tod's Chukka. Image from Lyst.