Best Skate Shoes of 2021
The Emerica Pillar is a great skate shoe and the only non-low-top that we tested. As the lone mid-top, the Pillar is the only model that offers any amount of ankle support. It also has more padding around the collar, which adds protection and helps to hold the heel in tightly and reduce slippage. The double wrap vulcanized sole has rubber taping that goes up higher around the outside of the shoe, which along with the suede upper and rubber ollie guard, make this one of the most durable shoes that we tested. While these Emerica's did require some time to break-in, they felt great after the first day or two of skating and provided a superb amount of board feel and control. The sole has two different tread patterns that meet in the middle. The forefoot has a series of deeper dots, which help with adjusting one's foot positions for different tricks, and the heel area has a tighter pattern of lines, which grips the board well and helps with catching flip tricks. Emerica is a skater-owned brand that has been making quality skate shoes for several decades, so it's no surprise that this model took the cake as our top-ranked shoe for skateboarding.
Since the Pillar is a mid-top and has more material than the other models, it is slightly heavier, although not enough to make a noticeable difference when skating or have a negative effect in our assessment. The entire upper of the shoe is suede (aside from the canvas tongue), so they can get rather hot, but the few small perforated areas provide some ventilation. These Emerica's did take a little more time to break-in than most of the low-tops, but they also held up longer, so it's a pretty fair trade-off. The sole is kind of thick, so the foot sits slightly higher above the ground, which can decrease stability, but fortunately, the footbed sank as the shoe broke-in. While the Pillar does provide support for the ankles, the insole is very flat and offers very little arch support. So, for anyone who's got deeper arches in their feet, you may want to get some arch support inserts or switch out the insoles. All things considered, the Emerica Pillar is an excellent skate shoe, which offers more support and protection than any of the others, making it the best option for high impact skating and the pair we reach for first.
The Adidas City Cup is another amazing skate shoe. They are thin and super lightweight but still have some padding to keep your feet protected. The cup sole breaks in quickly and conforms to the movements of the foot easily, and the foot sits very low in the footbed for increased stability and board feel that was unmatched in our test fleet. The upper is suede around the toe area and laces, which is ideal for flip tricks, with mesh around the heel and side panels for ventilation. There are also perforations in the leather where the toe meets the laces for added breathability. The tread pattern extends from the sole around part of the outsole for increased traction, which works in conjunction with the suede around the toe for maximum control of tricks. These Adidas held up well during testing, as suede is one of the most durable materials for skateboarding, and after the process was complete, they came out as one of our highest-rated pairs.
Even though the Adidas City Cup performs well in all areas, there are a few aspects that may not be ideal for everyone. First of all, this shoe is somewhat narrow, so it might not fit as well for somebody with wide feet. Also, the insole only provides minimal arch support. Being a low-top shoe with a very low profile, there is no ankle support either. While the sole has a herringbone tread under the forefoot and heel, the pattern disconnects between the two and is not as grippy in the middle. Lastly, even with the mesh and other features for breathability, these shoes got a little hot while skating, which is most likely due to the tongue being full-grain leather. As you can see, the majority of these critiques depend on the shape of one's foot and are more a matter of personal preference. So, all in all, the Adidas City Cup is an outstanding shoe that works well for all types of skateboarding.
The DC Kalis Vulc is an all-around great skate shoe and another updated version of a classic. Josh Kalis' first DC shoe was originally released in 1999 and shared the same side panel with the Kalis Vulc, but the similarities stop there. Compared to the Kalis OG, the Kalis Vulc is much thinner, slimmer, and weighs less atop a much simpler vulcanized sole. This shoe is very comfortable and requires virtually no time to break-in; it's ready to skate right out of the box. The suede toe is great for flip tricks, and it held up really well during testing. The mesh tongue and collar give it adequate ventilation without sacrificing durability. The vulcanized sole is very grippy, and the insoles are plush and soft, providing some impact protection and making this one of the most comfortable shoes in the bunch.
The fact that the Kalis Vulc was ready to skate right away is mainly due to the sole being quite thin. However, depending on the type of skating one's doing, this could also be seen as a negative, as these shoes are not ideal for taking big impacts. Even though the Kalis Vulc held up pretty well and didn't outwardly show signs of wear for a while, they did lose their shape and get floppy rather quickly. The other main drawback was the lack of lace protection. Even though most of the shoes in our test group do not have protection for the laces, the wider shape of the lace closure makes the laces more likely to get ripped and break easier on this shoe. Overall, the DC Kalis Vulc is a great skate shoe that performs among the best at a price that's a bit less, creating strong value.
The Lakai Carroll is a remastered version of the legendary skateboarder Mike Carroll's first Lakai shoe, originally released in 2000. Now 20 years later, Lakai released this newer version comprised of the same upper, but on a more contemporary XLK cup sole. These Lakai's fit great and are very comfortable. They have a thicker tongue than any of the others and a good amount of padding around the collar, which helps to hold your foot in place and offers great support. The upper is a mix of suede and mesh. The suede wraps around the lower panels providing protection and durability in the areas used most, and the mesh windows and mesh tongue allow for excellent ventilation. The XLK cup sole breaks in quickly and provides the best impact absorption of all the shoes we tested, and the outsole around the forefoot has a light grid pattern, which grips very well for tricks. The Carroll's are the only model that offers any kind of lace protection, which further adds to their durability. So, these Lakai's are not only one of the most breathable shoes we tested, but also among the most durable.
These Lakai's felt great and skated well, but it's important that you get the right size, as they run a bit small, so getting a half size up may be needed (our lead tester needed to do this). Since the Carroll's are thicker and have more padding than most of the others, they do take some time to break-in, but like the Emerica's, the added durability makes it worth it. Once it's broken in, the XLK cup sole provides a great amount of board feel and grips well while skating, but the tread is not very deep, so the traction began to wear out faster than most of the others. Several skate shoe companies have started reissuing or releasing updated versions of shoes from the early 2000s, and the Lakai Carroll is a great example of an iconic shoe with an updated sole for a more modern fit and performance.
The Nike SB Check Solarsoft Canvas is a good shoe that doesn't require much time to break-in and is pretty much ready to skate right away. The canvas upper is breathable and skates well, which, paired with the vulcanized sole, creates the most lightweight shoe in the test group. The canvas on the SB Check must be reinforced in some way because it held up better than any other canvas shoe we tested or have tried before. The Solarsoft sock liner is super comfortable and offers excellent support, especially for how thin this shoe is. The vulcanized sole is very grippy and offers excellent traction on and off the board.
Although the SB Check Solarsoft proved more durable than your average canvas shoe, they still didn't hold up as well as any of the leather or synthetic shoes. Also, even though the insole has a good amount of comfort, the outsole is rather thin and doesn't provide much impact protection. Like most of the shoes we tested, these Nike's don't have much ankle support or any lace protection, but since the lace closure tapers toward the toe and sits pretty high up on the foot, we didn't break any of the laces during testing. The only other thing that we find strange is that the toebox feels much wider than the rest of the shoe. They fit correctly and were very comfortable for walking, but the forefoot area felt a bit too roomy and loose while skating. We did have to size up to US Men's 8.5 after discovering the size 8 we ordered was too small. All-in-all, the Nike SB Check Solarsoft is a very lightweight and well-ventilated shoe that'll keep your feet cool through long skate sessions. And for those who prefer thin and flexible skate shoes, this is a good option that you can start skating right out of the box.
The New Balance All Coasts 574 V1 is technically a "lifestyle" shoe, as it's not part of New Balance's skateboarding line, NB Numeric. However, we looked it over and found it worthy of giving a shot, and found it works as a casual skate shoe. While the sole took some time to break-in, the narrow fit held our feet in place well, with no slippage of the heel. The upper is mostly suede around the toe, heel, and side panel for durability, with mesh over the toe and near the collar for ventilation. Although the sole is flat, the insoles provided sufficient arch support, which several other models lacked. The REVlite midsole is lightweight and provides good cushioning, and the gum sole bottoms deliver a decent amount of traction. Despite not being marketed as a skate shoe, the New Balance 574 is quite good for skateboarding and a very comfortable shoe overall.
One main drawback to skating in the All Coasts 574's is the time required to get them broken in. The sole is rather stiff at first, and the rubber seems harder than that used on the other shoes, which made them a little slick during the first couple of sessions. Even though this pair held up well for a few months of skating, some of the stitching came out of the tongue, which was more of a design issue than due to skating. This wasn't immediately a huge deal, but since the tongue already has exposed foam around the edge, the fabric on top separated, and the stitching continued to unravel and get worse. We were surprised that New Balance didn't seal up this exposed seam with stitching, leaving an obvious weak point concerning the longevity of the tongue. Aside from that, the only thing that may be of concern for some is the fit. New Balance shoes tend to run pretty small, so getting a half size up is recommended. This is especially true with these 574's, which are quite narrow, so they won't fit as well for anyone with wider feet. Still, if you desire a casual shoe that can occasionally hop on a skateboard and perform well, the New Balance All Coasts 574 is a good option.
The Adidas Seeley is a decent skate shoe with a very simple design that delivers an excellent board feel. This shoe has a narrow fit and is very thin, both in the sole and the materials throughout, which allows them to be ready to skate right away. The upper is made completely out of synthetic material (although Adidas does have both suede and canvas versions of this shoe), which sits above a soft rubber vulcanized sole. The synthetic upper is fairly durable and holds up better than canvas, but won't last nearly as long as shoes made with real leather. The gum bottoms of the vulcanized sole deliver great traction and have a pivot point beneath the ball of the foot that is helpful for adjusting one's feet, and the rubber outsole grips the board well while doing tricks. These Adidas work for any level of skater, whether they're just cruising around or trying to progress.
While some may enjoy the fact that these Adidas are thin, the lack of protection and support is not ideal for taking impacts, and aside from a tiny bit of padding in the collar, there is nothing to keep your feet from taking a beating. While the Seeley's don't require much time to break-in, their durability isn't great, as they showed more signs of wear and didn't hold up as well as the majority of the shoes we tested. Despite the shoes being lightweight, the upper's synthetic material is not very breathable and there are no perforations for ventilation, so they get pretty hot, especially on warmer days. All things considered, the Adidas Seeley is a good shoe for skateboarding that's lightweight, affordable, and versatile.
The Vans Authentic is an icon and played a huge role in the development of skate shoes as we know them today. The first shoe designed specifically for skateboarding is the Vans Era, which is nearly identical to the Authentic, except that it has a little bit of padding in the collar. Vans' patented waffle sole is the gold standard for skate shoes, as it breaks in quickly, is super grippy, and delivers an incredible amount of board feel. The Authentic has a simple canvas upper with no additional materials or padding, which keeps them lightweight and breathable, but isn't very durable or protective. Vans also offers the Authentic Pro, which is reinforced with rubber and made with higher quality materials for added durability, but at a higher price. As a classic and instantly recognizable silhouette, the Vans Authentic is one of the most imitated shoes on Earth, and most skate footwear brands have a model that's heavily inspired by it.
The simple design of the Vans Authentic may have been ideal for skateboarding during its infancy, but with the high impact skating of today, this shoe falls short due to its lack of padding and support. Many skaters prefer thin shoes, but with nothing more than a thin layer of canvas, these Vans offer little protection from the harsh nature of skateboarding and don't hold up very well. In fact, the Authentic showed the most signs of wear and was the only shoe that we ripped a hole through during our testing period. Another disadvantage of these Vans is that the sole is slightly heavier and thicker than the others we tested, which along with the low profile and lack of support, can reduce stability and increase the likelihood of rolling an ankle. Despite all of this, the Vans Authentic is still a great option for cruising around and low impact skating that will continue to be enjoyed by skaters around the world for years to come.
Why You Should Trust Us
As someone who has been both a skateboarder and a shoe collector for more than 20 years, our lead tester Adam Yee has skated through scores of skate shoes from numerous brands. He has tried shoes from nearly every company that makes skateboarding footwear and has a deep understanding of what makes a great skate shoe. During his teenage years, Adam had a shoe sponsor that he would test new models for each season, and he continues to keep a watchful eye on the latest models being released. Over the last 25 years, he has seen many brands come and go and watched skate footwear change from the thick and bulky models of the '90s and early 2000s to the thinner and more lightweight models of today. Regardless of the current trend, Adam will keep skating and collecting, and continue his endless search for the perfect skate shoe.
To find the best models on the market today, our lead expert spent weeks skating in each pair to punish them in the way that only skaters can. After researching over 40 styles and selecting 21 as potential options, we purchased all the models we reviewed at retail price. While some are classics that have been around for decades, a couple of them are updated versions of legendary pro models, and others are new models that were just released recently. Although most are low-tops, we purchased a variety of options made of various materials, and a mix of vulcanized and cup soles. Each pair was put through rigorous testing during multiple skate sessions, as well as just walking around on both dry and wet surfaces. To keep our testing process fair and objective, we performed each test in the same consistent manner and in roughly the same amount of time. So, after months of research and testing, our methods and experience give us full confidence in our recommendations.
Analysis and Test Results
For skaters, having a shoe that moves with their feet and allows them to feel the board is imperative, so the majority of skate shoes are designed with a thin but durable upper on a flat sole. Since skateboarding is harsh on feet and shoes, having footwear that is protective and can withstand punishment, yet maintains a sensitive board feel, is a necessity, and like other athletic shoes, comfort, traction, and breathability are also important. We spent hours skating in each model and based our ratings on the performance of each of these features, as well as the sum of their parts, to determine the best option for any type of skating.
The first thing to be considered for any pair of shoes is how they fit and how comfortable and supportive they are. Size and fit can vary between brands or certain models, so it's important to get the correct size to ensure optimal performance. Many models these days are thin with minimal padding to reduce the amount of time it takes to get them broken in, but this also reduces the level of support and protection that they provide. To test the comfort and support, we spent several days walking around and skating in each, and the ones that kept our feet from getting sore received the highest marks.
The amount of support varies greatly between skate shoes. Some like the Emerica Pillar have a lot of padding for the foot and ankle, while others don't have anything more than a thin layer of fabric, which can be light and comfortable but offers little support. Many low-tops like the DC Kalis Vulc and Nike SB Check have a great insole and good padding around the collar, and therefore still offer a good amount of support. So, depending on your preference and the type of skating you're doing, there's a skate shoe on the market to accommodate your needs.
Since skaters are constantly jumping on and off obstacles and dragging their feet across grip tape, durability is one of the most important aspects of any skate shoe. Despite having similarities in looks or design, the level of durability differs greatly between models, depending on the materials. The design also plays a part in the overall durability, as having a rubber toe cap or lace protection will help preserve the life of the shoe. To gauge the durability of each model, we did 25 consecutive kickflips, along with dozens of other flip tricks during hours of skating, to find the areas of weakness and see how well each held up.
Shoes made with leather, especially suede, hold up better and last longer than shoes made of canvas or synthetic materials. The shoes with the greatest durability were the Lakai Carroll, the New Balance All Coasts, and the Emerica Pillar, which are all made mostly of suede. All of these were great for skating and showed minimal signs of wear after several days of skating.
Skaters need to be able to feel the board underneath their feet, so the board feel is arguably the most important aspect of any skate shoe. Many skaters are fully dedicated to either vulcanized or cup soled shoes, as they prefer the board feel that they get from one over the other. To test the level of board feel offered by each, we measured how high the foot sat in the footbed and how long it took to get them fully broken in. We then wore them while skating boards with different sizes, shapes, and grip tapes, as well as various degrees of concave to see how each felt. Spending weeks wearing each pair allowed us to get a good understanding of how well one can feel through any given model.
As previously mentioned, most brands are making lighter and thinner shoes to maximize board feel and reduce the time needed for breaking them in. While most of the shoes we tested delivered a high-level of board feel, there were a couple of models that really excelled here. The Nike SB Check, DC Kalis Vulc, and both the Adidas City Cup and Seeley all provided the optimal level of board feel and required very little time to break-in.
Another important factor for any type of athletic shoe is traction, as it helps with maintaining balance. The grip tape on top of a skateboard provides a lot of traction for the rider, but it's important to have shoes that work together with the grip tape to maximize control. The sole is only part of this equation, as the materials of the upper also need to grip the board for tricks, so the 25 kickflip test that we used to gauge durability also played a part in our traction test. To further measure the traction, we saw how well each performed when being used as a foot brake, at roughly 15 mph, as well as when walking on various wet and dry surfaces. Although no two shoes had the same sole, the different tread patterns delivered similar levels of traction.
Despite the mix of cup soles and vulcanized soles and the fact that each shoe had a unique tread pattern, there wasn't a huge difference in the traction they provided. However, the shoes with the grippiest soles were the Vans Authentic, the Nike SB, and the Emerica, which are all on vulcanized soles. So, even though the shoes with cup soles performed well in other areas, the softer rubber of the vulcanized models typically offered the best traction.
The final feature that we rated each shoe on was its breathability. Like durability, this metric was mainly determined by the materials and design of each shoe, as the type of fabric and where it's placed affects the ventilation. While a material like canvas may not hold up as well as leather, it is much lighter and more breathable, but by incorporating mesh panels, a leather shoe can achieve a level of ventilation that's just as good, if not greater. In rating the breathability of each option, we wore socks of the same thickness throughout and spent several hours on multiple days skating in each pair. After skating, we would remove the shoes to see how hot the insoles and our feet ended up being.
Even though the materials are the #1 factor in determining a shoe's breathability, the climate and weather also play a part. Since this review was conducted during the fall as the temperature was lower, the results may have varied in warmer weather. However, despite this uncontrolled variable, the Lakai, New Balance, and Nike SB models delivered the best ventilation and kept our feet cool through the long sessions. So, although some shoes may have gotten hotter in the summer, we don't think that the outcome would be any different, and we are confident in the results.
Skate shoes are one of the most popular types of footwear globally and are worn by people who don't skate and those who do. As a group of individuals that spend a lot of time focused on their feet, it should come as no surprise that skateboarders know what it takes to make a good quality shoe that's both comfortable and durable. As skateboarding has grown, more and more brands make skate-specific footwear, so our lead expert spent months testing several pairs to deliver our best recommendations. Although big companies like Nike and Adidas now have successful skate lines, we tried to balance bigger and smaller skater-owned brands to highlight. So, whether you're looking for the best shoes to start skating in, or you're an avid skater that goes through a pair every month, we hope that this review helps you decide on your next pair of kicks.
— Adam Yee