Although inline skating isn’t as popular as it was in the 1990’s, the current variety, quality, and technology of skates are even better. This is a good thing, but can also make choosing the proper skates more confusing.
The main goal is to choose a skate that fits snug and comfortably. Try to go as snug as possible, while still being comfortable. For basic recreational skating, a little wiggle room inside your skates is ok. However, if you’d like to try more advanced skills, even a little movement inside your skates can throw off your execution. The more advanced the skill, the more you’ll need your skates to feel “one with your feet.” (I usually go down a whole size from my normal shoe size.) When you first buy your skates, the liners of the skates are new and haven’t broken in (i.e., conformed) to the unique shape of your feet. As you wear and sweat in them, they’ll start to break in and you’ll find that what might have initially felt a tad too snug, will eventually feel perfectly sized.
Related to proper sizing, each skate manufacturer uses a different last (shoe form/mold), so for a given size, each company’s skates may fit differently. Therefore, if you can’t find a proper fit from one manufacturer, try another.
Make sure to get skates from companies dedicated to making skates (e.g., Powerslide, Seba, Rollerblade, K2, Roces, etc.). Please do NOT get no-name, store, or non-skate brands. They may seem comparable for a lower price, but these skates do not work well and are a waste of your money.
If your budget is limited to around $100 and/or you only need skates for infrequent, recreational skating, a low end model from one of the name brand skate companies is perfectly fine. They typically come with mesh/suede boots which are comfortable, and plastic frames with all-purpose, 80mm outdoor wheels. On the other hand, if you can spend more and plan to skate often or learn more advanced skills, I recommend considering higher model skates, where you’ll find many more choices. For these models, there are additional features and considerations:
- Lateral frame adjustment: When you’re rolling forward on your skates, your frames should feel perfectly centered and balanced underneath your feet, so your ankles are naturally upright and feel supported. If they don’t feel centered, better skates allow you to shift your frames sideways, which is a crucial feature to prevent your ankles from supinating or pronating. (Supinating/pronating in skates is uncomfortable and will severely hamper learning more advanced skills.)
- Boot type: For general urban skating, my preference is an all-plastic boot since they’re more supportive and durable for the urban environment. Mesh/suede boots are lighter and more pliable to your foot shape, but not as supportive or rugged. (Btw, if you’re willing to do some customizing, you can mold or “punch out” plastic boots to better conform to the shape of your feet.) Good skates with all-plastic boots and aluminum frames generally cost between $200 to $300. (Btw, at the very high end, you’ll also find boots partially made from carbon fiber. These are expensive, but also lighter, stiffer, and heat moldable, allowing for more precision at advanced levels of skating.)
- Wheel size and hardness: For general urban skating, wheel sizes between 76mm to 84mm provide a good balance between maneuverability/nimbleness and ease of skating over city distances (anywhere from just a few miles to as much as 15 or 20 miles). Smaller wheel sizes are more nimble, but require more work for longer distances. Larger wheel sizes allow longer distances and greater speed with less effort, but aren’t as maneuverable. As for hardness, 80A to 85A is a good range for outdoors. Lower number indicates softer wheels while higher numbers are harder. (I mostly skate 84A or 85A, but occasionally switch to 80A or lower for better traction/grip if skating on wet pavement.)
- Type of frame: Related to wheel size, you’ll also want to consider the type and length of the skate’s frame. Aluminum frames are stiffer and more precise than plastic frames. (However, plastic frames are de rigueur for aggressive skating due to their suitability for grinds). Shorter frames are more nimble, but require more effort to skate further/faster. Longer frames allow more speed and greater distances but aren’t as nimble. I prefer frame lengths that are no longer than they need to be for a given wheel size. For instance, if your skates have 80mm wheels, an ideal frame size of 243mm is JUST big enough to fit four 80mm wheels inline.
- Bearings: Most bearings are rated using the ABEC scale from 1 to 9, with the higher numbers indicating better precision/roll. Just about all current adult skates come with bearings rated at ABEC 5, 7, or 9. With Rollerblade and K2 skates, you may also see ILQ and SG ratings, that use the same number scale. Higher end bearings may also have rubber shields on the outer side (for better protection from contaminants) and an open, inner side for easier cleaning. One of my favorite bearings is the Bones Swiss Bearings. These are higher end, aftermarket bearings that roll better than just about any others I’ve tried. Although they’re more expensive, they pay for themselves by their longevity; with periodic cleaning, mine have lasted over 10 years. (And are still going strong!)
- Lastly, inspect how the components are held together. If components such as frames and buckles are held together with standard screws and nuts then you can service/replace individual components as they wear out. (Thereby, extending the life of your skates.) If they’re riveted, glued, or not discrete parts, then you can’t replace them (at least, not easily).
Where to Buy
With all these considerations, I highly recommend going to a local store where you can inspect and try them on in-person. (When buying locally, you’ll also be supporting your community. 🙂 ) If you can, try to find a dedicated skate shop in your area. In my area (Boston), I get all my gear from an excellent skate shop called Thuro:
362 Boylston St – Rt 9
Brookline, MA 02445
They have a knowledgeable staff of experienced skaters who can give expert guidance in getting a proper fit and model. They’ve also done a great job curating the best selection of skates and equipment, many that aren’t available anywhere else locally. And beyond the initial purchase, their expertise and stock of parts have been so helpful in fixing or customizing my skates.
If you don’t have a dedicated skate shop in your area, the next best option for in-person purchase is Dick’s Sporting Goods, which has many locations nationally.
If your budget is limited to ~$100 or you only need skates for infrequent, recreational skating, several name brand skate companies offer low end models, which are perfectly adequate. From $100 to $200, look for skates with aluminum frames that are laterally adjustable (at least on the front end of the skate). Making sure that your frames feel perfectly balanced under your feet (so your ankles don’t supinate or pronate) is crucial to being comfortable in your skates and learning new skills effectively. If your budget allows skates in the $200 to $300 range and you plan to skate often, learn more advanced skills, or simply need more ankle support, I recommend getting a hard plastic boot model. These models are snug, supportive, and versatile, and come with even better features and components — making them excellent for learning high level skills, such as those in slalom and freeride skating.
- When trying on skates, make sure to wear high quality socks. I prefer light to medium weight, crew length socks with smooth seams, made with mostly synthetic, wicking fabric. As you wear more snug fitting skates, even small creases or bumps in a pair of low quality socks can be quite uncomfortable.
Note: I do NOT receive any compensation from any skate manufacturers or resellers mentioned in this article. My recommendations are based solely on my experiences and preferences.