Over the past year, you’ve probably encountered a lot of people (including us) talking about how roller-skating, thanks to a growing interest in roller-derby culture and a pandemic that made outside the safest place to be, is experiencing a bit of a boom. But Rollerblades, as with so many ’90s things, have also experienced a comeback. If the last time you strapped on a pair of Rollerblades (also known as inline skates) was for your eighth-grade best friend’s birthday party, you might be surprised to know there are plenty of modern options out there for all experience levels and road conditions. When it comes to investing in a pair, there is a surprising amount to consider: the number and size of the wheels, the length of the frame (the part the wheels are attached to), and the stiffness or cushiness of the boot, all of which affect control and maneuverability. To find the best pairs for skating in the city, for recreation, and more, we asked 13 roller-blading instructors, retailers, and skaters about their favorites.
Before we get to their picks, the experts note that, as with roller-skating and bicycling, anyone who’s putting on a pair of Rollerblades should also be putting on a helmet — especially if you’re a beginner. As Teshia Robinson of RollATL says, now “is definitely not the time to take a trip to the ER.” Robinson recommends Triple8 and S1 hardshell helmets, which she says “provide much more protection than a typical bike helmet.” She also suggests beginners check out the route that they plan to take so they can get a sense of the terrain before they attempt it on inline skates. “New skaters should avoid rough or uneven pavement and downhills, even moderate ones, as you can pick up speed quickly and it is difficult to brake,” she says. “Smooth, flat pavement is the best place to practice.” Those just learning to skate can consult lots of resources for help, too. Skating instructor Arnav “Sonic” Shah, a member of the Empire Skate Club of New York, told us about three: the Skate Instructors Association, which offers hundreds of online classes; Alex Shulgan of InMove Skate’s YouTube channel; and the free online lessons led by 20-year teacher Asha Kirkby of Skate Fresh.
Some of the Rollerblades recommended below come in both men’s and women’s styles, and we’ve included both whenever possible. Other skates have unisex sizing, so if you see a pair you like, be sure to check the retailer’s size chart to ensure you find the best fit. Also: The continued demand for Rollerblades, coupled with COVID-related production delays, has led to fluctuating stock. All of the pairs below are available in some form, but if you don’t see any you like in your size or preferred style, your best bet is to sign up for restock notifications.
Best overall Rollerblades
Several of our experts recommended Rollerblades from K2, a 25-year-old inline-skate manufacturer that also makes helmets and pads (another piece of protective gear you should consider). Brian Long of Shop Task skate shop explains that both the men’s and women’s Rollerblades “have soft-shell boot, which generally does not give as much support as a harder-shell boot, but makes the skate lighter in weight, slimmer, and allows for a more precise, accommodating fit.” Page Baker, a doctor of physical therapy and member of the Central Park Dance Skaters Association, notes that K2’s skates have a Boa closure — a dial that tightens laces when you turn it — and 84-mm wheels that make it “much easier to gain velocity and do toe-heel moves and tricks, like the grapevine.” Long describes the Boa lacing system as “an amazing feature” for soft-shell inline skates that “makes it very easy to get a snug fit.” The wheels, he adds, are a good size for general-purpose outdoor skating because they’re “big enough to be smooth over bumps and cracks, but not so big that it makes the skate significantly more difficult to control.” Rollerblading enthusiast and personal trainer Kate Timofeeva also recommends K2 inline skates. “The best feature is that they are very comfortable,” she says, adding that the skates are “very good quality, affordable for a beginner,” and even stylish. “They have a nice design and look smaller on the feet, not bulky like others can.”
Best (less-expensive) Rollerblades
For those who want to spend less, Rollerblade’s Zetrablades come recommended by two experts who say they share many qualities with the K2 skates above. Those qualities include a soft shell, a heel brake, and four (80-mm) wheels, all things that Robinson says make them “super comfortable and easy to use” for beginners. Ben Vanderhaeghen of Back to Blading agrees that the Zetrablades are a great pick for people interested in trying skating without spending a ton of money. “The soft upper boot makes them less expensive but still responsibly comfortable, and the wheels and bearings are fast and long-lasting,” he adds. Shah told us that, for beginners, heel brakes are “super important because are easy to learn and very effective” when it comes to getting comfortable with stopping in Rollerblades.