While roller-skating has long been a beloved pastime, it has exploded over the last year, with stir-crazy people of all ages adopting the hobby as a safer way to spend time outdoors during the pandemic. Whether you’re a newbie looking to join in on the fun or just want to upgrade roller skates you already own, there are now lots of brands out there — both new and old — making the Technicolor, four-wheeled footwear for all experience levels and budgets. But if you’re thinking about investing in a new pair of skates, there are of course things to look out for aside from rad colorways.
The size and feel of the wheels, the material of the boot, and the type of hardware used will all affect skates’ durability and maneuverability, according to the professional roller skaters we spoke with. As a general rule of thumb, leather boots will last longer and fit more comfortably than synthetic materials, while metal frames and plates are better than plastic. When it comes to wheels, the smaller the wheel, the better it is for agility and tricks, while larger wheels are better for traveling longer distances. Softer wheels are ideal for outdoor skating, while harder wheels are the move if you’re rolling around a rink. And if your skates don’t feel quite right fresh out of the box, remember that “you can change the truck, wheels, toe stops, and other parts of the skate to work better for you,” says skater Rebel RousHer, who posts roller-skating tutorials on her YouTube page Queer Girl Straight Skates. To find the best roller skates, we asked RousHer and eight other experts — including pro roller skaters and skating choreographers and instructors — about their favorites. Their 12 recommendations below include something for most everyone, whether you want to skate on a street, in a rink, as part of a roller derby (or all of the above).
One more thing before we get rolling: The continued demand for skates, coupled with COVID-related production delays, has led to wildly fluctuating stock. Most of the roller skates below are available in some form, but we’ve noted any that are entirely sold out where applicable. 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 roller skates
Six of the experts we spoke to recommend the Lolly skates from Moxi Skates, founded by professional skater Michelle Steilen (aka Estro Jen) and manufactured by Riedell, one of the oldest skate producers in the United States. “Handmade in the USA, these leather beauties come in all colors of the rainbow,” says professional roller skater Candice Heiden, co-founder of LA Roller Girls Entertainment. The basic package includes a Powerdyne Nylon plate, Kwik Abec 5 bearings, and soft, gummy outdoor wheels, which are better for “rough terrain, cruising, or slippery surfaces,” she explains. Skater Lauren Perrino describes the wheels as being “like marshmallows,” adding that they “absorb shock like no other wheel I’ve skated on.” The wheels’ larger size gives “better stability for beginners and an overall more comfortable ride for all-day or long-distance sessions,” she adds. Roller-skating blogger Kaci Bell agrees that the Lollys are more than capable of handling the rough pavement you’ll encounter skating outdoors. RousHer also likes the Lollys, adding that the skates’ suede boots “feel so comfortable as soon as you put your foot into them.” And skater Marician Dedeaux Brown notes that while “they are definitely an investment, they are worth the money.” Roller skater Jas Moore agrees: “Their price is a reflection of their high-quality American manufacturing and craftsmanship that will last you a very long time.” Because the Lolly skates as is are designed for street skating and can handle ramps, cracks, and concrete, Heiden suggests buying an extra set of wheels if you want to use them for indoor skating.
When it comes to the fit of any roller skates, roller-dance choreographer Morgan Weske has this general tip: “You want the skate to fit very snug and move with your foot.” Most skates come in men’s sizes, so those used to buying footwear in women’s sizes should order about a size and a half down from your everyday shoe. And once you buy your skates, Heiden and Weske stress that it is important to check the tightness of the wheels and the truck, which are usually not loose enough fresh out of the box.
Editor’s note: The Lolly skates are currently sold out, but Moxi Skates can send interested buyers an email notification when they’re back in stock.
Best roller skates for beginners
For beginners, three of our experts suggested going for this less expensive pair of Beach Bunny skates from our best-overall brand. According to RousHer, they have all the durability and support of many higher-priced skates. “You can be sure that they will last through the many adventures, falls, and excitement that comes with being a new skater,” she says. Bell adds that they give a really “smooth roll on a wood floor,” making them great for dance skating on a rink. RousHer adds that the Beach Bunny is a skate that beginners can still use even when they’re more comfortable standing on eight wheels. The Beach Bunny skates are versatile enough for basic outdoor skating, too, according to her. “This skate has the ability to develop with you as a skater; it is good for if you want to branch out into many types of skating, such as ramps, once you have learned the basics of roller skating,” RousHer says. While the boots aren’t made of leather, Moore says their sturdy vinyl material offers “better ankle support” for those who may need it because the material is a little stiffer.
Editor’s note: While available for pre-order, according to Urban Outfitters, the skates are “on backorder and expected to ship on April 8, 2021.”
Best (less-expensive) roller skates for beginners
Two of our experts recommended Moxi’s newest skates, the Rainbow Riders, as an even less expensive pair that’s great for beginners. “At just $99, these are the perfect beginner skates,” says roller skater Toni Bravo, who notes they have “adjustable toe stops and a colorful design” that made her “feel like a star” the first time she stepped into the skates. Moore agrees: “These are a great go-to, no-sweat skate for basic cruising and beginner jam skating.” Like the Beach Bunny skates, the boot is made from sturdy vinyl, but the wheels that come with the Rainbow Riders are softer, making them better for outdoor surfaces. (Given how affordable they are, springing for a set of indoor wheels shouldn’t set you back too much more.)
Editor’s note: The Rainbow Riders are currently sold out in most sizes, but you can pre-order them at Derby Warehouse, where they’re expected to be back in stock between April 26 and May 27, depending on the size.
Best hybrid roller skates for beginners
For those who know they’ll be skating as much on a rink as they will on the street, a pair of skates with hybrid wheels, like these Impala skates, may be a better choice. Two of our experts recommend them as a great entry-level hybrid roller skate, including Heiden, who says their wheels, aluminum metal plate, and fixed toe-stop make them ideal “for cruising, learning how to skate, and basic dance moves.” Like Moxi skates, Impalas also come in a variety of stylish colors and patterns (lime green and leopard is a particularly wild one), which is why Bell says, “They allow you to roll comfortably and learn in style.” (These also happen to be the skates that this writer bought to learn how to roller skate). Although the boot is made from synthetic materials, the skates are a PETA-approved vegan product. And Heiden has a pro tip to make them even better: “Upgrading the bearings is worth spending the extra money.”
Editor’s note: Stock is low for all Impala skates, but Amazon has a few sizes of other styles available — so it’s worth checking out all the colors to see if you can find a pair in your size.
Best hybrid roller skates for intermediate to advanced skaters
For another pair of skates that can handle both indoor and outdoor terrain (including the skate park), Perrino loves the Moon Boot from Moonlight Roller, a Black-owned brand founded by 25-year-old skater Adrienne Cooper. The skates have a “well-cushioned and stable” boot that Perrino says make them great for “dance, jam, artistic, and park skating.” That boot is made of 100 percent suede, which is one reason why they’re a bit pricier than the Impalas. And their smaller wheels make them better for more advanced skaters — as do their adjustable toe stops, a feature you’ll want for learning more advanced skills and tricks.
Best roller skates for rink skating
Bell, Heiden, and Bravo told us about the Fame skates from Sure-Grip. Bell says the “classic style and lightweight hardware” is great if “dancing and gliding is your thing.” Indeed, the special wheels are designed for spinning, turning, and gliding, making them ideal for maneuvering on a slippery rink floor. Bravo notes that the skates, which have synthetic boots, only come in black and white, telling us the white pair’s “classic look” reminds her “of the skates that folks would wear on Venice Beach in the 1970s.” But Heiden says that even though the skates are “limited in colors, they are a great skate.” In fact, the Fame wheels are the ones she uses most for roller dancing — and the ones she used in the Chet Faker “Gold” music video. Heiden also notes that you can upgrade the cushions (like bushings on a car), which will “allow for more maneuverability as your skill level increases.”