There’s a lot to consider when shopping for kids’ sneakers. “Comfort and ease of wear are key when it comes to kids’ sneakers since they are always on the move,” says Dina Sweeny, the chief merchandising officer of the kids’-clothing subscription service Kidpik. It’s no secret that kids can be very fidgety, and while putting on a pair of shoes may seem like a simple task for adults, it can feel like an entire process when your tot insists on doing it themselves. To find out what parents should look for, we enlisted the help of shoe experts, parents, style specialists, and sports aficionados, who shared their picks for preschoolers, kindergartners, elementary-schoolers, middle-schoolers, and high-schoolers. With the cutest and coolest style suggestions in hand, we’ve organized them by age group, based on general criteria the experts said you should consider when shopping for your kiddo. Some styles are available in multiple age categories, which we’ve noted where applicable.
Best sneakers for preschoolers and kindergartners
Stacey Fauci, owner of kids’ shoe store Runnin’ Wild, says canvas shoes from the Seattle-based brand See Kai Run are among her best sellers year after year. “They have a functional soft sole, and the styles are very nice,” she says. “The colors are more muted, and it’s a good first-walker shoe. They’re also cut a little wider.” According to Jennifer May, a children’s-footwear consultant, many children have wide feet so it makes sense that these roomier shoes are comfortable on kids’ feet.
One of the most important features of your child’s sneakers is how comfortable the footbed is, and lifestyle blogger and mom Bianca Dottin says the Adidas Cloudfoams live up to their name. “Love these because my kids rave about how comfy they are. I have the adult version as well and I can walk in them for hours without any complaints, plus they’re budget friendly.”
“Completely our fault, but my boys (4 and 2) only like wearing AJ1s now,” says Dayna Hall Carter, design director at Vox Media. Iconic sneakers that have earned a lifetime membership to the cool-shoe club, Air Jordan 1s are available in a variety of color combinations and heights. Carter appreciates that she can use the same style of sneakers for both of her kids and that “they work well for both their feet, narrow (oldest) and chunky dino feet (the baby).”
This pair of slip-ons is reminiscent of Bensimons, those dainty French Converse-like shoes. Ashley Melone, the co-founder of nursing-friendly clothing line Madri Collection, bought these for her daughter and recommends them. “I love the Cienta Distressed Canvas Slip-Ons for my toddler. Slip-on shoes that she can wear comfortably without socks make getting out the door that much simpler.” Melone adds that they have a “timeless” look and go with just about every outfit.
For tiny kiddos heading to their first year of school, Overtime’s director of social strategy and distribution, Mike Kaufman, suggests this classic basketball-inspired sneaker. “New Balance has totally changed from being the branded ‘boring dad shoe’ to being the ultimate destination for Gen Z and Millennials. With Jack Harlow as the new face of New Balance, these shoes will definitely fly off the shelves,” Kaufman says.
Here’s another pair from Nike that got shouted out as a comfortable choice for little feet. “My favorite sneakers for my kids are Nike Air Maxes,” says Tara Foley, founder of nontoxic beauty company Follain. “I have the same ones, so I know from personal experience that they’re super-cushy and have the perfect amount of height.” She likes that the kid’s version have “great elastic laces that I find way better than Velcro straps or regular laces.” They’re also seriously cute. Nike also makes Air Maxes for all ages and sizes (albeit in slightly different styles), so the entire family can match.
“I absolutely love Reebok’s Classics for my preschooler,” says Danielle Walish, Madri’s other co-founder. “For the spring, I ordered her a pair of the Classic Leathers in white, and for the fall we changed to black with the gum bottoms.” She says that the retro look is especially cute on tiny feet. Like Nike, Reebok makes this style for older kids and adults as well.
Best sneakers for elementary schoolers
Vox Media product-operations manager Kristin Knight says that this innovative pair of sneakers gives her son an extra boost of independence while he’s learning to master tying his shoes. “He’s not quite ready for tying his shoes and loves how easy they are to put on and take off. The BOA tightening mechanism feels very exciting to him,” she says. The sneaker has a single flap that hooks onto a kid-size disc that can be tightened to secure the shoe so your kiddo can quickly and easily put their shoes on by themselves.
Mika Oakes, the founder of maternity swim brand Moloco, and Eunice Byun, the CEO and co-founder of direct-to-consumer kitchenware company Material, both swear by Stan Smiths for their kiddos — but with Velcro, of course. “It’s so easy for kids to manage the new task of putting on and taking off shoes without bothering with tying laces,” says Byun. Oakes agrees that no-tie shoes are the way to go, saying, “I was never the mom who wanted to deal with tying up laces.” Stan Smiths, of course, come in styles with just laces, which may be a better fit for older kids.
Dopple stylist Alexandra Perri says that the undeniably stylish Camper Runner sneakers are cute enough to make “your little ones actually want to wear them.” The classic cream color can pair with any outfit combination that your school-aged child comes up with, and the Velcro-and-lace construction makes them easy to secure, even for kiddos who are still perfecting their shoe-tying technique.
LEGO are a part of the DNA of children, and this collab with the toy brand and Adidas is a favorite of Vox Media engineering manager Tessa Thorton’s 9-year-old son. She says that he gets “so many compliments and loves that the tread is LEGO blocks.” The elastic laces and the hook-and-loop closure mean that your kiddo can slip them on and won’t have to worry about their laces coming undone.
For a no-fuss shoe, Maisonette co-founder Sylvana Ward-Durrett loves Vans slip-ons because, as their name implies, they’re so easy for kids to slip on and off. She also notes that “they’re the perfect price point for the wear and tear of the week.” They’re available in all sizes, so you can wear the adult version to match your little one when you feel like twinning.
Best sneakers for middle schoolers
Monika Wajda, a stylist at kids’-clothing subscription company Dopple, loves that the quality of Veja sneakers is consistent, whether she’s grabbing an adult pair for herself or this cute mini pair for her daughter. “What I love about these shoes is that Veja Kids offer the same level of quality when it comes to flexibility and lightness — similarly to the adult version. What is amazing is that I can now share twin moments with my daughter when we go out! Vejas are way more fun when shared,” she says.
Unlike the unstructured, barefoot-style shoes Shevaun Mackie Doyle, a pediatric orthopedist at the Hospital for Special Surgery, recommends for younger kids, she says that “as they get older and closer to their adult body weight, it’s okay to have a shoe that equally distributes load and absorbs shock” like a traditional running shoe. As kids enter middle school and pick up track, cross country, or other sports that involve running, she says, these more specialized shoes help prevent stress fractures and calluses. With the same cushioning technology found in the brand’s adult shoes, Asics are a good choice for active kids in this age group. Fauci calls the Gel-Contend “a very stable shoe.”
Toward the tail end of elementary school, kids may start to prioritize aesthetics in their sneakers. “Adidas is doing a great job with styles right now,” says May. She suggests this pair that’s flexible and breathable while also being stylish. As long as the shoe fits correctly and is functional, it’s generally fine to let a kid pick a pair based on looks. Doyle says this is true even for the one in five kids who have flat or collapsed arches. “Don’t get a shoe to accommodate a flat foot,” she says. “It’s been shown that it’s a normal variant within foot shape.”
Here’s another super on-trend knit style recommended by Liza Bychkov-Suloti, an on-air style expert and partner at integrated marketing and PR agency SHADOW. “Champion makes low-top and high-top sneakers I adore that are supportive and great quality but also ‘outfit of the day’ worthy,” she says. Bychkov-Suloti adds that the sock-style sneakers are “both cool and durable,” while also allowing kids who can’t yet tie their own laces to slip them on themselves.
Best sneakers for high schoolers
“If you’re looking for the ultimate basketball shoe, look no further than the MB1,” said Kaufman. Even if your high-schooler isn’t actually playing basketball, the sport-style sneaker will dominate the halls this school year. “This is the NBA player LaMelo Ball’s signature shoe in its newest colorway which is the most popular shoe for his Gen-Z fans,” Kaufman explains.
High-school kids can be the pickiest when it comes to coordinating their outfits during the school year. Iris Adler and Tali Milchberg, co-founders and designers of kids’-clothing brand nununu, say that you can’t go wrong with black Chuck Taylors. “Black All-Star high-tops are classics and always the right choice. This is truly an iconic heritage brand that literally represents youth and their culture for decades. As per style — they’re cool, laid back, and literally work with anything from a pair of jeans to a fancy dress. The more worn and shabby, the better.”
The Strategist is designed to surface the most useful, expert recommendations for things to buy across the vast e-commerce landscape. Some of our latest conquests include the best acne treatments, rolling luggage, pillows for side sleepers, natural anxiety remedies, and bath towels. We update links when possible, but note that deals can expire and all prices are subject to change.
Every editorial product is independently selected. If you buy something through our links, New York may earn an affiliate commission.