Inline hockey skates or roller hockey skates occupy a distinct niche of their own. Maneuverability is a very high priority, so you'll often find soft, relatively small wheels that grip well enough to provide a fast take-off and stop slips during fast, tight turns. Such wheels tend to wear very quickly outside, but last longer when used in an indoor skating rink.
The largest wheels you'll find on a hockey skate are usually 80 mm, which give a good combination of maneuverability and speed. Hi-lo setups, which place smaller wheels in the front two positions for improved maneuvering and larger wheels in the back two slots for speed, are more common than not.
Of the models we evaluated, two stand out as the best combination of value and performance. Our Best Reviewed model, the Bauer Vapor XR4 (Est. $190), delivers high-end speed, agility and responsiveness at an extremely low price. Its boot is also tough enough to protect you against direct hits from hockey pucks -- another reality of the roller hockey world.
The Vapor XR4 has a 76 mm/80 mm hi-lo setup, with Labeda Millennium X-Soft wheels that grip very well but wear quickly outdoors. The ABEC 9 bearings are speedy and smooth, and the skate's overall durability is great; one HockeyGiant.com reviewer says his pair of Vapor XR4s have stood up to more than a year and a half of skating three or four times a week.
The only real downside to the Bauer Vapor XR4 is that a number of reviewers wish the boot had more padding. "The bearings are smooth, the boot is super tough, the laces are strong. Only complaint is the lack of comfort within the boot. The ankle is padded, but the rest of the inside is very hard plastic and not comfortable," writes one reviewer at HockeyMonkey.com. Still, as long as you take the time to "bake" or heat-mold the boots to fit your feet, most reviewers say they fit very well.
Like the Bauer Vapor XR4, the Alkali RPD Comp (Est. $180) has very soft, grippy wheels that make for a quick take-off and great maneuvering. Also like the Bauer model, the RPD Comp's wheels wear very quickly when used outdoors -- but they seem to wear pretty quickly indoors, too; some reviewers say they love the skates but replace the stock wheels with something more durable. The RPD Comp's wheels are all 80 mm, a surprise for skaters who are used to the typical hi-lo setup -- but most say they end up liking the all-80s setup, and that they still respond very well.
The RPD Comp's boot is heat-moldable too and draws lots of compliments for its comfort and angled, aggressive stance. It's also worth noting that, unlike much of the competition, Alkali's roller hockey skates are built on an inline-skating-specific last, as opposed to a modified ice-skate last; the updated last leaves you some extra room in the toebox.
The RPD Comp's ABEC 9 bearings are fast and smooth, and if it holds up to early reviews, this skate will be a strong contender for Best Reviewed status in our next update. For now, however, the Bauer Vapor XR4 has a longer-established and extremely positive track record, and its boot offers better protection against speeding pucks than that of the RPD Comp.