Best Inline Skates for Kids

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K2 Raider Review
Best Reviewed

Best inline skates for kids

K2 Marlee / K2 Raider

Real skates aren't toys

As a general rule, if you buy youth skates from a dedicated skate manufacturer, you're going to get small skates that perform much like adult skates. If you shop generic department store brands, you run the risk of getting something that performs more like a toy.

The most common complaints about "toy" youth skates are plastic wheels that won't stand up to use beyond the walls of a skating rink, boot closures that won't stay closed, low-quality bearings that keep the wheels from turning freely and, in one notable instance, a problem with the screws that hold the wheels on.

Most of those "generic" youth skates cost between $30 and $40 dollars per pair -- and while many parents say they feel they're a good value for the money, especially if kids are just trying out the sport for the first time, quite a few find themselves wishing they had sprung for the better performance and durability of a big-name brand.

The "I wish I'd bought ..." brand mentioned more than all the others is K2 and, although they offer several youth skates, the K2 Raider (Est. $60) and K2 Marlee (Est. $60) -- for boys and girls, respectively -- stand out as the best of the bunch.

In marked contrast to the trouble spots for "toy" skates, the K2 Marlee and Raider do almost everything right. They're sturdy enough to survive years of being handed down from one child to the next, and their real, 70mm/80a wheels can handle rough outdoor conditions. Equally important, the frame and wheelbase are built together so the entire skate sits a little closer to the ground, making it easier for young skaters to keep their balance as they master a new sport.

ABEC 3 bearings keep your kids rolling smoothly but aren't so fast that the skates will automatically dart out of control; and the boots are cut high enough to offer lots of ankle support. The three closures -- conventional laces, a ratchet ankle cuff and a hook-and-loop instep strap -- are easy enough that, with a bit of practice, many children as young as 6 can put the skates on and remove them without assistance. If your kids struggle with tying the laces, both skates come in a Pro version that has quicklaces instead of regular laces, slightly larger 72mm wheels, and also sports bright, boldly colored designs. Both the Pro and non-Pro versions can be upgraded to 76mm wheels as your kids want to skate farther or faster.

The K2 Marlee and Raider skates are adjustable, with mixed reviews about whether they fit true to size or run a little small. The "small" fits sizes 11J to 2, the "medium" fits sizes 1 to 5, and the "large" covers sizes 4 to 8. Their appearance -- very much like a real "grown-up" skate -- is a high point for some children.

Another popular "real skate" for kids is the Bladerunner Phoenix, which is available in both boys' (Est. $75) and girls' (Est. $75) models. These skates push-button adjust in three size ranges (J11 - 1, 1 - 4, or 5 - 8), with real 72mm/80a wheels on ABEC3 bearings. Parents say that these skates generally roll smoothly and last longer than other starter skates. The boot has a soft liner that can be removed for cleaning. Heads up: the sizing on the Bladerunner Phoenix skates tends to run very small.

If you're not quite ready to make the leap into serious skates for your children, one inexpensive brand that holds up best to regular use is the Roller Derby Tracer (Est. $40), which is also available in a girl's version (Est. $40). These skates come in two push-button-adjustable size ranges, so they'll grow with your kids.

Although the Roller Derby Tracer is advertised as having a soft boot, it's really more of a rigid construction; so make sure your kids wear socks to protect their feet against any pinch points. These are also the only skates in this report to have hi-lo wheels, with 64mm wheels in the front for maneuverability and 72mm wheels in the back for more speed, all on 608ZB bearings. The hi-lo setup is easy enough for a small child to manage, but the wheels will also wear incredibly fast on concrete -- so these skates are at their best for use on the carpet or at indoor skating rinks.

For kids who want slightly larger wheels, the Roller Derby Boy's Stinger 5.2 (Est. $50), or the Roller Derby Girl's Stinger (Est. $50) are a step up. They feature 76mm wheels that are still soft enough for indoor skating, but can stand up to some outdoor use. Like the Roller Derby Tracer, the Stinger 5.2 is available in two push-button-adjustable size ranges and has removable, washable boot liners. The Stinger has Silver 5 bearings that kids say let them skate very fast. However, we found some repeated concerns from parents that the ankle ratchet straps on these skates don't stay as tight as the parents would like.

Training skates may be the safest option for small children

If your kids aren't quite ready for full-on skates, you might prefer the Chicago Skates Training Inline Skate Combo (Est. $50). These skates convert from a "training wheel" configuration (one wheel in front, dual wheels in back) to a true three-wheeled inline skate, and they're push-button adjustable between sizes 10J to 13J (small) or 1 to 4 (medium).

The build quality on the Chicago Skates isn't as high as the K2 youth skates or even the Roller Derby model we evaluated. Parents say the wheels don't roll as smoothly and the closures are sometimes a little loose. The wheels also wear very quickly when exposed to outdoor pavement. But when it comes to doing their job -- helping children transition to inline skating from quad skates or no skating experience at all -- parents say the Chicago training combo is a great value.

That value is made even better by the included protective gear -- knee pads, wrist/hand pads and a helmet -- and parents say kids love being able to carry the skates and protective gear in the included child-size backpack.

Another option for training skates is the Fisher Price Grow With Me 1, 2, 3 Inline Skates (Est. $30), which adjust from children's shoe sizes 6 to 12. Unlike the Chicago training skates, the dual training wheels on the back of the Fisher Price skates are permanently mounted, and your child has to wear his own shoes with these skates, so they're definitely an intermediate solution on the way to "real" skates.

The highest point for these training skates, which are advertised for children as young as two years old, is a clever three-stage switch that lets you lock one wheel on the skates so your toddler can get used to walking around in them, then set the wheel to roll forward only as they master the skating motion. When they're ready, you can set the switch to let them roll freely in any direction. Some kids find all those steps too "babyish," but parents say they are a great help for many youngsters. However, the same parents sometimes disappointed to find that the hard plastic wheels on these skates are only suitable for use on carpet or grass. The Fisher Price Grow With Me skates come in green or pink.

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K2 Skate Raider, Black Orange, 11-2
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Chicago Boys Training Skate Combo, Size J10 - J13
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K2 Skate Marlee Inline Skates, Silver/Blue, 11-2
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PHOENIX - 4 Size Adjustable Junior Skate 2016 , Black/Silver Flash, 5 to 8 Adjustable
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New: $64.99 $55.96   
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Roller Derby Boy's Tracer Adjustable Inline Skate, Medium
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New: $41.05   
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PHOENIX - 4 Size Adjustable Junior Skate - Girls 2016 , Black/Purple, 1 to 4 Adjustable
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Roller Derby Girls Tracer Adjustable Inline Skate, Small adjustable size 12-1
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New: $39.99 $30.00   
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Roller Derby Boy's Stinger 5.2 Adjustable Inline Skate, Small
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Roller Derby Girl's Stinger 5.2 Adjustable Inline Skate, Medium
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Fisher-Price Barbie Grow with me 1,2,3 Inline Skates
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