What the best inline skates have

  • Comfortable boots. The boot should fit snugly on your foot and ankle, and allow you to flex forward at the ankle for balance. Beginners should look for more supportive cuffs, while advanced skaters may want to aim for shorter, more flexible cuffs that allow them to take a more aggressive stance.
  • Ventilated boots. The best boots -- whether hard or soft -- have ventilation channels to help keep your feet cool and comfortable on hot days or during a hard workout.
  • High-quality bearings. The higher a skate's ABEC or ILQ number, the more precisely the bearings are engineered and the faster they'll run. Speed skates typically have ABEC 7 or ABEC 9 bearings; this number isn't particularly important if you're only interested in recreation or fitness skating.
  • Appropriate wheels. The exact specs of your wheels will depend on your skating style. In general, wheel sizes are, from smallest to largest: aggressive skates, hockey skates, general fitness skates and speed skates (with wheels of 100 to 110 mm).
  • Secure closures. Closures coming loose is a persistent -- and potentially dangerous -- problem with low-end skates.

Know before you go

  • What's your preferred braking method? General-use fitness skates come with heel brakes, but hockey, aggressive and racing skates do not. (Some racing skates offer optional heel brakes as an add-on purchase.) If you don't have a heel brake, you'll have to learn to brake by other methods, such as the T-stop -- dragging one foot behind you, perpendicular to your line of travel.
  • Which is more important to you: speed or agility? Larger wheels provide more speed; smaller wheels are more agile. Some general-purpose fitness skates use mid-size wheels that combine the two characteristics.
  • Did you remember safety gear? Although not every skater opts to wear them, experts recommend wearing wrist guards, elbow pads, kneepads and a helmet while inline skating.

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