Types of inline skates

Just three years ago, there weren't enough reviews to cover niche categories like speed or hockey skates. The uptick in enthusiasm for these specialized markets has resulted in some very enthusiastic owner reviews. Pair that enthusiasm with individual video reviews and a few vintage written expert reviews and we're able to sketch an image of women's, general recreation, aggressive, hockey and speed, and budget skates.

The skates from each niche market have some common characteristics. For example, neither speed or hockey skates have a conventional heel brake. Instead, you brake by performing a T-stop, dragging one skate behind you, perpendicular to the line of travel. However, the two skates are very different: Speed skates have large wheels and a long wheelbase for the best speed; hockey skates usually have a shorter wheelbase and smaller wheels, for optimal maneuverability. Neither type is suitable for beginners or recreational use, where you'll need to be able to stop and slow down to avoid pedestrians and traffic.

Aggressive inline skates may be the most unusual looking models available. These skates typically have very small wheels and a supportive, highly adjustable boot to help you control tricks like grinds, stair riding, jumps, spins and acrobatics. Aggressive skates also have soul plates (wide, flat plates between the wheels and the body of the skate) that make it easier to perform some stunts. Some aggressive skates have four wheels but two-wheel designs are also common, with one wheel on each end of an angled frame. Custom builds are very common for both speed and aggressive skates, but we reviewed only stock options. If you shop for any of the best-reviewed skates, make sure you're buying the entire skate instead of a single component, such as the boot or wheels.

Recreational and fitness skates, also known as cross-training skates, strike a balance between comfort, handling and maneuverability. They usually have four wheels, a built-in braking system and a medium-length frame built for general mobility, comfort and support. More expensive brands advertised as pure fitness skates are built with lighter, more durable materials than recreational skates. This is also the category where you're most likely to encounter separate men's and women's models, or gender-specific versions of the same model. The biggest differences in women's versus men's skates are usually the shape of the boot and cuff.

Invest in quality and a comfortable fit

Here's what the experts say about buying inline skates. All of the Best Reviewed models meet these criteria.

  • In most cases, the more you pay the better quality skate you'll get. A skate that's likely to provide the fit, responsiveness and shock absorption you need will usually cost about $200, although you can sometimes find good models on sale for less. Advanced skaters should expect to pay more for models with more features, and better wheels and bearings.
  • When it comes to boots, the most important thing is comfort. The boot should fit snugly on your foot and ankle, and allow you to flex your forward at the ankle for balance. Most inline skates have a soft or semi-soft boot, supported and fixed to the wheels by a rudimentary, rigid frame. This offers more flexibility and airflow to your foot than the previous generation's hard, plastic shell-and-liner combos. Inline skate boot cuffs come in varying degrees of flexibility; beginners should look for a more supportive cuff. For more advanced skaters, relatively flexible cuffs allow you to shift forward into a more aggressive stance but still offer some support. Vents in the boot help cool your feet, but are a little less durable; this is only an issue if you're really tough on your skates. Although laces provide a better fit, buckle closures are faster, and a combination of laces, straps and buckle closures on the same skate has become common, helping you fine-tune the fit to your foot.
  • The larger the wheels, the faster the roll, but smaller wheels are more stable and easier to maneuver. Most skates come with wheel sizes of 80mm to 90mm. Harder wheels last longer and are faster on smooth, hard surfaces, while softer wheels absorb shock better and are better at gripping rougher surfaces. Beginners should purchase skates with softer wheels; 78a (durometers) and 80a are most common. 82a is good for varied terrain, while experienced or indoor skaters often use wheels with a hardness of 85a.
  • A skate's bearings determine how smoothly the wheels spin. Experts recommend models with an ABEC (Annular Bearing Engineer Council) rating. While a higher rating means greater precision (and a higher price), it's not necessary if you're only interested in recreational/fitness skating.
  • Skates made specifically for women have a lower cuff and narrower framework, but women with wide feet may prefer a men's model instead of women-specific skates.
  • Wear safety gear when skating, including wrist guards, elbow and kneepads, and a helmet.

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