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