Inline skates have evolved while the interest in these next-generation-roller skates declined sharply from the 1990s. In an attempt to attract people back to a sport that echoed childhood for many, manufacturers produced faster, more sophisticated, and more comfortable skates, according to a 2007 Wall Street Journal article. Inline skates have become more specialized, with distinct categories and features for speed, hockey, recreation/fitness and aggressive skating.
But unpopular items usually don't get reviewed, which partly explains the difficulty finding credible reviews of inline skates in the mid- to late 2000s. Niche reviews are more common than they were three or four years ago. A smattering of enthusiastic owner comments on review aggregation sites like Buzzillions and Amazon.com, and large online retailers like InlineSkates.net and Skates.com, orient you toward the best brands. These inline skate reviews give you the general picture of public opinion regarding the next generation of inline skates, but expert reviews are usually the tie-breakers between similar models.
None of these inline skates are inexpensive. Back in the 1990s you could find basic inline skates for $75 or $100, but at the time of this writing you won't find much out there for less than $150, perhaps due in part to the decline of interest in the sport. However, there seems to be a renewed interest in inline skating which could affect prices, but it will take a while for consumers to see that impact. One could make the argument that higher prices are justified as skates become more specialized and technology improves, but high prices make it difficult to just try the sport. Although we did find one budget inline skate model that stood out for its decent-to-good performance -- the Rollerblade Bladerunner Pro 78 (*Est. $70) -- you'll want to invest in higher-quality skates if you decide to stick with it. One budget-friendly way of testing the sport is renting skates at a rink or skate center a few times before you sink money into a new pair of skates.
If you tried inline skating in the past and gave up on it, you'll be pleased to learn that the skates are more comfortable now, with bigger wheels that roll better over rough terrain, and more padding (including memory foam) that minimizes blisters. Soft and semi-soft boots with a combination of laces, straps and buckles have replaced the formerly ubiquitous hard plastic shell and its buckle closures, offering a more comfortable mix of support and flexibility. Some high-end skates also come with heat-moldable liners for a custom fit.
Although all-text expert reviews of inline skates remain few and far between, and comparative reviews are virtually non-existent, video reviews of single models of inline skates have become quite common. InlineSkates.net is one of the best websites for expert video reviews of most contemporary recreational/fitness and hockey skates. You get to not only hear about the skate but see each feature in the video as it's described. Although the reviewers don't directly compare inline skate models, they do give you a clear idea of where the skate falls in relation to similar models.
You can also find thorough inline skate reviews on YouTube. Either search for the skate make and model -- professional reviews, if they exist, are normally near the top of the list -- or follow your favorite professional reviewer's channel. "Inlineskatesnet" is the YouTube account for video reviews from InlineSkates.net, and "icehockeywarehouse" publishes some good reviews of roller hockey skates.
Although the text-based reviews at InlinePlanet.com are now several years old, they still stand out as thorough and well-conducted. They include comments from experienced skaters on fit, adjustability and performance. Some of the models reviewed are still in production, and two of them made it into our Best Reviewed list. Although inline skates aren't rated or ranked, editors note what type of person would do best with which skates, and whether they run true to size. We also found a short but helpful article in The Wall Street Journal on inline skates. No ratings or recommendations are included, but each skate was taken for a test drive.
There are a few websites with user-written inline skate reviews, such as RateItAll.com and LondonSkaters.com. These sites primarily feature reviews for outdated skates that are no longer in production, although London Skaters is still a useful source of information about some enduring speed skate models, such as the Bont Jet (*Est. $430). We did find a handful of current user reviews at Amazon.com, but a few models had no Amazon reviews at all, or didn't have enough reviews to establish a trustworthy picture of user opinion.
Although review coverage of inline skates has improved in the last several years, the lack of direct comparative reviews from expert sources means that ConsumerSearch Best Reviewed picks are based on the available research, which is by no means comprehensive. Often, one or two brands dominated a particular field; for example, when considering roller hockey skates, both Mission and Bauer produce a range of models that are consistently at the top of the pack. So in this case, we suggest the best inline skates to try first, and we provide suggestions for comparable or close-second models where appropriate.