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Inline Skate Reviews

By: Lisa Maloney on June 20, 2017

Editor's note:
K2 continues to dominate the inline skate market, taking the top place in all three of our categories. However, the Rollerblade brand offers more competition than ever for recreational skaters. Meanwhile Roller Derby and K2 offer affordable options that appeal to young skaters.

K2 VO2 90 Pro Review
Best Reviewed
Specs that Matter Wheel size: 90mm Wheel durometer: 83a Bearings: ILQ-9 PRO

Best inline skates

The latest entry in K2's long-lived VO2 line is fast enough to provide lots of zippy fun for advanced skaters, but it's also surprisingly friendly to intermediate skaters who are ready to make the leap to a higher-end skate. The 90mm wheels roll over obstacles with relative impunity; the soft boot fits true to size (go up half a size if you have wide feet), is highly breathable, and requires almost no break-in period.

Buy for $315.00
Rollerblade Zetrablade Review
Also Consider
Specs that Matter Wheel size: 80mm Wheel durometer: 82a Bearings: SG5

Cheap inline skates

If you're just starting out or don't have a lot of money to spend on your next pair of skates, the Rollerblade Zetrablade is one of the most affordable inline skates out there. The 80mm/82a wheels skew toward soft and grippy, and are large enough to be fun but not so big that they'll send you speeding out of control. The SG5 bearings are decent, and the soft boot is a great find in this price range.

Buy for $99.00
K2 Raider Review
Best Reviewed
Specs that Matter Wheel size: 70mm Wheel durometer: 80a Bearings: ABEC 3

Best inline skates for kids

If your kids are ready for real inline skates, the K2 Raider, or the K2 Marlee (Est. $60) [B01HSCPDZO] (for girls) perform just like the real thing. The 70mm/80a wheels are fast enough to be a lot of fun, yet tough enough to handle rough outdoor conditions. The skate's ABEC 3 bearings roll smoothly, but are stable enough for good speed control. These K2 skates are also adjustable, so they'll grow through several sizes along with your children.

Buy for $59.95
Chicago Skates Review
Also Consider
Specs that Matter Wheel size: N/A Wheel durometer: plastic Bearings: N/A

Best training skates

If your kids need a little help mastering inline skates, the Chicago Skates Training Inline Skate Combo can help. These skates transform easily between "training wheels" (one wheel in front, two in back) and a true inline skate. They are great for building up your child's coordination and confidence. The combo also comes with knee pads, wrist/hand pads and a helmet -- plus a child-size backpack to carry them all. There is a girls version as well, the Chicago Girls Training Skate (Est. $50) [B002EPBM06].

Buy for $39.99
K2 Unnatural Review
Best Reviewed
Specs that Matter Wheel size: 60mm Wheel durometer: 88a Bearings: ABEC 5

Best aggressive inline skates

The K2 Unnatural lives up to its name by being unnaturally good for a stock skate. Users love the sturdy build and an unusual boot design that can be fine-tuned for a comfortable, flat-footed ride or to allow the forward lean that is more typical of aggressive skaters. The Unnatural has a huge sweet spot for balance on both frontside and backside tricks, and a one-piece soul plate with a Teflon insert that helps it slide smooth and fast.

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Types of Inline Skates

Inline Skates

Unlike the rigid, high-cut plastic boots of yesteryear, modern inline skates have boots that are often made of soft, flexible materials that breathe, helping keep your feet cool and dry no matter how hard you're skating. Typical wheel sizes range from 78mm to 100mm; as a general rule, the smaller wheels are more maneuverable and easier to control for beginners, while the larger wheels are faster and more efficient for cruising long distances. Large wheels also help you roll more smoothly over obstacles like sticks, gravel, and cracks in pavement, and they better absorb shock when skating across uneven surfaces like bridges.

Inline Skates for Kids

As you might expect, inline skates designed for older kids are scaled-down versions of the most popular adult skates. They often have adjustable boots designed to grow with your children, prolonging the useful life of each pair of skates. That said, not all kids' skates are created equal, and models designed for younger kids may have plastic wheels that can't stand up to use outside a roller rink. Durability is sometimes an issue for these skates too, so it pays to shop carefully. For toddlers and other very young children, you can purchase specialized training skates that come with training wheels and extra safety features to help them learn without getting hurt.

Aggressive Inline Skates

On the surface, aggressive inline skates have the same boot-and-wheel structure you'd expect from any inline skate. But their wheels are smaller and harder than other skates to better endure repeated tricks on concrete or metal, and specialized, grooved plates in the frame make it easier to balance and move smoothly during slides and grinds. You'll find aggressive skates in two general configurations: A flat setup uses four wheels of the same size, while an anti-rocker setup pairs front and back wheels of the same size with two inner wheels that are smaller and harder, leaving more space for certain tricks. Aggressive skates also lack a heel brake, which would get in the way during tricks -- so if this is what you choose to ride, you'll have to master different types of braking. For the most comprehensive roundup of inline-skate braking techniques, see the SkateFAQ website.

Wheel size and durometer

Inline skate wheels are sized by their diameter in millimeters. Large wheels are faster, but small wheels are more maneuverable. Just a few years ago, hi-lo setups -- which were meant to capture the best of both worlds with smaller wheels in the first two slots of increased maneuverability, and larger wheels in the last two positions for better speed -- were common, but nowadays hi-lo setups are very rare.

You'll also see a second figure, followed by an "a," used to describe skating wheels. That number represents the skate's durometer, or hardness. The higher the number, the harder the wheels. Harder wheels are more durable, better able to stand up to the constant friction of skating on rough, outdoor surfaces or doing tricks. Softer wheels are "grippier" and less likely to slide during fast changes of direction on smooth surfaces, making them a favorite of inline hockey players on smooth indoor rinks. The downside is that soft wheels wear out faster, especially if you take them outdoors onto rough surfaces.

What about inline skates for women?

The biggest change we've noticed in inline skates over the last two years is that single-gender models are increasingly rare. Quite a few manufacturers used to produce one model for men and a completely separate model for women, but nowadays you'll usually find men's and women's versions of the same model.

This is more a change in terminology than anything, but it makes things much less confusing for shoppers. All of our top-reviewed skates are very popular with both men and women, and with high-end models the women's sizes are usually built on a women-specific last instead of simply a smaller version of the men's skate.

Finding The Best Inline Skates
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Although each type of inline skate has specific priorities to fit its intended use, as experienced and avid skaters ourselves, we look for similar qualities in the best-reviewed models: a stable, supportive and comfortable boot, with secure and easy to manipulate closures; maneuverable, responsive handling; and reasonably durable wheels on speedy bearings.

There are very few expert reviews for inline skates, so we heavily weighted our evaluations toward user reviews from websites like InlineSkates.com, InlineWarehouse.com, RollerWarehouse.com and AggressiveMall.com, along with more general feedback from sites like Walmart.com and of course Amazon.com. After all, the real measure of a skate's worth is how it performs when the wheels hit the pavement under real world conditions.

K2 and Rollerblade duke it out for ownership of the fitness skating field

In one of our last updates to this report, we wrote that K2 was far and away the dominant company in the world of fitness skating, but Rollerblade was providing the best competition we've seen yet. That's still true as K2 retains every top best-reviewed spot in our report, but Rollerblade is now solidly established as the favorite brand for many intermediate-level skaters, or simply for those who prefer a recreational skate with a hard boot.

K2's most popular high-end skates come with large wheels (90mm and up) and relatively soft, low-cut boots that are really designed for intermediate users, but we found quite a few reviews from relative beginners who were pleased with how quickly and easily they adapted to the 90mm wheels and speedy ILQ-9 bearings on our best-reviewed skate, the K2 VO2 90 Pro (Est. $240).

Users say the VO2 90 Pro offers the best combination of speed, stability and support they've experienced. That ease of handling is, at least in part, due to the smooth ride and shock absorption you get from those big wheels; for most riders, they're the perfect combination of maneuverability and energy-efficient cruising that'll help you go faster and farther with less effort. Those 90mm wheels also let you roll over gravel, sticks and pavement cracks with relative impunity.

The K2 VO2 90 Pro also draws a lot of praise for its soft boot, which has generous mesh siding for great ventilation and a form-fit liner that molds to your foot every time you put the skates on, meaning that they require little to no break-in period. One user skated a half marathon the first time he put the skates on and found them perfectly comfortable.

In general, owners say the VO2 90 Pro boot fits true to size or runs a little small (go up a half-size if you have wide feet), and that the improved speed laces work well once you get used to them, tightening all the way down the boot to the toes. The lace cinch point is integrated into the tongue of the skate, so you don't have to worry about the laces flopping around. We did find a few comments that the laces seem to loosen over time, though. If you like a consistently tight fit you might prefer the K2 VO2 90 Boa (Est. $290). This is the exact same skate with the addition of a twist-tighten, wire-laced Boa closure.

The K2 VO2 90 Pro's wheels have a durometer of 83a, which makes them fairly hard and fast. That also means they'll last longer than you might expect; in fact, users say the entire skate seems to hold up well to prolonged use, so it's a good investment that will require minimal maintenance.

Both the K2 VO2 Pro and the K2 VO2 Boa are available in men's and women's sizing, and you can also purchase the VO2 skate with 100mm wheels as the K2 VO2 100 X (Est. $280). Wheels of 100mm and larger are usually the province of fast-moving, advanced recreational skaters, or marathoners who are willing to sacrifice a little maneuvering ability in exchange for a fast, smooth and easy ride over long distances. Interestingly, although the K2 VO2 90 Pro runs true to size or a little small, which means you need to order a half-size larger if you have unusually wide feet, several users of the K2 VO2 100 X say they prefer to order a half- to full-size below their athletic shoe size because the liner compresses enough to provide a looser fit over time.

The K2 VO 90 Pro is the best all-around skate in this report, and it's surprisingly easy to control once you have a little experience under your belt. If you're just starting out, however, you might be more comfortable in the K2 F.I.T. Pro 84 (Est. $180), thanks to its smaller 84mm wheels. The F.I.T Pro comes with a well-ventilated soft boot and K2's integrated quick lace system, and it's also available with 80mm wheels as the K2 F.I.T. Pro 80 (Est. $170).

Although K2's skates continue to dominate the high-end market, the Rollerblade Macroblade 90 (Est. $200) is almost as popular with intermediate users. They say it's very fast -- too fast for beginners -- but if you can control it, you'll get a smooth ride, even over rough ground.

Users say the Macroblade boot is soft and comfortable after a short break-in period, with a seamless toe and decent breathability. However, on long skates you'll notice that this boot is not as well-vented as the K2 VO2 90 Pro. User opinion is fairly evenly split on whether the Macroblade boot runs a little small or true to size. The Macroblade 90's wheels are 90mm/84a -- just a little bit harder than the stock wheels on the comparable K2 model -- on SG9 bearings.

The Rollerblade Macroblade is also available in 80mm, 84mm and 100mm wheel sizes, so you can tweak the wheel sizing to suit your ability level; each wheel size is available in men's and women's sizing. Its soft boot design also goes against the hard-boot aesthetic that most Rollerblade boots are known for. We still prefer the K2 VO2 90 Pro for advanced skaters, but the Rollerblade Macroblade is a worthy alternative.

Rollerblade is the choice for urban environments

All of the skates we just discussed are at their best on long cruises, although they're certainly maneuverable enough to handle windy, snaking pathways too. If you're skating in a crowded, obstacle-laden urban environment, though, you might prefer the Rollerblade Twister 80 (Est. $230).

The 80mm/85a wheels and short wheelbase offer excellent maneuverability for avoiding people, cracks in the road, or darting through slalom cones. If you're looking to turn up your inline skate dancing game or catch big air, these are the skates for you -- although for skates built to do tricks like grinds and slides, you should see our section on aggressive skates.

Users say the Rollerblade Twister 80 is also good for short-distance cruises, and the SG7 bearings are fast enough for most people. (The higher the number the faster the bearings, so real speed demons might want to upgrade the stock bearings in this skate.) The Rollerblade Twister 80 comes with an optional brake that you can install for cruising, but if you're doing tricks you'll want to leave the brake off and master other stopping methods.

The rigid, molded plastic boot on the Twister 80 is a mixed bag. It offers exactly the support and protection you need to land tricks like jumps, and it's great for beginners who are struggling to control a skate with a soft boot, or just want the ultimate in ankle support. However, you should definitely buy these skates from a place where you can return them if they don't fit well. We found a few complaints that if the boot doesn't fit just right, it'll cause pain in the protruding bones on either side of your ankle, and most users recommend wearing long socks -- padded, if possible -- to prevent blisters. They also say that you need to size up between a half size and a full size to get a good fit.

For a beginner-friendly skate that doesn't present the conundrum of a hard boot, we recommend the Rollerblade Zetrablade (Est. $100), which also happens to be the best inexpensive skate we found for this report. The Zetrablade has a soft boot that's cut high for extra ankle support and it comes in men's and women's sizing. The SG5 bearings are speedy enough to let you get a feel for the exhilaration of skating, but slow enough to help a novice keep things under control.

The Rollerblade Zetrablade's smallish 80mm/82a wheels skew a little toward the maneuverability/control side of the equation -- again, good for beginners just learning to control their Rollerblades -- and are a little softer and grippier than the wheels on the other skates we've covered. The good news is that this offers you great control; the bad news is that they ride a little choppier over rough asphalt and are going to wear out very quickly if you skate on rough ground.

With a retail price that's about half that of the other skates we've covered, these skates are a great entry point to help you decide if inline skating is for you. If you find yourself hooked, you can either invest in one of the mid-range to high-end models for the better ventilation, speed laces, additional padding and a smoother ride, or keep these skates and upgrade the wheels and bearings. Be warned that the Zetrablade comes in whole sizes only; if you can't get just the right fit, switching to thicker socks can help pad any empty space.

Elsewhere In This Report
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Inline Skates buying guide

What every best Inline Skates has:

  • Comfortable boots.
  • Ventilated boots.
  • High-quality bearings.

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