Updated June 2022
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BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We only make money if you purchase a product through our links, and all opinions about the products are our own. Read more  
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We buy all products with our own funds, and we never accept free products from manufacturers.Read more 
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Buying guide for Best inline skates

Consider the image that comes to mind when you hear the term “inline skates.” It’s usually a young, carefree person speeding along the sidewalk on a warm summer’s day. However, inline skates are great exercise for all ages. And specialty designs allow you to skate on various types of terrain and for different sports.

The linear wheel design of inline skates is radically different from the side-by-side configuration of quad skates. Like quads, they’re directly descended from ice skates, and, just like their quad cousins, they went through a long development period before emerging as the inline skates we know today. 

If you’re looking for some inline skates, there are several features to look for, from fit to materials. A good buying guide and some top recommendations can inform your choice.

Inline skate designs 
There are inline skate designs that date back to the 1750s, but most were clunky and fragile until the right technologies were developed in the mid-twentieth century.

How to buy the best inline skates

While you don’t need to know the history of inline skates to enjoy using them, it’s fun to learn a few cool facts about these smooth, fast rollers.

A short history of inline skates

Inline skates in different forms can be found as far back as the mid-1700s, but the skates as we know them today were developed in 1980 by brothers Scott and Brennan Olson, who marketed them to hockey players as a way to practice during the off-season. They positioned four polyurethane wheels in a straight line, attached them to a hockey boot, and added a rubber toe brake. The new technology enabled the swooping curves and fast switching forward and backward that are hallmark moves of ice hockey. 

The new design provided a stable, smooth, surprisingly fast glide. And the Olsons’ inline skates hit the market at the right time: roller skating was at the peak of popularity, and millions of skaters were looking for new ways to roll. They soon rebranded their product from Ole’s Innovative Sports to Rollerblade, Inc., and began marketing the skates to the general public as fitness and recreational equipment. The skates’ design was improved constantly: a rear brake was added to make stopping easier, and buckles replaced the original lace-up boot.

For ’90s kids, “rollerblade” was the name used for all inline skates regardless of their actual brand, and those who used them were often called, fittingly, “rollerbladers” or “bladers.” Today, there are many variations and brands on the market, and the Rollerblade brand reference takes a back seat to the correct term: inline skates.

There is a National Museum of Roller Skating in Lincoln, Nebraska, and inline skaters are part of the featured exhibits.

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Features to look for when buying inline skates

Activity

Inline skates are available in a range of designs tailored to your preferred activity. The most popular inline skate types include the following:

Recreation: These are designed for comfort, stability, and most of all, fun. Speed is less of a consideration, but for first-timers, these skates move along just fine. Skates for recreation should be stable and supportive, easy to put on and take off, and have user-friendly braking technology.

Fitness: These skates are designed for longer distances and noticeably more speed. 

Racing: A very stiff boot characterizes inline skates for racing. It’s not comfortable, but it helps translate the skater’s energy directly to the wheels. Speed and linear control (for quick reactions) are the most desired characteristics of these skates.

Urban/Street: A short-frame design makes these inline skates nimble so that skaters can negotiate crowded sidewalks and skip around broken pavement or potholes with ease. 

Sport-specific: There are inline skates designed with a specific sport in mind, such as hockey or figure skating.

Boot

The boot of an inline skate plays an incredibly important role in stabilization and control. 

Height varies in boot uppers, providing more stability for beginning skaters or more flexibility for advanced and sport-specific skaters.

Size and fit are essential. Poorly fitting boots aren’t just uncomfortable; they can affect control and increase the risk of accidents. 

Footbeds are designed in male, female, and youth sizes and shaped to match the most common foot type in each of these groups. However, if you’re having trouble finding the right fit in the foot type that matches your age or gender, don’t hesitate to try any of the other designs. 

Liner

This soft boot-within-a-boot provides comfort and added stability and further customizes the fit. Standard liners, like those in recreational inline skates, use foam and padding to cushion the feet and are fine for beginners. 

Liners for advanced skaters include the following:

Auto-fit: Gel pads in the liner conform to your foot each time you put on the boot.

Memory: The foam and gel pads in this liner conform to your foot and stay that way.

Heat moldable: Advanced and sport-specific skaters who need to sacrifice padding for speed and control rely on heat-molded liners. These are available at pro shops that have the equipment necessary to safely heat and shape the liners to the skaters’ feet.

Cuff

The key stabilizer for the boot is its outer cuff. High cuffs are mainly made of durable plastic and provide stability all the way up the boot. Low cuffs, found on racing skates, need more tensile strength and often use carbon fiber to provide very stiff support and long-lasting durability.

Fasteners

Recreational inline skates have easy, quick fasteners to close the boot tightly. Often these are hook-and-latch straps that adjust with a quick tug and stay firmly in place. The upper part of the boot may have a ratchet-style buckle that keeps the boot even more securely fastened.

Frame

The boot and wheels of an inline skate meet at the frame, a sturdy support structure designed to handle the skater’s weight, hold the wheels securely in line, and withstand the side-to-side torsion that occurs in skating. The stiffness of the frame helps transfer power from the skater downward to the wheels for speed and control.

Plastic: The most cost-effective frame material is also the heaviest. Plastic is fine for beginner’s recreational inline skates, but it isn’t preferred by advanced skaters who need high-performance frames.

Aluminum: This strikes a good balance between durability, weight, and performance. It’s ideal for intermediate skaters who are ready to turn up the speed and perhaps pull a few tricks.

Carbon fiber: Performance-level frames for advanced inline skaters are made of carbon fiber. These are found on sport-specific inline skates and are shaped and hardened for the stresses particular to each style of skating.

Brakes

The Olson brothers’ original inline skate design had no brake, mimicking the design of ice skates. A toe brake was added to recreational models early on, similar to the rubber toe brakes on quad skates. This was discontinued in favor of a heel brake, which worked better with the wheel configuration with the skater centered over the wheels. Since then, variations on the heel brake have been developed that make it easier for beginners to stop without falling and are less of an impediment to advanced skaters. Many racing skates, for example, have no brakes.

Wheels

Inline skate wheels are polyurethane, which is lightweight and strong. Manufacturers have improved the grades and types of polyurethane used in the outer part of the wheels over the past decades. The core consists of spokes, hub, and bearings, which provide support and a smooth, vibration-free spin. 

An inline skate wheel’s hardness or softness isn’t a big issue on recreational skates, but performance skaters pay close attention to this factor. Softer wheels provide better grip but sacrifice speed; harder wheels are fast but provide little grip on the skating surface.

Extra credit: rockers

Some specialized inline skate setups allow for “rockered” configurations. These differ from recreational skates’ flat frames and homogenous wheel configuration. Rockers are made by mixing slightly larger and smaller wheels to amplify specific performance characteristics. Some performance inline skates, like racers and hockey skates, incorporate rockering in their frame design.

dyk1-Inline skate breaks  
Did You Know?
While heel brakes are common, the design of inline skate brakes is still developing. One mid-2000s design kept skates from rolling backward, a common fear of beginners.
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Inline skate accessories

Protective gear

A helmet that protects the back and front of the head, as well as scrape-defying knee and elbow pads, are essential skater gear. Don’t strap on inline skates without first putting on protective gear.

Skate bag

Store your inline skates in a scratch-resistant bag that will stand up to road trips, school lockers, and everything in between.

Sunglasses

Wind, sun, pollen, debris. Shades don’t just look cool, they protect your eyes so you can see what’s in front of you and your skates.

Sunscreen

Enjoy the fun of inline skating outside, but avoid sunburns and long-term skin damage by slapping on a layer of sunscreen.

Waist pack

This holds all your essentials and doesn’t weigh you down. Go ahead and rock that waist pack like it’s 1995. Ain’t nothin’ to it but to do it!

Maintenance kit

Upgrading your inline skates? Upgrade your basic maintenance skills too, and be ready to maintain and replace bearings and wheels to keep your skates in top shape.

How much do inline skates cost?

Inexpensive

For $29 to $78, new skaters, especially children, can try out the sport of inline skating without emptying their parents’ wallets. Entry-level skates for adults are at the higher end of this price range.

Mid-range

Novice to intermediate inline skaters can find sturdier, faster recreational and fitness skates in the $79 to $129 range.

Expensive

Expect to pay $131 to $299 for sport-specific designs and entry-level racing inline skates. Performance skates jump far higher in price, starting at $599 and going up from there.

Most inline skate boot liners can be washed in cold water or at least spot cleaned.

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Tips

  • Stay centered. Keep your belly button over the centerline of the skates and engage your core to stay in position and skate efficiently.
  • Be prepared for uneven pavement. Keep one skate slightly ahead of the other while rolling.
  • Practice. Muscle memory is key to developing balance and confidence on inline skates.
  • Learn from online videos and pros: A wealth of information for new inline skaters is available online so you can get started safely and progress to novice and intermediate levels. Many new skaters do better with in-person guidance, and inline skate instructors are available in every city.
  • Keep your skates clean. Wheels, in particular, should be cleaned to remove road grit after every session and prevent crud from getting into the bearings.
  • Don’t wear the boots too tight or too loose. Tight boots are uncomfortable and will shorten your skating session. Loose or poor-fitting boots make it much harder to control your skates.
  • Avoid cotton socks. Cotton soaks up sweat, and the wet fabric can bunch up inside the boot, rubbing skin raw and causing blisters. Wear nylon or polyester sport socks instead.
Inline skating aerobic workout    
Inline skating is an intense, low-impact aerobic workout that uses most of the body’s muscles. It burns as many calories in 30 minutes as running.

FAQ

Q. How difficult is it to learn inline skating?

A. It can be a little scary at first because your body is unfamiliar with the need to balance, and new skaters tend to overcorrect. The key is to take it slow and easy at first, keep your knees bent, and make small movements as your body adjusts. Most beginners are gliding along slowly by the end of their first session. They will speed up as their muscles adapt and their confidence improves.

Q. How long do inline skates last?

A. The life of a skate depends on a lot of different factors: the quality of the materials, how often you skate, and what you do while skating (jumps or bashing around vs. just rolling along). Regular care and maintenance can help extend the life of any skate. Entry-level budget skates used weekly can last for at least a year. Higher-end skates tend to last much longer.

Q. How should inline skates fit?

A. Snugly but comfortably. It’s important to wear the socks you plan to skate in when you try on new skates. If the boots pinch the top of your foot, your foot slides around inside the boot, or your heel slides up and down, try a different size. If you can’t quite get a perfect fit but you like the skate overall, ask for a boot liner with gel or memory foam that conforms to the contours of your foot. Don’t accept ill-fitting boots. You’ll suffer, and that isn’t fun at all.

Q. When should I replace inline skate wheels?

A. If a polyurethane outer wheel is very worn, it might need replacement. Wheels that don’t spin easily might need to be replaced. First, try brushing and oiling the bearings. Damaged wheels should be replaced right away.

Q. What injuries do inline skaters suffer the most?

A. Stress fractures, bursitis, plantar fasciitis, and Achilles tendonitis are common injuries and conditions among skilled inline skaters. These can be avoided by wearing properly fitted skate boots, warming up before skating, and alternating skating sessions with other types of strength training. Beginners and experienced skaters alike are at risk of falling. Wearing proper protective gear will help reduce the chances of serious injuries, such as concussions or fractures.

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