Inline Skates Buying Guide
How To Choose the Best Inline Skates
Inline skating is fun, physical activity that's accessible for all age levels. So whether you're lacing up skates for the first time or rediscovering the sport after a long hiatus, you may be wondering what the perfect skate is for you.
In this guide, we'll discuss key differences between inline skates, as well as protective gear that will help you get back on your wheels.
What are Inline Skates?
Compared to traditional roller skates (also known as quads), inline skates feature molded plastic with thinner, rounded, or square profile wheels, higher ankle support, and calf support. Roller skates have a brake system on the front toe, whereas inline skates come with a brake located on the back heel.
Inline skates are suitable for either indoor or outdoor skating and are often easier to learn for novice skaters.
Which Type of Skater are You?
Beginner, intermediate, and advanced skaters all have different equipment requirements. Before investing in an expensive pair of skates, first, determine what type of skater you are.
Beginner skaters are just getting going. They're forming balance, turning slow and deliberate, but stopping might be a challenge. Although starting is not an issue, speed is scary for beginners, so choose a skate with a braking system. In general, confidence is just evolving, so plastic frames are most suitable. Beginners will want to choose a skate with small wheels that don't generate much speed but will roll smoothly and evenly.
The beginner/intermediate skater has been out a few times on skates. They are finding some confidence to start, stop, turn, and go a bit faster. To improve familiarity with skating techniques, composite or plastic frames are best for skaters in this category. Control is still critical to this person, so there's no need for high-end bearings because going super fast is more dangerous. Whether already an established athlete or looking to develop more skills, the beginner/intermediate skater is interested in long skating sessions.
Intermediate skaters have developed more confidence and are no longer worried about not stopping and can build and manage speed. For this skater, upgrading boots, better bearings, and bigger wheel size is worth considering. The skate frame will be light yet strong (probably an aluminum frame), allowing for the smooth transfer of energy from the skater to the skate.
The intermediate/advanced skater turns with ease and can avoid obstacles and other skaters without missing a beat. This person will thrive on aluminum frames and is ready to move up to a wheel size of 80-90mm. Larger wheels will allow an intermediate/advanced skater to travel long distances so that they can regularly skate on the paths with the grace and speed they desire.
Congratulations! If you fall into this category, you can move with great speed with great confidence. The aluminum frame and 90-100mm wheel size will give you the ability to cover great distances with ease. The boots may have a somewhat lower cut profile, but advanced-level skaters rely on technique rather than equipment for support. These skaters are serious and may be looking to compete in different events like marathons. For this skater, spending a bit more will be a worthwhile investment.
Since this person is probably on their skates nearly every day, they want to invest in the best equipment. Bigger wheels that are 100mm will generate as much speed as they can generate and handle. Expert skaters are seeking to go long distances and want to qualify or train for professional-level events. Again, an aluminum frame will allow maximum energy transfer.
How To Find the Perfect Inline Skates
One of the first questions you should ask yourself when purchasing the right skate is what type of skating you will be doing?
For example, do you plan to skate solely indoors or plan to hit the pavement? Are you looking for an inline skate for a more casual skating experience, or do you plan to skate more aggressively at the skatepark?
These questions can help you determine different factors that can impact the skate type you should seek out based on personal preference.
Suppose you want to get outside for some fresh air, perhaps with the spouse and kids in tow; recreational skates are a great first set of wheels. Here, comfort and control are essential characteristics of this skate style; being able to roll smoothly is important for skaters who are mostly beginner to intermediate.
A fitness skate is an excellent option if you're looking to add low-impact cardio to your exercise routine. Compared to other skate styles, fitness skates offer more than an inline skate for a traditional fun seeker. A larger wheel and more advanced bearings will allow this person to build speed and generate a better cardio burn.
For those who want to get into the skate park scene, aggressive skates are the go-to inline skate. Parks often feature terrain to jump and grind rails to perform all the tricks you see on YouTube, so an aggressive skate is designed to take abuse. These will have small wheels, a plate on the bottom, and a flatter look to make landing tricks more manageable.
If you seek to bob and weave through traffic and pedestrians, you better be able to stop, start, and turn on a dime. To do this, urban skates have a shorter frame for maximum maneuverability. The boot design of urban skates is aggressive, which is perfect for city skating on sidewalks and streets.
Roller Hockey Skates
Roller hockey skates are a specialty inline skate category. These skates have a boot specifically designed to stop and start fast. We advise consumers to buy skates specifically labeled for roller hockey for peak performance.
Selecting Wheels for Your Inline Skate
Once you've determined the skating style you want to do, you can begin to consider the wheel quality that will be most effective.
Softer wheels are better suited for indoor inline skating because they have less friction with the ground allowing for better control and speed. Harder wheels are better suited for rougher terrain outdoors, have more friction with the ground, and better navigate cracks in the pavement or light debris.
Wheels are classified by measurement and then hardness. Wheels are measured in millimeters and can range from 54mm to 110mm. A 72A to 80A hardness range is most suitable for indoor recreational skaters, whereas 82A to 86A is harder and better suited for outdoor skating. For more advanced or aggressive skaters, a range of 90A to 110A may be more desirable.
The Difference Between Skate Boots
Skate boots can make or break your skating experience. Depending on your skill and experience level, you'll want to consider either a soft or hard boot.
Skates with a soft boot are a great beginner skate because they're comfortable, more breathable, and feature smaller wheels that have a lower center of gravity. A lower center of gravity is often helpful for novice skaters to develop balance and familiarity with skating. Soft boot inline skates with small wheels are also more agile but won't go too fast while you're learning the basics of skating.
Stiff boots, on the other hand, are better for more experienced skaters. Stiff boot inline skates have larger wheels that allow the skate to go faster and raise the skater's center of gravity, which may not suit first-time skaters. However, some aggressive skaters may choose smaller wheels based on usage.
Bearing Grade for Inline Skating
Understanding how bearings impact your skate experience is helpful when purchasing your next pair of skates. Bearings directly impact the friction the wheels experience; the less friction, the faster the speed. Bearing grades typically operate on a nine-point scale – the higher the number, the higher the level of manufacturing precision.
Bearings are not as big a consideration for recreational skaters because recreational inline skates are for shorter distances. Higher-numbered bearings work best in larger wheels; however, matching bearings to wheel size is always good practice. Look for higher-numbered bearings if you are buying skates with wheels over 80mm.
Bigger wheels will perform best with higher-rated bearings regardless of brand. While this may impact the cost of the skate, intermediates and above will often want larger wheels with enhanced bearings that match the wheel size.
Different skate brands use different types of bearings, but the highest-numbered bearings are usually in the largest wheels. Racers often use larger-sized wheels because they place heavy stress on their skates over longer distances.
Choosing a Recreational Skate That Fits
Inline skates, like regular shoes, can range in size from brand to brand but should fit within one full size of your normal shoe size. Although you don't want your toes to be too crowded or uncomfortable, a snug fit will allow for more support and control. Much like shoes, the skate type can differ based on the structure and size of your foot.
Men's Inline Skates
Men's inline skates have a broader mold to accommodate a larger foot. Also, men's inline skates offer taller boot cuffs to accommodate higher calf muscles.
Women's Inline Skates
Kids Inline Skates
Kids inline skates are just for that – kids! Kids inline skates come in a wide range of sizes and styles to match different personalities.
Which Closure System is Right For You?
In addition to fitting the foot, you should also consider how the inline skate fits the ankle and calf. Selecting a closure system can offer different types of support, whether you need more stability in the foot or ankle. There are several different closure systems to choose from based on personal preference, which vary in ease of use.
Standard Lacing System
Old school lacing is still around for a good reason – it works! It may not look as sexy as quick-lace systems but provides support where needed. Standard lacing systems are often combined with other systems to get the best of both worlds: support and accessibility.
Ratchet buckles borrowed from ski boot technology became a breakthrough for inline skates. Ratchet buckles are faster and easier to get on and pair well with other closure systems. If you notice that you're having difficulty tightening your strap-on inline skates, consider shortening the end of the strap so that it feeds into the buckle more easily.
Power straps are an accessible, kid-friendly closure system that get people into their skates quickly. The hook and loop straps are practical by themselves or in combination with other closure systems.
Power-Assisted (Quick-Lace) System
It is hard to imagine a system that is faster to use than power-assisted laces. Quick-lace systems only require a very short pull of a very durable cable, and then you're done.
The boa system is a variation on the power-assist concept, but the cable is pushed through a dial. Boa closure systems are similarly quick to put on. The dial makes it exceptionally easy to tighten the boot and make a highly personal, custom feel.
How to Buy Safety Gear
First-time or novice inline skaters will want to invest in safety gear while learning how to skate. Protective equipment can help with shock absorption and prevent injuries from hard falls, which is especially important while developing balance and familiarity with braking and turning.
Here's the most important protective gear you should consider:
Pads and Wrist Guards
Protective equipment may include knee pads, elbow pads, padded shorts, wrist protection, and helmets, which help protect skaters from hard falls. As you gain confidence in your abilities, you may choose to downgrade your gear to wrist protection and helmets.
Wrist guards help stabilize the wrist and absorb hard falls, but you should be cautious not to catch your fall with your straight arms. A slight bend at the wrist and elbow can help prevent major injuries.
You should also consider purchasing a proper skate helmet. Unlike bicycle helmets which offer limited coverage and only withstand one impact, skate helmets provide a full-coverage hardshell capable of withstanding multiple impacts.
Because inline skaters often fall backward, the full coverage and soft foam interior padding are better suited for protecting you from serious head injuries. If you notice that your helmet is cracked or seriously impacted, it's time to buy a new helmet.