Choosing the right boot for your skate park setup can be challenging. As there are many styles and brands on the market, this task can get confusing. Especially if you are new to roller skating. And there is a few things you might want to make up mind before investing all your hard-earned money. While it is best to try roller skates on, this is not always possible. To help you pick the right kind of boot, Cameron Lloyd took the time to research on shoe options to provide a helpful guide for picking the right one for your skating style.
I’d like to provide a handy guide for picking the right kind of skates for your latest build. I’m going to focus primarily just on boot choice (plates, toe stops, wheels, etc. are long conversations on their own). I will touch on derby, jam, rhythm, and artistic, but I’ll focus on aggressive skating and recreational skating since that is what I see the most questions about, my personal focus, and what there are fewest resources for guidance on.
Everyone is different and personal preferences are personal. I obviously can’t advise on every personal setup. There are lots of options and getting into the relative merits and flaws of every offering out there would be tedious. I will do my best to give general suggestions and touch on notable or especially popularly discussed options.
The Right Tool for the Job
If you have a particular job or application in mind, the best option will almost always be equipment that is specially designed for that job. For hockey, you want hockey skates. For Roller Derby, use derby skates. For artistic skating, artistic skates. Similarly, aggressive skating is best done with purpose built aggressive skates. Even recreational skating will be most pleasant with general purpose lifestyle skates.
Specialized equipment does not (necessarily) cost more. There are budget options for entry level equipment for most any type of skating. If you are starting derby, you can purchase entry level derby skates on a $200 budget. The same goes for aggressive skating. Lower price point does not usually mean poorly designed for the intended use. It usually means cruder styling, lower cost materials that will wear out faster, weigh more, offer less comfort, etc., and fewer high end features that a top level skater will be able to utilize but a beginner might not.
If you use something other than a skate designed specifically for the purpose at hand, you will sacrifice some capability and/or safety. Some applications have very similar needs and you can make easy adjustments. Derby, jam skating, and speed skating can usually use the same boots, you will probably just need to change the choice of wheels and cushions.
However, the more specialized a tool is for a job, the less general it becomes, and the worse it will be for other jobs. If you need a setup that is good for multiple types of skating, you will need to compromise somewhere based on what you value most. Alternatively, you will end up with multiple setups for each task. (Personally, I have different setups for jam, trail skating, and multiple aggressive setups.)
Using the wrong tool for the job won’t mean that you will not be able to do the intended type of skating or that you *will* become injured. But it will be more difficult and your risk of injury will be greater.
The Needs of Aggressive Skating
Aggressive skating is very demanding on the skater and the equipment. It provides unique demands on equipment. Aggressive skate boots should be treated as safety gear just like a helmet or wrist guards.
The most important factors to look for in an aggressive skate boot are, in my order of importance:
Reinforcement around the ankle bone for safety, stability, and strength.
Impact absorption, particularly under the heel, for drops.
Moderate heel rise to promote the proper aggressive stance.
Resilient materials that will withstand the abuses of falling on concrete.
Impact protection particularly around the toes, outstep, and heels.
A reinforced ankle is the most important safety factor. With the likelihood of long falls, you want bracing that will protect the ankle from over rotating – particularly rolling under – and causing sprains or breaks. This is best accomplished with a hard synthetic material like plastic, nylon, or carbon fiber that completely covers the ankle bone.
A taller boot does NOT mean more ankle support or protection! You can wear socks that go up to your knees. They won’t protect your ankles any. Most leather will not protect your ankles any better. Most leather used in boot construction is meant to become supple and flexible. It may start out stiff, but will soften up to allow unresisted full range of motion as it breaks in. Artistic skates are a qualified exception to this. They are reinforced and designed to withstand the force of landing one-footed on spins. However, even they will soften up and break down over time and lose that support which a hard synthetic material will not.
A stiffened ankle support will also lend more stability and control in high speed skating. It will allow you to use larger leg and hip muscles, instead of relying solely on small ankle muscles.
Impact absorption is important because aggressive skating involves big jumps and long drops. Frequently intentionally, but often on accident, too. This is best accomplished with a foam pad under the heel and good insoles. The ball of the foot does not need as much padding because it’s already designed to absorb energy. It is good to have something under the heel that will minimize the risk of things like heel fractures.
You also want ergonomics that promote a proper aggressive stance. You want the heel raised a bit, but not excessively. Usually a range of between 1⁄4” – 3⁄4” (6mm – 19mm) will be the sweet spot for most skaters, but some people will be outliers, and benefit from slightly more or less. You will typically want less rise (1⁄4” – 1⁄2”) for street skating, grinds, sidestance. More rise (1⁄2” – 3⁄4”) for fast carving in bowls or skating fakie.
A good way to find the right heel rise for you is to just stand barefoot in a comfortable athletic stance you will typically use for your skating. Take a quick measurement of the space under your heel. That is probably the right heel rise for you.
Resilient materials are obviously important for withstanding the abuse of falling and sliding on concrete. If you’re spending good money on these skates, you want to be able to use them for a while.
Finally some impact protection will help save your feet during those hard slams. You don’t want to break a toe or the outside of your foot against the coping. However, the risks of that are pretty low.
Most skaters are just recreational. Skating is… fun. If your goals are just to go along some sidewalks and trails and occasionally go by the roller rink. Maybe carve a bowl occasionally, your options are a lot more open.
Your primary concerns for a recreational skate will probably be comfort and style, but resilient materials to stand up to street use are also very important. Skates focusing on these elements are what I term Lifestyle Skates.
You will probably favor more supple materials than for aggressive skating. Most likely you will want your ankle moving freely to push down a bike trail for hours on end.
There is not much to say here. Are they comfortable after a long skate? Do you think they’re cool? Do they roll well? Great.
Specific Setups and Brands for Aggressive and Recreational Skating
Those requirements are a high bar to clear. Unfortunately, there have not been many options to meet those. For a long time, the only option that really ticked all of those boxes was to take an aggressive inline boot, and adapt it with a custom setup to make quads. This is still a good option, but there are others with varying benefits and drawbacks. I’ll also talk about how these options are for recreational skatings.
Aggressive Inline Boots
Notable example: Roces Pro4 comes pre mounted with quad plates and slider blocks
Most specialized aggressive boot style
Most supportive, protective, hardest wearing, and generally best impact absorption
Tend to be economical with many options to customize and repair
Sizing can be difficult for someone people, especially smaller feet (replacement liners can help)
Tend to be bulky
Soul plate can add unnecessary height
Okay for trail skating but usually a poor choice for other types of skating
Choose if: You want a very specialized park setup, particularly favoring fast bowls and ramps.
Aggressive Quad Boots
Available options (at time of writing): Chaya Karma and Kismet, Bont Parkstar
Designed specifically for aggressive quad skating
Stiff internal frame provides ankle support and protection, and toe protection
No upper ankle cuff means less support and protection than inline style boot, but greater
comfort and mobility
Very good choice for park or aggressive street skating
Good for trail skating, decent for rink or rhythm skating
Choose if: You want a proper aggressive focused boot, but do not like the style of an inline boot, would prefer something with a bit more ankle mobility for smaller ramps or street tricks, or if you want a boot that is park focused but still good for other types of skating.
Notable examples: Bauer
Good support and protection
Low impact absorption
Requires custom mounting for quad plates
Choose if: You have a good pair of these around or have trouble with the fit of inline boots.
Artistic Boots (basically for figure skating on quads)
Notable examples: Edea, Riedell Artistic line
Strong ankle support to handle the force of spinning jumps
Leather construction will eventually break down and lose support
Low impact absorption
Heel higher than ideal for aggressive skating
Comfortable for trail, rink, and rhythm skating
Choose if: You really want the style of having a heel and want a skate with solid ankle support.
Roller Derby/Speed/Jam boots
Notable examples: Riedell, Antik, Bont Quadstar
- Very versatile for a wide variety of skating styles
Comfortable, lightweight, and responsive
Minimal heel rise may be lower than ideal for many aggressive skaters
Low impact absorption
- No ankle support
Choose if: You plan to use them primarily for derby, jam, or speed skating. You are a beginning skater who wants a standard boot and doesn’t know what type(s) of skating you will eventually be most interested in.
Flat Lifestyle Boots
Notable examples: Chaya Jump
Versatile and comfortable skate
Generally very economical
Generally very stylish
Fair to low impact absorption
- No effective ankle support
Choose if: You want a general purpose unheeled skate, prioritize style, and have no specialized application you need it to excel at.
Heeled Lifestyle Boots
Notable examples: Moxi Lolly and Jack, Chaya Melrose, Riedell Citizen
Many options for personal style
Comfortable flexible construction
Construction quality ranges from budget to high quality durable leather
Lack ankle support
Lack impact absorption
- Heel higher than ideal for aggressive skating
Choose if: You want a general purpose heeled skate, prioritize style, and have no specialized application you need it to excel at.
Notable example: Vans
Endless options for customization and personal expression
Some people like the soft flexibility
Soft flexibility can lead to ankle issues in some skaters
Lack of precision and control
Zero heel lower than ideal for aggressive skating
No ankle support
- Lack impact absorption
Choose if: You favor style and do not need a skate design that excels at any particular activity.
About the author: Cameron is a passionate aggressive quad skater and gear nerd. He creates how-to videos on fundamentals of aggressive skating and admins upper level games in the International Game of Roller Skate (IGORS). As a former teacher, Cameron loves seeing people grow and excel in their abilities, and wants others to be able to learn from his mistakes so they can unlock the skills they didn’t realize they possess.