The Best Sneakers for Kids, According to Parents and Sneaker People (2024)

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By Liza Corsillo, a senior writer at the Strategist covering kids’ toys and men’s style. She joined the Strategist in 2019. She is a former writer for GQ and an accomplished illustrator.

The Best Sneakers for Kids, According to Parents and Sneaker People (2)

Photo-Illustration: The Strategist; Photos Retailers

Finding sneakers that meet the needs — and desires — of both parents and kids is no easy task, especially because they are not all that much cheaper than adult sneakers. A brief poll of Strategist parents found that we all expect to pay somewhere between $40 and $60 for a high-quality pair of kids’ shoes. And once they hit a certain age, most children will have their own opinions about the style of sneakers they want to wear. Some will only wear slip-ons, some just want whatever their friends have, and some will prioritize colorful patterns, flashing lights, or glitter above all else.

Then there’s the confusing matter of kids’ shoe sizing. “Little kid” shoe sizes, sometimes referred to as toddler sizes, run from 0 through 13 and will fit infants and toddlers as well as kids up to about 5 years old. Then they move up to “big kid” sizes (sometimes referred to as just “kids” or “youth” sizes), which start over again with size 1 and can run as high as size 7. (The next consecutive size up is a men’s 8 or a women’s 10, as women’s shoes sizes are typically about 1.5 sizes smaller than men’s.)

If you’re lucky, one pair of kids’ sneakers might last an entire year. But for those of us with kids in the midst of a growth spurt or kids who regularly wear their shoes into the ground, you may find yourself shelling out for new shoes every few months. In that case, buying cheaper, slightly less durable sneakers — or shopping resale sites like Kidizen, Poshmark, or eBay — is often the most practical way to go. But no matter where you buy them, leaning on the wisdom of more experienced parents will help you avoid too much pricey trial and error.

So to find the best sneakers for kids of all ages, I talked to children’s shoe experts and stylish yet practical parents — Strategist writers and editors included — about the shoes they buy for their own kids. We’ve organized their recommendations by age, from toddlers all the way to teenagers, and noted which styles are available in multiple age categories.

Best sneakers for toddlers and preschoolers

Stacey Fauci, owner of kids’ shoe store Runnin’ Wild, says canvas shoes from the Seattle-based brand See Kai Run are among her best sellers year after year. “They have a functional soft sole, and the styles are very nice,” she says, adding that they’re also cut a little wider than other sneakers and make a great first-walker shoe. Jennifer May, a children’s-footwear consultant, adds that because many kids have wide feet, it makes sense that these comfy, roomier shoes are so popular. This pair of first-walker sneakers is available in little-kid sizes 3 through 6; the brand also makes other styles in sizes up through a big kids’ size 3.

As the mom of a baby who just started wearing sneakers, I am still very much in the honeymoon phase of kids’ shoes. My son is only just starting to walk so his footwear stays pretty pristine, and he can’t talk yet, so I get to make all the decisions. That said, I have quickly learned to look for sneakers that seem comfortable and are easy for me to put on him but difficult for him to take off. These furry high tops from Ten Little give my son some ankle stability and keep his feet warm. Like See Kai Run’s sneakers, Ten Little’s baby and kid sneakers are cut wide to promote healthy foot growth. And the shape of this pair helps prevent him from pulling them off and throwing them out of his stroller. They are available in whole and half sizes 4 through 13.

Fellow toddler mom and Wrangler design director Teresa An also recommends Ten Little’s Velcro Everyday Original sneakers. Her son Isaac has wide, chubby feet, and she says they’ve offered the best combination of fit and comfort, adding that they are also quick to put on with minimal fuss. Like the high tops above, they are available in sizes 4 through 13.

The wide toe box and flat sole of these New Balance 550s is a great choice for preschool kids who are still growing and gaining coordination. And in terms of style, they get the approval of sneaker expert Mike Kaufman of Overtime. He likes the classic basketball-inspired shape for little kids because it’s trendy and looks good with everything, from overalls to frilly dresses. They are available in whole and half sizes from little kid size 10.5 through big kid size 7.

Though they are a bit of a splurge, I recently bought these adorable New Balance shoes for my son, who currently wears a little kid size 5. I love the dad-ness of them in contrast to their tiny size. And aside from his Ten Little high tops, they have become my favorite shoes for him to wear. They are very solid, which gives him a good base for standing and cruising. And while it takes extra time to lace them up, once the laces are tied, he cannot take them off. They come in gray and black and are available in a full-size run (with some half sizes) from little kid 0 through big kid 7.

This pair of slip-ons from the family-owned Spanish brand Cienta is reminiscent of Bensimons, those dainty French Converse-like shoes. Ashley Melone, the co-founder of nursing-friendly clothing line Madri Collection, recommends them for their versatile, timeless look and how easy they are to slip onto her daughter’s feet. “Shoes that she can wear comfortably without socks make getting out the door that much simpler.” The slip-ons are available in little kid and big kid sizes from little kid size 5 all the way through big kid size 3.

Nike Air Max 270 RT (Infant/Toddler)

$80

These sleek Nike Air Maxes are Follain founder Tara Foley’s favorite sneakers for her kids. “I have the same ones, so I know from personal experience that they’re super-cushy and have the perfect amount of height. They’re also seriously cute,” she says. Foley appreciates that the kids’ version has no-tie elastic laces, which she prefers to Velcro straps or regular laces. They come in little kids sizes 3 through 10.

$80 at Nike Buy

“I absolutely love Reebok Classics for my preschooler,” says Danielle Walish, Madri’s other co-founder. “For the spring, I ordered her a pair of the Classic Leathers in white, and for the fall we changed to black with the gum bottoms.” In her opinion, the retro look is especially cute on small feet. These little kid sneakers start at size 4 and go through size 10. But they are also available in the full range of big kid and adult sizes.

“Completely our fault, but my boys only like wearing Air Jordan 1s now,” says Dayna Hall Carter, design director at Vox Media, of her 5- and 3-year-old sons. Iconic sneakers that have earned a lifetime membership to the cool-shoe club, AJ1s are available in a variety of color combinations and height styles: low, mid, and high. Carter appreciates that she can use the same style of sneakers for both of her kids and that “they work well for both their feet, narrow (oldest) and chunky dino feet (the baby).” These are available in little kid sizes starting at size 4, and go all the way through big kid sizes to adult sizes.

Best sneakers for kindergarten and elementary-schoolers

Paige Lauren, founder of the eponymous children’s clothing brand and mom of an 8-year-old, recommends Asics GT-1000 sneakers because of the great arch and ankle support they provide along with cushioning and stabilityfor lots of running around. “My son is very sporty, and these Asics have been our go-to shoe for school and part of his uniform since he was 5 years old. He had growing pains with other shoes, but when he wears these, he has none of the aches and pains,” she says. There is a version of the sneaker for younger kids that features a Velcro top strap and comes in little kid size 10 through big kid size 3, or this version without the Velcro comes in big kid sizes 1 through 3.

Strategist writer Lauren Ro and her almost-5-year-old son Augie have been loving this pair of On Cloud Play sneakers. Ro says he’s been wearing them every day since the start of school in the fall, and that they’ve been great for the playground, biking, and everything in between. “He likes to call them his running shoes, because they look cool and sleek, and are also very lightweight,” she says. One minor issue is that the elastic laces sometimes come undone and slip out of the eyelet holes. As a result, one of them got lost, but she ordered some black elastic online and replaced it pretty easily.

Both of Strategist senior editor Jen Trolio’s daughters, who are 6 and 8 years old, have worn these Bogs slip-on sneakers, with her younger daughter requesting them again after outgrowing her pair. They are lace-free with a fixed tongue, which means the girls can yank them on quickly without worry of uncomfortable misalignment. And while the edges of the rubber on the soles has finally started to wear away, Trolio estimates that each kid got a solid six to eight months of hard everyday wear out of them. Her older daughter even wears them to play indoor soccer on Astroturf, where the relatively “flat” shape allows for great ball control. The shoes are also machine-washable, which Trolio especially appreciates. These shoes start at a little kid size 10 and go up to a big kid size 3.

Program manager Kristin Knight says that this innovative pair of sneakers gave her son an extra boost of independence while he was learning to tie his shoes. “He loved how easy they were to put on and take off. The BOA tightening mechanism felt very exciting to him,” she says. (Trolio confirms this sense of thrill, as her 5-year-old niece saw a kindergarten classmate wearing these shoes and asked for her own pair for Christmas; now at least four students in her class are sporting variations on this style.) The shoes have a single flap that hooks onto a disc that can be tightened to secure the shoe so your kiddo can quickly and easily put their shoes on by themselves. They come in whole and half sizes from little kid size 10.5 through big kid size 7.

Trolio first discovered Billy Footwear high-tops when working on a Strategist story about the best back-to-school clothes according to kids and immediately bought a pair for her now 8-year-old daughter. Her kids are very particular about the way their socks sit on their feet, and because the zipper on the Billys goes nearly all the way around the top of the shoe, you can flip the shoes open and step right in “without mussing your socks at all,” she says. The brand is beloved for its accessibility for people with mobility issues or who wear corrective devices, and also has lots of colorful patterns and bling-y details, which is a big deal for kids who refuse to wear more muted colors. They are not the longest-lasting sneakers Trolio’s family has tried, but where the sole on her daughter’s Billys wore out more quickly than the soles on other pairs, the glitter held on remarkably well compared to other sparkly shoes they have owned. They come in multiple widths and little kid size 5 through big kid size 9. (Billy’s also makes full lines of adult shoes.)

Mika Oakes, the founder of maternity swim brandMoloco, and Eunice Byun, the CEO and co-founder of direct-to-consumer kitchenware company Material, both swear by Stan Smiths for their children — but only the version with Velcro, which comes in little kid size 10.5 through big kid size 3. “It’s so easy for kids to manage the new task of putting on and taking off shoes without bothering with tying laces,” says Byun. Oakes agrees that no-tie shoes are the way to go, saying, “I was never the mom who wanted to deal with tying up laces.” Of course, there are also Stan Smiths with laces, which may be a better fit for older kids.

From $115

Alexandra Perri, a stylist at kids’-clothing subscription company Dopple, recommends the undeniably stylish Camper Runner sneakers, because the classic cream color can pair with any outfit combination that your school-aged child comes up with, and the Velcro-and-lace construction makes them easy to secure, even for kids who are still perfecting their shoe-tying technique.

For a no-fuss shoe, Maisonette co-founder Sylvana Ward-Durrett loves Vans slip-ons because, as their name implies, they’re so easy for kids to slip on and off. She also notes that “they’re the perfect price point for the wear and tear of the week.” They’re available in all sizes, starting as small as little kid size 4, and going through the full range of little kid, big kid, and adult sizes, so you can match your child when you feel like twinning.

Best sneakers for middle-schoolers

Dopple stylist Monika Wajda loves that the quality of Veja sneakers is consistent, whether she’s grabbing an adult pair for herself or this cute mini pair for her daughter. “What I love about these shoes is that Veja Kids offer the same level of quality when it comes to flexibility and lightness — similar to the adult version,” she says. The sneakers run from little kid size 11 through big kid size 7. “I can now share twin moments with my daughter when we go out! Vejas are way more fun when shared,” she adds.

Unlike the less structured, barefoot-style shoes Shevaun Mackie Doyle, a pediatric orthopedist at theHospital for Special Surgery, recommends for younger kids, she says that “as they get older and closer to their adult body weight, it’s okay to have a shoe that equally distributes load and absorbs shock,” like a traditional running shoe. As kids enter middle school and pick up track, cross country, or other sports that involve running, she says, these more specialized shoes help prevent stress fractures and calluses. With the same cushioning technology found in the brand’s adult shoes, Asics are a good choice for active kids in this age group. Fauci recommends the Gel-Contend in particular as “a very stable shoe.” It’s available in big kids sizes 1 through 7.

$57

Toward the tail end of elementary school, kids may start to prioritize aesthetics in their sneakers. “Adidas is doing a great job with styles right now,” says May. She suggests this pair that’s flexible and breathable while also being stylish, noting that as long as the shoe fits correctly and is functional, it’s generally fine to let a kid pick a pair based on looks. Doyle says this is true even for the one in five kids who have flat or collapsed arches. “Don’t get a shoe to accommodate a flat foot,” she says. “It’s been shown that it’s a normal variant within foot shape.” These are available in big kid sizes 3.5 through 7.

Best sneakers for high schoolers

High-school kids can be the pickiest when it comes to coordinating their outfits during the school year. Iris Adler and Tali Milchberg, co-founders and designers of kids’-clothing brand nununu, say that you can’t go wrong with black Chuck Taylors. “Black All-Star high-tops are classics and always the right choice. This is truly an iconic heritage brand that literally represents youth and their culture for decades. As per style — they’re cool, laid back, and literally work with anything from a pair of jeans to a fancy dress. The more worn and shabby, the better.”

For teens who are into fashion, these platform All Stars are a little more on trend — and a little less flat as well. They are a favorite of Wrangler senior men’s designer William Ortiz and his 17-year-old daughter.

Meanwhile, Ortiz’s 13-year-old son Jake is all about Nike. “He is becoming quite the sneakerhead,” Ortiz says, describing his son’s collection, which contains a range of old-school and new-school Jordans, low Dunks, Air Forces, Waffles, and some of his favorite basketball players’ sneakers, like Giannis Antetokounmpo’s Freak and Immortality Nikes.For his part, Ortiz recommends these Nike Waffle Debut sneakers because they work with both khakis and a button-down or a sporty pair of shorts.

$80 at Nike Buy

Nike Air Force 1

$150

now 13% off

From $130

In addition to Ortiz’s son Jake, dozens of teens have told us how much they love wearing all-white Nike Air Force 1s. The key to these chunky low-top sneakers’ popularity is that they are comfortable, stylish, and pretty affordable for a shoe that’s perennially on trend.

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The Best Kids’ Sneakers, According to Cool Parents
The Best Sneakers for Kids, According to Parents and Sneaker People (2024)

FAQs

Which type of shoes are best for kids? ›

Choose a lightweight shoe since children use a lot of energy walking at this age. Toddlers can go barefoot in a protected environment such as indoors. Style and shoe fit is important for school-age children. At this age, they can choose from a variety of options, including athletic shoes, sandals, hiking shoes, etc.

Are sneakers good for kids? ›

Shoe wear is very important in treating children with foot pain.” Dr. Blanco says a sneaker should fit well in terms of length and width, be properly supportive, have an appropriate arch, and it needs to be made of sturdy materials.

What sneaker is the most iconic and why? ›

The AJ 1 is arguably the shoe that really sparked the market for sneakers with Nike's unique story-telling approach and various collaborations. The Air Jordan 1 is a crucial part of sneaker history, and 38 years later still remains one of the most-coveted kicks of all time.

What's the difference between kids sneakers and adults? ›

Children's and adult shoes differ mainly in the foot shape, last, function, and decorative pieces. The average length of the first metatarsophalangeal joint of children's feet accounts for 73.27% of the foot length, and the average length of the fifth metatarsophalangeal joint accounts for 63.75% of the foot length.

What shoes do 11 year olds wear? ›

Kids Shoe Size Chart
Estimated AgeAmerican SizeEuropean Size
10-11 years6J38
11-12 years6.5J38
13-14 years7J39
13-14 years7.5J39
25 more rows

What age buys the most sneakers? ›

In terms of age groups, those who are 25-34 years old own the most at 9 pairs per person. 60.12% of the shoes owned by women are sneakers. For men, 37.5% are athletic shoes.

Is sneakers good or bad? ›

Sneakers are very comfortable, but they shouldn't be the only footwear we use. The foot is created to walk barefoot and if we get used to stepping on such a soft surface, we will have future problems, plantar fasciitis, flat feet, etc. IF RUNNING IS NOT WALKING, WHY USE SNEAKERS TO WALK?

What age group buys the most sneakers? ›

U.S. sneaker ownership by age

EBay found that 25 to 34-year-olds own the biggest sneaker collections of all age groups in the U.S., owning nine pairs of sneakers on average. The next largest age group by sneaker ownership is 35 to 44-year-olds with eight pairs, followed by 16 to 24-year-olds with seven pairs.

What is the No 1 sneaker brand? ›

Nike is the most popular sneaker brand among U.S. consumers, with 64 percent of respondents who know the brand actually liking it.

What is the most loved sneaker? ›

With global footwear sales of $33 billion in the fiscal year ended May 31, 2023, Nike is not only the most popular but also by far the biggest seller of athletic footwear in the world.

What are the top 10 selling sneakers? ›

Top 10 Most Popular Sneakers of 2023
  • Air Jordan 1 Low Golf Travis Scott.
  • Kobe 6 Reverse Grinch.
  • Nike SB Dunk Low Yuto Horigome.
  • Nike Air Force 1 Low Tiffany & Co. 1837.
  • Air Jordan 3 Reimagined White Cement.
  • Nike SB Dunk Low Jarritos.
  • Jordan 1 Low Travis Scott Olive (W)
  • Air Jordan 4 Nike SB SP Sail Pine Green.
Dec 4, 2023

How big should kids sneakers be? ›

Toddler sizes 4-10 typically fit ages 1-3 years. Little kids' sizes 10.5-3 typically fit ages 4-8 years. Big kids' sizes 3.5-7 typically fit ages 8+. Sometime around the ages of 9-12, kids typically transition to adult sizes.

How should kids sneakers fit? ›

Feel along each side of the shoe and make sure there isn't any pressure or pinching. Your child should be able to move their little toe, too. Let's make sure there's enough room above your child's toes. Gently press the top of the shoe down - you should feel enough space between the toes and the shoe upper for comfort.

What does youth mean in sneakers? ›

The variety of terms you're likely to see include, baby, walker, toddler, little kid, big kid and youth. Terms like baby, walker, toddler and little kid usually apply to the toddlers' sizes ranging from 0-13, while other terms, like big kid and youth, tend to apply to kids' sizes 1-7.

Which shoe type are best for everyday use? ›

Sneakers (or tennis shoes) are typically casual and great for everyday wear. They're also often cheap and durable. Running shoes, on the other hand, offer features that make them more appropriate for running or exercising in.

Which type shoes are better? ›

Choose a shoe with a firm foundation

The same will happen to your body if you choose a shoe with a squishy base. Test a shoe's foundation by gently bending it at the toe. If it folds in half, that's a sign it's too soft. If it bends somewhat but stays mostly rigid, it has good support.

Are barefoot shoes best for children? ›

Because barefoot shoes have a thin, flexible sole, the full mental picture can travel freely to the brain. This is especially important for older babies and toddlers learning to walk because it gives them a greater awareness of their bodies and significantly improves their coordination.

Are leather shoes better for kids? ›

Leather uppers are great, but canvas or cotton is fine too as these are also natural . The trouble with synthetic or plastic uppers is that they don't let your toddler's feet breathe, and their feet can become sweaty and rub .

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