The last few years have seen a mostly-industry-wide focus on singular aspects – durability, materials, boardfeel, etc. 2016 was a little different, in a good way.
This year we saw most companies pushing towards making the best overall shoe possible with equal emphasis on all parts, not just one or two. Gone are the days of the flimsy vulc with no support in exchange for almost-too-great boardfeel. Gone, mostly and perhaps more notably, are the days of each company regurgitating each other’s models aka everyone having their version of the same shoe. This year we saw risks from every company who released new models, some working out very favorably and some less so.
With such impressive designs in 2016, there’s no question that the models featured below were standouts in the most progressive year of skate shoe history. As a result, we found ourselves ranking the models of this year by looking for more of what’s wrong with them rather than what’s right. If anything, this was a “Simpsons did it” year, with each release having solid competition in all the areas it excelled in and brands trying their best to make their version different and better.
While you may disagree with the formation of this list, you cannot deny the significance of each of these models in 2016.
*Disclaimer – To be considered for this list THE MODEL MUST BE A 2016 RELEASE and PREVIOUSLY UNAVAILABLE. New colorways/materials DON’T constitute a new release.
In the past, Nike SB’s big risks have had a decent track record (the URL/E-Cue era, for example), but nobody saw this one coming. Considering Koston and longtime designer Shawn Carboy’s history, they could have just as easily continued along a similar path as previous Koston models and made an undoubtedly fine-but-expected pro model. Instead, the dynamic duo went with something never before done in skating. Rather than playing it safe, the Koston 3 challenged each and every one of us in one way or another, and there is literally no other shoe on this list that can claim that. Not bad for someone who could just as easily be coasting at this point.
Honorable mention: Bruin Hyperfeel
No one would be upset if Converse continued to put out nothing but the CTS and, in considering that, we must celebrate their efforts with the Metric CLS. The progressive team model is a formidable cupsole that’s gained traction with those looking for quality protection. With an impressive midsole that gives off superior boardfeel without sacrificing support and an endoresee via Jake Johnson, there’s no question that the Metric CLS should have been on your “must try” list this year.
Honorable mention: Deck Star 67
To make a shoe that is appealing to all types of skateboarders is a rare thing; there are so many scenes, so many opinions, so many looks and aesthetic preferences – it’s a wonder any shoe sells. DC took the opportunity this year to really dig deep into what skateboarders want in 2016, releasing some of their best and most universally enjoyable models since the ’90s, but it took the beloved-by-all Wes Kremer to pull out their best offering. The Wes 2 is an extremely durable, well-cushioned shoe that functions just as well as a slip-on as with the minimal lacing, and came with some of the best colorway choices of which we’ve come to know from Wes’ models. The Wes 2 is a legitimately interesting shoe that skates exponentially better than you expect and is just as crusty as it is fly.
Honorable mention: Plaza TC
What struck us as the most interesting aspect of State, initially and still, is how standard and basic their shoes are. When a new company comes on, typically they try to develop their own aesthetic, but State knew what was good and made really good versions of it. Of all the models they debuted, the Mercer stood out as one of, if not the best, highs we’ve seen in a long while, as well as the most timelessly skate-centric. Aesthetically, State’s been pulling from the best of what vulc shoes had to offer from multiple eras, and the Mercer found the perfect meeting of looking, feeling and skating like a high-top should.
Honorable mention: Elgin
The most notable and progressive design of 2016 without a doubt goes to New Balance Numeric’s nod to technical skateboarding. Aside from its various advancements, the 868 makes use of NB#’s premium material; everything from the outsole and upper was brought out to make their most ambitious model yet. This blatant and unapologetic nod to the Kastel/early Circa era while being all its present-day own is something no other brand has even come close to doing. Our reservations regarding aesthetic and boardfeel were quickly and thoroughly assuaged, providing some over-30 types to up their impact level and get out of their comfort zone – something few shoes can claim.
Honorable mention: Pro Court 213
Another debut shoe program for 2016, Diamond seemed like their goal was to create the cleanest skate shoes ever made to skate. Amongst their new models was the All Day, Brandon Biebel’s multi-functional pro model that found many of us divided. Some liked it, some raised an eyebrow, others loved it, but all took notice. Despite the small indifference, and considering his catalog of pro models, we all agreed the All Day is Biebel’s most impressive model to date. Paying homage to both the past and future of skate shoes has been big this year (several of the models on this list fit that description) and all it took was trying them on to understand why Diamond and Biebs went this direction.
Honorable mention: Torey
Despite the welcome technical uproar that we witnessed in 2016, HUF kept it simpler than ever to gain the fanfare of skaters everywhere. The sturdy and straightforward cupsole met the bulky vulc feel that’s been so prevalent the last couple years, resulting in a shoe that skates exactly as it’s supposed to. Bare bones yet incredibly thoughtful construction landed Huf with several winners this year, but the Soto reigned supreme in its universal skateability, regardless of any of our particular detail preferences. Straight up made to skate anything, anywhere.
Honorable mention: Cromer
With their best output year in a few, we legitimately had a difficult time narrowing down which Lakai shoe we like the most; the fact that there wasn’t a blindingly obvious frontrunner is perhaps the best compliment we can give Lakai. What set the Fremont apart was how well it lived up to our expectations. When we first saw it at Agenda, it was high on all of our lists of shoes to skate as soon as possible, and throughout every release from every other company, it stayed there. The Fremont skates just like you expect – comfortably – and keeps it’s look clean throughout its durable lifespan.
Honorable mention: Owen VLK
It should come as no surprise that 2016’s SOTY has a shoe in the top 5 SSOTY list. Vans made a valiant effort in stepping out of their comfort zone to bring us one of their most versatile models to date. Kyle Walker’s pro model has it all – comfort, stability, boardfeel and most remarkably, protection. The last quality isn’t one that many think of when skating Vans’ iconic sidewalk surfer shoes, but with the high-impact antics Kyle blew our minds with this year, there was no avoiding it. With a duracap infused toe and a wafflecup foundation, the Kyle Walker pro was a tank of a shoe without being a tank.
Honorable mention: Style 112
If we were to ask what your ideal skate shoe would be, you wouldn’t have to think too hard. Most of us want the same things: durable, flexible, supportive, lots of feel, breaks in quick, protective, keeps its shape, ventilated, etc. Regardless of your cup vs. vulc feelings, we all have the same priorities and we want them in a shoe that looks good with anything. Rarely will a single model score an A+ across the board, and you need look no further than the Lucas Premiere ADV for Class of 2016 valedictorian. A perfect ecosystem of performance and style, it accomplishes so much in its lean body with precision tooling and simple design, finding itself as one of, if not the most sought after shoes of the year. Our pick for the top spot is as solid, stylish and well-rounded as the Frenchman himself.
Honorable mention: Busenitz Pro Mid