Are you a freshie looking for your first pair of skates? Or an experienced player looking for an upgrade?
In this guide, we’ve reviewed the 7 best skates for roller derby in 2020.
No time to spare? Compare our top picks with this handy table:
Phreakskate Derby Annihilator
Best Roller Derby Skates
Time to begin our reviews.
Read on, and we’ll look at 7 of the best roller derby skates you can buy in 2020.
- Bont Quadstar Roller Skates
- Riedell R3 Roller Skates
- Jackson Phreakskate Derby Annihilator
- Stomp Factor-5 Derby Skates
- Riedell Dart Ombré Roller Skates
- VNLA Stealth Jam Roller Skates
- Chaya Karma Outdoor Roller Skates
These are one of the few reasonably-priced roller skates designed specifically for roller derby.
They have pretty much everything you need as a freshie, at a pretty reasonable price.
Crucially, they come with a fiberglass-reinforced plate, making for a lightweight but incredibly durable shoe. The toe stop is also nice and strong, and the FX1 wheels offer great grip indoors, meaning you can take turns at higher speeds without falling over.
Another great thing about the Quadstars is how you break them in. Rather than having to play in pain for hours while they mold to the shape of your foot, you can actually do it yourself with a hairdryer – meaning you can skate almost pain-free from the very beginning.
Overall, these are lightweight, agile, reasonably-priced skates. For fresh meat, they’re a fantastic option.
Overall value rating
If you’re after something even more comfortable, the Riedell R3 is definitely worth considering.
Essentially, these are similar to the Quadskate we just looked at, albeit a bit more expensive. The R3s are just above beginner-level skates, so you might want to upgrade the toe stops and wheels as you begin to take the sport more seriously.
However, there are benefits to the R3’s easy-going design. It feels great to wear, breaks in easily, and the lace + Velcro system makes it possible to get the perfect level of tightness in the fit. Plus, the boot is quite breathable.
As this skate comes with a nylon plate, it’s best for jammers and pivots as opposed to blockers.
Despite this, it’s still a very durable skate for those who weigh less than 200lbs. Just remember that you may want to do some light upgrades in the future, once you get a year or two of experience under your belt.
Overall value rating
This isn’t a cheap skate. But it’s another really nice option designed specifically for roller derby.
For starters, there’s decent padding in the boot, making for a very comfortable skate that doesn’t take too long to break in. But at the same time, the Annihilator is still incredibly lightweight, and doesn’t get too hot. There’s fantastic ventilation on the top part of the boot, allowing heat to rise away from your foot.
The toe-stop is nice and large, perfect for roller derby – no need to swap it out for something bigger. These skates also come with a Zytel plate, which is a lightweight material like nylon, but much tougher – it’s used for reinforcement in certain types of handguns.
But the best thing about these skates is the wheels. They come with Morphs by Reckless 88/91A as standard, which are nice and grippy, and almost never stop spinning. However, they might be a little fast for beginner players.
Overall value rating
If you’re looking for something a little more basic, the Factor-5s from Stomp are a great pick.
Essentially, this is a well-rounded Derby skate that works well for beginners. They come with ABEC-5 bearings, meaning they’re not too fast, nor too slow. However, you might want to switch the wheels before using these skates for derby – the included 58mm wheels are a little on the hard side.
The Factor-5 comes in four really nice colors, and the upper material is nice and comfortable. What’s more, the included toe stop has plenty of stopping power, making it perfect for roller derby.
With regards to durability, these skates rate OK. For a beginner’s option, they hold up pretty well. However, if you’re playing competitive roller derby on a regular basis, you will definitely want to invest in something tougher.
One more important thing to note about this skate is its sizing. The Factor-5 fit a bit small, so you may want to order a size up.
Overall value rating
Riedell really know how to make a great all-around roller derby skate, and this option is no exception.
Like the R3, the Dart is a low-profile skate designed with comfort in mind. It has a decent amount of padding, but not too much, meaning it breaks in easily – the boot is nice and soft.
However, this is still a tough skate. The Dart comes with a die-cast aluminum plate, which is very strong, especially considering what this skate costs. Also, the boot is well-made, and won’t split easily.
What’s more, the toe-stop is easily adjustable, so you can get it in the perfect position. The wheels and bearings (ABEC-5s) are well-balanced – providing just the right amount of grip and glide.
The only bad thing we can say about these skates is they run a little big.
Overall value rating
For freshies, sticking to your budget, and finding skates that allow for easy control, might be a little more important than getting something durable at this stage.
These skates are designed for jam skating, making them great for beginners. They’re meant to be ultra-grippy and super nimble on indoor surfaces. Plus, there’s virtually no break-in period, which is great.
You also get excellent stability with the Stealth Jam, helping you stay upright even on hard impacts. However, you might want to swap out the toe stop – it’s not incredibly big.
Another issue with this skate is the plate. It’s made of nylon, meaning this option isn’t really suitable for those over 200lbs.
Overall value rating
The Chaya Karma is designed for use on outdoor rinks or in skate parks – it comes with hard Octo Momentum wheels as standard. When used outdoors, they offer excellent agility, and come with curved edges, making the Karma incredibly maneuvrable.
But if you want to use these skates indoors, you might want to switch to indoor or hybrid wheels.
What makes the Karmas great for roller derby is their fit. Chaya have gone for a mid-cut design with this boot, without quite making it a high-top. As a result, it’s still an agile skate, but provides great ankle support. Plus, it’s a good option for those with wide feet – the fit is quite forgiving.
As you’d expect given the price, this is a super-durable skate. The aluminum plate holds up really well, no matter your role on the rink.
If you play roller derby outdoors, need the best-possible ankle support, or just want great-looking skates, the Karma is definitely worth considering.
Overall value rating
Roller Derby Skate Buyer’s Guide
Now we’ll discuss some key things to consider when picking skates for roller derby.
What makes a good roller derby skate?
Choosing a good set of skates for roller derby is quite tricky.
Your skates have to be really tough, but also agile enough to allow you to stop, dodge, and turn on a dime. You also need to ensure that the skates have enough grip to keep you upright, but not too much that you can’t lift your foot and power forward when need be.
Good roller derby skates also provide great ankle support, and must be nice and comfortable – otherwise you’re going to be dealing with blisters and constant pain as you play.
Unfortunately, because a good roller skate must be well-engineered, this does mean that quality roller derby skates are often quite expensive. We’ll discuss budgetary considerations a bit below.
To sum up, you need skates with:
- A durable plate.
- The right wheels.
- A lightweight (but comfortable) boot.
- A tough toe stop.
Finding the right wheels
The first thing to think about when comparing different wheels is where you’ll actually be skating.
- Indoor wheels are designed for smooth, slippery surfaces. They’re normally quite hard, which gives a better roll on gym-style floors and polished concrete.
- Hybrid roller skate wheels on the other hand are more balanced. They’re not too grippy but not too smooth, making them an ideal choice for both indoor and outdoor surfaces.
- Outdoor wheels, as the name suggests, are designed to be used outside, on surfaces such as concrete. As a softer, more malleable option, they roll really well on uneven surfaces, and won’t be troubled by dirt and debris on the track.
However, do note that most roller skate wheels won’t be explicitly labeled as “indoor”, “hybrid”, or “outdoor”. The harder the wheel, the more suitable it is for indoor use. Softer wheels on the other hand will provide more traction, which is great for staying upright on difficult outdoor surfaces. However, they will wear down faster.
Hardness ratings normally range from 78A up to 103A. The higher the number, the harder (and slipperier) the wheel is.
Finally, think about how narrow (or otherwise) you want the wheel to be. Anything under 40mm in width is considered narrow, and is best for those looking for added agility. The taller you are, the thicker the wheel you’ll need – you can get anything from around 30mm to 41mm in width.
Finding the right bearings
Each wheel on a roller skate has two bearings.
The main difference between different bearings is how well they spin.
You’ll see different skates with different ABEC ratings. Either ABEC 1, ABEC 3, ABEC 5, ABEC 7, or ABEC 9. Basically, the higher the rating, the longer (and easier) the wheel will spin.
For roller derby specifically, ABEC 5 and above is normally your best option. The easier the wheel spins, the easier it is to begin moving quickly.
Note: ABEC is also a quality rating, not just a measure of how much a bearing spins. Meaning, if a skate comes with bearings that don’t have an ABEC rating, you probably shouldn’t use them for roller derby.
How to find a durable roller skate
The more seriously you take the sport, and the more you weigh, the more you have to think about the durability of your roller skates.
But what makes a durable roller derby skate?
First, look at the plate of the skate. This is the flat piece of metal that the trucks attach to on the bottom of the boot.
- Nylon plates are the cheap and easy option. However, they’re not the most durable choice. If you’re over 200lbs, it’s best to avoid these sorts of plates, but they can work well for beginners.
- Fiberglass or fiberglass-reinforced plates are a more flexible, more durable option. They’re not the toughest option out there, but they work well for skaters who weigh up to 300lbs.
- Aluminum plates are generally the most durable options, however it’s important that the material is good quality. Some manufacturers simply use low-grade aluminum to make their skates seem stronger. But if good-quality material is used, aluminum makes for an extremely durable skate, without making the shoe too heavy.
Next, think about the actual boot part of the skate – where you place your foot. Over time, it’s going to be subjected to a heck of a lot of stress, especially if you take the sport seriously.
The seams on the boot are the most important thing. Ensure that they’re extremely well put-together. You might need to check buyer reviews to ensure that the skate is built to last – look for what owners who have used the skates for a number of months have to say about their durability.
What type of skate should I get?
For roller derby, you really need low-profile speed skates as opposed to the tall, traditional-looking, “artistic” options. You want a nice low-profile fit, to maximize your speed and agility.
You might be able to get away for high-top skates as a beginner, or for casual play. However, low-cut options are by far the better choice – in terms of both speed and agility.
Also ensure that you buy quad skates, with wheels in a 2×2 formation, as opposed to inline skates in a 4×1 or 3×1 formation. If you get inline skates, it’s going to be much more difficult to stay upright – quad skates give you much more stability, despite being a little slower. Nearly all roller derby leagues require you to wear quad roller skates.
This poses a bit of a challenge, because most quad skates are designed for casual use, because they’re easier to use without falling over. You’ve got to find quad skates that aren’t just for show – something that’s tough enough to withstand the rigors of roller derby.
How much padding do I need?
Different roller derby skates will have different amounts of padding in the outer parts of the boot.
Essentially, the less padding, the better the fit. Although skates with no padding can be quite painful to break in, once you’ve worn them for a bit, they’ll form to the exact shape of your foot.
On the other hand, if a shoe has a decent amount of padding, it’ll be easier to break in, because the material will be softer. However, the final fit might not be quite as good.
What you go for is up to you – but for fresh meat, padded skates are the more comfortable option.
What roller derby brands are best?
When looking at different companies that sell roller skates, the first thing to know is you should avoid cheap Chinese brands. Also, avoid any skates designed for recreational use – it’s called roller derby for a reason, and these products simply won’t withstand competitive-level play.
This includes most skates from the brand called “Roller Derby”. Despite the name, most skates from this company aren’t designed for the actual sport.
Here are some brands that make great roller derby skates:
This isn’t the complete list. Just ensure that the brand has good credentials if you’re not buying from something on this list.
How roller derby skates should fit
Fitting a roller skate is similar to fitting a sneaker – you can use your regular shoe size.
However, you need to be careful about the difference between mens’ and womens’ sizes. Unisex skates might be quoted in mens’ sizes, which normally run a bit larger than womens’ sizes. But if a skate is meant for girls only, it should be available in only womens’ sizes.
To ensure a good fit, your toes should just about touch the end of the skate, and the rest of your shoe should fit nice and snug. Prior customers should also give some indication of how a skate fits if you check the online reviews.
Pro tip: before ordering your regular shoe size, check the manufacturer’s size guide to ensure that the skate will fit as expected.
How much should I spend on roller derby skates?
The answer is, it depends how seriously you plan to take the sport.
If this is your first season, and you’re not sure if you’ll be playing competitively, it’s perfectly fine to go for a cheaper option with the view to potentially upgrade in the future.
However, don’t cheap out – you still need to ensure that the skates are reasonably comfortable and agile. A budget of $100-$150 should get you some really nice beginner skates.
On the other hand, for serious skaters, performance is key. You’ll want proper, durable skates, that match your play style – whether you normally play blocker, jammer, or pivot. Expect to pay $250 or more for a really good pair of roller skates.
You’ve reached the end of our buyer’s guide!
We hope you’ve found the perfect skates for your roller derby needs.
Still not sure what to get? Drop us a comment below and we’ll get right back to you.
About the author
Tom is an accomplished writer, with years of experience producing buyer’s guides and tutorials for athletes online.
And it goes without saying – he’s sports-mad.