11 Best Kids Sneakers for School, Travel, and Play

Time for new kids sneakers? Here are our top picks for comfortable and cool sneakers able keep up with even the busiest kids.
girl in sneakers jumping in front of colorful house
(Photo: @lira_n4 via Twenty20)

Kids sneakers have a serious job to do: Support growing feet as children run, jump, explore, learn, and play. Finding the perfect fit can mean trying out a variety of brands, and often the sneakers that work for your kid when they’re little won’t be the right shoe as their feet (and style sensibilities) grow.

With that in mind, we’ve rounded up beloved brands for little and big kids, in cool colors and new styles that will bring kids running. Our top kids sneaker picks include running shoes, sneaker-hiker hybrids, athletic shoes, slip ons, canvas, and yes, even light-up sneakers. 

Where to Find Kids Sneakers

  • Journeys Kidz: Journeys Kidz is a kids footwear chain with a range of cool-enough-for-cool-kids brands like Converse and Adidas. Frequent sales and special-edition shoes make Journeys (which also sells adult shoes) a good stop whenever you’re looking for kids sneakers. 
  • Foot Locker: Sneakers are the star at Foot Locker. With stores in 28 countries and a massive online presence, Foot Locker is a go-to source of all the latest and greatest in the world of sport shoes. The retailer carries sneakers, running shoes, and other sports shoes in all sizes, from infant sizes through adult sizes. 
  • Dick’s Sporting Goods: Just as the name suggests, Dick’s Sporting Goods carries much more than just shoes, but its kids sneaker selection stands out for its easy-to-browse selections of kids athletic shoes, basketball shoes, lifestyle sneakers, and limited sneaker releases. 
  • Zappos: Longtime online shoe retailer Zappos has a fantastic selection of current kids shoes from dozens of brands, including both popular names like Nike and lesser-known brands for smaller feet with devoted followings like Livie & Luca, pediped, and Tsukihoshi Kids.
  • DSW: DSW has a constantly refreshed, robust selection of discounted kids sneakers, including shoes from Nike, Vans, Adidas, New Balance, and Converse. 
  • Brand Websites: When you’re comparing prices on kids sneakers online, it’s a good idea to check the brand website as well as shoe retailers. Brands that sell boys and girls sneakers and running shoes directly include Adidas, Nike, Converse, New Balance, and Skechers. You can also find smaller, harder-to-find sneaker brands with kids lines like Onitsuka Tiger and Plae.

Our Top Picks for Kids Sneakers

1. Kids Vans Old Skool Sneakers

side view of blue Kids Vans Old Skool sneakers
Van’s Old Skool Sneakers (Photo: Vans/Zappos)

One shoe, many looks—that’s the joy of Van’s Old Skool sneakers. These retro-cool Kids Vans feature a reinforced toe-cap, suede and canvas uppers, and a lace-up closure.

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They’re available in an embrace-your-style array of colors and patterns for little kids, big kids, and adults. Proving it’s never too early to start honing your sneaker game, Van’s Old Skool sneakers are available (with Velcro) in toddler sizes as well. 

2. Nike Air Force

Leather uppers meet Nike Air comfort with the Nike Air Force 1 series. This classic kids sneaker, which first debuted as a basketball shoe in 1982, has been updated for kids with cool colors and playful details. Heel cushioning and a cushioned collar make all-day wear comfortable for even the most active kids.

3. See Kai Run Stevie First Walker

See Kai Run was started by a Seattle mom who was frustrated with the lack of shoe options for little ones learning to walk. The company’s line of first walker shoes, including the adorable Stevie II sneakers, is designed for babies and toddlers, with a full rubber outsole for sturdy traction and a roomy fit for growing feet (aka, they’re good for tykes with wide feet). See Kai Run also makes a wide variety of other kids sneakers.

4. Stride Rite Made2Play Radiant Bounce Sneaker

side view of blue and green Stride Rite Made2play kids sneakers
Stride Rite Made2Play Radiant Bounce Sneaker (Photo: Stride Rite)

Stride Rite boldly takes the light-up kids sneaker concept to the next level—by making them machine washable. The Made2Play Radiant Bounce Sneaker has light-up soles, anti-microbial lining to fight odor, a lightweight and flexible design, and soft memory foam for ultimate comfort. With six color-combos to choose from and both little kid and big kid sizes, there’s an option for everyone. 

5. Puma Peanuts-Inspired Sneakers

Puma has a lot of cool sneakers for kids, but its Peanuts-inspired sneakers for toddlers and little kids stand out as a particularly playful take on kids sneakers.

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The reimagined 80s PUMA Basketball Archives shoe sports a Snoopy graphic. Perfect for the Peanuts-lovers in your life, these sneakers blend Puma comfort (and the brand’s signature cat logo at the heel) with a perfect reminder that childhood is for playing. 

6. Merrell Altalight Low Shoe

purple and teal Merrell Altalight Low Shoe kids sneaker
Mera Altalight Low Shoe (Photo: Merrell)

Merrell’s Altalight Low Shoe is the kids’ shoes version of Merrell’s popular hiker for adults. Designed for off-road comfort, the shoe manages to be both lightweight and cushioned for comfort. The Altalight features Merrell’s QuantumGrip for dependable traction, and the lining is crafted to prevent bacteria and control odor. Reviewers praise the shoe’s adaptability, too: They’re as good on the playground as on the trail, and are great for kids who love to climb stuff. 

7. Nike Air Max

Nike’s Air Max line for kids breathes new life into a classic 90s sneaker icon. The Nike Air Max 90 LTR has been redesigned with softer, more flexible cushioning to give growing feet just-right support. Or, as Nike puts it, these shoes “look like the original but feel like the future.” Added flexibility in the toes plus a softer midsole lets kids bend their feet naturally, and extra-durable materials are built for hard wear by kids. Nearly 30 color combos to choose from and sizes between 3.5 and 7 for big kids nearly guarantees a perfect fit. There’s also a version of the Air Max 90 for smaller feet.

8. Plae Ty Shoes

side angle of a blue and orange Plae Ty kids sneaker
Ty Navy Steel (Photo: Plae)

Plae Ty sneakers’ great color combinations and Velcro-closure straps are ideal for younger kids as they become more opinionated and independent. Flexible enough to allow kids natural movement, and grippy for excellent traction when climbing, the Ty sneakers come in more than a dozen colors and range in size from a little kids 6 through big kids 4.

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Parents and kids alike adore these machine-washable shoes, citing features like the sort of durability that can stand up to kids who are extra rough on shoes. 

9. New Balance 990 Collection

side view of gray New Balance 993 sneakers for kids
Photo: New Balance

New Balance’s kids 990 collection offers a single silhouette with a variety of different features. Choose sizes ranging from toddler right through the point your kid’s feet are bigger than yours. Find Velcro and tie options and all sorts of colors.

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What stays the same no matter which you choose is the ultra-comfortable EVA-cushioned midsole, impact-absorbing outsole, and standard and wide fits. 

10. Crocs Kids’ LiteRide Pacer

You want your kid to wear shoes, but your kid just wants to wear Crocs. Sound familiar? Have it both ways with these Crocs for kids that are sneakers, too. The Kids’ LiteRide Pacers look like sneakers, stay on like sneakers, but feel like Crocs. They feature slip-on styling, soft foam insoles, and uppers that are flexible enough to require no breaking-in period. These Crocs sneakers come in seven colors and a range of sizes from little kids 10 to big kids 6. 

11. Keen Targhee Waterproof Shoes

side view of Keen Targhee Waterproof Shoe for kids
Targhee Waterproof Shoe (Photo: Keen)

Keen’s hybrid sneakers are ready for everything, from sidewalk to trail and backyard to schoolyard. Its Targhee Waterproof shoe for big kids (and little kids) looks and feels like a sporty sneaker with plenty of cushioning and a comfortable fit, but has hiking-ready features like all-terrain traction and breathable waterproofing. The removable outsole has built-in natural odor control (yay!) and the lace-capture system means kids won’t have to tie and retie their shoes throughout the day. 

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Kids’ shoes support them as they discover the world. Little feet need special care, and the best children’s shoes are designed with growing bodies in mind. And with new shoes just an online cart away, it’s easier than ever to keep up with kids through growth spurts, style changes, and worn-out kicks alike.

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This article on kids sneakers was originally published in February 2021. It has been updated to reflect the most current information. 

Christine Sarkis
Christine Sarkis is a traveling parent and longtime travel writer and editor. The former executive editor for TripAdvisor travel magazine SmarterTravel.com, Sarkis has spent nearly two decades finding and sharing the best places to go with an audience of enthusiastic travelers. Her stories have appeared on USA Today, Conde Nast Traveler, Huffington Post, and Business Insider. Her expert advice has been quoted in dozens of print and online publications including The New York Times, Conde Nast Traveler, and People magazine. She has also shared travel tips on television and radio shows including Good Morning America, Marketplace, and Here & Now. Her stories have been published in the anthologies Spain from a Backpack and The Best Women's Travel Writing 2008, and she is working on a travel memoir.

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