10 Best Kids Sneakers for School, Travel, and Play

Time for new kids sneakers? These comfortable and cool sneakers can 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, let’s take a look at the most beloved sneaker brands for little and big kids, where to shop for them, as well as which kids sneakers really stand out for quality and fit.

Where to Find the Best 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 29 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 Asics and Adidas and lesser-known brands for smaller feet with devoted followings like pediped and Tsukihoshi Kids.
  • DSW: DSW has a constantly refreshed, robust selection of discounted kids sneakers, including shoes from 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 AdidasNikeConverseNew Balance, and Skechers. You can also find smaller, harder-to-find sneaker brands with kids lines like Onitsuka Tiger and Plae.

Top Picks for Kids Sneakers

My top kids sneaker picks include running shoes, sneaker-hiker hybrids, athletic shoes, and yes, even light-up sneakers in cool colors and new styles that will bring kids running.

1. Kids Vans Old Skool Sneakers

Best sneakers for young fashionistas

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 Vans Old Skool sneakers. These retro-cool Kids Vans feature a reinforced toe-cap, suede and canvas uppers, and a lace-up closure. 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, Vans Old Skool sneakers are available (with Velcro) in toddler sizes as well. 

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2. Nike Air Force

Best sneakers for kids who like lots of choices

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 lots of cool color combos and playful details like patent leather and 3D hearts. Heel cushioning and a cushioned collar make all-day wear comfortable for even the most active kids. 

3. See Kai Run Stevie II First Walker

Best sneakers for little ones on the move

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 (they’re good for tykes with wide feet). See Kai Run also makes a wide variety of other kids sneakers.

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4. Stride Rite Made2Play Lumi Bounce Sneaker

Best light-up sneakers for kids

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

5. Puma Suede Classics XXI Sneakers

Best sneakers for fans of retro style

Puma has a lot of cool sneakers for kids, but its Suede Classics XXI Sneakers are a choice that will never go out of style. A favorite look since it first debuted in 1968, the sneaker features a suede low-top silhouette, comfort sock liner, rubber midsole, and a rubber outsole that offers plenty of traction but won’t leave marks behind after your kids have run off. It’s available in multiple color options and in toddler, little kid, and big kid sizes, as well as adult versions. 

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6. Merrell Altalight Low Shoe

Best multipurpose sneakers for kids

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. It’s adaptable, too: These sneakers are as good on the playground as on the trail, and they’re a great choice for kids who love to climb stuff. 

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7. Nike Air Max

Best supportive sneakers for kids

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. 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. Multiple 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 Sneakers

Best sneakers for active little kids

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 a dozen colors and range in size from a little kids 5 through big kids 4.5. 

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

Best comfy basic sneakers for kids

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. You’ll find Velcro and tie options and a choice of go-with-anything neutral  colors. What stays the same no matter which you choose is the ultra-comfortable EVA-cushioned midsole, impact-absorbing outsole, and standard and wide fits. 

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10. Keen Targhee Waterproof Shoes

Best sneakers for kids who like to make a splash

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. The Targhee Waterproof shoe for big kids (and little ones) 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 company’s natural, pesticide-free odor control system helps the shoes from getting too stinky 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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Christine Sarkis
A traveling parent and longtime travel writer and editor, Christine Sarkis is the co-founder and Editor-in-Chief of FamilyVacationist. She is the former Executive Editor for TripAdvisor travel magazine SmarterTravel.com, she 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, Here & Now, Life Kit, and California 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. Christine and her husband first met in Paris, and travel remains a big part of their shared experience. With their two kids in tow, they have piloted a barge down canals in France, befriended llamas in Peru, tended olive trees in Italy, and gone snorkeling with sea turtles in Hawaii. The family lives in California and loves traveling around the state. Their California favorites include Yosemite National Park, Point Reyes National Seashore, and the West Shore of Lake Tahoe.