Many of us can’t wait to buy the first pair of shoes for our children. We sometimes forget, though, that a child’s footwear needs change over time and so does the shoe buying experience.
So, to help you out, here is our run-down of the what, when, and how of buying the best kids’ shoes, along with our picks for the top products.
- Lightweight shoe
- Firm, rubber soles
- Wide toe and removable insole
- Long laces
- Sturdy construction
- Hook and loop strap
- Snug and secure
- Availble in 14 color combos
- Washable shoes
- Attractive design
- Comfortable and snug
- Hook and loop strap
- Insole and midsole support
- Wide toe area
- Firm foot support
- Hook and loop closure
- Classic design
- Elastic inserts
- Sewn loop from the back
- Removable insoles
- Warm and lightweight
- Firm grip rubber sole
- Waterproof upper
- One-hand on/off laces
- Light enough to run in
- Has insulation
- Sole includes lights
- Non-slip sole
- Rechargeable via usb port
When to Buy Shoes for Kids
Ever wonder why babies are always kicking off their shoes? Maybe they know better than the adults who keep cramming their tiny feet into them.
Children’s foot development best occurs when they’re barefoot (1). This means your little one doesn’t need to wear shoes until they have been walking for about six weeks. It’s okay to whip out those adorable baby shoes for cute pictures, though.
If you want to buy shoes for your baby, or your toddler’s first few weeks of walking, then go for soft-soled shoes that will not constrict your child’s foot. But, limit the time spent in shoes, so their feet can continue to develop properly.
How to Choose the Best Kids Shoes
There are several things to take into consideration when buying the best children’s shoes.
Since children develop at different rates, which shoes you buy should not be dependent on their age. Instead, It should be based on your child’s developmental stage.
Babies who have not yet taken their first steps do not need shoes at all (2). If you want to buy shoes for a child who is not yet walking, those shoes should not fit too snugly and must have soft soles.
Toddlers who have been walking for around six weeks should only wear shoes outside the home. Barefoot is still best at this age. For outside of the home, toddler shoes should have:
- A soft, flexible, non-slip sole.
- Padding around the back of the heel and at the ankle to provide support.
- Secure closures to the shoes will not loosen or come off too easily.
Consider where your child will be wearing their shoes, and what they will be doing. If your child loves hiking, they will need strong, sturdy shoes with plenty of support and a thicker sole.
If your child plays sports, they will need a shoe with a more flexible sole that allows their foot to breathe.
Finding the correct size and fit is essential, otherwise your child will experience discomfort, pain, and possibly damage to their feet.
To do this, you need to find shoes that are the correct width and length for your child’s feet. They should have room to grow, but not so much room that the shoes are too big.
So, when your child tries on a pair of shoes:
- Have them put on both shoes and stand up straight.
- Then feel for their big toe. There should be approximately a thumb’s width between the top of their big toe and the end of the shoe.
- Next, check the back of the shoe. If you can fit your finger between the back of your child’s foot and the back of the shoe, then it’s about the right size. Any tighter and they are at risk from blisters, but if there is more room than that, the shoes are too big and could be dangerous.
- Finally, have your child walk up and down to ensure the shoes feel comfortable for them.
Orthopedic issues are common during early childhood (3). If your child requires orthotics of any kind, always go shoe shopping with the orthotics. Make sure the shoe is deep and long enough to hold your child’s foot and the orthotic.
My oldest child has an orthotic that encompasses his entire foot, ankle, and calf. We have to buy shoes that have a firm sole, deep foot, and ankle support. One shoe must also be larger than the other, making it especially important to shop with the orthotic.
Ease of Wear
Consider how easy it will be for your child to put on and take off the shoes themselves. For younger children, who often want to be independent, hook and loop strips are usually the best option. Ensure the Velcro is of good enough quality to keep the shoes on firmly.
The younger your child, the faster they are likely to grow out of their shoes. The need for shoes to be durable increases as your child gets older.
Aesthetics is the last consideration. You want to buy shoes your child will wear without a fight, but the fit of the shoe and the support it provides are more important. You may have to sometimes sacrifice style for safety.
How to Size Children’s Shoes
You can trace your child’s feet and use a chart to determine your child’s foot size. In this method, have your child stand on some paper, draw around their feet, and measure the outline. Then measure how wide your child’s feet are and use these measurements, with a shoe size chart, to establish their shoe size.
You can also print out a foot size chart and have your little one stand on it or go to a store and have your child’s feet measured with a foot gauge.
The Best Kids Shoes of 2021
After reading online reviews and taking all of our guidance and experience into consideration, these are our top kids’ shoes.
1. Under Armour Kids' Assert 8 Sneaker
These comfortable kids’ shoes are available in 14 color combinations, so you are bound to find something that will appeal to your child.
Plus, they won’t feel like their feet are heavy from these shoes — they’ll be ready to spring into action because of how light they are.
- The lightweight, mesh upper of the shoe is washable, making it ideal for kids who enjoy mucky outdoor activities.
- The firm, rubber soles are hard wearing and non-marking, making them suitable for the school gym.
- These shoes are not narrow but are quite slim — they aren’t a good pick for kids with wide feet.
2. New Balance Unisex 888v2 Running Shoe
The style and range of color combinations make these running shoes good looking enough for kids while being practical and hard-wearing enough for parents.
New Balance shoes are generally quite roomy. If you have a kid who likes a little more width but doesn’t fully need a wide shoe, these are good picks.
- They have a wide toe and a removable insole, making them good for kids with orthotics.
- The longer laces make these easy to tie up.
- Sturdy construction results in these shoes lasting long enough to grow out of!
- All sizes have laces, but it would be better if the smaller versions had hook and loop closures.
3. ASICS Kid's Contend 5 PS Running Shoes
You often hear about parents having problems finding shoes wide enough for their child’s feet.
But little is said about parents who have issues finding shoes that are narrow enough.
Asics shoes are an excellent option for kids who tend to find the majority of shoes too wide.
- Laces, plus a hook and loop strap, enable you to secure these shoes snugly.
- There are 14 color combos, meaning there is something most kids will like.
- Some people have complained that the hook and eye strap is short.
4. Stride Rite Made2Play Lighted Sneaker
This is a comfortable, washable sneaker designed to stand up to the wear and tear of an active, outdoor-loving toddler.
These shoes have fixed laces and a hook and loop strap closure. That means they are easy for your child to put on, or take off, by themselves. This also makes it possible to get a snug fit, no matter how narrow your child’s feet are.
- Specifically designed to be washable, both the uppers and the sole.
- Lights in the sole are an attractive design feature for little ones.
- Although these are washable, if you put them in the washing machine, you’ll ruin the lights in the sole.
5. New Balance Kids’ Rave Run Shoes
High arches can make it difficult to find comfortable shoes for your child while providing plenty of midsole support.
New Balance shoes are an excellent choice for kids with high arches, but this style is perfect for this foot shape.
The more adult, yet casual styling will likely minimize any resistance to these shoes from your child.
- The hook and loop strap allows you to adjust the shoes’ snugness and ensure they are comfortable for your child.
- Significant support in the insole and midsole.
- A wide toe area accommodates the toe spread from which many children with high arches suffer.
- A smaller range of colors and styles limits the appeal to some children.
6. Adidas Kids' Grand Court Tennis Shoe
This classic Adidas shoe has a wide and enduring appeal.
Since their older siblings, friends, or other relatives could have these exact same shoes, it can make these a huge hit with your little one.
As a bonus, there are various colors and finishes available so you’re sure to find a combo they like.
- Firm support all around the foot.
- Hook and loop closure makes them simple for younger children to manage alone.
- Not the best shoes for activities that require flexibility in the foot, such as running any distance or for jumping during activities, such as basketball.
7. Merrell Kids' Jungle Moc Moccasin
These pull-on Merrell children’s shoes give plenty of support while also accommodating the widest of feet. They are also smart enough to wear when a little dressed up, but casual enough to wear when your child is in a more relaxed mode of dress.
Merrells are exceptionally well made and are likely to outlast your kid’s growth spurts.
- Elastic inserts in the upper of the shoe hold it snugly, but not tightly, against the foot.
- A sturdy, sewn loop at the back of the shoe helps your child put these shoes on themselves.
- Removable insoles provide enough room for bigger feet or orthotics.
- Children with narrower feet may find these shoes too loose to wear comfortably.
8. See Kai Run - Atlas II Waterproof Boots
It can be exceptionally difficult to find footwear that is suitable for winter.
You want shoes or boots that will keep your child’s feet warm and dry, but you might also need something that’s suitable for spring and the rainy run-up to winter itself.
These waterproof boots are suitable for the cold, snow, and slush of winter and the rain of the shoulder season.
- Warm, but light enough to wear as day-to-day shoes in the winter.
- Firm grip rubber sole minimizes slipping in the snow or ice.
- Waterproof upper keeps your child’s feet dry in lighter rain, and during some play in the snow.
- The shoes are not insulated, so they are not suitable for situations where your child will be in snow, or sub-zero temperatures for a sustained period.
9. The North Face Junior Winter Sneaker
If you are struggling to find a waterproof winter boot for your active child, we have the solution.
North Face has produced an ideal hybrid between sneakers and boots.
These shoes are flexible enough for children who like to run, jump, and climb, but sturdy and warm enough to wear in the snow.
- One-hand on/off laces make these easy for kids of all ages.
- Light enough to run in.
- Insulation keeps feet warm, but not so much they get sweaty.
- Scuffs show up more easily on the black sole.
10. YUNICUS Kids’ Light Up Shoes
Incredibly cute, these light-up shoes from Yunicus appeal to your little ones, but are hard-wearing enough to last on an active child.
With six styles, you are likely to find something that will appeal to your particular child.
They even have a couple of superhero options to choose from.
- Depending on the style you chose, you can have lights in the sole or in the upper.
- A non-slip sole minimizes little trips and spills.
- It can be recharged via a USB port.
- The upper is only surface washable with a damp cloth so these shoes may begin to look grubby after a while.
11. Adidas Kids' Duramo 9 Running Shoe
For kids who will only wear sneakers, the Adidas Duramo children’s running shoe is an excellent choice.
You get a quality brand name that is still affordable enough to replace twice a year.
That’s fine because it’s likely your child’s shoe size will go up that often anyway.
- These have extra support for supple little feet.
- The breathable upper fabric keeps feet at a comfortable temperature all day.
- Good enough for school sports and athletics.
- Some reviewers complain they had to replace the laces as the original laces began to fray.
12. Stride Rite Unisex Kids' Jamie Sneaker
Any shoe that is comfortable enough to keep your toddler walking instead of asking you to carry them is a winner in our book. Stride Rite focuses specifically on shoes for younger children, and it shows in these toddlers walking shoes.
The firm, yet flexible sole provides enough support for little feet, while not restricting those same feet as they move and grow. These are an excellent first outdoor shoe.
- Sturdy enough to wear outside, but lightweight and flexible enough not to interfere with walking.
- Hook and loop closure makes these shoes easy for toddlers to manage without help.
- It can be thrown into the washing machine for easy cleaning.
- Only available for kids 4 and under.
13. New Balance Kids' 860 V10 Running Shoe
This New Balance shoe provides plenty of support to minimize your child’s overpronation.
And as the parent of kids with this issue, I can say these are much more appealing than some of the orthopedic shoes that may be offered to your overpronating child.
- Even though these children’s shoes are good for overpronation, they do not look like “medical” shoes.
- As these are running shoes, they provide lots of cushioning in the heel and shock-absorbing insoles.
- They can be worn for sports and athletics as well as day-to-day.
- There are only two color options — bright pink or dark blue — which may not appeal to everyone.
14. Merrell Trail Chaser Hiking Shoe
Whether your child is biking, walking, hiking, or exploring nature, Merrell shoes provide support, comfort, and safety.
We have already recommended one style of Merrell shoe. They crop up again here because of their excellent quality construction. This can be especially important if you have a young explorer who is hard on their footwear.
- Non-marking sole makes these suitable for wearing in the gym at school.
- They have a removable insole to accommodate orthotics.
- The hook and loop closures ensure a snug fit.
- Some reviewers say the hook and loop fabric on the closure tears away after a couple of months of use and that they had to glue it back onto the strap.
15. Apakowa Kids’ Soft Sole Sandals
These sandals from Apakowa are of high enough quality to last an entire summer of fun but affordable enough to be outgrown. So, you can even buy two pairs to last the whole summer if your child is growing like a weed.
These provide protection while also allowing ventilation, so your kid’s feet won’t be all sweaty.
- Faux laces and a hook and loop closure make these easy enough for toddlers to take on and off by themselves.
- The leather insole provides arch support.
- Enclosed toes prevent trips and falls often experienced with open-toe sandals.
- Some reviewers felt the rubber smell from the sandals, when new, was quite strong.
16. WETIKE Kids’ Basketball Shoes
Kids grow so fast and are hard on their shoes, especially when they are playing sports in them.
It’s a huge treat for your bank account to find basketball shoes that are affordable enough to replace every few months if you need to.
Even if your kid is fussy, there are 20 color combinations to choose from so you have a good chance of finding some they’ll like.
- Available in a wide range of designs.
- Leather overlays provide stability.
- They have a high level of grip on the sole.
- Not all older kids will appreciate off-brand shoes.
17. Bigib Toddler Kids’ Swim Shoes
Water shoes for kids will not provide anything in the way of support, but they will keep your little one’s feet clean and safe at the pool, beach, or water park.
There are 12 styles to choose from, and some of them are so cute your older kids might also want a pair.
- Many cute styles.
- Flexible sole makes them suitable for new walkers.
- Slip-resistant sole minimizes trips and spills.
- They only go up to size 12 for little kids.
18. Crocs Kids' Crocband Clog
A sporty looking and waterproof shoe, this is a good pick for vacations.
They can be worn both on the beach and on the street.
That means you don’t need beach shoes and street shoes, which is one less thing to remember and one less thing to carry.
- Solid rubber sole makes these suitable for both the beach and streetwear.
- Easy for little ones to take on and off themselves.
- They are easy to clean.
- Not enough support to be your child’s day-to-day shoes.
19. DREAM PAIRS Closed-Toe Summer Sandals
Easy-to-wear and simple enough for children to cope with alone, these shoes from Dream Pairs will protect those little toes from scratches and scrapes. But they are open enough to be a viable alternative to sneakers.
I have always found these to be a good option for indoor daycare shoes.
- Smart enough for wearing somewhere “nice” but also casual enough for day-to-day wear.
- Closed-toe design keeps toes safe.
- Easily adjustable.
- Best suited to warmer weather.
- Some buyers said the sizes run a bit small.
20. Adidas Kids' Predator 19.3 Turf Soccer Shoe
With soccer shoes gaining in popularity, these Adidas shoes are a good choice for any fashion-forward, trend-conscious kid in your home.
With the quality you would expect from Adidas, these soccer shoes are available in seven color combinations to coordinate with different soccer strips or your child’s casual wardrobe.
- The elasticized inner sock provides a firm fit.
- They are especially suited to playing soccer on artificial turf.
- They look cool, which can be appealing to kids.
- The elasticized inner sock can be difficult for younger kids to manage alone
Tips for Buying Kids’ Shoes
Want some easy, painless tips for buying your child’s shoes?
- Think about socks: Bring a pair of socks that are the type your child will be wearing with their new shoes. You’d be surprised how much the fit can be affected by a pair of socks that are thicker or thinner.
- Bring distractions: If your child gets bored quickly, bring something to keep them amused. They may have to wait while the sales associate goes to look for different styles and sizes.
- Don’t take a tired child: Make sure your child is well-rested and well-fed before going shoe shopping. A tired or hungry child and shoe shopping do not mix. You want to avoid upsetting meltdowns.
- Check the size every time: Children’s feet grow fast. Research shows that before 30 months, a child’s foot can grow a size every two to three months. Between 30 months and 4 years, they’ll grow a size every four months or so, and after 4 years, it will be a size every six months (4).
- Give them a test: Always try on both shoes and watch your child walk up and down in them.
Going shopping for baby shoes? Remember, it’s best for them to go barefoot, but it’s okay to use them for a short period of time for photo purposes. Here are a couple of additional tips for shoe shopping for your baby.
- If your child is not yet walking, buy shoes with soft, flexible, soles.
- Remember to bring a bottle or be prepared to breastfeed if the shopping lasts too long.
When your toddler is inside, always go shoeless. But if they are exploring outside, make sure their feet are protected with shoes if possible. Here are two more tips to keep in mind when shopping for shoes.
- Consider independence when choosing a toddler’s shoes. This is especially important if they will have to take schools on and off at daycare.
- Measure their feet in the afternoon as a child’s feet can swell during the day.
For Older Kids
Older kids can be pickier and harder to please when it comes to shoe choices. Here are a couple of things to keep in mind.
- Always make an older child walk up and down the aisle a few times while shoe shopping. My kids would swear their shoes were comfortable when sitting down, just to get the shoes they wanted. When you make them walk, you can see if they are comfortable.
- Give your children three choices of shoes that you think will be comfortable. Older kids like having more say in their clothes and shoe purchases. By choosing three you can live with, they’ll be happy they have the ultimate say.
Best Foot Forward
Buying shoes for your kids can be a stressful experience. No matter how much you dislike it, though, it’s an important purchase. Your kids’ shoes must be correctly fitted to allow their feet ample room to grow, and comfortable enough that they’ll want to stay on the move.