The best shoe brands for kids

Finding the best shoes for your kids isn’t brain surgery, but it can still make your head hurt. This pair pinches their toes, that pair is too hard to put on, that one always falls off, and this one falls apart even before those ever-larger feet outgrow it.

Even once you find a pair of comfortable, supportive shoes that your kid can get on and off with relative ease, you’ve only solved one part of the puzzle. Your kid can’t wear sneakers with a school uniform nor can they wear their dressy shoes in gym class. And you’re not going to send them off on a playdate with the same shoes they wore during the hike on Sunday, are you? No, you parents, you’re not looking for a pair of kids’ shoes, you’re looking for pairs aplenty.

Do yourself a favor and do what my wife and I have learned to do: Once you find a brand of shoes that works for a certain activity – one that looks the part, that’s supportive and comfortable enough for extended wear, that your kid likes and can get on and off themselves – just park it right there. After switching around between various shoe brands every time our firstborn child outgrew a shoe, we now have things dialed in perfectly. When my son outgrows his go-to Plae sneakers, we replace them with the next size up. Each summer, we get him a pair of TOMS. When the school season starts up again, it’s new Hush Puppies. And so on, you get the picture.

By identifying the best kids’ shoe brands rather than specific shoes, you maintain a degree of choice as to the specifics (who gets that choice is up to your family dynamic) while knowing whatever style you pick, the make will suit, so to speak.

After years of trial and error and more than a few returns or premature donations, here is my take on the best kids’ shoe brands for all the many facets of their lives.

Here are the best shoe brands for kids:

  • Best kids’ shoe brand overall: Plae
  • Best kids’ dress shoe brand: Hush Puppies
  • Best kids’ casual shoe brand: TOMS
  • Best kids’ outdoor shoe brand: Keen
  • Best kids’ shoe brand for gym: Adidas

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The best kids’ shoe brand overall

The best kids’ shoe brand overall

Plae shoes are comfortable from the first minute a kid slips them on, something most kids can do with ease thanks to the Velcro tabs.If you are looking for a go-to shoe for your kid, you’re looking in the right place with Plae. Their shoes are casual, comfortable, easy to get on and off, durable, and they come in styles ranging from sporty to more trendy. I should know, because my son is currently on his sixth pair of Plaes. And we already have two pairs in the next size waiting. (Seriously. We do)

The only negative thing I can say about this brand, in fact, is that other companies make better shoes for a few niche uses. Plae kids’ shoes are not the best footwear option when it comes to use in the great outdoors. For hiking, camping, or general woodland fun, you can do better. Also, none of their shoes are quite dressy enough for formal occasions, so for a wedding or a coat-and-tie school uniform, you will probably have to look elsewhere.

But for general everyday wear, Plae shoes are exemplary. Each pair we get for my kid are comfortable from minute one. He has been able to get his Plaes on and off by himself since about the time he turned 4 thanks to the dual-tab Velcro system that holds them in place. This helps build his independence and saves us time when we’re trying to get his less-cooperative toddler sister ready as well.

Perhaps the best testament I can give to these shoes is that 9 out of 10 times, if we’re headed out for an errand, a casual meal, to a relative’s house, or any of our dozen everyday destinations, my kid always chooses his Plae shoes.

The shoes come in high tops and low tops (and in water shoes and other varieties, but that’s a story for another day — we’re talking about their core offerings) and in all sorts of colorways, from muted to flashy and colorful. And prices are very fair, from $34.95 to $74.95.

One of the coolest things about Plae shoes is that the dual Velcro tabs are removable and interchangeable, so you can customize the shoe. If you want to take that to the next level, Plae even offers a service where they will print a photo or design you upload to their site onto tabs they’ll send you. So for $20, your kid could be walking around with a photo of the family dog or even one of their own illustrations right there on their feet.

I wish Plae shoes were water-resistant, which they’re not, and that they didn’t look dirty so quickly when worn in certain conditions. But they go through the washer and dryer just fine, and we have yet to discard a pair due to wear and tear before they’re outgrown.

Pros: Reliable comfort without break-in period, interchangeable and custom tabs, multiple styles available

Cons: Soak through quickly in rain or puddles, clearly show dirt

The best kids’ dress shoe brand

The best kids’ dress shoe brand

Hush Puppies shoes have the feel of a comfortable, supportive sneaker while looking like formal shoes suitable for use with a pair of pressed slacks or a pleated school uniform skirt.For years, this brand was totally off my radar. Then I got a pair of Hush Puppies myself, and the company came into our lives in a major way because of one word: comfort. This brand consistently makes some of the most comfortable shoes my kids, my wife, or I have worn.

When it comes to many of the adult shoes Hush Puppies makes, I can say they are sharp-looking to. For kids’ shoes, Hush Puppies doesn’t have the most trendy options out there, but they do make several shoes styled perfectly for dressier occasions that wear as comfortably as any sneaker.

As we adults know all too well, formal shoes are often uncomfortable, especially when they’re new and have not been broken in. By being comfortable from the first wearing, Hush Puppies kids’ dress shoes solve two problems at once: They are perfect for extended, daily wear with a school uniform, offering the support many formal shoes lack, and they are also suitable for only occasional use at weddings or holiday dinners, feeling good even without a break-in period. Plus, they’re reasonably priced from $37.95 to $64.95.

I also appreciate the fact that the company offers several dressy shoes that use Velcro closures or that are slip-ons, because without a parent there to help out with an outfit change after gym class, the easier the shoes are to get on, the better.

If you can get past the fact that many Hush Puppies look a bit dated, you will have found a brand that will never cause a fight between you and your kid. And stick with them, they have cool shoes for teens and grown-ups.

Pros: Very comfortable for dress shoes, many options that are easy to get on and off, durable construction

Cons: Not the most stylish kids’ shoe brand

The best kids’ casual shoe brand

The best kids’ casual shoe brand

TOMS offers casual shoes in so many styles you will need to set aside an hour or two just to find pairs you and the kids like.Set aside a chunk of spare time, because the vast, varied selection of kids’ shoes TOMS offers deserves your careful consideration. The company has dozens of options, and many come in myriad prints and materials. If you’re willing to spend the time, you can surely find a perfect pair of shoes for your little ones.

From their classic slip-on canvas shoes to lace-ups to Velcro to round-the-heel buckles, they have all sorts of styles that are suitable for boys and girls of a wide age range. And with pairs well over $60 and well under $30, their shoes suit most family budgets too.

While TOMS offers plenty of near-dress shoes, it doesn’t really offer any that are going to work with a school uniform or a wedding outfit. And while comfortable, their shoes aren’t supportive enough for high-energy activities like sports or hiking. But for everyday life, from playdates to running errands with mom or dad to travel and beyond, it’s hard to beat these shoes, especially when you can always find a pair that matches the (casual) occasion.

TOMS has collections made just for babies, a line of “Tiny Shoes” for kids age 1 to 5, and youth shoes for the older kids (these start to look more like their adult shoes), so can have your kid’s feet in TOMS from cradle to college. Then they can start buying their own shoes.

Pros: Huge catalog to choose from, many styles come in myriad prints, company donates to charity

Cons: Not as supportive as traditional sneakers, some pairs quite expensive

The best kids’ outdoor shoe brand

The best kids' outdoor shoe brand

Keen is not a kid-focused footwear company, they’re a company that makes high-quality outdoor footwear for everyone. They bring the same craftsmanship to shoes and boots for men, women, and the littlest adventurers in the family.Far too often kids’ shoes and boots are low quality compared to active footwear made for adults. Sure, kids outgrow shoes fast, and it can be a bummer to spend big bucks on short-lived gear, but when it comes to hiking, wintertime activities, or any adventure around the water, your kids need shoes and boots of the same quality as you’d demand for yourself. And that’s what you’ll get with Keen.

You know you’re in the right place for great outdoor shoes for kids when you hover over the “Kids” tab on Keen’s website. One of the ways they have their footwear organized is “Shop by Activity,” under which you will see Hiking, Water, Winter, and Travel. These are the exact same options by which you can sort adult shoes as well.

Keen’s makes multiple kids’ shoes ideal for outdoor use because they are waterproof, snug, and supportive, and because they stay on a kid’s foot even when he’s charging around through underbrush, mud, puddles, and more. During a recent camping trip, my son’s Keens kept his feet dry despite multiple steps in standing water, and they stayed firmly on his feet during many a hike over mixed terrain.

In fact, my son’s Keen sneakers stay on his feet so well they’re actually kind of hard to get off, and at present, he has yet to be able to put them on without assistance. But while on his feet, he said, unprompted, the shoes are “just as comfortable as my Plaes,” and that’s saying something for a kid who wears Plae sneakers more than any other shoe.

Keen’s kids shoes are decently priced, usually just north of $50. Their kids’ winter boots are a bit steep, usually over $75 and often near $90, but they will keep those little feet warm and dry and those ankles and arches supported.

Pros: High-quality materials, waterproof, supportive and durable

Cons: Hard for kids to get on and off without help, some pairs too narrow

The best kids’ shoe brand for gym

The best kids’ shoe brand for gym

Small feet deserve just the same support, rebound, and injury protection as adult feet, and that’s what little feet get with running and training shoes from Adidas.The conventional wisdom goes that a runner needs new shoes every 300 miles to ensure proper support and protection. When, though, does this 300-plus mile standard commence? When an athlete turns 21? Maybe 18? Maybe younger? I say the right age for a high-quality running shoe is whenever your kid starts doing any regular running, be it in gym class, team sports, or simply because he or she loves being in motion.

If your kid is anywhere near as active as most children are, there’s a good chance they will hit that 300-plus mile mark before outgrowing a pair of shoes, so why not treat their feet as well as you would your own?

Adidas offers multiple pairs of kids’ shoes with the same informed design and excellent materials they use for their adult athletic shoes. This includes features like the proprietary Cloudfoam cushioning in the midsole that absorbs shock and creates excellent rebound. It means grippy outsoles that minimize slips and keep a youngster moving at top speed, and without marking surfaces, either. And it means shoes that fit securely and support ankles and arches.

Some of Adidas kids’ shoes are slip-ons, like the Rapidrun shoes ($60) that have a mesh upper, fabric collar, and two pull tabs to help a kid get them on. Others, like the Fortarun shoes ($55), use a traditional lacing system. Then of course adidas makes all sorts of more sport-specific kids’ shoes, like Copa Firm Ground Cleats ($55) for soccer.

Adidas kids’ shoes are well priced when you look through the lens of genuine sport-ready footwear, though their genuine performance apparel is a bit limiting due to style — you wouldn’t pair most of these shoes with a casual outfit as you can others on our list. But that’s not what we’re considering in this category anyway.

Pros: Excellent cushioning and support, some pairs slip on with ease, good traction

Cons: Not suitable for many casual outfits

We also considered:

We also considered:

There are a lot of companies out there making shoes for kids, and many of them make fine footwear indeed. These brands didn’t make the main list not because their kids’ shoes are subpar, but because the ones we did choose just offer a little something extra.

In other words, if you go with shoes from this also-ran list, you’ll be getting good stuff, don’t you worry.

  • Florsheim has kids’ dress shoes that are classic and look great with slacks of many colors and textures, but they are not initially comfortable. The break-in period can be unpleasant, as great as they will look and feel once worn in some. Prices range from $50 to $90.
  • Merrell was a strong consideration for best kids’ shoes for outdoor use, and they make a range of boots and shoes that are comparable to Keen. The immediate comfort of Keen’s hiking shoes, however, was the leg up in this case. They truly were comfortable on my son’s feet the very first time we got them on him. Prices are very reasonable from $22 to $60.
  • Dream Pairs offers plenty of very low cost kids’ shoes in a range of styles ($17 to $23), but you can expect reduced quality with those lower prices. I’d recommend them primarily for the fastest growing of feet, or for shoes that will only be worn on occasion.

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