10 best kids’ trainers that offer style and comfort for all ages

·12-min read
Whether they’re for PE, school or time outside, we’ve found a pair for every activity  (The Independent)
Whether they’re for PE, school or time outside, we’ve found a pair for every activity (The Independent)

When it comes to kids’ shoes, you can’t go wrong with a good pair of trainers. Whether your child is three or 13, trainers are the perfect choice for everyday wear, designed to deal with anything even the most adventurous can throw their way, all while delivering on comfort and style. From skate sessions at the park to school PE lessons, these footwear heroes have got it covered.

When buying trainers for kids, you need to make sure you get the right size, but as so many brands have their own unique fit, it’s a good idea to measure your child’s feet properly before matching to individual size guides.

There are plenty of ‘measure at home’ options now, from measuring gauges that mimic the shoe-shop experience to more rudimentary paper and pencil methods.

Comfort is key, of course, but mostly you need to make sure your purchase is fit for purpose. Some fashion trainers may score high on style but not necessarily offer the level of support growing feet need when active.

We all know how mind-bendingly frustrating it can be to try and get kids to put on their shoes (especially when you’re in a rush), so if you want younger children to be able to do this independently look for styles featuring zips or Velcro straps.

How we tested

Our eager testers – ranging from three to 11 – put all kinds of trainers through their paces, to help come up with a definitive list of styles that are worth the money. Looking at quality, durability, functionality, style and comfort, we tried out everything from sports shoes to school-approved styles.

The best kids’ trainers for 2022 are:

  • Best overall – Bobux Riley: From £32.40, Bobux.co.uk

  • Best light-up kids’ trainers – Next white light-up trainer: From £23, Next.co.uk

  • Best for PE – Start-Rite meteor: £46, Startriteshoes.com

  • Best for preschoolers – Kidly Label canvas trainers: £16, Kidly.co.uk

  • Best slip-on style – Vans black and cream classic slip-on trainers: £35, Schuh.co.uk

  • Best budget buy – AT flex lace-up shoes: £19.99, Decathlon.co.uk

  • Best for school – Clarks scape flare: £45, Clarks.co.uk

  • Best for older kids – Nike Air Max 90 leather pr type: £49.99, Footlocker.co.uk

  • Best for personalisation – Mythical Canvas combo pack: £24, Needi.co.uk

  • Best for quality – Adidas Stan Smith: From £38, Schuh.co.uk

Bobux Riley

We were initially won over by the cool retro style of these Riley trainers, but as soon as our six-year-old tester tried them on and declared them “the comfiest shoes ever”, we knew we were onto a winner. Made from the softest vintage-look nubuck leather, these trainers manage to be incredibly flexible and comfortable, as well as tough enough to cope with bike rides, tree climbing and a kickabout in the park. We love that you don’t have to worry about the material getting ruined by everyday kid life – in fact, we found the trainers looked better after each wear, with general scuffs adding to the vintage charm.

The trainers are made from breathable materials, and managed to keep our tester’s feet perfectly dry on an unseasonably rainy day. The two Velcro straps made it easy for our six-year-old to get these on and off in record time, while we appreciated the little design touches such as the racing stripe and gold ‘B’ embellishment. We loved the yellow and navy, and there’s an impressive 11 colourways to choose from – something for everyone, we’d say. Yes, they are at the pricier end for kids’ shoes but, if budget allows, we think they are a great investment.

Each pair of Bobux shoes is podiatrist approved and designed in various stage ranges, to meet the different needs of kids’ growing feet. What this translates to in real life with the Riley is a super-comfortable, premium feel trainer that has quickly become our six-year-old’s favourite.

Buy now £32.40, Bobux.co.uk

Next white light-up trainer

Prepare to be the envy of everyone in the playground with these flashy little numbers. Pretty much our preschooler’s dream come true, these white light-up trainers from Next have barely left her feet since they arrived. There are loads of cute design details to love, including a mini embroidered rainbow and rainbow-coloured stars, a holographic heel tab and multi-coloured Velcro straps. However, the star of the show is the light-up sole, which flashes orange, pink and blue when you walk, run and jump – which our three-year-old tester does constantly as soon as these are on her feet.

What we particularly loved was that, although these may look like a novelty trainer, they actually provide a lot of comfort for all-day wear, with a memory foam insole and padded collar. For less than £30, we think these are fantastic value for money and we’ve already lost count of how many times we’ve been asked where they are from.

Buy now £25.00, Next.co.uk

Start-Rite meteor

Our testers are well known for destroying their school PE trainers before outgrowing them, but we can’t see that happening with this excellent quality pair from kids’ shoes brand Start-Rite. Somehow managing to be incredibly lightweight yet robust, the meteor trainers feel like nothing is going to lead to their destruction – even double PE.

The sole is flexible, while the leather upper means your child won’t be complaining of soggy feet after drizzly autumn runs. The riptape fastenings mean our six-year-old won’t have any problem getting ready for PE at school independently, while we are eternally grateful for the breathable mesh lining, which has, so far, kept any unwanted smells at bay. Our six-year-old tester loved the box-fresh appeal of the white and navy colourway, and we’re happy to report that, after a couple of wipe downs, they still look good as new. The trainers also come in white or black, ranging in size from an infant UK 9 to an adult UK 5.5, and in a choice of widths.

Buy now £46.00, Startriteshoes.com

Kidly Label canvas trainers

The number-one requirement for preschoolers’ trainers is that they are easy to put on – throw any kind of tricky fastening into the mix and we are heading straight for a meltdown. That’s why these classic-style canvas trainers from Kidly score so highly. Made from soft and flexible cotton canvas, they feature two Velcro straps and a pull tab at the back, to make it as simple as possible to get them on and off. The fit feels a little roomier, width-wise, which made it even easier for our three-year-old to get their feet in to begin with.

The sole is fully recyclable and has a good grip, which our tester tried out on preschool days and sunny forest-school sessions. While we don’t think these are the best choice for very rainy days or winter adventures, as a warm-weather shoe, they tick all the boxes. The padded insole and soft material meant our little tester happily went sock-free with these trainers, without any rubbing or discomfort. We love the three summery sun-bleached colourways and extra marks for being machine-washable too. We chucked our pair into a 30-degree wash and they came out looking great.

Buy now £16.00, Kidly.co.uk

Vans black and cream classic slip-on trainers

For the coolest skater style, it’s got to be Vans, and we really rate the kids’ version of the cult-classic checkerboard slip-on trainer for both style and performance. The fabric upper and stretchy elasticated side panels made these easy for our testers to pull on and, although we were a little unsure as to how well a slip-on style would fit, these trainers were perfectly secure and comfortable. The sole is pretty sturdy, with a deep grip, which is exactly what any budding skater needs when trying to hone their skills.

We were a bit worried about keeping the checkboard design looking clean and, as Vans recommends hand washing only, our testers tried to save these for non-rainy days. They are such a timeless, gender-neutral style – vegan too – that appealed just as much to our non-skaters and, if it wouldn’t lead to the world’s biggest eye roll from our testers, we quite fancy a pair ourselves.

Buy now £35.00, Schuh.co.uk

AT flex lace-up shoes

If you’re after a decent running or school PE shoe that doesn’t cost a fortune, this sporty-looking pair from Decathlon is ideal. At less than £20, these lace-up trainers impressed with the features on offer. The sole is non-marking (your local sports hall will thank you), there’s a zero heel to toe drop, which helps provide a more natural ‘barefoot’ stride for kids, the mesh material is breathable, and the EVA foam cushioning helps take the impact during high-energy sports. Our 10-year-old tester couldn’t believe how lightweight they were and, after taking them out for a spin at their local Park Run, raved about how comfortable they are. These trainers run from UK 2.5 to UK 6.5 and come in a choice of colours – we tested out the blue style, but also love the cool yellow and green fluro pair for more of a statement.

Buy now £19.99, Decathlon.co.uk

Clarks scape flare

For many parents, Clarks is the go-to brand for school shoes, and these school-appropriate leather trainers tick all the boxes for new-term footwear. For a start, they look really smart – the clever heel and toe protection is there to help them stay that way. This kind of detailing is a huge plus point for parents forever trying to stop their kids using their toes to slow themselves down on swings and roundabouts during post-school playground visits. The battle against scuffs is real. The leather outer ensures these trainers will keep your kids’ feet dry year-round, while the fresh-feet lining is always a welcome addition to any everyday shoe.

The size range is massive, running from an infant UK 7 to an adult UK 8, in three width options. The fact the majority of the trainers’ lining is made from 50 per cent recycled materials gets the thumbs up from us too.

Buy now £45.00, Clarks.co.uk

Nike Air Max 90 leather pr type

We all know pre-teens are tricky to impress, but all of our testers agreed these were “the coolest trainers in the world”. With the instantly recognisable Max Air cushioning, these trainers have plenty of padding around the ankle and sole, making them a dream to wear, comfort-wise. The look was a hit all round, and the unusual colourway really made them stand out from the crowd. As one of only two lace-up pairs in our round-up, these trainers are definitely better suited to older kids who have mastered the art of tying their own laces – plus, at this price point, you don’t really want them growing out of these trainers in a month, which can often be the case with very young children. Great looking, hard wearing and exceptionally comfy, we think they justify the price.

Buy now £49.99, Footlocker.co.uk

Mythical Canvas combo pack

Your child’s masterpieces can now be immortalised forever, in trainer form, with this cute kit by Mythical Canvas. Each pack includes a pair of white plimsolls, an extra pair of straps and a set of fabric markers, so your creative kid can unleash their inner Frida Kahlo and decorate them however they like. Our testers thought this was the best fun, and it provided a perfect rainy-day activity – resulting in some very impressive and unique trainers, as well as a very proud nine-year-old. The pens don’t have the finest of tips, and our tester had to go over their drawings a couple of times to get a really deep colour, so although the designs weren’t the most intricate, the end result was cool and colourful. You can heat set the strap designs using an iron, although this obviously isn’t an option for the body of the trainer. Because of that, these have been reserved as an indoor-only pair of trainers – which no doubt will make regular appearances at parties for the foreseeable future.

Buy now £24.00, Needi.co.uk

Adidas Stan Smith

You really can’t knock the quality of these kid-size Stan Smiths – one of Adidas’ signature trainer styles. In classic white and green, they are the perfect any-occasion sneakers that work just as well for long days at nursery as they do racing around the playground. Made with primegreen – Adidas’ mix of high-performance recycled materials – they are a great sustainable option. The three Velcro straps make them super kid-friendly for putting on and taking off alone, and, while they certainly soften over time, our little tester still found these trainers really comfy to wear straight out of the box. With Stan Smiths being our go-to kids’ trainers for years, we can vouch for their durability and how well they clean up with a wipe down. We also love the option of ‘twinning’ with our kids (thankfully still allowed by the youngest).

Buy now £38.00, Schuh.co.uk

The verdict: Kids’ trainers

The standard of kids’ trainers is incredible, as you can see from our high-scoring round-up, but the Bobux Riley takes our top spot, thanks to its cool retro style, unbeatable comfort, colour choice and hard-wearing materials. A special mention must go to the Adidas Stan Smiths, which offer real value for money when it comes to longevity, durability and versatility, whatever age your child is.

For more on children’s footwear, read our review of the best kids’ school shoes