Perhaps you’ve caught on from some of my work on this site over the last year but in case it’s news to you, hey, I like sneakers. I like wearing them. I like writing about them. I like hunting for old pairs that passed me by back in the day, the feeling of finally finding that shoe I’ve wanted for years at a good price. But I also think end-of-year sneaker lists at large can get kinda boring. Like, hey, we get it. The Dior Air Jordans were pretty great (not that most of us would know from having a pair or anything, though). The Ben & Jerry’s Dunks were cool.
It often feels like these year-end lists aim to build an objective consensus rather than reflect the voices and taste of the writers and tastemakers compiling them. As such, I’m hoping this list is a bit of a change of pace if you’ve been keeping up with the “best of the year” conversation in the sneaker space for the last few weeks. These are, to me, the best sneakers of the year. They feature some new silhouettes, a classic retro or two, and some fresh takes on old favorites. Any one of these will give your sneaker rotation a good boost, all the better for showing off whenever we’re allowed to congregate in public again.
Puma Clyde All-Pro Kuzma Mid | $150
Puma dropped a quiet heater in the back half of the year with the Clyde Court Mid Kuzma Pro. Designed by fashion juggernauts Rhude, it’s a sneaker designed with court needs in mind just as much as everyday wearability. These are some crazy comfortable kicks that look good with just about any outfit. They’ll also help you put in work on the court. You get the best of both worlds.
Nike Air Max 90 ‘Infrared’ | Prices Vary
I can’t lie, this is a pretty personal pick (any time my favorite sneaker of all time is rereleased it’s going to make my year-end list) even if it’s objectively one of the more iconic sneakers of all time. The Air Max 90 celebrated its 30th anniversary this year and Nike celebrated by reissuing a ton of old colorways and dropping some hot new ones. There was a lot to love in 2020 if you’re a fan of this particular Air Max model but nothing felt more significant or made as big a splash as its retro of the shoe’s original Infrared colorway. You see this? This is a perfect sneaker.
Adidas Torsion Artillery Hi | Prices Vary
I don’t think anybody expected Kid Cudi’s first shoe with Adidas to be a retro of a classic basketball hi-top made to celebrate the third Bill & Ted movie but then again, Cudi’s never exactly been a conventional thinker. His Adidas partnership debuted with what’s quickly become the most slept-on sneaker of the year, the Torsion Artillery Hi. Made famous by NBA superstar Grant Hill during his college days and everyone’s favorite cinematic slackers, these hi-tops are most notable for a huge floppy tongue, perfect for tucking outside your jeans or sweats for cozy retro vibes.
Air Jordan 1 Retro ‘85 | Prices Vary
There’s always gotta be a Jordan 1, right? It remains the sneaker of all sneakers, and after The Last Dance took over the cultural consciousness they’re somehow even more at the forefront of all things sneakers. Your favorite Jordan 1 of the year will likely vary depending on personal taste but it’s hard to argue with the ‘85. Not only is it the first time in years the 1 has been reproduced to the exact specifications of the original model with no tweaks or changes, but it also comes in a rad black and red colorway. A black and red Jordan 1 is always cause for celebration and this particular variant came in hyper-limited quantities.
Nike SB Dunk Low Strangelove | Prices Vary
The same day the ‘85 debuted, the year of the Nike Dunk got off to a banger of a start with this collaborative colorway. An instant sellout, it’s a plush, eye-catching colorway current fetching uh, significant numbers on the resale market. There were plenty of great Dunks that dropped in 2020, but nearly a full year later, this remains a standout.
New Balance Aime Leon Dore 550 | Prices Vary
Speaking of old-school hoops shoes that were brought back in a big way this year, there’s this stunner. New Balance generated some serious hype over the course of 2020 through its partnership with Aime Leon Dore. While you can’t really go wrong with any of their collaborations, their revival of the classic New Balance 550, another throwback basketball sneaker, is the perfect understated banger to add to your rotation.
New Balance 997S Shoe Palace Great White | Prices Vary
Like I mentioned before, New Balance generated a lot of heat this year by partnering with some high-profile fashion brands. It really elevated the stock of the company and brought it to the forefront of the sneaker scene for the first time in a while. That said, one of their standout releases was a hard turn from the rest of their output. While many of the brand’s most hyped sneakers were toned-down takes on classics, Shoe Palace went loud and weird with this tribute to the San Jose Sharks. The gamble paid off. These are dope.
Nike Kobe 6 Protro Grinch | Prices Vary
Much like with the Air Max 90, when one of the great sneakers of all time returns, you put it on your year-end list. Nike ended the year strong by dropping this one on Christmas Eve. What else is there to say about this one that hasn’t already been said? The Kobe 6 Grinch is a legendary sneaker. It’s rad to see it come back, especially with this being the year the Black Mamba left us.
Nike Dunk Low St. John’s | Prices Vary
Sometimes it ain’t that complicated. You don’t need a good story. You don’t need a hyped collaborator. You just need a great, dependable shoe that goes with just about anything. The St. John’s Dunk is one of those shoes.