Rollerblades vs. skates: Which is better?

Brett Dvoretz

Though many people had never heard of them until the late 1980s, the first rollerblade-like invention with inline wheels was actually recorded in 1760.

Inline skates vs. roller blades

Whether for exercise or fun, skating is an enjoyable pastime. It is low impact and can be done indoors in rinks or outside as you enjoy the spring, summer or fall weather. No matter how old you are, or if you're by yourself or in a group, anyone can strap on a pair of skates or rollerblades and have a great time.

If you are just considering learning how to skate or simply looking for a new pair, you may be wondering whether you should buy rollerblades or roller skates. To help make the decision a little bit easier, we examine the various features of both rollerblades and roller skates, as well as point out some of the pros and cons of each.

We recommend rollerblades for people who are interested in speed, as their large-diameter wheels enable you to work up to a decent clip, while roller skates are often better for people who want a bit more maneuverability.


Rollerblades akin to those we use today were first mass-produced in the 1980s, but they really caught on in popularity in the early '90s. In fact, for most of that decade, you would have been hard-pressed to go to a beach or park and not see someone cruising by on them.

Rollerblades are equipped with anywhere from two to five wheels that are attached to a single frame and organized in a straight line, hence the term inline skates. Most have a brake on the back of the frame, though more advanced models and speed skates are often brakeless. They either have a high- or low-cut boot, which can be hard or soft, to stabilize your ankles, and the boot may be secured via laces, ratcheting straps or a combination of the two.

Rollerblade pros

Some of the most notable advantages of rollerblades stem from the size of their wheels. Rollerblades have larger diameter wheels than roller skates, which makes them faster and allows them to offer a smoother ride over rough surfaces. For a long time, rollerblades were the go-to choice for outdoor use, and roller skates were seen used indoors more often.

The long wheelbase of rollerblades makes it less likely you fall forwards or backwards, which can help with stability when moving.

Rollerblade cons

The inline design of rollerblades is a bit of a double-edged sword. It extends the wheelbase, which is why you feel more stable, with less chance of falling forwards or backwards, but it also means you have a thinner area of contact with the ground. This creates added instability when standing still and makes it easier to fall to your left or right side. The long wheelbase can also make it difficult to maneuver, so it is harder to make tight turns or quickly spin around.

Best rollerblades

Rollerblade Zetrablade Women’s Skates: available at Dick's Sporting Goods

Offering a nice balance of price, performance and comfort, the Zetrablade rollerblades are good for beginners and experienced users who enjoy casual skating for fun and exercise. The high cuff provides plenty of ankle support, and the large brake allows for easy stopping.

Rollerblade Bladerunner Phoenix Junior Skates: available at Amazon

Kids grow quickly, which is exactly why these rollerblades can adjust through four sizes. They are designed with a low center of gravity to help children balance.

Roller skates

The main way roller skates differ from rollerblades is the positioning of the wheels and brakes. Unlike rollerblades, where the number of wheels can vary, all roller skates have four wheels, which is why they are often called quads. On the bottom of each boot are two horizontal trucks, each with a pair of wheels attached to them. Except for some children’s models, the boots are generally soft and can have a high or low cut.

On roller skates the brakes are positioned on the front rather than the back, so to stop you simply point your toes down, instead of leaning back on your heel.

Roller skate pros

If roller disco is what you have in mind, roller skates should be your go-to choice. The short wheel base makes them highly maneuverable and perfect for tight turns and quick spins. Also, the side-by-side placement of the wheels offers stability and makes it less likely you’ll fall over sideways, especially when standing still.

Many will also find that having the brake on the front, though it may seem unnatural at first, actually makes stopping easier than having the brake on the back, like with rollerblades.

Roller skate cons

As with rollerblades and their long wheelbase, the short wheelbase of roller skates is a double-edged sword, too. While it reduces the chance of falling sideways, it can make you feel a little unsteady in regard to falling forwards or backwards. Also, the small diameter of the wheels means they can have trouble traveling over bumpy pavement or big cracks, and it can be harder to work up as much speed on them as you can with rollerblades.

Best roller skates

Chicago Bullet Skates: available at Amazon 

With an impressive build for the price, the Bullet skates are a great value. They break in quickly and are just as suitable for rink use as they are for amateur racing.

Circle Society Classic Adjustable Indoor Outdoor Children's Roller Skates available at Amazon

The high-cut boots on the Circle Society provide kids with a lot of ankle stability, which should help them feel more comfortable as they are learning how to skate. They are well cushioned and come equipped with indoor/outdoor wheels, so kids can use them anywhere.

Should you get rollerblades or roller skates?

There is no right or wrong answer for whether you should buy rollerblades or roller skates. Beginners may feel more stable on rollerskates, however if you plan on using them outdoors, rollerblades can actually be easier to learn on since you won’t have to worry as much about the small wheels getting caught on cracks or small holes in the sidewalk.

If your main goal is going fast, rollerblades stand out as the clear winner. However, if you want to do acrobatic maneuvers, you’ll be better served by a pair of rollerskates.

Brett Dvoretz is a writer for BestReviews. BestReviews is a product review company with a singular mission: to help simplify your purchasing decisions and save you time and money

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