15 Key Types Of Sneakers For Men (And The Models To Buy)
The kicks that make up a solid sneaker rotation and the models you should be considering in each category.
About a century ago, there was only one type of sneaker. It’s hard to pinpoint when exactly sneakers were first invented, but according to all the myths and legends, Converse created one of the very first pairs in 1917 with the now-legendary Chuck Taylor All Star. Made with nothing but panels of canvas and a thick rubber sole, this silhouette was made for one reason and one reason only: to play basketball.
Fast forward over 100 years, and the trainer landscape is very, very different. While basketball shoes still exist, of course, there are many more sneaker types out there, made for all kinds of activities and functions. The aesthetics and styles are poles apart, and they’re also infused with different innovations and cushioning technologies.
Where to start? Below, we’re going through all of the different types of sneakers every man should own and some of our favorite brands that fall under each of these 15 categories. Let’s get to it.
First up, we have skate sneakers. Made for those who can actually do a kick-flip and those who pretend they can (you know who you are), these types of trainers have become incredibly popular away from the skate park. Adopted by style tribes like hip-hop modern prepsters, the cushioned, lightweight designs are perfect for everyday casual wear. But they started on the half pipe.
When skating began to hit the mainstream back in the mid-60s, the first generation of skate kids needed a shoe that could take a thrashing. The Converse kicks they rocked were ripping too quickly, and while the soles were pretty grippy, they weren’t grippy enough.
Suddenly, brands like Vans (formerly The Van Doren Rubber Company) were established, and everyone wanted a pair. Later, other skate-centric labels like Etnies and DC Shoes joined the ranks, and in the early 2000s, Nike SB was introduced to the world.
You can’t talk about the essential sneakers every man needs without bringing up high tops. One of the first trainer types to grace the earth, these were originally made by Converse and were created for hardwood use. Basketball players needed something with a little extra support around the ankles while they were dribbling, and Converse’s solution was to add extra padding around the collar area to keep everything locked in place. It was simple but very effective.
Over a century later the basic premise is still the same, even if the roster of classic high-tops has grown. The Air Force 1 is now known as a low-top shoe, but unbeknownst to many, it originally debuted as a high-top. In 1985, Michael Jordan released the Air Jordan 1, which was, of course, a high-top as well. Basically, if you wanted a sneaker that was going to dominate on the court, high-tops were the way to go.
Today, high-tops have made their way off the hardcourt and onto the streets, with the same key USPs – increased comfort, grip and protection – cementing their status as a must-have in any sneakerhead’s rotation.
Sometimes running sneakers are also called athletic sneakers, but they’re essentially the same thing. While many of us just wear them on a casual day-to-day basis, these were made with personal bests in mind. Every single shoe brand under the sun has its own styles and silhouettes, but they all have pretty much the same kind of design.
The base or foundation is predominantly made of a mesh or a knit material, and the midfoot area features a caging system for additional structural support. Some pairs also have a cup-like element around the back, known as a heel counter, to hold your foot in place while you sprint to the finish line (or casually stroll to the coffee shop).
What sets each of these essential sneakers apart are the technologies that are embedded within the midsoles. Nike has Air, Adidas has Boost, New Balance has ABZORB, and Asics has GEL. Newer companies like On Running and Hoka One One have their own innovations too, and runners just can’t get enough of it.
Being kind to the environment is very important, but honestly, the trainer game doesn’t have the best track record when it comes to this. According to a report by sustainability consultancy Quantis, sneaker production is exceptionally carbon intensive, accounting for 1.4% of the global greenhouse gas emissions. However, eco-friendly shoes have made some huge strides, and they’re now sneakers every man should own.
From leather made out of apples and cacti to midsoles that are infused with cork and recycled ocean plastics, over the past couple of years, names like Cariuma, CLAE, Oliver Cabell and Veja have completely transformed the industry, forcing the likes of Nike and Adidas to reappraise the way they work.
In 2017, Kanye West took the wraps off of the Yeezy Boost 700 ‘Wave Runner’. To put it bluntly, people hated it, and it quickly became the butt of all shoe-related memes. However, when it was eventually released later that year, haters suddenly became lovers. All of a sudden, every sneaker brand started making its own so-called ‘dad’ sneakers.
New Balance is, without a doubt, the alpha male in this fatherly fad. Models like the 990, 991 and 992 have become staples in every sneakerhead’s collection, and thanks to their ridiculously oversized designs and ridiculously chunky soles, those of you who claim that you’re 6′ 1″ on your Tinder profile can actually live out your fantasies. And hey, they’re supremely comfortable, too.
Unless you’ve been living under a rock over the past year or two, you’ll know that the gorpcore trend has dominated the streetwear scene, with people rocking full Arc’teryx gear even if they live in the city. With this rise in popularity, hiking sneakers (plus trail running shoes) have become hot property among sneakerheads.
Equipped with water-resistant materials like Cordura and Gore-Tex, hiking shoes are known for their grippy outsoles, specifically designed to tackle the elements. There are lots of knockoffs from non-specialist brands so if you’re hike-curious, be sure to check out names like Merrell, Roa Hiking and of course, the big daddy of them all, Salomon.
Models like the XT-6 and XT Wings have been blowing up lately, and when Rihanna stepped out in a pair of Cross Lows during the Super Bowl halftime show back in February 2023, it contributed to a 17% bump in sales across all of Salomon’s lines.
While sock sneakers aren’t as hyped as they once were, they’ve still got a pretty healthy cult following. You won’t see these as much nowadays, but they’re essentially designed in the shape of a crew sock attached to a foam midsole underfoot. They look pretty strange in a retrofuturistic kind of way, but there’s no denying how comfortable they are, especially if you plan on rocking them all day, every day.
One of the first companies that spring to mind when it comes to sock sneakers is Balenciaga, whose Speed Runner is still one of the best knit sneaker models released to date. Others like Reebok later followed suit, and Adidas even launched the NMD City Sock series, which sold out within seconds of release.
The king of smart-casual trainers, the minimalist category has become an essential part of every man’s wardrobe thanks to their ultra-clean aesthetic and sheer versatility. Whether you’re rocking them with a suit or an oversized hoodie and cargo pants combo, these are sneakers that you’ll come back to again and again, whatever the dress code.
The classic style is based on mid-century tennis shoes but is usually produced in block white, black, navy or grey. Such was their success that minimalist design codes also expanded to basketball shoes and other models.
Now, pretty much every single shoe company produces minimalist kicks, but if you’re looking for a solid pair that will last you for many years, take a look at Oliver Cabell, Common Projects, Crown Northampton and JAK for inspiration.
Even though the trainer game is certainly nothing new, it has long been dominated by the usual suspects like Adidas, Nike, Puma and Reebok. However, when the industry exploded with the rise of streetwear and drop culture, high-end designers and luxury fashion houses all wanted a piece of the pie.
Premium labels like Gucci and Balenciaga began creating their own models. The initial reception was lukewarm but as casual dress became more the norm for menswear, even the old-school fashion crowd began to fall in love with them.
Now, designer sneakers make up a huge portion of the market, with heavy hitters like Dior, Moncler, Off-White, and Versace infiltrating the rotations of those who can afford the price tags. They’re pretty expensive for sure, with some even retailing at four figures, but that hasn’t stopped them from selling out again and again (and again).
Life’s too short to be tying laces, and that’s one of the reasons why slip-on sneakers will never go out of style. These are mostly crafted from canvas or mesh and designed so that you can pop your foot in and out of them without having to bend down.
Vans is a leader in this category (they literally have a silhouette called the ‘Slip-On’), but high-end names like Axel Arigato, Zegna and AMIRI also produce excellent models.
What’s more, slip-on shoes are perfect for those with mobility issues. If you can’t physically crouch or you have trouble using your fingers and hands, these are the perfect solution. There’s been a lot of progress in this field recently, but we’ll talk more about that later in the article.
Plimsolls have come a very, very long way over the last few years. Remember those black ones we all had to wear in school that were made of nothing but a bit of canvas and rubber? Well, they’ve now become sneakers every man should own, thanks to companies such as JAK, Novesta and Superga.
Created to be worn at the beach, the term ‘plimsoll’ is borrowed from the name of a ship’s hull, nodding to its nautical roots. While traditional pairs were made from just a bit of thin fabric (even thinking about it sends a shiver down our spines), in the 21st century, they’ve become more luxurious, with materials like calfskin leather and buttery suede. You’ll also find some that are made from sustainable textiles including organic cotton.
The thing about the trainer game is that it’s completely unpredictable. One minute we’re obsessed with anything futuristic, and the next we’re lusting over retro sneakers. While silhouettes like the Air Max 1 and the Dunk Low have always been essential to self-respecting sneakerheads, recently, the community has fallen head over heels for old-school pairs. And when we say ‘old’, we don’t mean the 90s or 80s. We don’t even mean the 70s or the 60s. We’re talking the 50s and 40s, baby.
Whether you love to hate it or hate to love it, old-school trainers are making a comeback, and if you still don’t have a pair, you’re seriously missing out. Models like the Samba (created in 1949, before the model we know and love came along in 1972), for example, have been one of the hottest styles in recent years.
They were first made for football players to train on icy terrain (hence the grippy gum rubber sole), they’ve now made their way to catwalks across London, Milan and Paris, and there’s no sign of the hype stopping anytime soon.
Yep, that’s right. While basketball shoes have been extremely popular for decades, golf sneakers are up next. You heard it here first. Over the past couple of months, the industry has seen a significant spike in fairway-focused footwear, and while this style of shoe has been around since the dawn of time, it’s recently been given a streetwear edge thanks to some big names.
In September 2023, Adidas announced that it was working on a golf sneaker with a 3D-printed midsole that looked like something from an entirely different universe. One month later, legendary artist Travis Scott announced that he was collaborating with Air Jordan for his own green-ready shoe.
If these aren’t signs that the golf sneaker is the next big thing in kicks, we don’t know what is.
In 1989, Back to the Future II left cinemagoers in complete and utter shock. Not only were the special effects phenomenal at the time, movie buffs were also stunned by Marty McFly’s Nike MAG sneaker. They looked like something from an entirely different era (you can thank Tinker Hatfield for that), but what made them really stand out was the fact that they somehow laced themselves. It seemed like pure sorcery back in the day, but now, self-lacing sneakers are very real.
In 2016, Nike launched the HyperAdapt 1.0. Unlike anything we’ve ever seen (outside of the movie theatre), these kicks were as much R&D as avant-garde fashion. It was cool that they laced themselves, but they conformed to the shape of the wearer’s foot too, creating a custom fit.
This was later followed by the Adapt BB and the Adapt Huarache, both of which were incredibly revolutionary in their own right.
Last but certainly not least, we have 3D-printed sneakers. The idea of these futuristic kicks began back in 2017 with Adidas’ Futurecraft 4D initiative. The midsoles were made using 3D printing, and in theory, it was meant to be infinitely more sustainable because you only made what you needed and there was no waste. It was even crowned by TIME magazine as one of the greatest inventions of the year.
Fast forward to now and material science company Zellerfeld is leading the charge, collaborating with some of fashion’s biggest names like Heron Preston, Moncler, Pangaia and Rains. What sets these 3D-printed trainers apart is the fact they were constructed out of thermoplastic polyurethane construction (or TPU, for short), which can be melted down again and again. This means that you can literally make the same shoe without the need for more raw materials, and it also means that fewer pairs end up in landfill, which is a major issue that the fashion industry is facing up to.
While they’re still in the early stages at the moment, they’re sneakers even your mother (nature) would approve of.