Different Types of Roller Skating & Skates Compared
Roller skating is so much fun. But if you are new to roller skating, or just coming back to this great hobby after decades away, then you might be confused on which type of skates you should choose. In this article, I compare and contrast rollerblades vs. roller skates vs. inline skates to help you decide which are best for you.
Quad skates, rollerblades and inline speed skates are all types of roller skates. However, your skill level, experience and the type of roller skating that you plan to do really are what will help you determine the best skates for you.
Which is best for beginners? What about for kids? Are you playing a roller sport? Let’s start breaking it down.
Different Types of Roller Skates
First, let’s do a quick overview of each type of roller skate.
Quad Roller Skates
Quad roller skates are the traditional skates that most people have used at a roller rink or when they were a child. Each quad skate has two axles, like a car, with an axle in the front and one in the back. Each axle has two wheels on it – one on the left and one on the right.
Each wheel has two skate bearings inside of it and the wheel is fastened to the skate with an axle nut. Quad skates come in either a high-top or low-top skate boot.
First, Rollerblades are technically a type of inline skate. Therefore, you will see the term rollerblades and inline skates used synonymously. For this article, I am classifying inline skates as inline speed skates, which are very different from rollerblades or quad skates. More about that below.
Rollerblades are a roller skate with a single axle running down the length of the boot. The 3-5 wheels then slide into the skate plate and are secured in place with a long axle nut. Most rollerblades have a high-top firm boot and a brake on the back of the right skate.
Rollerblade is a company that was started in the 1980s by two Minnesotan brothers – Scott and Brennan Olsen. The two brothers saw an old pair of inline skates in a sporting goods store and thought it would be perfect for offseason hockey players. Over the course of the past few decades, rollerblades and inline skates became synonymous with the public.
Inline Speed Skates
Inline speed skates are a special skate used by competitive speed skaters. Like rollerblades and other inline skates, inline speed skates have a single axle with 3-4 wheels that slide into the axle and are secured with a long axle nut. These skates have a very short low-cut boot to make it easier for the speed skater to dig into their turns.
The wheels on these skates start at 75mm and go all the way up to 130mm. Most inline speed skaters compete somewhere in the 100mm-130mm range. The larger diameter, thinner wheels allow the speed skater to keep their speed for a longer period of time.
Different Types of Roller Skating
Roller Skating vs Rollerblading vs. Inline Skating
The type of skating that you plan to do is one important criteria to think of before buying a pair of roller skates. Will you just be skating outdoors in your neighborhood or indoors at your local rink?
Or maybe you are going to be doing a specific kind of roller sport? Below I cover the most common roller sports and the type of skates that are most often used for each. While you can technically use quads, rollerblades or inline skates for any of these sports, I share with you below the most common for each sport.
Roller derby is one of the most popular roller skating sports today. All roller derby players wear quad roller skates when playing roller derby. If you think roller derby is in your future, then you will want a pair of quad roller skates.
Speed Roller Skating
Speed skaters wear inline speed skates when competing. Back in the day before inline skates, everyone used to do speed skating in quad skates. However, inline speed skates are just faster than quads (or rollerblades for that matter). It has to do with the height and thinness of the wheels.
There is still a small contingent of competitors who compete on low-top quad roller skates, but almost all serious speed roller skating is done on inline skates. No one speed skates in competitions in rollerblades, though you certainly can at the rink during races or with your friends outdoors.
Popular inline speed skate brands include Luigino, Bont, K2 and VNLA.
Artistic Roller Skating
Artistic roller skating is primarily done in high-top quad roller skates. However, some competitors now do artistic roller skating in special artistic rollerblades / inline skates. The vast majority of artistic roller skaters still do their craft in quads. The most well-known artistic skates are made by Riedell and Sure-Grip.
Artistic roller skating looks just like figure skating that you see in the Olympics on ice skates. The only difference is that the jumps and spins are done on roller skates.
When I was young, I used to play roller hockey in retail parking lots with my friends wearing my quads. And you can do that, too. However, most serious roller hockey players use rollerblades. Today there are special rollerblades geared at roller hockey. Brands like Bauer, Tour and Mission all make popular rollerblades for roller hockey.
I would describe jam skating as a cross between gymnastics, dancing and breakdancing on roller skates. Most jam skating is done using low-top quad roller skates. Some of the most popular jam skates are made by VNLA.
Shuffle & Rhythm Skating
Most old school shuffle & rhythm skaters wear high-top quad roller skates.
Frequently Asked Questions
What type of roller skates are best for beginners?
The best roller skates for beginners are the traditional high-top quad roller skates. The high-top boot provides extra ankle support. Quad roller skate axles also help with balance for the skater as it more evenly distributes your weight across the base of the skate.
Another positive with quad roller skates is that you can tighten the wheels on the skate so they don’t roll. This is a trick that I have used to teach 1000s of people to roller skate throughout the years. Using a PowerDyne Y tool or a socket wrench, you can tighten the axle nut on a wheel until it no longer rolls. You then slowly loosen the wheels as you get more stable.
Rollerblades and inline skates are harder to balance on when you are first starting. Does that mean you can’t start on a pair of rollerblades or inline skates if you are dead set on it? Absolutely not. It’s just not as easy.
If you are just starting out and want a pair of inline skates, then I’d highly recommend a rollerblade / inline skate with a short, wide wheel. Also, you want a high-top boot which will give you more stability around the ankle. It’s just harder to balance on a single axle than two axles.
What type of roller skates are best for young kids just starting out?
Like beginner skaters, kids also do best on quad roller skates when first starting out. See above for more details. With all that said, it’s important to ask your child what kind of skates THEY want. Remember, roller skating is about having fun. So, go with the skates that are going to allow you (or your child) to have the most fun.
My youngest daughter, Violet, started on quads and quickly moved to rollerblades because she wanted to learn how to skate on inlines for speed skating. I didn’t buy her a pair of inline speed skates (which she really wanted) until she got good on rollerblades. I didn’t want to shell out the extra money (most inline speed skates start at $300), and I wanted her to have good stability before moving to these much harder skates.
For most kids, I would go with a non-adjustable, high-top quad skate. Be sure to check out my best roller skates for kids & toddlers skate recommendations.
What is the difference between roller skating vs rollerblading?
Rollerblading is a type of roller skating. If you wear rollerblades, then you are technically rollerblading. However, no matter whether you wear inline skates, rollerblades or quad skates, you are roller skating.
Do I have to wear rollerblades if I want to skate outdoors?
No. There are several sites out there that say you can’t (or shouldn’t) roller skate outdoors with quad skates. This is not true.
If you are skating outdoors, then you need to pay attention to the wheels that you are using. Wheels are really the only difference between indoor and outdoor skates. This means that with an extra set of wheels, you can easily use the same pair of skates in both places (awesome, right!?!).
You want a softer wheel when you skate outdoors, regardless of whether you are using rollerblades, inline skates or quad roller skates. Most inline skates and rollerblades just automatically come with softer wheels because the manufacturers assume you are going to use them outdoors.
Wheel hardness is measured using a special device called a durometer. All roller skate wheels are then given a hardness rating. You will see it printed on most wheels as a number with the letter “A” after it (ex: 78A). The higher the number, the harder the wheel.
For outdoor skating on asphalt and rough concrete, you want a wheel that has a hardness rating of 85A or lower. My favorite outdoor quad wheels, the Atom Pulse, is a 78A hardness which is perfect for outdoor skating. A softer wheel makes for a smoother ride on rough surfaces. These softer wheels also have the ability to go over small debris (think pebbles and leaves – not tree limbs).
Be sure to check out my tips for buying roller skate wheels for a lot more nerdy wheel details. Wheels really are one of the most important, and yet misunderstood, parts of the roller skate.
Quad Roller Skates vs Rollerblades: Which is best for outdoors?
As stated above, you can use any kind of roller skate outdoors. Some will say that rollerblades are better outdoors because they provide better maneuverability or a smaller surface area so you have less of a chance of hitting debris, but that’s really all nonsense.
I would go with the roller skate that you feel most stable and comfortable with. For me, that’s quad roller skates with outdoor wheels. If you are brand new to roller skating, I’d recommend quads.
If you are more experienced, then it really comes down to personal preference and what you want to do with your skates. If you are an outdoor hockey player, then you are going to most likely be on rollerblades. If you are an outdoor speed skater, then you are undoubtedly going to be on inline speed skates. When you get good at roller skating, you really just start to see skates as the makeup of all of their parts – wheels, bearings, boots and plates. You then start to use the right skate for its best purpose as stability and fear of injury lessen.
If you are a novice, just remember that the most important part of outdoor skates are the wheels. You want a softer wheel if you are skating on asphalt or rough concrete. The softer wheel makes for a smoother ride meaning your legs won’t shake as much as you roll on the rough surface. Plus, they will help you handle small debris.
Inline Skates vs Rollerblades: What is the difference between them?
Rollerblades are a type of inline skates. In fact, Rollerblade is a company that made the very first “rollerblades” back in the 1980s. All inline skates and rollerblades have a single axle with 3-5 wheels on each skate.
If we compare inline speed skates to rollerblades, then most rollerblades have a high-top boot and slightly wider wheels. The larger boot and wider wheels makes skating in rollerblades easier than on inline speed skates.
Inline speed skates, on the other hand, have thin, very tall wheels (100mm-130mm) that are best for speed. They also have very short low-top boots that come under the ankle bone. This makes it easier for competitive speed skaters to dig deep and keep their speed up going around corners.