Nothing beats a decent pair of trainers when it comes to footwear choices for on-the-go kids. They’ve got the comfort factor needed for all-day play, they’re durable enough to withstand whatever our little ones put them through and they can transition easily between everything from park trips to parties.
When searching for the right pair, it’s worth getting your kids measured properly and bearing in mind that every brand fits slightly differently, so they may well be one size in one shop and another in the next.
First walkers will need a shoe with enough flexibility to allow little feet to find their way, and young children will need Velcro fastenings or zips until they’ve mastered the art of tying laces.
How we tested
Our real-life testers have tried a whole range of trainers including sports shoes, high-tops, school-friendly styles, slip-ons and canvas pumps. We’ve put them through their paces on the playground, at the park, on the dance floor and in the sports hall, to bring you our list of the best trainers that kids will genuinely want to wear.
The best kids’ trainers for 2021 are:
- Best overall – Ultra zion kids softshell vibram shoes, mint: £24.99, Mountainwarehouse.com
- Best for PE – Next runner trainers, black and pink: £20, Next.co.uk
- Best for skater style – Vans old skool trainers junior: £37, Schuh.co.uk
- Best fun trainers – Jex infinite rainbows colour-in shoes: £32.99, Jexshoes.com
- Best sustainable trainers – Bobux seedling, rosa: £54, Bobux.co.uk
- Best smart trainers – Joules runaround high-top lace-up trainers: £23.95, Joules.com
- Best light-up trainers – Flash wear LED black flyers: £29.99, Flashwear.co.uk
- Best for pre-teens – H&M pixels trainers: £14.99, Hm.com
- Best for school – Kickers tovni lacer junior: £47, Kickers.co.uk
- Best for toddlers – Next double strap trainers, khaki camo: £21, Next.co.uk
- Best for indoor sports – M&S kids’ freshfeet riptape trainers, pink: £21, Marksandspencer.com
- Best for parties – H&M shimmering slip-on unicorn trainers: £9.99, Hm.com
Mountain Warehouse ultra zion kids softshell vibram shoes, mint
Soggy feet are a thing of the past thanks to these clever trainers. They’re from the Mountain Warehouse “ultra” range, which launched in May and promises an extra level of durability for avid explorers of every age. As such, they’re fully waterproof with a clever breathable membrane that allows moisture out – not in – and they have a brilliant grip on the sole, plus reinforced heel and toe bumpers. We can vouch for the fact they seem to be able to survive anything and still come out looking like new. So if you’re looking for a pair of trainers that will double up as decent walking shoes in any weather, can be worn for sport, and look pretty cool while they’re at it, you just found them.
Next runner trainers, black and pink
Best: For PE
If your school uniform list includes black trainers for PE, these sporty ones are super comfy. Our six-year-old tester wore them for long days at various sports clubs during the holidays and they have the benefit of a predominantly white sole, so they don’t mark indoor floors. The fit comes up well and they have elasticated laces with a Velcro fastening, so younger kids can get them on and off independently for PE. They haven’t scuffed with lots of outdoor wear and they came up well after we put them through a 30-degree wash. Sizes start from an infant UK7 up to an adult UK5, and there are lots more colour options.
Vans old skool trainers junior
Best: For skater style
Wannabe skaters will look the part in these classic Vans, which are basically a mini-me version of the iconic grown-up kicks. The juniors are black with a mixture of suede and canvas panels, plus a signature white stripe and waffle sole. They’re totally low-key – as you’d expect from a Californian skater brand – and look effortlessly cool whatever they’re worn with. Our tester particularly liked the fact the sole was much more flexible than other similar trainers, which made for a far more comfortable wear.
Jex infinite rainbows colour-in shoes
Best: Fun trainers
Trainers that you’re actually allowed to draw all over. What could be better? Absolutely nothing, if our six-year-old tester is to be believed. She loved everything about these canvas shoes, which arrive in a black and white design of your choice, ready to colour in with a set of mini marker pens that come with them. The colours are bright and didn’t run or fade when the trainers got rained on, and the shoes themselves are great quality. You also get a colouring-in booklet so you can do a test-run of your design, although our tester got stuck in straight away and loved showing off the results. We jazzed ours up even more with a pair of glittery laces (£1.79, Jexshoes.com), which you can buy separately, and we’ll certainly be buying more of these trainers as gifts. Brilliant.
Bobux seedling, rosa
Best: Sustainable shoe
Bobux launched its new vegan trainer – the seedling – earlier this year, and it’s working with One Tree Planted to plant a tree in Indonesia for every pair sold around the world. The soft bamboo knitted upper is breathable and flexible, and the sole – which is made from natural and recycled rubber – bends along with your child’s foot. Our tester loved the laidback look and soft feel of these, but our only worry was keeping the pale pink Rosa version clean as they’re not machine washable, so we did tend to keep them for good-weather days. Bobux recommends using a waterproofing spray on them every four weeks, so they’re a lovely option if you don’t mind a bit of maintenance. The seedling starts in toddler sizes but Bobux stock a range of foot-friendly options for babies, crawlers and cruisers, too.
Joules runaround high-top lace-up trainers
Best: Smart trainers
These stylish high-tops are ideal if you’re looking for something a bit smarter than a running trainer but still want the same level of all-day comfort. We tested the camo design, although they’re also available in navy blue with a dinosaur design, and both options start from an infant size UK8 and go up to a junior size UK3. Our favourite feature is the combination of laces and a side zip, which means you can get a great fit but still put them on and take them off in a flash. We also like the chunky cupsole and overall feeling of quality – these barely look worn after weeks of dodgy British summer weather.
Flash Wear LED black flyers
Best: Light-up trainers
These light-up trainers went down a storm with our eight-year-old tester and it’s all down to the scene-stealing soles. They’re fitted with LED lights that you can control via a little switch hidden in the tongue, so you can flick between seven static colours or go full-on disco with three strobe effects. They’re amazingly bright and come with a dual micro-USB charging lead to plug into the component on the tongue for charging – ours held the promised eight-hour charge really well. Although there’s not much in the way of cushioning inside the trainers, our tester deemed them comfy and lightweight, plus the simple design is unisex. You can buy replacement batteries from the brand’s website if your shoes no longer charge, although ours are still going strong.
H&M pixels trainers
Best: For pre-teens
If we’re going purely on looks, which – let’s face it – older kids often do, these simple trainers from H&M are a winner, plus they look far more expensive than they are. Our pre-teen tester deemed them cool enough to wear out, thanks to the fashionable tennis-shoe style and simple pixel design on the side. The sole, upper, and laces are all bright white, so we were glad to see they wipe clean quite well. And at a bargain £14.99 it won’t be the end of the world when they do inevitably get dirty and need replacing.
Kickers tovni lacer junior
Best: For school
Our eight-year-old tester was delighted to find these versatile lace-ups. With a sneaker-style low profile and flat sole, they were suitably trainer-like to make him feel like he’s legitimately got away with wearing non-regulation uniform to school, but equally smart enough to keep him on the right side of the headmaster. They start from a junior UK12.5 and go all the way into adult sizes, including a patent leather version. The ones we tested are a super sturdy matt black leather that wipes clean really well and they have a comfy cushioned footbed and anti-odour treatment. Because they’re such a classic shape, you can also get away with them as smart shoes and ours made their debut at a wedding.
Next double strap trainers, khaki camo
Best: For toddlers
Our three-year-old tester chose these trainers for the star on the side and they certainly tick the box for appearance. Judging by how much he’s worn them since, they come up trumps for comfort, too, thanks to the memory foam Ortholite insoles. The leather upper still looks great after several weeks of daily wear and the Velcro fastenings make these a nice option for toddlers and younger children. Sizes range from infant UK3 to UK12 and are true to size. We also found the standard width came up just right, although there is a wide fitting option.
M&S kids' freshfeet riptape trainers, pink
Best: For indoor sports
These M&S trainers are lovely and light, and they have a completely white sole that makes them ideal for indoor sports. The upper, lining and sock are made from recycled fabrics and there’s a decent amount of padding around the ankle. They’re machine washable, have an odour-eating treatment to keep them fresh and they pull on and off easily with elasticated laces. Our only gripe was the wide fit, which isn’t adjustable due to the lace size and Velcro strap being fixed. Still, they’re a great option for wide feet.
H&M shimmering slip-on unicorn trainers
Best: For parties
The humble slip-on has been given the unicorn treatment by H&M and our young tester declared these the best trainers for parties. We were worried the crackled silver upper would get scuffed but the chunky sole goes a long way to protect it and so far ours have lasted well. Elastic panels and a loop at the back make these easy for her to get on without the need for any fastenings and our tester particularly liked the rainbow stripe on the sole. A must for any unicorn fan and – for less than a tenner – an absolute steal for parents.
The verdict: Kids' trainers
For all-round durability and versatility, Mountain Warehouse’s ultra zion trainer gets our top spot – particularly at the sale price. We were really impressed with Next’s double strap trainers for toddlers and runner trainers for older kids, too, as they scored well for comfort and fit compared to much more expensive branded trainers. But if you ask our testers, it’s a tie between Jex’s colour-in trainers and Flash Wear’s LED flyers, both of which scored them serious kudos with their mates.
For the latest discounts on kids’ clothing, try the links below:
For more on children's footwear, read our review of the best kids' school shoes
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