Sneaker News Sneakerpedia Editor’s Crates: Aaron Kr’s Top 20 Sneakers
This week, SN is teaming up with online sneaker haven, Sneakerpedia, to give our readers a look into some of our staff’s all-time favorite shoes. We’ll each be doing a Top 20 list counting down some of the most beloved treasures in our personal collections. I’m up first and I admit, I’m not sure that I can really say that these are my 20 favorite sneakers ever, but this is definitely somewhere in the ballpark. If I sat down to make this list in a month or a year, it might look a little different, but these are twenty that I feel particularly strong about right now and fit the criteria of being either out in the current rotation or at least easily accessible.
You won’t find Yeezy’s or the latest Foamposite heat on my list. There are no PE’s, scarce SB Dunks and not even too many Jordans or basketball shoes for that matter, so if that turns you off, you should probably stop reading. You aren’t about to see the 20 rarest, most expensive or most envy-provoking shoes that I own, because as Jay-Z once said, “When I rock jewels, it ain’t to impress you.” These are 20 shoes that I unconditionally cherish for whatever the reason, all hoopla and hypebeastery aside. As a lifelong sneaker connoisseur, my philosophy has always been simple and I’d encourage it to one and all: I wear what I like and I don’t worry what anyone else thinks about it. And for me, what I like are the classics. For the most part, I like my sneakers how I like my music and movies – from the late 80’s and early 90’s – a theme that will unsubtly play out in the selections found below with no apologies.
I think a big part of the obsession with sneakers for a lot of us is trying to chase down all the shoes we wanted or had as kids and there’s nothing like successfully hunting down (or waiting out) the one(s) that got away. It’s because of that, I’m usually not nearly as worried about the newest super-limited edition collab or House of Hoops exclusive hyperstrike as I am about the re-release of tried and true classic runners and trainers in OG colorways. Guess I’m a purist, but you can’t help what you love. In a lot of ways, I’m very much stuck in the past, but it feels right to me and I think I’m okay with it.
We’ve been waiting for an excuse to do something like this for a while, so we really had some fun with it and hope that you do too. Check back during the week as other members of the SN team share their Top 20 lists, and you can get in on the fun too by uploading your own goodies to Sneakerpedia for all to see. Continue on to check out the twenty sneakers I chose from my collection and the reasons why, and please feel free to hate on my list in the comments below.
20- Nike Air Lava Dome
Weirdly, awesomely awkward in its design, the Lava Dome doesn’t look quite right, but maybe that’s what’s so right about it. From the extended mudguard overlay to the rear-positioned Swoosh, it all comes together like a dream when combined with the rough suede/heavy-duty mesh makeup and battle-ready outsole. Since its birth way back in 1981, the Lava Dome has been “rugged fresh” at its very best and I’m all over it whenever a clean new colorway pops up. Curiously, I don’t meet many people who seem to feel the same way as I do for the shoe as further evidenced by the back-up pair of these beauties that I picked up at a Nike outlet for $35 a few months back. Works for me. As long as Nike keeps putting them out, I’m gonna keep buying them.
19- Vans Half Cab
Back in my early to mid 90’s skateboarding days, an older friend was kind enough to school me to the limited amount of things I was ever able to conquer on a board. He always wore these beat up Half Cabs, and at the time, I didn’t think much of them. I was way more interested in the Etnies Sal Barbier’s with the “23” Jordan nod stitched into the heel (sick!). Years later, I started to appreciate the Half Cab a little more and eventually picked up a pair out of nostalgia. I instantly fell in love with the shape of the shoe and have been on the look-out ever since. This burgundy/black pair from a few years back is one of my personal favorites, as well as the killer suede/gum Supreme collab pack.
18- Saucony Grid 9000
The Saucony Grid 9000 was recently brought out of hibernation and has quickly become one of my favorite sneakers to wear. In terms of both aesthetics and comfort, the Grid 9000 has everything I look for in a shoe and then some. It has a great shape and a very sleek tech look to it and the unique tongue design and dynamic midsole tooling put it over the top for me. Also doesn’t hurt that there has been no shortage of tasty colorways thanks to the recent sets by Packer Shoes and Bodega. Just another reminder of how many incredible early 90’s runners are just collecting dust in the archives of some of these brands when they could instead be killing it in today’s market if executed and re-introduced correctly. Get at me and we can talk about it.
17- Nike Air Trainer Max 91
The Air Trainer Max 91 is one of the most progressive shoe designs I’ve ever seen. It looks and feels superb on your feet and there have not been many color schemes in sneaker history as clean and memorable as this grey/maize pair. Everything comes together in perfect harmony on this shoe and the strap system and ribbed neoprene tongue add the type of extra touches that boost these into the upper echelon of sneaker greatness to me. Sadly, the Trainer Max 91 has historically been a victim of lackluster colorways aside from this masterpiece. As great as this shoe is, there has never been another version released that even comes close to capturing the magic of this one. All the more reason to treasure these I suppose.
16- Nike Air Max 120
I’ve always been into running shoes above all else, but usually my preferences lean towards clean suede/mesh makeups up of classic models. I’ve never gotten much into the more high-tech stuff and even my beloved Air Max category eventually moved outside of my comfort zone starting in the late 90’s. My mind is still wide open to Nike running shoes and the Air Max category and there have definitely been some scattered pick-ups over the years, but there have been few models in the last 10-15 years that have grabbed me like the early days of Air Max did.
For me, the Air Max 120 remains one of the last great hurrahs of the fruitful era of Nike Air Max shoes that I was completely obsessed with for the 10 years or so leading up to this shoe’s release in 1998. The 120 looks insane and I’d have to say that it’s one of my favorite Nike designs ever. I’d love to see a retro but shudder to think about it coming back with a Free sole or some equally offensive alternate Max unit.
15- New Balance 580 – OG Navy/Grey
When it comes to fashion, fathers are generally a bit cooler nowadays, but back in the day, the style-gap seemed significantly wider if you can believe that. Cool “Dad shoes” were in the minority, but there was something about the classic New Balance runners that seemed to bridge the divide. New Balances were super comfortable which was a strong sell for Dad and they also had very drab and conservative color schemes that were perfect to wear with a pair of dirty jeans while working on the car in the driveway on a weekend afternoon.
Yet despite the “Dad shoe” stigma that has crippled so many fashion trends through the years, there was something about NB runners that was just intrinsically cool and could not be ignored. Back in middle school, on days that my Dad would wear dress shoes to work, I’d sometimes swipe his NB’s to rock to school even though they were a few sizes too big on me. These timeless 580’s are a perfect example of crazy fresh crossover dadswag and I can’t stop wearing them!
14- Nike Air Trainer SC II (Low)
Before last year’s long overdue return of the Air Trainer SC II, I had been complaining about its absence to whoever would listen for as long as I can remember. Aside from how incredible the SC II looks, it was the shoe from the revered Bo Knows commercial, so how could it possibly be out of circulation for so long with that kind of heritage? Needless to say, when they re-released the OG colorways last year, I scooped them up with the quickness and it felt like a haunting void had been filled.
But like a true ingrate, satisfaction eventually turned to discontent. As much as I loved the shoe, the bulky ankle collar felt a bit cumbersome especially in the warm weather, so I picked up some extra pairs and unstitched the ankle boots to make them into lows. And I have to say, it’s a pretty easy and seamless transition. The tongue is a little long afterwards, but it doesn’t bother me and I definitely wear the lows more than the highs. Props to innovator Vandal-A who had the same idea, but went the extra mile and got his tongues shortened!
13- Air Jordan VII “Bordeaux”
Growing up, most of us had a friend or relative in our lives that was completely spoiled rotten and got all the cool new stuff that we would never get our hands on outside of the bi-annual birthday and holiday hook-ups we were forced to rely on. As little kids, it was their toys and at least you could go to their house and play with their stuff for a few hours if you were lucky. As we got older, it became shoes and clothes and there was no sharing with those, so the party was over. I won’t give the name of the ungrateful and underserving scourge of my story, but at least once a month, this little parasite would come into school on a Monday with the new Jordans, or Air Max’s or Reebok Pumps or whatever was the latest, hottest $100+ sneaker that my Mom would have laughed right in my face if I had asked for.
As much as I wanted to wring his smug little neck every time it happened, I had no choice but to keep my cool and live vicariously through his feet, because it was the closest I figured I’d ever get to all these great sneakers. The “Bordeaux” Air Jordan VII’s were one of the most flagrant sources of 7th grade envy flaunted in my face. That color scheme was and is like nothing I’ve ever seen and the tongue design was so nuts! Jordan Brand threw salt in the wound by waiting almost 20 years to re-release them, but when I finally got a pair on my feet last year, it felt like justice.
12- Nike Air Mowabb
This may not be a popular opinion, but the triangle ACG logo carries as much reverence with me as the almighty Jumpman. ACG has always represented some of the most daring and forward-thinking designs to ever come out of Beaverton and I can’t think of a better representative of this category that I love so much than the Air Mowabb. The Mowabb is a magnificent, yet somehow underappreciated sneaker that basically takes the Huarache concept and morphs it into a trail-ready All Conditions model.
There is so much I love about the design of the shoe, from the ACG branded neoprene ankle bootie to the Huarache-esque heel bar to that drool-inducing speckled midsole. That said, this is definitely a case where I love the colorway even more than I love the shoe itself. The OG “Mowabb” color scheme is quite possibly my favorite sneaker palette ever and if every shoe on this list was released in that colorway, I would not hesitate for a second to pick up multiple pairs of each.
11- Nike Air Tech Challenge II
To understand the true significance of the early days of the Nike Air Tech Challenge line, you have to appreciate the context of what it symbolized for Andre Agassi and the world of tennis at the time. A few years after Michael Jordan and his “banned” sneakers thrashed the NBA dress code and opened the floodgates for future sneaker freedom in The League, Agassi and Nike teamed up to spark an even more controversial revolution of individuality in a far more conservative game. Historically, tennis wear was always a minimalist game with clean white shirts, shorts and shoes and nothing more than some subtle splashes of color and branding found here and there.
Then a long-haired unshaven Andre Agassi came through on some true rockstar sh-t with a defiant attitude and some crazy stonewashed shorts, wild graphic polo shirts and ill neon kicks on his feet, all courtesy of the brilliantly rebellious minds at Nike. I’m a huge fan of the entire ATC lineage, but if I have to choose one shoe, there are not many things cooler to me than lava print. Another gem from Tinker’s golden era of designs, the Air Tech Challenge II still holds up as one of the freshest sneakers ever.
10- Nike SB Air Trainer 2
The Nike Air Trainer II has kind of a confusing backstory and I’m not even gonna front like I have a complete grasp of it, but what I do know is, as a longtime appreciator of the early Nike cross-trainers, no one was happier than me when this model was surprisingly resurrected as part of the Nike SB line during the gold box era. Despite more than a few very solid colorways and even the added push of a 4-shoe Supreme collab, the model never really seemed to catch on and eventually fell back into obscurity.
I picked up just about every colorway of the Trainer 2 that dropped and most of them on the cheap too. I’m glad no one liked them because it made it so easy to get my hands on them all, but on the flipside, it’s a brutal shame that they didn’t sell well enough to warrant more releases. They might be number 10 on this list, but I don’t know if there can possibly be nine shoes that I like better on my feet than these heavenly specimens.
9- Asics Gel Saga II
I’ve always had quite the soft spot for classic Asics runners and it was a tough choice whether it would be the Saga II or Gel Lyte III to rep for the brand in this spot. I went with the Saga II for its slightly better comfort and the little bit of extra chunk that’s missing from the slimmer profile of the GL3. Not much needed to say about it that you can’t see for yourself with one look. Simply said, just a flawless suede/mesh runner with infinite colorway applications.
It was like a personal bonanza for me last year when Asics brought back some OG colorways, but it was beyond frustrating to see my favorite of them all, the grey/royal/orange inexplicably produced with white suede instead of grey. If anyone at Asics is listening, please right this wrong and give us that shoe in its true intended form.
8- Nike Air Classic BW “Persian Violet”
The summer before 7th grade, I played on a soccer team that got to go to Holland to play in a tournament there. We were unfortunately a few years too young to comprehend the true wonders offered by the city of Amsterdam, but still managed to have a blast when we weren’t being mercilessly slaughtered on the football pitch by our European peers. Thanks to the ravages of age and some international hatecrimes I sustained to the head while playing in the tourney, I only have a few lasting memories of the trip. My friends and I fought off lanky Dutch street thugs who tried to rob us while in Amsterdam. I bought the Euro cassette version of Metallica’s black album the day it released and listened to it on my Walkman for the whole trip, and even though I wanted to hate it, I had no choice but to love it. And lastly, I saw some kid wearing a sneaker that blew my mind.
I didn’t even know what it was until a few months later when it released in the States. The shoe I saw turned out to be the Air Max BW in the iconic Black/White/Persian Violet colorway. To look at the BW now, it doesn’t appear all that mindblowing, but at the time, I assure you that it looked like something that was brought back from outerspace. It had a huge Swoosh and a huge Air bag, and the black/white contrast on the color-blocking was like nothing the sneaker game had ever seen. I will say though, that while I love the BW on multiple levels, like the Trainer Max 91 mentioned earlier, there have really never been any other colorways of this model (aside from the Stash pair) that ever seemed worthwhile to me. This pair is from the Asia-only drop a few years back, and as you can see, they’ve yellowed on me in a few spots.
7- Nike Air Force 1 Low
There are Dunk people and there are Air Force 1 people. You can definitely have an appreciation for both, but when it boils down to it, most of us are involuntarily either one or the other by some force of nature. I’ve definitely always been firmly on the AF1 side of the fence, and in fact, there were some pretty long stretches of my life when AF1 Lows were pretty much all I bought and wore for literally months and sometimes years at a time. There have been so many great colorways over the years that it’s pretty tough to pick just one to represent a shoe I’m so fond of.
My all-time favorite is the Stash Low and I’m embarrassed to say that I somehow don’t currently own a pair to show you here. I think number 2 would have to be these waterproof olive/gum stunners from a few years ago. Maybe not the sexiest of choices in the hallowed pantheon of AF1 releases, but sexy is in the eye of the beholder and these are right up there with best colorways ever to touch the shoe in these eyes. Honorable mention goes to the Mita’s, another one that’s right up there at the top of my list.
6- New Balance 1300 “Steel Blue”
If you’ve been reading all this, you’ve heard me pine away about the ability of certain color schemes to magically bring a shoe to life, so be warned that it’s about to happen again. The New Balance 1300 might be the most comfortable shoe I’ve ever had on my feet, but that’s hardly why it’s this high on my list. The “Steel Blue” 1300 is elegant subtlety embodied. Each color choice is so carefully selected right down to the slightest of tints that it gives a blue/grey shoe elements of depth and character that should not be achievable by the standard laws of color physics.
Every hue plays its part and comes together gloriously for the freshest pair of New Balance’s I’ve ever seen. These re-release every so often and even though there have been some slight variations over the years, they still seem to capture the essence and somehow get it right every time. Kudos to New Balance for whatever voodoo is at play here, and just know that I like it.
5- Air Jordan III “Black/Cement”
For the Nike Air Jordan III, a rising star designer’s outside-the-box approach to capturing a once in a lifetime athlete’s effortless swagger created a perfect storm that will never and can never be captured again by another sneaker. These rare elements came along like a tidal wave and lucky for all of us, Captain Tinker Hatfield was there to navigate the waters into an evolutionary peak in sports style that we have only sloped down from since this gamechanger first saw the light of day back in 1988. If the Jordan III had originally released with solid grey overlays on the toe and heel wraps instead of Elephant print, it would have still been an incredible silhouette, but that one small cosmetic detail did more for the shoe and the brand than any technology or performance advancement ever could. It’s pretty much a given that elephant print is the coolest pattern ever seen on a sneaker. That’s not even my opinion. It’s a fact.
Just ask the designers at every shoe brand including Nike themselves who have either tried to top it, tweak it, or just straight up rip it off. Nothing else has and ever will come close and I’m not even entirely sure why. You’d think there’s gotta be something else out there that’s as cool or cooler than elephant print, but I’ll believe it when I see it. Thanks to its impeccable lines, shape and fit and some unexpected high-fashion sensibilities, the Air Jordan III stands alone as the absolute pinnacle of sneaker style. This is the type of shoe that I didn’t even want to put on my list, because it’s on everyone’s list, but that in itself says all you need to know about it. In x amount of years, if we’re not all a pile of post-apocalyptic ashes, the Air Jordan III will still be the flat-out coolest sneaker ever made.
4- Nike Air Max 90 “Infrared”
If neon pink, red and orange had a three-way baby and you set it on fire, it might look something like Infrared. Why does this color look so good on a shoe? I don’t think you can sufficiently put it into words, but when applied correctly, it can elevate a sneaker into the next stratosphere of desirability. The Air Max 90 was clear visual evidence that this Air Max thing was gonna get real interesting, but nothing about it made a louder statement than the vibrant color choice. And over 20 years later, it still speaks just as loud and is still found in just as many sneaker rotations, if not more, as a result. There’s something to be said for a shoe that seems to re-release every 2-3 years and still clears out every time, which brings me to a topic I love to preach about.
In the early days of Air Max, every new model was rolled out in an identifiable flagship colorway that became the lasting face of the shoe – the red and blue versions of the original Air Max 1, the Infrared 90, the persian violet BW, the Ultramarine 180, the neon 95 and the list goes on. Nike abandoned this approach somewhere along the way and I think it has seriously hurt the eventual legacy of later Air Max models. Nowadays, the new yearly Air Max offering may release twelve at a time with none standing out as anything close to a memorable identity for the shoe. When Nike retros the Air Max 2010 in a few years, what colorways will they bring back first? Who knows, but I already don’t want them, and not because it’s not a cool shoe. I’m done. The Infrared 90 is immortally sick.
3- Nike Air Max 1
Within my sneaker collection, there are more Air Max 1’s than any other shoe and it’s actually not even close, so choosing one pair to represent it with so many juicy possibilities up for grabs is no easy task. I’ve decided to go with sort of a cop out and show off a pair of iD’s that I did a few years back. I swear I’m usually way more humble than this, but I think these are the best Nike iD’s I’ve ever seen. The concept was to combine elements of 3 of my all-time favorite sneakers into one. The math goes: Air Jordan IV “Bred” + Air Jordan IV “Cement” x Air Max 1 = I’d like to think the results speak for themselves. The Air Max 1 makes for such a great iD palette and the speckle options they offered for a while were just screaming to be used in a cement-inspired motif.
I think the simplified blocking steals the show on these and the colors came out just right. Even the Hot Red instead of Varsity gives it some added Infrared punch without betraying the theme. As stated before, my love for the Air Max 1 goes deep and so does my AM1 arsenal, but when it comes down to it, these really might be my favorite of them all. I don’t mean to slight all the amazing Nike originals and collaborative efforts that I have tons of love for, but I’m looking at a wall of them right now and I honestly don’t see another pair that I’d rather display here than these. If that’s wrong, I don’t wanna be right.
2- Nike Air Trainer 1
As stated earlier, for most of my childhood, I remember my father wearing New Balance runners with the occasional Stan Smith thrown into the mix. In retrospect, that’s pretty solid by 80’s Dad standards, but at the time, I was all about Nike, so I generally wasn’t too excited about his limited rotation. Not sure if there was a full moon or what, but one night back in 1987, my Dad came home with a pair of “Chlorophyll” Trainer 1’s, a shoe that unequivocally did not mesh with his usual sneaker leanings. The cross-training ideology was a freshly introduced concept at the time, and there was some serious buzz around Nike and this versatile new breed of sneaker. Bo Jackson was wearing them to train in the gym while John McEnroe was playing tennis in them and that actually seemed pretty revolutionary at the time. I guess my Dad took notice for some reason, because not only was it the first pair of Nike’s that I ever saw him wear, but it might have been the coolest pair of shoes I had ever seen, period.
A lot of years have passed, and I can honestly say that not much has ever topped the Air Trainer 1 in my mind. So much of it comes down to that strap and I’ve been a sucker for it ever since. It was the first shoe I can remember to feature a mid-foot strap like that, and it was the coolest thing in the world to me – not because I loved the extra lockdown it gave me when pulled tight, but for how sick it looked when unhooked from the medial side and left flapping and open. My sneaker style has always been more Sidney Deane than Billy Hoyle, so in all these years of buying Nike shoes with straps, I can safely say that I’ve rarely ever actually used any of them for their intended stabilization purposes. I really don’t care how it’s supposed to make my foot feel. I just want it to look cool, and not too many things look cooler to me than a pair of open-strapped Chlorophyll Trainer 1’s. These are re-releasing again later this month and best believe I’ll be picking up some back-ups.
1- Air Jordan IV
I consider myself to be a lover of art, and as we all know, art can be found in all kinds of places – even, and in this case, especially in sneakers. It’s no secret that Tinker Hatfield is an absolute genius and I wouldn’t hesitate to place him on a short list of my all-time favorite artists of any genre or medium. It’s so hard to pick just one favorite, but to me, the Air Jordan IV is his finest masterpiece. It offers a perfect blend of … well, everything and stands as a rare example of sneaker perfection in my eyes. The Air Jordan IV also holds a special place in my heart because it was the first Air Jordan that I ever owned, although it was not the Black/Red which is by far my favorite colorway, but the “Military Blue”, which was plenty fine with me at the time. I was in 5th grade when they hit the clearance rack at Athlete’s Foot for $70, and smelling the opportunity to obtain a previously unthinkable shoe, I went into full used car salesman mode and somehow talked my Mom into going a full $20 above her steadfast sneaker price cap of 50 bucks.
It was a true conquest and once they were in my possession, I became completely mesmerized by the lines and shapes of the shoe. It looked so high-tech and futuristic and I remember sitting down to meticulously draw it several times just so I could understand every curve and detail. That’s probably not normal behavior for a 10-year old kid, but that’s the power that this shoe held over me. It’s now 23 years later and I still feel exactly the same way about it. I’m not completely set in stone on my rankings for any other shoe on this list, but I can say with all certainty that the Air Jordan IV is my favorite sneaker ever and was a no-brainer lock for my top spot. Thanks Tinker.