The glory days of sneakers may have occurred in the '80s and '90s, but 2015 really was a banner year for footwear as a whole. It saw brands create new technology that looked stellar, recreate quality retro product, and even snag up celebrities to produce original shoes.
What was positive about 2015 wasn't just that Jordan Brand celebrated its 30th anniversary and made the sneakers we'd been waiting on (although that happened), but that there was a strong variety of shoes for everyone. Those who were waiting for the new flagship Air Max model weren't disappointed, neither were the folks who were waiting to see what kind of magic adidas could cook up to make a run at Nike.
Then there was Kanye West.
Rappers had gotten their own sneakers before: some good, some downright awful. But adidas had a plan for Kanye. The brand used its Boost technology to, literally, boost West's first two sneaker designs, also using its other proprietary invention, Primeknit, to complete the Yeezy Boost 350—one of this year's most-talked-about shoes.
That wasn't even half of this calendar year, though, as there were bringbacks of Nike running sneakers, ASICS models being given premium makeovers, and more. To simplify things, there were no collaborations put on this list. With that said, here are The Best Sneakers of 2015.
The debate starts now.
25. Under Armour Curry One "MVP"
Under Armour snatched Stephen Curry away from Nike at the end of 2013, and a year and a half later they've become more relevant in basketball sneakers than ever before. The UA Curry One launched in February of 2015 in the limited-edition colorway inspired by Stephen Curry's Most Valuable Player award that stood out from the rest. The Golden State Warriors colorways of the UA Curry One sold well, but when the MVP, draped in black, white, and gold dropped in June — just as Curry and his team locked up their NBA Championship. It sold out within hours, the way we've come to expect Yeezys and Jordans to, proving that it is a game changer. Although Nike still owns 96 percent of the basketball shoe market in the U.S., the Curry One MVP release proves that Under Armour and Curry are on the right track to become competitive when it comes to basketball sneakers...eventually. —Nick Engvall
24. Nike Cortez "Forrest Gump"
For all intents and purposes, the Cortez is the sneaker that started it all for Nike. It's not the first piece of footwear ever produced by the brand, originally formed as Blue Ribbon Sports, but it's the most time-honored shoe still kicking in the company's arsenal. For 2015, Nike decided to bring back the silhouette the same way it looked in 1972, with a swooped cut around the ankle and better leather. Then the brand added the most memorable colorway the Cortez is known for: white, red, and blue, which was made famous by Tom Hanks in Forrest Gump and hadn't been on retailer's shelves in a few years.
The Cortez is a sneaker that's always going to be strong, no matter how old it gets. But it's also encouraging to see Nike dip into its archives and pull out the shoe in a way that people have been waiting for. It's a sign of good things to come, and when people complain about the quality of retros, this sneaker is, literally a conversation ender. —Matt Welty
23. ASICS GEL-Lyte III "Made in Japan"
A few years ago, it was the bright colors on highly coveted releases that were all the rage, but now it’s shifted to all-minimal-everything when it comes to footwear. ASICS laced its iconic Gel Lyte III with vegetable-tanned leather, which were crafted by hand in Japan, giving people something special for the sneaker's 25th anniversary. The price tag might have had some shook at $500, but with only 255 pairs produced, there wasn't time to hesitate on copping a pair. We are all about these and more releases like this in the future, as long as the product is just as on point as these Japan-made sneakers. —Brandon Edler
22. Nike Air Max Zero
Tinker Hatfield didn’t invent Nike Air. Instead, he did something revolutionary to the cushioning technology that would completely change the sneaker landscape for decades. With the creation of his Air Max 1 sneaker, visible Air was born and Nike finally found a way to show off its cushioning innovation. But this didn’t happen overnight—it was a process that took several designs and iterations. As part of this year’s second annual Air Max Day to celebrate 28 years since the debut of the Air Max 1, Nike went back into the archives and uncovered Hatfield’s earliest sketch of what would eventually become the Air Max 1. This was the one before the 1, the Air Max Zero. The prototype was sleek, minimal, and unlike anything you’d expect from a silhouette with a large air unit. When the sneaker finally released for Air Max Day, it provided a gateway into Hatfield’s mind and a time capsule for one of the most influential Nike franchises. —John Marcelo
21. Nike LeBron 13
Signature line sneakers are still imperative for brands' success, and Nike still has the hottest athlete on its roster. Every summer we wait for the spy shots of LeBron James' last sneaker or for him to rock a pair during some event. When the 13s were first seen on foot, it definitely made people feel some type of way. The sneaker's technological advances continue to impress, and anytime you can meet the specifications for a player that moves like an off guard with Karl Malone’s size, you are doing something right. Not to mention that you know Nike is going to drop a handful of colorways that are going to cause havoc on Saturday mornings, the LeBron 13 is tough. —Brandon Edler
20. Nike Air Max 2016
Nike’s annual Air Max release has been underrated the past few years but the 2015 model was a shift in the right direction, and it only picked up for the 2016, which released towards the tail end of this year. What made this particular version matter was that it came with a Flyknit upper featuring a forefoot Swoosh, resulting in a clean runner with mainstream appeal. It's sure to have Air Max moving units off the shelf again. If you haven’t laced up a pair, don’t sleep, this sneaker is worthy of hitting the rotation for everyday wear. —Brandon Edler
19. Nike Free Mercurial Superfly
When it comes to sports, the world of sneakers is pretty much dominated by basketball and training. But 2015 saw Nike double down on taking boots from the soccer pitch and put them onto the pavement. The Flyknit Mercurial Superfly, a modification to Cristiano Ronaldo’s signature soccer boot complete with ankle collar, took on a new life. While the first pair, a blacked-out, grey soled version, released alongside the opening of NikeLab in 2014 and a volt yellow model followed soon after, a handful of new colorways came to the shoe in 2015 and turned it from a one-off, flash in the pan to a covetable piece of athletic, yet wearable, footwear. Mashing together the technology with an incredibly comfortable, sock-like fit, the Superfly continues to change how we look at wearing sneakers outside of sports and a new meaning to the term “high-top.” —Skylar Bergl
18. Nike Kyrie 1 "Double Nickel"
Cleveland Cavaliers guard Kyrie Irving scored a career-high 55 points in January of this year, a personal record that stood for all of two months before he dropped 57 in March. But 57 doesn’t have the basketball resonance of 55—think Jordan’s famous double nickel five games into his 1995 comeback—so when it came time to commemorate a Kyrie career moment on his first signature shoe, the choice was simple. Rewind for a moment. The Kyrie 1, which initially launched in December of 2014, was Nike’s first all-new basketball signature model since the first Durant. At $110, it was competing with takedowns, but its high-fashion cued design, synthetic upper and Zoom Air forefoot cushioning equipped it to stand with the big boys. The Double Nickel, which launched in late November, featured a clean white upper, metallic red Swooshes, and nickel-like silver medallions on each tongue. In addition, the “2” on the back of each was flipped to look like a 5. The promo-only Uncle Drews were great, but in terms of significance, availability, and sheer wearability, these may be the best Kyries yet. —Russ Bengtson
17. Nike Air Footscape Magista
Leave it to Nike designer Nathan Vanhook to turn a performance football boot into a lifestyle sneaker. Vanhook spent nearly three years working for Nike’s Sportswear division, designing sneakers that seamlessly complemented casual, everyday outfits. If there was anyone who could turn footwear for the pitch into a street-ready design, it’s Vanhook. As Nike Soccer’s design director, he introduced the Air Footscape Magista. The hybrid silhouette, which combines the rugged Air Footscape tooling with the sleek, second-skin upper of the Magista boot, is a perfect example of blending old technology with the latest and greatest to achieve something just as good as the original. Not only did Nike win with sneakerheads and the menswear crowd with monochromatic colorways, but it also put the sneaker on the radar of rabid football fans by releasing an entire pack inspired by some of the national teams in the 2015 FIFA Women's World Cup tournament. Hybrid sneakers can usually present issues—one that could upset diehards from both sides of the coin—but Nike and Vanhook executed this one perfectly to create a completely radical silhouette. —John Marcelo
16. NikeLab Air Flight 89
Any sneakerhead who was paying attention to sneakers in the late ‘80s will tell you the significance of the Nike Air Flight 89. With tooling similar to the Air Jordan IV, the scripted “Flight” logo on the tongue, a visible Air Unit and Nike Air on the heel, the Flight 89 served as an alternative for those that couldn’t get their hands on the Jordan IV. Fast forward 25 years and some months later and the Flight 89 still has a cult-like following but in 2015, Nike churned out some crack colorways to bring a new line up of fans to the basketball-turned-casual sneaker. The NikeLab version of the Flight 89 came in five colorways: Black, White, Obsidian, Gym Red and Vachetta Tan. Each colorway featured a tonal upper and white midsole and outsole, making it perfect for O.G.s looking to relive their youth and basic boys trying to prove their worth with a minimalist style. —Nick Engvall
15. Nike Air Trainer Cruz
The Air Trainer Cruz definitely had the odds stacked against it. For one, signature sneakers by pro football players have been hit or miss as of late. Two, with Victor Cruz being sidelined to a nagging calf injury, it could've been challenging to sell a sneaker when the athlete-turned-designer was out for the season. But good product triumphs all as the Air Trainer Cruz quickly sold out. We repeatedly heard, “It looked better in person, than early leaked pics on the ‘net." Taking cues from all the sneakers Cruz grew up loving and marrying them into one seamless sneaker was a tough task, but #80 pulled it off. And the Haystack colorway? It’s tough like a pair of Timberlands. Feel free to wear into the early months of 2016. —Joe La Puma
14. Jordan CP3.IX “Friends & Family”
Chris Paul's sneaker line with Jordan Brand has been long-running, but it's never been highlighted as something that appeals to lifestyle consumers. The company decided to make a change this year with the CP3.IX and made two friends-and-family versions of the model: one in green suede with a gum sole and the other in vegetable-tanned leather. Both looked great but the kicker was that there were only 33 pairs of each style manufactured. Jordan Brand had influencers roll out the sneakers on social media, and it put the CP3 in a place that gave it credibility with those looking for something other than performance footwear. It's unclear if there will be more pairs made in this vein, as Paul is more likely to be seen in exclusive one-off colorways of Jordan retros than creating strong color stories behind his inline product. But it shows that a good shoe is a good shoe, regardless if it's a silhouette that people are checking for or not. —Matt Welty
13. Nike Flyknit Racer "Multicolor 2.0"
It’s already been proven that good things happen when Nike puts together a “Multicolor” Flyknit sneaker. Sticking to a tried and true formula that’s resulted in numerous coveted HTM and general release Flyknit styles, Nike returned this year with the “Multicolor 2.0”—a highly anticipated follow-up to a similar colorway of the Flyknit Racer from 2013. And while two years had passed since the debut pair, there was just as much anticipation and fervor for this latest drop. Nike even planned a special release procedure that allowed early access to the new colorway just days before its scheduled release date. The catch: You had to have registered for a Nike Run Club event in the past to be eligible for a chance at an access code. It was a move that was more about giving runners first dibs than it was about trying to stop bots. Nike effectively rewarded consumers who participated in its running events, and for a sneaker designed on the foundation of performance running, the early release made every sense. —John Marcelo
12. Air Jordan VI "White/Maroon"
There are very few original Air Jordan colorways that have not been recreated over the years in retro form. The Air Jordan VI originally dropped in 1991 in five colorways. Of the original five, only one colorway was never worn by Michael Jordan in an NBA game, and that’s the “Maroon” colorway. Although, Jordan did wear the Maroon Air Jordan VI in some promotional photos. Now there will finally be a retro version of the Air Jordan 6 “Maroon” colorway. Thanks to Jordan Brand’s new “remastered” edition approach to retro models, this sneaker is one of the truest to original form we’ve seen over the years. Most importantly to sneakerheads and true to its original early ‘90s form, Nike Air appears on the heel. The 2015 version of the sneaker also features a semi-translucent outsole and lace lock complete with Nike branding on one side and Jumpman logo on the opposite, again staying true to O.G. form. You can’t ask for much more when it comes to retros. —Nick Engvall
11. Nike Air Presto "Unholy Cumulus"
2015 wasn't quite "the year of the Presto," but it was one of Nike's best retros in the past 12 months. The Air Presto, designed by Tobie Hatfield in 2000, is one of those shoes that tends to pop up every so often in limited quantities, but this year saw Nike re-release several of the key colorways that made the sneaker well-received in the first place. The Presto, which is sized after T-shirts (S,M,L, etc.), also came in several different fabrications and Nike brought back a few original color schemes with varying materials — most notably the "Lightning" and "Unholy Cumulus." Both pairs looked great, but the Cumulus, with its airy mesh and slight pop colors, was perfect for this year. It's reception was met the same way. Retros of older running sneakers don't exactly fly from the shelves, but the Cumulus was well-received. It's also a good sign that Nike isn't slowing down on the Prestos in 2016, either, with a recently revealed NIKEiD program. There's a time and place for everything to be cherished, and recently it's the Presto, in part to how ahead of its time the sneaker was. —Matt Welty
10. Nike Air Force 1 Remastered "Summit White/Wolf Grey"
The white/silver Nike Air Force 1 high was the very first Air Force 1 back in 1982. It was different from all those that came after, with its mesh sidepanels and non-perforated vamp, different enough that it came to be known as the Air Force Zero. The most recent remaster is not that. It’s all leather, with perforations. But it’s still special.
Honestly, the Air Force 1 should have received the remastering honor first, before any Air Jordan. Because without the Air Force 1, Nike’s first technologically advanced basketball shoe, there likely is no Air Jordan. The remastered version brought things back to the essence, with better leathers and the original all-caps Nike Air heel branding, that AIR in italics looking as if it’s ready to slide right off the shoe. Anyone whose experience with Nike started before 1985 will get in their feelings just seeing that. As for the $140 price point, sure it’s high for those used to under-$100 Air Force 1s. But given what this shoe was, and what it means, that’s still a bargain. —Russ Bengtson
9. Nike Air Max 1 "Patch"
Back in February, Nike dropped a trio of Air Max 1s that rose above all other Air Maxes of the year. Heavy on the military inspiration, the Sand, Black, and Olive options are essentially a deconstruction of camouflage, which was seen on an extensive pack from 2013, featuring different Air Max-wearing nations' selective camo print and flags on the shoes. These ones? Well, they were made to rep the U.S.A. No details were spared with this pack, which featured a premium canvas upper, synthetic mudguard, and of course the air cushioning that completes each of Tinker Hatfield’s Air Max 1 masterpieces.
What really separated these three from the other Air Maxes of the year were the 22 commemorative patches that came with each pair and paid homage to significant people, places, and moments in the iconic sneaker’s 28-year history. The patches could be applied to the velcro tongue and heel cap for a crazy amount of customizable options, allowing each wearer to keep their pair unique. However, the muted tones of this pack are so dope that the question wasn't what patch to rock, it was whether you were gonna cop one pair of the whole pack. —James Harris
8. adidas Yeezy 750 Boost
Adidas owned All Star Weekend in NYC, and it all started with Kanye’s first release with The Three Stripes. The Ugg memes might have been all over your IG timeline shortly after Ibn Jasper debuted them on his social media accounts, but everyone was going crazy trying to lock down a pair on the Confirmed app. The design was influenced by some of Kanye’s favorite non-athletic sneakers, and the high-end feel was different than any other offering Yeezus has offered us in the past. The 350s will have longer staying power but with rumored future colorways of the 750, it’s going to end up being just as memorable as Ye’s previous designs. —Brandon Edler
7. Nike Air Max 95 "Neon"
Any year the Nike Air Max 95 is re-issued in the "Neon" colorway is a good year, which means practically every year since its inception. But 2015 was different. For the 20th anniversary of the sneaker, Nike decided to take it back to its roots and put the PSI ratings that appeared on the original version and early retros, but had since disappeared. The grey color on the toe was also brought back, which was not present on retros the History of Air pack in 2005. What makes this sneaker great isn't just Nike choosing to reproduce one of its best sneakers: It's how it was done. The fact that every little detail was paid attention to proved that the brand knew who it had in mind from the start: those who are passionate about the Air Max 95, which is apparently a core audience. Every time the "Neon" comes back, people will buy it, but this time felt like it was more necessary than previous times. —Matt Welty
6. HTM x Nike Kobe X Elite Low
For the second consecutive year, streetwear legend Hiroshi Fujiwara, designer Tinker Hatfield, and Nike CEO Mark Parker blessed Kobe Bryant’s signature sneaker with a special HTM iteration. Using the Kobe X, the three minds immediately did something with the model that hadn’t been done with Kobe’s tenth signature sneaker up to that point, and that was the integration of Flyknit technology—something that sneakerheads were greatly spoiled with when the Kobe 9 dropped.
True to HTM standards, the three-sneaker collection released in limited quantities at the NikeLab store in Milan and quickly fetched upwards of $4,000 at the time on eBay. A wider release eventually hit the U.S. market months later in October—an unannounced online release and a NikeLab raffle.
While the hype could easily be attributed to the power behind HTM branding, let’s not dismiss the fact that the Kobe X is truly an innovative sneaker with a performance-driven design that could easily be adopted off the court. Without the HTM co-sign, the Kobe X is still a top sneaker. If anything, it only further proved that Nike should’ve used Flyknit technology on the Kobe X right from jump instead of waiting months later to introduce it on the Elite line. —John Marcelo
5. Nike Sock Dart
One of this year's best retro sneakers is one that no one was waiting on, and that's part of its appeal. First released in 2004, the Sock Dart was created in similar fashion to Nike's HTM products, although it wasn't officially given that distinction. Thanks to Hiroshi Fujiwara, who's part of the HTM crew, his design group, fragment design, was the chosen lens to reintroduce the Sock Dart. 11 years later and the sneaker doesn't feel like the result of an extensive reach into Nike's archives, but rather a sign that Nike was way ahead of the game over a decade ago. Every colorway that's released thus far has instantly sold out.
While that might not sound crazy in today's sneaker environment of everything becoming "ultra-limited," that sort of reaction is typically reserved for Air Jordans or collaborations between coveted designers and stores such as Ronnie Fieg and Concepts. The Sock Dart was able to branch out and appeal to many facets of the footwear-obsessive crowd. Runner heads loved it because it could be worn with a clean pinroll and was the right side of futuristic. While everyone else dug it because it was lightweight and easily packable. But the main caveat of the Sock Dart is that some sneakers need years to allot themselves. —Matt Welty
4. Air Jordan IV "Oreo"
The Air Jordan IV originally released in 1989 and become famous thanks to Michael Jordan's moments like “The Shot” over Craig Ehlo. 10 years later, after Michael Jordan retired for the second time, the Jordan IV returned as a retro. In addition to the original colorways, the Retro+ model was introduced, including the “Oreo” version. The "Oreo" Retro IV LS that released this year was one of the first of the Remastered series, which, in most cases, meant significantly improved quality and craftsmanship over the past retro releases. When it comes to the Retro+ releases, one of the most significant changes is the leather heel tab, which is leaps and bounds more comfortable than the plastic versions. The upgraded tumbled leather and simple, wearable colorway of this sneaker makes it one of the best non-O.G. colors ever, and the 2015 version is arguably better than the 1999 release. —Nick Engvall
3. adidas Yeezy Boost 350
No one is a bigger lighting rod in sneaker culture than Kanye West. He dissed Nike, the two parties had a terrible breakup, he said he was going to make products available for everyone with adidas (spoiler: he didn’t), and in the process he pissed off a lot of people trying to buy his sneakers. It’s not all negative for ‘Ye, though. The Yeezy Boost 350 was probably Kanye’s most wearable footwear design yet. It checks the boxes when it comes to functionality using Primeknit on the upper and the universally loved Boost sole, and from a fashion standpoint it looks pretty good with tailored sweatpants. Kanye proved once again when it comes to the hype machine, it starts and ends with him. But hype aside, the 350 is one of the standout sneakers of the year. —Joe La Puma
2. Air Jordan 1 "Chicago"
If you asked most people what the most important sneaker of all time is, a good majority would say the Air Jordan 1 “Chicago.” Originally released in 1985, the Chicago AJ1 has served many purposes over the years. Of course, MJ debuted them on court in November of 1984 and eventually made them even more iconic during the NBA Playoffs against the Boston Celtics by wearing them to drop 63 points. Basketball wasn’t the only reason the Jordan 1 was important, however. The Jordan 1 was also an important sneaker for skaters in the ‘80s. For those reasons, when the Air Jordan 1 Chicago dropped earlier this year, in the O.G. high cut with the Nike Air branding on the tongue, it stirred up memories for people who hadn’t thought about buying a pair of Js in years. Of course, that meant it was a pain in the ass for sneakerheads to cop, so you’re lucky if you got a pair. —Nick Engvall
1. adidas Ultra Boost
Boost is what everyone's been talking about as of late, mainly in part to the technology, first developed in a laboratory by BASF, being attached to Kanye West's adidas sneakers. But there's another shoe, which the brand dubs as the best running shoe ever, that's a cut above the rest. That's the Ultra Boost. The comfort of the runner is like no other, but it's the perfect example of when a brand blends performance with a lifestyle look and gets it right. It didn't hurt that West co-signed the Ultra Boost, either, helping the all-white pair sell out within minutes. But that's not even the best colorway in my opinion. Adidas had the foresight to first release in a black/purple pair, and it mimicked an "O.G." vibe that will surely be remembered. Beyond that, people were customizing their Ultra Boosts and cutting off the cages to make them look even cleaner, giving the sneaker a sock-like look with its slip-on construction. Then there are the details: such as the "Ultra Boost" writing on the heel, which was applied the same way that car companies such as Mercedes Benz or BMW place writing on the back of an automobile. It's good to see a new and technical sneaker take the top spot any year, and 2015 is no exception. It's not easy to make a shoe and have it appeal to both connoisseur sneaker folks and people who want something comfortable to wear everyday, but that's exactly what adidas was able to do, even with the whole world focused on when the next Yeezy will drop. —Matt Welty