Let's keep it real: This hasn’t been the best year for sneakers. It’s not that there haven’t been good sneakers released in the past six months, but it's that they've been few and far between. There’s been one "new" Yeezy release, a million colors of adidas’ wildly popular NMD, and a few other shoes that have been just OK.
There’s not one singular reason explaining why the sneaker world has felt mediocre as of late. Maybe it’s adidas “taking over” Nike? Maybe it’s the brands holding off their best releases until later this year? Or maybe it’s all of us looking for something new?
Although there’s complacency in the shoe world right now, Nike’s had a few strong options, adidas has continued to become the brand everyone's talking about, and sneaker fans said farewell to Kobe Bryant (for now).
With all of this going on in the past six months, here are The Best Sneakers of the Year (So Far). (Ed. note: Collaborations were excluded from the list, but you can see the best ones here.)
10. Under Armour Curry 2 "MVP"
When Stephen Curry won his second consecutive NBA MVP, becoming the first player to win unanimously, Under Armour was ready. They immediately released an “MVP Back 2 Back” two-shoe pack featuring a more PE-like version of the previously released Curry 1 MVP and an all-new Curry 2 MVP. It sold out in minutes. The Curry 1 was cool, with all sorts of Curry-specific messaging on the upper and flashy metallic gold highlights. A first MVP kind of shoe. The Curry 2 was more subtle, with a yellow-to-black fade on the upper and just bold “MVP” embroidery on the tongues. “It is what it is,” they seem to say. “We’ll probably get more of these.” It wasn’t a particularly polarizing shoe, just a very good one. Polarizing would have to wait. —Russ Bengtson
9. Y-3 Pure Boost ZG Knit
Truth be told, this was a sneaker that didn’t need any added hype or celebrity co-sign to make this list. The combination of Y-3’s unorthodox design, simple colorways, and the comfort of tech like Primeknit and Boost was already enough to make these one of the year’s best. Then, Instagram ‘heads got their hands on them.
Like I said, the Y-3 Pure Boost ZG Knit was already a great sneaker, but when Fear of God creative director Jerry Lorenzo posted five pairs of them in March, people lost their shit. The image currently has close to 400 comments—most of them asking what shoes they are and where to cop, no doubt—which is more than nearly every photo Lorenzo has ‘grammed of celebs like Justin Bieber.
An already great sneaker quickly became a must-cop for many, and what’s even crazier is that these went on sale and were available for the extra-low at a few spots. If you managed to come up on a pair, consider yourself blessed. —Riley Jones
8. NikeLab Air Force 1 Mid "Vachetta Tan"
Hender Scheme single handedly made vegetable-tanned leather sneakers a trend. Founded by Ryo Kashiwazaki, the Japanese brand is known for taking iconic silhouettes like the Nike Air Force 1 or Air Jordan IV and crafting them in vegetable-tanned leather—and with a $1000 price tag attached. It was only a matter of time before Nike tapped into this pre-existing market. The “Vachetta Tan” Air Jordan 1 Pinnacle is the brand’s most notable use of the leather treatment, but at $400 the price is still steep for many collectors. Enter the “Vachetta Tan” NikeLab Air Force 1 Mid. Using an already undeniably great silhouette, the sneakers feature a vegetable-tanned leather upper clear of any additional branding commonly found on the heel, toe, and velcro strap. The sneaker appears to be completed with a simple white midsole and outsole, but a look at the bottom reveals an icy translucent sole. With a retail price of $165, the “Vachetta Tan” NikeLab Air Force 1 Mid is easily the best bang for your buck when it comes to vegetable-tanned leather sneakers. —Amir Ismael
7. Nike Flyknit Presto
When Nike first unveiled the Flyknit Presto back in January, it was fun to watch commenters and social media heroes attempt to downplay it as an inferior copy of adidas’s Ultraboost—also a knit runner with a synthetic cage—as though Nike had not originally introduced the Presto way back in 2001. The Presto, a T-shirt sized (from XXS to XXL) casual runner, didn’t exactly revolutionize the industry—sequels such as the laceless Presto Chanjo fell flat—but as the style needle swung back towards cozy apres-run (or instead-of-run) shoes like the Ultraboost, Yeezy 350, and Nike’s own Flyknit and Lunar models, appreciation for the model grew. The original was retroed in several original colorways as well as new makeups, but the upgrade made a classic better, with formfitting breathable Flyknit replacing the originals’ neoprene-y upper. They could have added a Lunarlon sole for even more modern-day comfort, but sometimes it’s best to leave well enough alone. After all, they did it first. —Russ Bengtson
6. Nike Kobe 11 "Fade to Black"
This was the last sneaker Kobe Bryant ever wore to play basketball in the NBA. That fact alone would make the Nike Kobe XI “Fade to Black” legendary, but Bryant had more in store for the last stop on his farewell tour. He ended up dropping 60 points in these, adding the perfect ending to his storybook career. These released the day of his final game and were sold out well before he hit the floor, meaning it was a hot sneaker before he made history in them. Nike perfectly executed the “Fade to Black” theme and rollout, treating fans to special-edition versions of the entire Kobe line. This model may not go down as the best sneaker in Bryant’s signature series, but few others will be able to top the memory that will forever be tied to the “Fade to Black” XI. It also became the most-inspiring sneaker moment of 2016 (so far). —Marco H. Negrete
5. Nike Flyknit Racer "Multicolor"
The Flyknit Racer instantly became one of Nike’s best new silhouettes when it debuted in 2012, and the “Multicolor” version that dropped in 2013 was easily one of the most-sought after colorways. After having to pay resell prices for this colorway for years, Nike introduced the “Multicolor 2.0” last fall, but it still wasn’t the O.G. Finally, three years later, the “Multicolor” returned dressed very closely to its original form. With its eye-catching colorway and lightweight construction, this is the ultimate warm weather sneaker, and Nike dropped it just in time for summer. —Marco H. Negrete
4. adidas Yeezy Boost 750 "Grey/Gum"
Another year, another Yeezy, and not much has changed since the sneakers released first released in 2015. The lone adidas Yeezy Boost this year has been a pair of 750s with a grey upper and a glow-in-the-dark sole. Pretty cool, right?
One of the most important things about this Yeezy release wasn’t just the fact that it’s reselling for a crazy amount of money or all of G.O.O.D. Music wearing them on stage together, but the speed at which they sold out. These 750s launched on adidas’ Confirmed app the other week and sold out, literally, within one second. Some might call it rigged, some might say it’s the demand Kanye is creating in the sneaker world right now. Whatever it is, it has our attention —Matt Welty
3. Nike Air More Uptempo "Black/White"
In case you haven’t heard, the basketball sneaker business isn’t exactly booming lately. Sales are down. Certain Air Jordans have struggled to sell out, and retro runners seem to have overtaken retro hoops shoes, at least for the time being.
Still, the Nike Air More Uptempo powers through. The boldly branded sneakers made famous by Scottie Pippen have been completely immune to the retro hoops slump. It’s also surprising to see a shoe with such in-your-face branding doing well during a time when everyone’s on the #minimalism wave.
One of the contributing factors to the Air More Uptempo’s constant sell outs was probably its prominent feature in John Elliott’s Fall/Winter 2016 show at New York Fashion Week in February. At the time, we knew that a retro was on the way, but it’d had been awhile since anyone had last seen them. When Elliott decided to lace his models in the Uptempos to show off his latest handiwork, it spoke volumes and displayed the shoe in a way that many of us hadn’t seen before.
There’s that, and then there’s also the fact that it’s just a great sneaker. Pippen may have put these on the map 20 years ago, but John Elliott can be thanked for bringing them back in such a big way. —Riley Jones
2. Air Jordan IV "White/Cement"
Take an O.G. Air Jordan and put “NIKE AIR” on it and you have a product that people will buy. It’s simple economics. Make it an Air Jordan IV, and it’s even better. That’s why when Jordan Brand decided to retro the “White/Cement” IV this year, complete with O.G. details, consumers were more than pleased. While priced at $220 made folks question whether they were going to pick up a pair, most of them ended up pulling the trigger. And that’s saying a lot: Usually people are hesitant of wearing or buying mostly white Jordans, but the “White/Cements” are a different case. Maybe it’s because of what Michael Jordan actually did in the sneakers, or that nearly all of Tinker Hatfield’s sneakers refuse to fade into time and become relics of a footwear yesteryear. Whatever the case, the “White/Cement” IVs released this year, and Nike did them the right way. Not much more needs to be said. —Matt Welty
1. adidas NMD "Glitch Camo"
The adidas NMD came out of nowhere last year. No one believed that it really would be adidas' next great sneaker, but that’s exactly what happened. Designed by Nick Galway, the man behind Kanye’s Yeezy line, the NMD borrowed from three vintage adidas shoes: The Micropacer, Boston Super, and Rising Star. But when you look at the NMD, it’s a completely new design, complete with a primeknit upper and Boost sole.
Adidas decided to make pairs with a Primeknit upper and others with mesh, the latter being cheaper and more readily available. The best of the ones to release this year, though, is the black “Glitch Camo,” which is already fetching resell prices of $750. Pretty crazy for a sneaker that didn't garner instant hype last December. The best thing about the NMD is that people are actually buying these sneakers to wear them, not to keep them pretty in a box. What more could you ask for? —Matt Welty