Nike SB vs Vans

by Purposeful Footwear - Last Updated: February 15, 2019

There’s nothing quite like the rush of zipping through urban city-scapes the way that skateboarding allows. Fast-paced, intense, and physically demanding, this urban sport isn’t just for anyone. So whether you’re a beginner hoping to get a feel of skateboarding for the first time, or a pro trying to improve your skateboarding prowess, it’s essential that you have the right gear.

Image of the Vans Unisex Old Skool Black/White Skate Shoe 5.5 Men US / 7 Women US

Currently, there are two brands battling it out neck and neck to take the cake as the best shoe for skateboarding. In my opinion, both the Nike SB line and Vans have different benefits to offer their buyers. But because there can only be one winner, I’d definitely have to go with Vans – a dedicated skateboarding footwear brand that has almost perfected the ideal skateboard shoe template.

What made me choose between these two footwear brand juggernauts? Here’s my take on both of these great choices.

An Overview of Vans Skateboarding Shoes

Vans has been around for 51 years, offering great skateboarding shoes which the company considers its bread and butter. Needless to say, many skateboarding enthusiasts choose this brand over any other because they’re specifically focused on developing and manufacturing skateboarding gear.

Over the years, it seems that Vans has perfected the general skateboard shoe design. The company leverages vintage canvas uppers and rubber soles for most of their models. This gives each shoe a distinct Vans look, feel, and function that’s both familiar and effective.

Performance wise, Vans definitely delivers. Its unique shoe design is one of the things that the brand takes pride in. They try to maximizes durability, grip, and feel which are all essential factors for skateboarding enthusiasts. Plus, since they come at a very reasonable price, the Vans make a very smart investment for those who want a skateboard shoe for the long haul.

An Overview of the Nike Skateboarding Line

Not to be outdone, Nike has also stepped into the skateboarding market. Their first ever skateboarding shoe entered the spotlight in 1997, but failed to gain a following as it wasn’t seen as a core brand. Competition was tight at the time, with brands like Vans and DC dominating the market. So despite Nike’s general popularity as a sports footwear brand, it couldn’t manage to squeeze in with the skateboarding intensive brands already present.

In 2002, Nike decided to re-enter the market by revamping their line-up of skateboard shoes. This is when they came out with the SB line, featuring full-length Zoom Air insoles and incorporating some design cues from more prominent brands available. Sure enough, it was met with pretty good reviews, so Nike was able to wiggle into the market despite its late start.

Today, Nike has quite a few skateboarding shoes on the market, mostly featuring the low profile appearance that’s been a hit with skateboarders all over the globe. They’ve also come out with a bunch of SB shoes that are designed more for fashion than function, which has extended their reach beyond just skateboarding enthusiasts.

Battle of the Skateboarding Shoes

There are quite a number of factors to consider if you’re thinking of buying a pair of top notch skateboarding shoes. So to help you make an easier decision, I’ve listed the main factors you need to think of, and how both Vans and Nike meet these standards.

For the purpose of this comparison, we’ll be using the Vans Old Skool Core Classic and the Nike SB Stefan Janoski which are both premium picks from both brands. I’ll be listing down some honorable mentions as we go though, so you have a better idea of who wins each category.

Comfort and Fit

It’s vital that your shoes give you the feel and comfort that’s necessary for optimal skateboarding performance. With the right fit and comfort, you can avoid any foot placement and postural compensation that could cause injury and poor performance.

In this arena, the Vans Old Skool Core Classic is a top performer. The shoes reduce pressure on bony prominences of the feet by way of a padded collar and plushly cushioned foot bed. This allows users to bend, move, and slide comfortably without worrying about developing sores and blisters.

Image of the Vans Unisex Old Skool Black/White Skate Shoe 9 Men US / 10.5 Women US

In terms of fit, Vans offers a narrow shoe construction that provides a snug hug around your feet. This is ideal to prevent your shoes from flying off as you perform those complicated board tricks.

With the Nike SB Stefan Janoski design, you get the Lunarlon insoles which reduces impact and protects your sole for utmost comfort even for high impact tricks. The improved tongue design and the elastic bands also help keep the shoe snugly in place as you go through the skateboarding motions.

Image of the Nike Zoom Stefan Janoski Black / Gum Light Brown / Metallic Gold Star / White Skate Shoes-Men 11.0, Women 12.5

If I’d have to choose a winner, I’d have to call it a tie. Both shoes have unique comfort and fit designs that put them at an advantage over other choices. Generally, they ultimately result to the same outcomes – and that is comfortable skating experience minus the blisters and bruises.

Board Feel

With skateboarding, any shoes that put too much hindrance between your feet and your skateboard can be detrimental to your performance. Thus the category board feel. This basically pertains to how well you can feel your board under your feet, despite having shoes on. With greater feel comes greater control, and this means you can execute more complicated tricks without losing your board.

To give you a greater feel of your board, the Vans brand of skateboarding shoes uses a waffle outsole which looks a lot like a tightly spaced hollowed out honeycomb. This gives it superior traction without sacrificing board feel. The signature sole design appears on most – if not all – Vans skateboarding shoes.

Image of the Vans Unisex Old Skool Black/White Skate Shoe 9 Men US / 10.5 Women US

The Nike SB Janoski design on the other hand, uses a rubber sole that incorporates a geometric design that overlaps with tightly spaced curving treads. While this does improve grip, the sole is significantly thicker than the Vans’. Plus, with so much surface area making contact with the board, the sole tends to wear out much faster.

Image of the Nike Men's Zoom Stefan Janoski CNVS Blk/White/Gm Lght Skate Shoe 10.5 Men US

So in this category, I’ll have to choose the Vans over the Nike Janoski’s. They give greater control since the design is better optimized for board feel.

If you’re looking for a Nike SB alternative with better board feel, the SB Portmore Ultralight Mesh Skate Shoe might be a better choice.

Flick and Grip

Grip pertains to how well your shoes can keep you planted on your board. Flick indicates how well your shoes permit board tricks that require you to take your feet off the surface. Usually, the relationship between these two factors is inversely proportional. That is, more grip means less flick, and more flick means less grip.

At this point, I want to talk about the Vans Classic Slip-On. The shoes are particularly sleeker and slimmer than other designs, using the same outsole waffle cut-out tread while giving you a slimmer, more permissive upper. This means it bends and flexes to mimic your feet’s movements to a T, so you can get the results you want out of each flick trick.

Image of the Vans Men Classic Slip-On (White/True White)

Even then, the treads incorporate the same outsole design, so if you want to keep your feet planted, they’re pretty solid as well.

Nike’s best performer in this category is the Dunk Low Premium SB Skate Shoe. With a full-length EVA midsole and a Zoom Air unit inside the insole, the shoes are highly responsive to your movements. The extra bounce makes them easier to maneuver with flicks, and the rubber outsole treads helps make sure they stay on the board when you want them to.

Image of the NIKE Men's Dunk Low Pro IW Green Glow/Black Summit White Skate Shoe 11.5 Men US

So, who wins? It’s a close call, but I’d have to go with Vans. The shoes just feel a whole lot lighter, which is the only reason why they win the category. They would have ended up in a tie had the Dunks been designed with a more light weight silhouette.

Impact Support

Ankle injuries are common with skateboarding because of the impact that the joints usually sustain in order to execute tricks. So it’s important that your shoes have the right cushions and support system to prevent injuries from impact.

The Vans Old Skool Core Classics feature ample padding around the ankles and an impact absorbing insole cushion. This system reduces the shock around the ankles, so you can bounce back from impact without injury.

On the other hand, the Nike offers the Zoom Air technology. This provides superior bounce and responsiveness, reducing the impact on your ankles and feet. Responsiveness may be too bouncy for skateboard recovery though since the tech was developed for basketball. So you might feel some lift after you land as a result of the highly responsive insole design.

So, for this category, the Vans definitely win my bet. The impact support the shoes provide keep you firmly planted right after you land, so you don’t need to worry about losing your balance or making an effort post-flick.

The Bottom Line

All things considered, I’d have to place my vote in favor of Vans skateboarding shoes. The years the company has spent designing and manufacturing these shoes shines through with each of their models. So it’s not hard to see why it has earned a reputation as the leading skateboarding brand on the market.

Without comparison though, the Nike SB line-up can be a pretty good choice for casual skateboarders. Nike has definitely put up a mighty fight despite having entered the market just a few years ago. So now it enjoys its place as a formidable opponent for other long-standing skateboard shoes juggernauts.

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