The end of a very long and weird year is in sight. Anything from hiking, to puzzles, to knitting, to infinite amounts of walks with our pets may have been among the sources of entertainment throughout stretches of the past twelve months. With all due respect to our furry friends because we absolutely love them, nothing kept us more sane or more connected to what seems like a previous lifetime than sneakers.
Throughout 2020, we bought, debated, looked at, and obsessed over shoes like we did in 2019, 2018, and so on. And that was alright. Comforting. We sneaker collectors remained as dedicated as ever to the culture that never ceases to not amaze us with Dunks that look like ice cream cartons or Air Jordan 4s that sorta don’t look like Air Jordan 4s at all. Yes, it’s that deep, and nothing is gonna convince us otherwise.
Without getting any more emotional, the time has come for us to now celebrate some of the best sneaker releases of the year. More pointedly, the Top 10 Sneakers of 2020. Here, you’ll find ten kicks that fit in the criteria described in the last paragraph.
And in an effort to make things even more interesting, we turned the voting over to you with bracket-style, head-to-head Instagram Story polls last week to determine which shoe reigns supreme as the very best of 2020. The final ranking of the ten was determined by your voting results.
These are the Top 10 Sneakers of the Year, selected by us, and you!
You had to know Nike was planning something special for this year’s Air Max Day festivities with the Air Max 90 celebrating its 30-year anniversary in 2020. And that they did. Released alongside the debuting Air Max 2090, the Air Max 90 “Reverse Duck Camo” is a nod to a classic colorway in the Air Max pantheon: the atmos “Duck Camo” Air Max 90 from 2013. Doing exactly as its nickname implies, the “Reverse Duck Camo” flips the order of colors that originally appeared on the atmos shoe for a refreshing new design. Even though the “Reverse Duck Camo” doesn’t have any official ties to atmos, a great shoe is a great shoe no matter who designed it.
The adidas Yeezy Boost 700 MNVN “Triple Black” gets our vote for the best debut model for 2020 in Kanye West’s lineup. Originally released by adidas back in February, the fourth iteration of Kanye West’s “dad shoe” was the subject of much fanfare upon its entrance. The Yeezy Boost 700 MNVN features no sewn-on overlays in favor of reflective “700” branding across the upper (appearing backwards on the right shoe), and the same old-reliable Boost cushioning in the chunky midsole. We still don’t know what “MNVN” actually means, but we’re here for this sleek update to the 700.
8. Joe Freshgoods x New Balance 992 “No Emotions Are Emotions”
When was the last time a New Balance shoe commanded the kind of attention Joe Freshgoods’ “No Emotions Are Emotions” 992 did over the NBA All-Star Weekend’s annual sneaker mania? When was the last time New Balance even dropped something over All-Star Weekend? If you don’t have an answer, then that should clue you in to how monumental the “anatomy of a heart” colorway is and was. Not only did Joe freak the 992 like no one had before, the hype surrounding the shoe carried over onto New Balance’s other collaborations with the likes of JJJJound, WTAPS, and more. The “No Emotions Are Emotions” 992 was a coming out party for Joe and New Balance during one of the year’s biggest weekends for sneakers and sports. If that weren’t enough, we won’t soon forget the line of eager sneakerheads chomping at the bit in front of Fat Tiger Workshop waiting to get their hands on something cooked up by the native Chicagoan.
Since 2009, Jordan Brand has released an annual Air Jordan 11 for the holiday season. The themes of these releases have revolved around returning retro colorways or new designs meant to salute the Air Jordan 11’s role as Michael Jordan’s signature shoe during the Chicago Bulls’ improbable ‘95-96 NBA season. Fate would have it that this year’s release, the “Jubilee,” does neither. Instead, the “Jubilee” references an original sketch drawn up by the architect of the Jordan 11, Tinker Hatfield. The “JORDAN” branding that appears on the outside of the eyelets of the “Jubilee” is supposedly how Hatfield intended the shoe to originally look, but the concept was scratched prior to production. It continues the now eleven-year-long (12 years if you count the Countdown Pack in 2008) tradition of holiday Air Jordan 11 releases we need in our collections.
6. The Grateful Dead x Nike SB Dunk Low
Only someone with insane psychic powers would have foreseen Nike SB teaming up with the Grateful Dead for three fuzzy Dunks for the ages. This Dunk is the sixth, and perhaps most eccentric, shoe on our top ten sneakers of the year list. The design is complete with fuzzy faux fur panels, charming “Dancing Bears” emblems on the tongue and insole, and a concealed stash pocket on the tongue for storage space for, well, you know. The pairing of the Grateful Dead, a classic rock group that came of age fifty years ago, and the irreverent Nike SB skate crew seems weird on paper, but it’s not. And since when does Nike SB ever do anything expected, anyway? Unequivocally, both entities boast unwavering fan bases. And we’re willing to bet more than a few people who’ve laced up a pair of SB Dunks to skate or chill in have listened to or at least vibe with the Grateful Dead and their peace-be-with-you ethos.
Holding down the fifth spot on our Top 10 Sneakers of 2020 is the Air Jordan 4 “Fire Red.” Perhaps the most nostalgic shoe on this list, the “Fire Red” returned in true-to-original fashion in November. We’re talking about the original shape, materials, Nike-branded hang tag, color coordination, and shoe trees. And most importantly, it came with “Nike Air” on the heel, too. You’ll have to go all the way back to 1989 to find the last time this perfect storm of attributes underpinned an Air Jordan 4 “Fire Red.” So to say that people were hyped that they could finally get their hands on an original Jordan 4 colorway spec’d out per the way Tinker Hatfield drew it up, would be an understatement.
Find us a sneaker that isn’t surrounded by some form of pre-release debate and we’ll show you a shoe that no one is really checking for. Obviously people were going to debate at length over the adjusted height of the Union x Air Jordan 4’s tongue and off-the-beaten-path color block, because that’s what sneaker collectors do. A finicky bunch, that we are. When the dust settled and people actually had this masterpiece dreamed up by Chris Gibbs and company in their hands, well, all that jawing and jabbering subsided. The Union x Jordan 4 (released in “Off Noir” and “Guava Ice”) checks in at number four on our Top 10 Sneakers of 2020.
3. Off-White x Air Jordan 5 “Black”
The Off-White x Air Jordan 5 “Black” occupies the number three spot on our year-end sneaker list. The Jordan 5 was poised to have a big year—Michael Jordan’s fifth signature shoe turned 30 years old in 2020. Jordan Brand began its celebrations by tapping Virgil Abloh for his input on what a modernized version of the silhouette would look like had it been produced today. Like many of Off-White’s now-classic Jordan collaborations, the Jordan 5 in “Black” retains the spirit of the original model and welcomes nuanced details other designers wouldn’t dare touch. There’s an unfinished look to the whole thing, which is of course Abloh’s intention. He even goes so far as to place random circular cut-outs on the body of the upper. The thin film covering the holes dares the wearer to complete the removal process with an X-Acto knife for a personalized, one-of-a-kind touch.
If you ever find yourself in the position of needing a shoe to show to someone why you collect sneakers as a hobby, just pull up a picture of the Ben & Jerry’s x Nike SB Dunk Low “Chunky Dunky.” It’ll be obvious that 1: your taste in style is the same as your taste in dessert and, 2: you must really be comfortable with yourself to be excited to wear two ice cream cartons that double as skateboarding shoes. Not only is the “Chunky Dunky” one of the gnarliest Dunks yet, it’s a perfect shoe for the unpredictable times we’re living in. Nike SB has leaned on leftover pizza, picnics, and cheap beer as sources of inspiration in the past, but its never tapped Ben & Jerry’s for a hallucinatory made-up ice cream flavor. 2020 really was ridiculous.
The Dior x Air Jordan 1 High’s $2,000 retail price and needle-in-a-haystack availability wasn’t meant to be for everyone, but that’s cool. The Italian fashion house and Jordan Brand didn’t intend for its collaborative Air Jordan 1 to be as ubiquitous as a Nike Air Force 1 “White on White.” We won’t soon be able to throw it into our collection and wear it into the ground and make memories with it, but the Dior x Jordan 1 High is less a shoe and more a work of art. It’s an acknowledgement from high fashion that streetwear paces the world of fashion and sneakers. And we’re A-OK with that.