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Most production basketball shoes have a terrible tread pattern for outdoor play. The tight, narrow channels that give you that crazy grip on hardwood just get torn to pieces on asphalt. The problem has gotten to the point that in some rare cases, the best outdoor basketball shoes might not even be basketball shoes at all.
It’s particularly bad in the US market where manufacturers insist there’s just not much demand for outdoor basketball shoes. Asian markets tend to offer tougher treads and harder rubber. This has lead some street ballers to purposefully seek out foreign models.
Personally, I love playing outdoors. I’m out there every morning in the summer months and I’ve crushed through my share of outdoor basketball shoes. BTW, if you haven’t already checked it out, you might want to read my post about how to choose the right basketball shoes for you. It’ll give you a better overview of basketball sneakers in general before we get focused on outdoor basketball shoes.
So anyway, here I wanna offer up some of the basic principles I’ve used over the years to help find the best outdoor basketball shoes. We’re taking a look at some of the coolest outdoor basketball shoes available right up to fall 2023, but I wanna make sure you’re left with an understanding of what to look for that should apply deep into the future.
BTW, since you’re a fresh air hooper, I’ve also got an in-depth post on finding the best outdoor basketball.
But let’s get to it. Let’s help you find your best outdoor basketball shoes for 2023.
What to look for in outdoor basketball shoes
Recommendations are coming. But before we get to the river, let’s make sure you know how to fish…
Spotting the best tread patterns for outdoor basketball shoes
For outdoor basketball shoes, a very important concern is tread (aka ‘outsole’ in sneaker speak). The supple, often fingerprint-like tread designs that work well indoors will slip like crazy and wear out in no time on a rough surface like asphalt. The example below is the Kyrie Flytrap.
That’s not what we want. We’re looking for a nice thick tread pattern. Conveniently, a tread that will work well for an outdoor basketball shoe is typically quite easy to spot by sight. Take a look at the tread below, off the ‘KD Trey 5 VIII’.
Notice that the Trey 5 VIII doesn’t have those fine little ridges like the Jordan Separate. In practice, the Trey 5 VIII holds up pretty well on both wood and asphalt. The Flytrap does not.
I’ve put a good amount of playing time on the flytrap, but I’ve probably played double that on the Trey 5 VIII. Take a look at the results…
You can see clearly, the Flytrap is toasted, worn completely smooth. Traction is completely rubbed off, right where you need it the most, on those toe and heel edges. In contract, the Trey 5 VIII is holding up remarkably well.
On the hardness of rubber in outdoor basketball shoes
We should also mention rubber hardness. Not all rubbers are built the same. A soft rubber will get you a little extra traction on wood, but again, it wears out fast on a rough surface. A hard rubber is less sticky and flexible, but will hold up longer.
Harder rubbers are much more common in Asian markets and brands will often market them under proprietary labels. For example, Nike offers a hard rubber they call XDR (Extra Durable Rubber) that you can sometimes find in the states.
In practice, this harder rubber has a much smaller effect on durability than tread design and depth. So I wouldn’t suggest going out of your way trying to track down harder rubber.
Affordability in outdoor basketball shoes
In addition to durability, the best outdoor basketball shoes should be affordable. I understand the desire to turn up at the court in the latest and greatest. But a true hooper will put performance and playing time over style.
Buy shoes that you don’t feel bad about trashing. An outdoor court will eat your shoes for lunch so if you’re going to shell out for outdoor shoes, make sure you’re paying for durability and comfort over clout or style.
One of the best ways to get your money’s worth is to hunt for older models. Chances are, you can find an older release of the hottest new sneaker for half the current sticker price.
Finding the perfect fit for outdoor basketball shoes
Feet are super duper weird. We all walk a little differently, and the basic shape of the human foot can vary a whole lot. Almost seems crazy then, that we so commonly discuss shoe size in terms of only one dimension, the length of your foot.
In most cases it’s enough to find a shoe that simply accommodates the length of your foot. When it comes to basketball shoes, you want to take it a little further.
Where to find the best outdoor basketball shoes in 2023
There are far too many outlets out there hawking basketball shoes, online and in-store. There’s no single source that can service everyone’s needs. But there are a couple of tips and tricks you might wanna look out for.
First off, authorized distribution channels are your friend. It’s amazing what can be counterfeit these days. That being said, some of the best deals are going to be found on discontinued models that aren’t always available on the brand’s website. Just make sure you keep your wits about you is all I can tell ya.
Now, another trick, perhaps even more obvious than the first. Go on the major sites, sort by lowest price and scan through the outsoles. You should be able to identify a good outsole for an outdoor basketball shoe after that little tutorial above. Use that knowledge to spot the cheapest shoes with good outsoles that match your sense of style.
When it comes to pulling the trigger, keep in mind that most online sellers have great return policies. Order multiple pairs, various models in different sizes or colorways. That way you can try them on in the comfort of your own home and just send back the ones that aren’t vibing.
As much as I’d love to point you to the best deal for the best outdoor basketball shoes right now, things change too quickly. Deals are popping up and disappearing all the time. Keep your eyes opened.
My Pick for the Best Outdoor Basketball Sneakers still available in 2023
I’m currently wearing the NIKE KD Trey 5 VIII. I’ve got a full review over here if you want to deeper.
This is an older model. The Trey 5 is a budget version of KD’s main line. The roman numerals refer to the generation. The Trey 5 VIII was released in late 2020. At this point, there are IV and a X versions available, the X being the most recent.
But the VIII had a great outdoor tread. They switched up the outsole for the IX and it’s just not as good on outdoor courts. You can still find the Trey 5 VIII on Amazon pretty commonly. Do a little hunting and I’ve seen sub $60 for specific sizes and colorways.
It’s a cozy shoe. The toe box is a little wide, particularly for a Nike, so you might even give it a try if you have wider feet. There’s even an EP version if you can find it, with harder rubber that will hold up even better on asphalt. You probably don’t need it though. The sturdy tread of the Trey 5 VIII is my favorite thing about this shoe.
Still, the Trey 5 won’t be everyone’s choice, and it can be tuff to snag a pair, so let’s cover some of the specific categories…
My Picks for the Best New Outdoor Basketball Shoes Released in 2023
This is a bit of a hack. This isn’t a new model. Nike just brought these back in 2023. But if you’re flexible on color and you can find the right size, you should be able to find an awesome deal.
The Air Huarache was rocked on NBA and college courts for a stretch. It was apparently the official shoe for the Michigan Wolverines at one point. Kobe wore it at least once. But it was also a beloved street shoe in its day.
It’s sturdy enough. It’s got a beefy tread pattern. I can’t speak for the kids these days but I think it looks cool as hell. And we’ve got some fresh colorways. Plus you have the option to customize your own colorway. These have got to be one of the best options available today, especially if you snag a deal.
The Best Outdoor Basketball Shoes on a Budget
Nothing wrong with a cheaper outdoor shoe. I play a lot and I just don’t really like to spend over 100$ on kicks that I’m going to thrash on the court. Save your money for your hardwood shoes, or your walkin’ around, dress to impress shoes.
Nike Air Max Impact 3
The upside is they’re tough and cheap. The downside is, they are kinda ugly. They’re not the worst in the lighter colorways. I just really don’t like that chunk of rubber on the heal. Of course, if you’ve got heel or ankle issues, it does add a little support.
And the Nike Air Impact 3 has the beefiest looking tread on this list. I gotta imagine these things will hold up pretty well. And you can find great deals on these.
It’s hard to argue that these look cool in any way. They’re a slightly more interesting version of the white New Balance sneakers your Dad mows the lawn in. But we’re not trying to win a fashion contest, we’re here for buckets.
Nike Giannis Immortality
One of the lightest production basketball shoes on the market, and they’re pretty dang affordable. There’s a goofy vibe to these shoes. It works for me, but I doubt it will work for everyone. There are 2 models that are both pretty widely available. And both can be had in the sub-100$ range, but the Immortality 1 is closer to the 50$ range if you keep your eyes peeled.
I’ve only played in the original immortality. The immortality 2 is very similar, but you’ll likely find better color options. The reviews aren’t incredible, but I like this shoe, especially at the price point.
The tread is a little weak. Even if it looks fairly sturdy in the images, it’s not great. But with the pricepoint, it’s hard to complain. I just wouldn’t pay more than 60 bucks if you’re planning on trashing these on outdoor courts.
The Best Retro Outdoor Basketball Shoes
It didn’t used to be this way. Once upon a time, outdoor basketball shoes were a common thing. So it’s not a bad idea to look to the past for a solution.
And the manufacturers have been doing a great service lately, bringing some of these legends back into production. Here are the coolest retro outdoor basketball shoes.
I apologize for this section, as it tends to leave you wanting several pairs of shoes. These are tried and tested models, and they’re cool as hell.
Nike Air Force 1’s
You can’t really cover great outdoor basketball shoes without a nod to the iconic AF 1. These have been around since before I was born, before Jordans, before Nike was a thing. And with the exception of a brief hiatus, Nike never stopped producing them.
This is a solid shoe with a ton of history behind it. It works well for a range of feet. Fans will swear by them. Plus, you can wear them out to the movies and not look like a weirdo, so long as they’re not the all-black lows.
They are heavy AF though. That doesn’t bother me, particularly for an outdoor shoe. And the weight comes from the leather and the sturdy tread, so it’s all good. The Nike AF 1 is basically a mainstay of street ball culture and you could spot them on NBA courts as late as 2013, so you can’t go wrong here.
One other detail, you can find secondhand pairs. Why would you want used basketball shoes? Well, one of the big concerns with basketball shoes is that most are not ethically produced. If that’s a concern, a used pair of AF 1’s may well be your best bet as a ‘sustainable’ basketball shoe. Check out my article on basketball shoe sustainability if you’re into the details.
An absolute legend of the street ball world. And one of the earlier models to look like a spaceship.
They’re back in 2023.
If you’re new to the game, you may not understand what the And 1 brand meant in its day. This was the brand for bonafide hoopers. This wasn’t for NBA fans or even your average going out for the team kinda player. And 1 was for the street, the anywhere you can find it, love of the game style hooper.
And the Rise was their street baller shoe. It’s designed for the unique rigors of the blacktop. Look at that gorgeous herringbone.
The Best Mid-Range Outdoor Basketball Shoes
Adidas Harden 6
I like these. I think they look pretty cool for a shoe that’s definitely feeling itself. Just look at this thing. And the tread is thick enough that it can hang in there a little. It does have a wide-ish toe box. You can see it in the shape. And the lower laces aren’t far enough down to cinch that down hard. I like a wide toe box, but if that doesn’t fit your foot, avoid these.
You can probably still hunt down a discounted pair of the Harden 6 if you keep an eye out and you’re flexible on your styling. The new Harden 7 is much different shoe that doesn’t really lend itself to outdoor use unless by outdoors you mean a dinner and a movie. You can still play in them, I just don’t see that plush holding up on asphalt.
The Harden 6 doesn’t exactly top my list for outdoor basketball shoes. But this might be the option for you if you want to go Adidas, you really like Harden, you want a wide toe box, or you’re just feeling the style and you spotted a great deal. If you can vibe with the black and white colorway, they’re often the cheapest.
Nike Zion 2
These are pretty sweet looking. I particularly like this minty colorway. And check out that tread. There aren’t that many shoe models that are truly geared towards outdoor play, so even a little bit of beef on that tread can get exciting. The tread, like Zion is beefy. Unlike Zion, these should stay on the court for a long stretch.
The Best Outdoor Basketball Shoes for Women
I mean, any one of these models will work. However, you want a shoe that’s going to conform well to your foot, and there are several widely recognized gender differences between the average male and female foot.
The key difference though is that woman’s foot tends to be narrower with a proportionally wider front. Unfortunately, models that are billed as women’s-specific basketball shoes and also have the features you want in an outdoor shoe are less common than the already uncommon men’s outdoor-specific shoes.
Still, Nike does well on the women’s selection. The problem ends up being that the smaller sizes are sparse, so you get stuck with the newer releases. But the new Sabrina’s are looking promising, and the outsole on the G.T. cut looks beefy.
The Most Expensive Outdoor Basketball Shoes
Alright, if money is no object, that opens up the outdoor basketball shoe playing field a little. I still think you’re probably better off with one of the models we’ve already covered. The price tends to get pushed up with style and intricacy more than performance.
But let’s just imagine that the real game is getting people interested in your feet. You want to step out on that court and leave your opponents gawking. I still think you’re better off working on your jumper and your conditioning, but fine, I’ll play along.
These are the shoes I would wear on the court if I cared not at a thread about throwing away cash or damaging what some do consider a timeless work of art.
Whatever your thoughts on Kobe, this was a legit shoe. Released in 2012, it was a very very playable low top. And amazingly, it had some decent tread. But even if I wanted to shell out in the aftermarket, I feel like I’d rather make some little sneaker heads fantasies come true than trash these on some buckets that coulda just as easily been had in a pair of 50$ Air Impacts.
However, Nike is apparently bringing back the Kobe 8, so keep an eye out.
A good pair of basketball shoes is essential. I often see new hoopers asking the forums if basketball shoes are really necessary. The answer is a resounding yes!
It’s easy to ignore common sense in pursuit of style, sometimes even comfort. I see kids wearing modern Jordans on the court all the time (these are not basketball shoes).
Wearing the correct shoes has a dramatic effect on performance, but more importantly safety. Ankle and knee injuries are the most common injuries in basketball. Both can end up keeping you off the court for extended periods of time. Both have been rigorously proven to be mitigated by proper footwear.
I totally get being fixated on style or even just how a pair of shoes makes you feel on the court. But please, please, please find a pair of basketball shoes that fits well, pair it with an insole that matches your foot type, and make sure you’re set up with the proper body mechanics to play comfortably and safely for years to come. If you love this sport like I do, you’re going to want to play well into your 40’s, hopefully even your 50’s.