Verdict: The Vans Sk8-Hi is the original subculture sneaker. Built as a super-padded skate shoe it was soon adopted by the punk rock scene for its large space on which to customize. Today it's not just a piece of history but a versatile and easy-going silhouette that works with almost any outfit. Not only that but it's strong enough to last years of use and abuse.
Classic silhouette that works with any wardrobe
Fits true to size
Comfortable when broken in
Padded collar for ankle support
An easy silhouette even for a hi-top
Takes time to put on
Have to be choosey with how you lace them
Can take time to wear in
Not good in wet weather
4.6 / 5
The Corescore is a score from 0-100 that summarizes opinions from users and
experts. Below shows the distribution of scores for all sneakers.
Vans, to me, is one of the sneaker brands that struggle with a paradox of iconicity. The majority of silhouettes that roll out of their doors are steeped in design, craftsmanship, and culture. Sure, there are a few like the UltraRange Exo that are just filling a gap, but from the Authentics to the Aves Vans keep producing hits.
The Sk8-Hi is no different, first created in 1976 the previously named “Style #38” came alongside the Eras, the world’s first skate shoe. The Sk8-Hi was made to add protection to skaters’ ankles from the board but they provided so much more.
Another famous piece of the Vans brand is the checkerboard print on many sneakers. Part of the skater-culture aesthetic was to heavily personalize sneakers, boards, clothes etc. The Sk8-Hi offered a huge blank canvas for people to print, draw and check their shoes.
Fast forward a massive 45 years and the Vans Sk8-Hi is still relevant. High-tops are seeing a bit of a dip in popularity right now in favor of more athletic silhouettes. However, Vans’ almost stubborn loyalty to their brand means that the recognizable silhouette is always a winner.
A surprisingly versatile high-top sneaker
I picked up a pair of the all-white colorway, staying true to the fact that it’s a large blank canvas. Also, although a hightop, the minimalistic silhouette means that it can be worn with a huge range of outfits. The white is super versatile while staying true to its skate roots.
The Vans Sk8-Hi requires unique lacing to work well
Although the Vans Sk8-Hi fits true to size, thanks to its padded collar it’s not the easiest thing to get on, and once you do you have a few choices to make. With little shape on the inside of the foot, most of the support relies on the laces. The issue here is that there are so many eyelets that it’s easy to not be properly tightened from the bottom.
The lacing issue becomes one of the major drawbacks if you’re still using the Vans Sk8-Hi as a skate shoe. I found my foot began to shift inside the sneaker while pushing.
The easiest fix is to change up your lacing style, I went for a ladder at the bottom half which keeps the laces locked, and then normal lacing on the collar to make it easy to get into. You can check out our guide on lacing here.
Be prepared for a minimalist sneaker
Once you’re into the Sk8-His they’re minimalist shoes. This means there’s very little in the way of arch support, which makes you feel close to the ground. Although they take a little while to wear in, ultimately you should be left with a comfortable shoe.
The midsole is somewhat nonexistent, especially compared with today’s sneakers. In essence, the construction of the inner is a layer of low-density foam and some rubber at the heel. There’s no shank, rigid foam, or anything to shape the shoe, making it bend pretty uniformly on top of the foot.
It’s worth bearing in mind that if you want a comfy shoe, you might want to look at an aftermarket insole. If you’re planning on skating in these, the same goes for you. While comfy for walking around in as a lifestyle shoe, these aren’t up to the modern standard of comfort for most sneakers.
The Vans Sk8-Hi lead breathability with a simple design
Thankfully, the Vans Sk8-His are breathable due to their classic canvas construction. While it’s thin enough to be super-durable, it’s thin enough to allow decent airflow through the shoe. This is actually quite a rare positive for a high-top.
The flipside of that though is that the shoes aren’t weatherproof. They may look like a boot, but get them wet and they’re just a pair of heavy wet towels attached to your feet. Vans do address this by offering their MTE which stands for Made for The Elements (not sure what’s going on with their abbreviations…)
The Vans Sk8-Hi is part of a family of options
This is one of the things I love about the Vans lineup. You can get pretty much the same silhouette shoe in multiple options, the MTE if you’re out in the rain, the Skate (formerly the Pro) if you’re planning on using them as a skate tool, or you can just go easy with the original.
Vans have always avoided beating around the bush, and it shows. The Vans Sk8-Hi are the same shoe they have been for decades, they can take a beating and suit just about any look. But, if you want something with a little more protection either from the elements or the street, they’re happy to tell you where to go.
Doug is a Scottish documentary and fashion photographer and filmmaker. Stumbling into the sneaker game later than usual, he started out behind a camera through long hiking expeditions around the world. Seeking a cleaner aesthetic, Doug now works mostly in fashion and sport, opting for outdoor locations rather than a studio.