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A Year-End Roundup of 2016’s Most Significant Sneakers

These are the kicks that made their mark in style
by Miguel Escobar | Dec 21, 2016
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These days, it can be difficult to identify a truly momentous, iconic sneaker. As more and more brands battle it out on the fray, and as the titans adidas and Nike remain aggressive in their efforts to outdo each other, the market becomes oversaturated with new releases and bombastic marketing campaigns. The past year has seen these in full swing.

But now, with the benefit of hindsight, we get to look back at 2016 and assess the year’s truly standout sneakers. We’ve taken stock of all the trends and releases that we’ve seen throughout the past 12 months to come up with this list of this year’s most significant kicks. Take note: When we say significant, we don’t necessarily mean best. We asked ourselves: Which sneakers came to define 2016? Which sneakers will we remember when we look back at this year? They may not be the best-looking or most wearable (although we could argue for each of them as pretty damn solid); nor are they the most groundbreaking. But they are if anything, iconic—emblematic of 2016 as a moment in sneaker history. Check to see if you copped any.

Nike Lunarcharge

We’ve recognized the Lunarcharge a few weeks ago, and they have yet to pick up steam, as they haven’t yet reached our shores. But we stand by our prediction: the Lunarcharge will be big, and we’ll look back and remember that it was released in 2016.
RELEASED: November 2016

Nike SB Dunk Low “Pink Box”

It’s fair to say that Nike SB has been pretty stagnant over the past four years. But a few recent releases give us reason to believe in an upcoming resurgence: The Dunk Low “Orange Box” and this “Pink Box” colorways are references to the golden age of Nike SB, when their shoeboxes were in these colors. Plus, soft pink has been a pretty popular color this year.
RELEASED: November 2016

Nike Air More Uptempo

Originally released in 1996, the Air More Uptempos are one of those retro basketball shoes that Nike brought back this year. Aside from looking great and holding its own among the fashion set, the Air More Uptempo signifies the Swoosh’s efforts to revive the Uptempo throughout 2016.
RELEASED: March 2016

Nike SF Air Force 1

If for no other reason than its outlandish height and borderline-ridiculous ankle straps (on a Nike classic, no less), the Special Field Air Force 1s will definitely be a memorable pair of sneakers, for better or worse.
RELEASED: November 2016

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adidas Tubular Shadow

You’ll find the Yeezy Boost 350s further down on this list, ranking much higher—but its younger cousin, the Tubular Shadow, is just as important. As a good-looking yet affordable alternative to the Yeezy Boosts, the Tubular Shadows are a demonstration of adidas’ genius combination of design and marketing, which is definitely a recurring theme in 2016.
RELEASED: December 2016

Air Jordan 1 “Black Toe”

Any retro of this Air Jordan colorway will always be a welcome addition to a year-end roster. Prior to this one, the last reissue of the Black Toe 1s was in 2013 (which isn’t all too long ago, considering how iconic it is), but they sold out anyway.
RELEASED: November 2016

adidas EQT ADV

While 2016 was a stronger year for adidas’s other retro models (more on that later), the EQTs did make a comeback as well, but with an entirely new look in the EQT ADVs. They bear some of the same features as the original EQTs from the early 1990s, but look decidedly like a sneaker of 2016—sleek, minimal, contemporary.
RELEASED: July 2016

Air Jordan 12 “Flu Game”

Who could forget the Flu Games? This is easily one of the most iconic Air Jordan colorways ever, because it tells a damn good story. They dropped earlier for the first time since 2009—making it the third time the shoes have been reissued.
RELEASED: May 2016

Air Jordan 3 “True Blue”

While this iconic Jordan 3 has been released three times (2001, 2009, and 2011) since its debut in 1988, this is the first time we got to see it again with the Nike Air branding at the heel tab, making the 2016 True Blue 3s a truly iconic release. Some say that it’s the beginning of the end for Jordan Brand, because they doled out such a rare and coveted detail so easily. Regardless of how that turns out, we’ll look to this year’s release as a sign of the times.
RELEASED: November 2016

Nike Lebron Soldier 10

Lebron James has had a good year, considering their defeat of the Warriors to take the 2016 NBA Championship. But despite their title, few colorways of the mainline Lebron signature sneakers (ie., the Lebron 13s) managed to make much of an impact. Instead, what took center stage was the Lebron Soldier 10—which is an altogether better-looking, more wearable shoe compared to the 13s. With several solid colorways (including an incredible camo one), the Soldiers eclipsed the 13s easily, a rare feat for a diffusion sneaker.
RELEASED: June 2016

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Nike Hyperadapt

If Back to The Future 2 was to be believed, then we should have had self-lacing shoes as early as 2015. But we’re not too far off, as Nike released the Hyperadapt this month. If self-lacing shoes ever truly become a thing, we’ll have to look back at both the MAG of 2015 and the Hyperadapt of 2016 to honor the firsts. If not, then the Hyperadapt may just be the last bastion of electronic footwear.
RELEASED: December 2016

Air Jordan 1 “Top Three”

Few of the “What The” colorways were ever so popular as the Top Three 1s, perhaps because none were quite as wearable. By taking three of the Jordan 1’s most iconic colorways and mashing them up into one, Jordan Brand created a frankenstein of a shoe that’s iconic by its own right, and not just by the collective significance of the three colorways that comprise it.
RELEASED: November 2016

Kendrick Lamar x Reebok Classic Leather Lux

When Kendrick Lamar first released a collaboration with Reebok back in 2015, it was a symbol of peace and a stand against violence, uniting the red and blue of Bloods and Crips. He reprised that partnership in 2016 with two releases: one of a similar Reebok Classic Leather in the same colorway, and another Classic leather in a new military green colorway.
RELEASED: November 2016

Y-3 Primeknit Pure Boost ZG

Not since the Qasa has adidas’s Y-3 brand seen such a popular luxury sneaker. The Y-3 Primeknit Pure Boost ZG is incredibly simple, but its curvy silhouette and fully-knit upper (with a nice high-contrast black-and-white pattern) made it a favorite among the high-end streetwear set, with whom it was popularized by Jerry Lorenzo, creative director of the label Fear of God, and also, necessarily, Justin Bieber.
RELEASED: March 2016

adidas Tubular Radial

When the adidas Tubular Radial released earlier this year, it was one among a set of many different Tubulars (a list that grew later in 2016, with models like the Tubular Nova and Tubular X). But amid all the confusing iterations, the Radial endured the most, and the longest. It was an accessible sneaker that looked like something from Y-3, which meant it would be a hit. One might argue that the Tubular Radial is one of 2016’s lesser it-shoes—a good balance of covetable and accessible that defines the general look of sneakers in 2016.
RELEASED: February 2016

adidas Yeezy Boost 750

What’s a year without a Yeezy release? One of the most influential icons in streetwear, who’s now under fire for his baffling support of Donald Trump, released a lot of shoes with adidas this year, including two colorways of the Yeezy Boost 750s: Grey Gum and Brown Gum. The former glows in the dark, which makes it the first of the model to have that feature, and an instant hallmark of 2016.
RELEASED: June 2016

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Air Jordan 4 “Cement”

When the OG colorway of the Air Jordan 4s returns, it’s sure to make every year-end roundup. This year sees the third reissue of the Cement 4s, which came out first in 1989, then again in 1999 and 2012. The 2012 reissue, however, did not have Nike Air branding on the heel tab, making this year’s Cement 4s the first to bear them since 1999.
RELEASED: February 2016

Vans Sk8-Hi

2016 saw an uncanny and thoroughly unexpected comeback for the Vans Sk8-Hi—one that doesn’t even seem to be premeditated by the brand itself. A few collaborations with legitimate names (most notably, with Fear of God), brought it back into the fore, bolstered by the resurgence of skate fashion via Russian streetwear label Gosha Rubchinsky in 2015. Suddenly, the fashion set found an easy way into streetwear culture: this relic of a skater sneaker and its Jazz stripe, such that it became a 2016 staple, along with the Vans Old Skool.

Nike Air Presto

Apart from the huge Acronym x NikeLab collaboration that brought us the avant garde Presto mids, other colorways and iterations of Nike’s futurist-classic runner have been scattered across 2016. This includes the Air Presto Ultra, which was one of the Swoosh’s biggest campaigns for the lifestyle segment this year; as well as of course, the low-top Air Prestos. While the Presto originally debuted 16 years ago in 2000, its popularity in 2016 proves that it was and is still a forward-thinking sneaker design.
RELEASED: Throughout 2016

Nike Kobe 11 FTB “Black Mamba”

Kobe’s retirement in April of this year was a glorious way to go out. The Kobe 11, which had he had already been wearing since the start of the season, would be the model to commemorate his final game. As the curtains came down on Bryant’s career, they came up to reveal the Kobe 11 FTBs (Fade to Black) in a special “Black Mamba” colorway: all-black with minimal gold accents and “4.13.2016” (the date of his final game) printed on the heel tab. Kobe fans and sneakerheads will continue to covet these for years to come, and they’ll look back and wonder what they were doing in 2016 that was more important than copping a pair of these.
RELEASED: April 2016

Air Jordan 1 “Banned”

This is the first colorway of the first Air Jordan ever. How could it not be an iconic drop? After it first came out in 1985, the OG of OGs returned in 1994, 2009, 2011, and 2013—which makes for a fairly frequent interval. But the 2016 release was a Remastered retro, which meant that it was made extra-premium quality materials. The differences in quality between the 2016 retro and the 2013 retro are stark—making this one of the best Banned 1s of recent history.
RELEASED: September 2016

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adidas Gazelle

Ah, the Gazelle. One might consider this to be the spiritual successor of the Stan Smiths, in the sense that these are also classic, retro adidas Originals sneakers that were refurbished, retooled, and re-released for the Instagram generation with a huge campaign. And while they haven’t quite yet caught up with the popularity of the Stans at their peak in 2014-2015, the Gazelle’s 2016 comeback has it poised to take over, and remain an it-shoe for the foreseeable future.
RELEASED: Throughout 2016

adidas Yeezy Boost 350 v2

While Kanye was busy with his Saint Pablo tour, his wife’s unfortunate run-in with a robber in Paris, his hospitalization, and his encounters with Donald Trump, his shoes were making him money all the while. The Yeezy Boost 350 saw its second iteration this year: the v2, which isn’t all too different from the first, save for a big streak of color across the side. They were simple, but they defined what it meant to be a coveted sneaker in 2016—mainly, being associated with Kanye West. Regardless of how you see him (especially after his support of President-elect Trump), it’s hard to deny his influence when you consider how many fake Yeezy Boost 350s you can spot along a commute on any given day.
RELEASED: September 2016

Air Jordan 11 “Space Jam”

Everybody get up. This is the Air Jordan release of 2016. It’s a remastered Air Jordan 11—true to form, with premium materials—but in one of the most iconic Air Jordan colorways ever: Space Jam. The last time these released in 2009, violent riots broke out across America, as people bum-rushed stores (a Foot Locker in Atlanta was allegedly broken into by being rammed by a van). This year, they’re even better on so many levels, with two exceptions: price (better quality means they were priced around P10,000); and the number 45 on the ankle (which, in the movie, was 23). Nevertheless, the Space Jam 11s are among the year’s top releases.
RELEASED: December 2016

adidas Ultra Boost 2.0

The first Ultra Boost came out early in 2015, but has been in full swing with version 2.0 in 2016. Countless colorways, ridiculous prices (both retail and aftermarket), commemorative editions (Olympic Medal Pack, Ultra Boost Uncaged), and the necessary triple white colorway have made the Ultra Boost a hit. More importantly, it must be recognized that the overall look and shape of sneakers in 2016 have gone in the direction originally set by the Ultra Boost when it first came out: it’s about sleek, fitted knit uppers and curved soles—all precedented by the adidas’s flagship runner. Today, there’s hardly a more iconic pair of shoes worthy of being called the year’s it-shoe, except...
RELEASED: Throughout 2016

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adidas NMD

The first pair originally came out in the tail end of December 2015, but the NMDs are the defining sneaker of 2016. Its upper is similar to the adidas Pure Boost of 2014, but with a sleek Ultra Boost sole and its most unique feature: the two rectangular plastic blocks on the side of the sole. In part because of those two blocks, which were the shoe’s defining signatures, the NMDs became so incredibly popular that they eventually became adidas’s flagbearers. Several excellent colorways and a slew of variations (including the NMD R1, R2, City Sock, Chukka, Hu NMD, and XR1) have made it incredibly widespread. On top of that, the NMD saw some of the year’s most coveted streetwear collaborations: Bape, Bedwin and The Heartbreakers, White Mountaineering, and Pharrell Williams. It’s as if adidas placed all their bets on this dominating the sneaker scene of 2016, and it did. For better or worse, the NMD is the it-shoe of 2016.

RELEASED: Throughout 2016

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