In the blink of an eye, another year is about to come to an end. As we continue to adjust to life in a post-pandemic world, the last twelve or so months have provided us with opportunities to connect with others outside in a way that feels like we’re finally, finally on the other side of the pandemic. Hopefully you’ve been able to travel again, get reacquainted with coworkers, and generally enjoy life to the fullest… all while wearing some dope shoes on your feet, of course. Because there were plenty of good ones to choose from in 2022.
From Nike and adidas to Air Jordan and New Balance, the biggest names in the footwear industry were in constant competition all year long to see who could release the most talked about collaborations, bring back the most timeless colorways, and push forward the most innovative sneakers in the world.
Now as the year comes to a close, it’s time to reflect on the sneakers that stand out as the very best of 2022. Like we’ve said time and again, these “Best of” lists are never easy to compile, but we absolutely stand by our selections because they represent where the culture currently stands and where it’s headed in the future.
These are our picks for the Best Sneakers of 2022.
Patience is a virtue if you’re into sneakers. Particularly Air Jordan sneakers. Over the years, Jordan Brand has done an admirable job of giving us different versions of the Air Jordan 3 “Fire Red.” First came the “Katrina” colorway in 2006 that was made for charity auctions supporting Hurricane Katrina relief efforts. That same colorway was re-released as the “Hall of Fame” in 2018, and then came the “Fire Red Denim” in 2020. A retro “Fire Red” was sprinkled in back in 2014.
While all solid releases, none really nailed the look and feel of the original “Fire Red” Jordan 3 that debuted in 1988. That is, until a proper version, complete with the colorway’s original “Nike Air” branding, period-correct red accenting, and other OG-inspired details, was issued this year. The release of the modern “Fire Red” gave a new generation of sneaker collectors a chance to own a piece of footwear history.
Unless you have a superhuman ability to predict the future, the adidas Samba OG “White/Black” is likely the last shoe you’d expect to see on a “Best Sneakers of the Year” list. That isn’t downplaying its significance, as the model has been around for over half a century. It’s more speaking to the Samba’s reputation as a piece of utilitarian footwear. In the last two years, though, the Samba has gone from being utilitarian, accessible, and unfussy to utilitarian, accessible, unfussy, and extremely sought after due to collaborations with Jonah Hill, Wales Bonner, Kith, and more. In a time in sneakers when everyone is always looking for what’s “next,” it was nice to see the adidas Samba in its classic “White/Black” colorway catch on as a palate refresher of sorts for those looking for a reliable, comfortable, and timeless sneaker that looks good in any era.
With all things ‘90s trending in fashion and sneakers, it seemed like a foregone conclusion that a shoe as popular as the Nike Air Penny 1 was during the ‘90s would come back en vogue, as well. That’s indeed what happened in 2022. The original signature shoe of Anfernee “Penny” Hardaway, the Air Penny 1 was first released smack dab in the middle of the glory years of Nike’s ‘90s basketball footwear program. The model was beloved for its association with Penny who, in the wake of Michael Jordan’s retirement from basketball, was arguably the most popular player in the sport. It was also beloved for its ‘Lil Penny commercials starring Chris Rock as ‘Lil Penny. In 2022 Nike reissued the model in both its original “Orlando” and “Home” colorways, the latter of which returned for the first time since it debuted in ‘96. The Air Penny Max 1 also came back as a two-piece collaboration with Social Status, who helped create a renewed excitement for the shoe.
Don’t let Tom Sachs fool you. The artist’s Nike General Purpose Shoe is far from “boring,” as he claims it is in advertisements. After spending the last decade perfecting the model, the General Purpose Shoe (GPS, for short) is as close to the platonic ideal of an everyday shoe as there’s ever been. The silhouette is sleek and refined, and marries the design language of the Nike Waffle One with the Nike Killshot. It features two pull loops for easy on/off wearability. It’s lightweight, and with some wear, looks better over time. It’s the anti-hype shoe that wound up being as hyped as any of Sachs’s collaborations with Nike.
The old saying “save the best for last” is one Jordan Brand follows faithfully as far as its sneaker releases are concerned. The footwear empire that Michael Jordan built closes out every year by releasing its most anticipated shoe, and that trend continues again in 2022. The Air Jordan 1 High OG “Lost & Found” isn’t only Jordan’s top release, it’s the most anticipated release of the year in sneakers. The colorway is based on the original “Chicago” Jordan 1, which is regarded as one of the greatest sneakers of all time. History has proven that anytime the “Chicago” Jordan 1 comes back, it’s going to be a big deal.
Specifically, the “Lost & Found” is inspired by the mom and pop sneaker shops that sold the OG Jordan 1 back in the day. It also nods to the fact that, back then, many independent sneaker retailers stored the shoe somewhat haphazardly in their stockrooms, oftentimes with mismatched box tops from other sneakers.
The “Lost & Found” features a vintage look with a faux-distressed texture on the collar and a slightly cream-colored sole, and it comes packaged inside of a shoe box with a mismatched lid. The “Lost & Found” calls back to a bygone era in sneakers, while also playing into the vintage trend that’s been popular in sneaker culture in recent years.
There was a brief moment a few years ago when it seemed like the art of sneaker storytelling was lost on the culture. It was faithfully restored when Joe Freshgoods began teaming up with New Balance in 2020. In the three years since the pair’s inaugural collaboration, the stunner of a sneaker called the New Balance 992 “No Emotions Are Emotions,” the Chicago native has been using his upbringing and experience as a streetwear entrepreneur as a reserve of inspiration for some of the most sought after collaborations in the game. Our favorite drop of 2022 from Joe is the New Balance 9060 “Inside Voices – Penny Cookie Pink,” a colorway of a brand new model that salutes a popular snack in the Chicagoland area.
“Good things come to those who wait.” The cliché once again proves correct when describing the story behind Teddy Santis’s first collection as Creative Director of New Balance’s “Made in USA” line. Originally announced last year, sneaker collectors had to wait months on end for the Aimé Leon Dore head honcho to drop his first solo project with the Boston-based footwear company, but it was definitely worth the wait based on what we now know as a trio of New Balance 990s. The 990 V1, V2, and V3 each combine New Balance’s signature grey accenting with neutral olive greens, browns, and tans that match the ‘90s New York City prep-meets-streetwear vibe of Aimé Leon Dore’s clothes. Which you know if you’ve ever seen the massive lines emanating from the shop’s Mulberry Street location in New York, is a good thing.
It turned out this first set of Santis’s Made in USA NEw Balances was just the tip of the iceberg, as every other release of the collection throughout the year has been equally as nice.
If Don C’s Just Don premium streetwear brand was the perfect collaborator to restore the Air Jordan 2’s luxury vibe in the 2010s, then James Whitner’s upscale clothing and sneaker boutique A Ma Maniére is the next logical choice to put premium materials on the shoe in 2022. Originally made in Italy, the Jordan 2 was the first basketball shoe that blended elements of high fashion with sportswear, and A Ma Maniére’s colorway does the same. Its simple cream, black, and maroon color scheme won’t immediately jump off your phone or computer screen, but it’s the details that count here, like the shoe’s black faux snakeskin textured midsole.
The Air Jordan 2 had a major comeback in 2022, and there was no better release than A Ma Maniére’s.
Around this time one year ago, Virgil Abloh passed away unexpectedly from a rare form of cancer. The generational fashion and sneaker designer’s decision to keep his battle with cancer private from the public caught many by surprise. Those close to Virgil say he preferred to continue on with his life by doing what he always did: create new and innovative products for his legions of fans and supporters. That’s exactly what he did, designing shoes like the Off-White x Air Jordan 2 Low and the Louis Vuitton x Nike Air Force 1 Low after his prognosis. Both are classics, but the latter, his Louis Vuitton Air Force 1, is perhaps his greatest work as a designer for the storied high fashion house. The shoe marries concepts from sportswear, streetwear, and luxury fashion as only Virgil can, and is undoubtedly one of the best releases of 2022.
There’s no telling which way the trend winds will blow in sneakers. One year it’s “dad shoes,” the next year it’s… dad shoes and Crocs. The two styles may seem worlds apart, but in actuality both share a common thread: Salehe Bembury. The former Versace footwear director has dabbled a little bit in both styles. He’s released collaborations with New Balance on the 2002R and 574 Yurt, and most recently, a three-piece set with Crocs on the brand’s ultra casual Pollex Clog. In terms of the latter, it’s a shoe we had to include on our list of the best sneakers of 2022 (so far) because, as wild as it sounds, it’s probably the shoe that best encapsulates the current sneaker zeitgeist.
The Air Jordan 11 doesn’t release in nearly as many colorways as its other retro Air Jordan counterparts. But it is, however, the centerpiece of Jordan Brand’s annual holiday release cycle, which is a testament to the classic sneaker’s popularity. This year’s release explores a familiar Jordan 11 theme: the “Cherry” colorway. Debuted on the Air Jordan 11 Low in 2001, the “Cherry” look now arrives on the model’s original mid-top silhouette for the first time. Like the OG “Cherry,” the modern version features a simple-yet-elegant color scheme that is undoubtedly inspired by Michael Jordan’s time with the Chicago Bulls. The Jordan 11 will forever be a part of holiday sneaker shopping, and its most classic colorways, like the “Cherry,” will remain timeless, as well.
Bonus sneaker! The black and white Dunk Low first released in March 2021, but there’s no doubt that is was the biggest sneaker of 2022. If you’ve been anywhere this year and looked down at people’s feet, you’ve seen this shoe. It’s everywhere. And with good reason. There are few sneakers more versatile than the Dunk Low in a simple colorway that goes with anything. You don’t have to be a TikToker to understand that.
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