I didn’t think it was possible, but 2021 absolutely crushed 2020 in terms of sneaker drops. Last year gave us future classics like the Travis Scott Cactus Jack Dunks, the Ben & Jerry’s Chunky Dunkies, those fuzzy psychedelic Grateful Dead SB Dunks… okay, maybe more SB Dunks than anyone needs in a single year, but it also introduced us to the Foam RNNR (for better or worse), the Salehe Bembury New Balance 2002Rs, Union Jordan 4s, and a handful of dope Off-White drops. Serious gems for 12 straight months in the midst of a pandemic when no one was leaving home much.
And yet, somehow, this year was better. Substantially better.
We’re two years into this decade and we’re having an unprecedented run of amazing sneaker releases despite all the production difficulties caused by the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic. Who knows what didn’t come out this year that was supposed to. So we say bring on 2022! But first, let’s celebrate this year in sneakers by collecting all of our favorite sneaker drops of the year. These sneakers were the best of the best, the pairs that captured our imaginations, dropped our jaws, and gave us all those SNKRS app Ls that left us way more heartbroken over a pair of shoes than any human should ever be. This isn’t a ranking, it’s simply a celebration of 2021’s footwear. But rest assured, any one of these is great enough to be your favorite of the year.
Here are the all-time best sneaker drops of 2021.
AMBUSH x Nike Dunk High Cosmic Fuchsia, February 2021
It’s easy to forget this sneaker dropped this year because it was released back in the early days of 2021, but the Cosmic Fuchsia high-top Dunk is seriously dope. Designed by AMBUSH founder Yoon Ann, this Dunk featured a bold monochrome colorway with a reimagined silhouette that adds depth via enhanced paneling and a floating swoosh that resembles motorbike pipes.
Find the AMBUSH x Nike Dunk High Cosmix Fuchsia at your favorite aftermarket site.
CLOT x Nike Air Max 1 Kiss Of Death, March 2021
Sure, it’s a refresh of a fifteen-year-old sneaker, but what sneakerhead this year didn’t attempt to pick these kicks up when they dropped in a raffle at the retailer JUICE? The Kiss of Death featured a translucent toe box with a beige suede upper, a crimson snake-skin Swoosh and matching accents, and a glow-in-the-dark heel panel atop a bright orange midsole.
Who doesn’t love a sneaker that allows you to flex your sock game in new and interesting ways?
Find the CLOT x Nike Air Max 1 Kiss of Death at your favorite aftermarket site.
Yeezy 450 Cloud White, March 2021
Kanye can be incredibly polarizing, but if you love sneakers you have to admit, he’s one of the few interesting footwear designers operating right now. Case in point — the 450 Cloud White. It straight up doesn’t look like any other shoe on the market. Designed in partnership with the father of the Instapump Fury, Steven Smith, the 450 Cloud White dares to push against the idea of what a modern sneaker should look like, and it does it pretty damn successfully.
Does it look more like something an alien would wear than a human? Absolutely, but who cares? Sneakers should be fun and the 450 is that if nothing else.
Find the Yeezy 450 Cloud White at your favorite aftermarket site.
Air Max 90 Love Letter, March 2021
The Air Max 90 enjoys legendary sneaker status. It’s like a Jordan 1, you don’t have to do a lot to it to make it dope, just drop it in an amazing colorway and let the shape do the rest. One of the sneaker’s best colorways this year was this women’s size exclusive Air Max 90 that combined pastel pink with crimson red and white over a leather upper.
Designed in anticipation of Valentine’s Day (and subsequently delayed until March), this sneaker captured a bit of what made 2020’s Strangelove Dunks so special but put it on an arguably cooler silhouette.
Find the Air Max 90 Valentine’s Day at your favorite aftermarket site.
Skepta Nike Air Max Tailwind V, April 2021
Designed in partnership with British grime MC Skepta, this alien-esque take on the Tailwind is the only sneaker released this year that manages to reflect the dark and dire times we’re living in. There is something about the Tailwind V that looks sterile, stale, isolated, cold, and uninviting.
It’s moody and shimmers with iridescent accents, giving it an illuminated vibe that looks like something you’d find in a dark alleyway. It manages to send chills down my spine, that’s a sign of great design.
Find the Skepta Nike Air Max Tailwind V at your favorite aftermarket site.
Bad Bunny x Adidas Forum Low Easter Egg, April 2021
This year saw superstar reggaeton singer and rapper Bad Bunny throwing his hat into the world of sneakers via a partnership with Adidas. To date, Bad Bunny has been solely focused on a single silhouette, the Adidas Forum Low, the best of which was this pastel pink iteration that dropped in celebration of Easter.
Featuring an upper of mixed suede and leather, with a strap-secured lacing system, the Bad Bunny Easter Egg sports Bad Bunny branded graphics and a thick double-layered cushioned tongue. It doesn’t look like what you’d expect from a reggaeton-inspired sneaker, which is kind of Bad Bunny’s whole thing in the first place, so we dig how this is reflective of his artistry.
Find the Bad Bunny x Adidas Forum Low Easter Egg at your favorite aftermarket site.
A Ma Maniére x Air Jordan 3 Raised By Women, April 2021
This Air Jordan 3 made in collaboration with Atlanta-based luxury streetwear brand A Ma Maniére inspired a lot of internet chatter leading up to its release date and it still stands as one of 2021’s finest pieces of footwear.
The sneaker attempted to pay tribute to the power of women, A Ma Maniere wrote during the sneaker’s launch, “As we look to the future of our communities, our country, and the world, from the White House to any house, we are all raised by women.” The three dropped in a full-size unisex run with a matching apparel collection bathed in the same off-white, white, and grey tones of the sneaker.
A Ma Maniere would follow up this ultra hyped drop with an Air Jordan 1 in the same colorway and you best believe we included that one on this list too!
Find the A Ma Maniére x Air Jordan 3 Raised By Women at your favorite aftermarket site.
Aleali May Air Jordan 1 High Zoom CMFT Califia, April 2021
April was one hell of a month for sneakers and has clearly dominated our yearly roundup. Closing out the month is another strong drop, the Aleali May Air Jordan 1 High Zoom CMFT Califia. Inspired by May’s high school drill team, the Califia features a mix of true blue and green with cream chenille detailing at the wing logo over an off-white midsole and a slightly shimmery swoosh.
The sneaker presents itself as a modern reinterpretation of a classic Nike University color combination, and we love it for that.
Find the Aleali May Air Jordan 1 High Zoom CMFT Califia at your favorite aftermarket site.
UNDEFEATED Nike Kobe 5 Protro “Hall Of Fame,” May 2021
With Kobe Bryant’s Nike contract expired we’re not completely sure the next time we’ll ever get another Kobe 5 Protro release, so we may be looking at one of the last! The “Hall of Fame” reads like a tribute to Bryant and features The Laker’s gold and purple color scheme with metallic detailing, a gradient swoosh, and faux-snakeskin paneling meant to evoke that Mamba Mentality.
Find the UNDEFEATED Nike Kobe 5 Protro Hall Of Fame at your favorite aftermarket site.
Puma x Rhuigi Suede, June 2021
In 2021, you’re not going to find a single Puma on any year-end sneaker lists, except ours! We’re not afraid to give Puma some love, even if they miss the mark more often than they hit. One of the brand’s best drops this year was this special suede sneaker they made in collaboration with Rhude’s Rhuigi Villaseñor. Featuring distressed detailing, an animal print heel, and classy brown accents over an off-white base, the Rhuigi exudes class and luxury, echoing the aesthetic of Rhuigi’s Rhude brand.
Find the Puma x Rhuigi Suede on sale (ouch) at Foot Locker.
Salehe Bembury x New Balance 2002R Water Be The Guide, June
New Balance’s 2002R silhouette is having a bit of a moment this season, and one of the greatest iterations of the sneaker to drop this year comes straight from Salehe Bembury, who has a particular talent for putting together super fresh New Balances.
Inspired by the life force of water, the 2002R Water Be The Guide sports a fuzzy suede upper with an open-hole mesh base, leather detailing, and a shearling New Balance “N” logo at the midfoot.
Find the Salehe Bembury x New Balance 2002R Water Be The Guide at your favorite aftermarket site.
Auralee x New Balance 550, July 2021
Made in collaboration with Japanese streetwear brand Auralee, this take on the New Balance 550 exudes class. By draping the sneaker in a simple aged Ecru grain leather upper, this New Balance 550 keeps your eye focused on the sneaker’s simple shape and lets the silhouette do all the heavy lifting. It makes you appreciate just how talented New Balance is at crafting simple performance-focused sneakers that look as great as they are comfortable.
It has a vintage vibe to it that we don’t doubt looks more beautiful with age.
Find the Auralee x New Balance 550 at your favorite aftermarket site.
Fragment Design x Travis Scott Air Jordan 1, July 2021
This is without a doubt the biggest sneaker to drop this year with Travis Scott’s name attached to it. It’s easy to see why this was such a success, the sneaker is a crowd pleaser through and through. First of all, it’s an Air Jordan 1 so people are already going to love it, couple that with Travis Scott’s Cactus Jack branding and a design courtesy of famed Fragment Design label head, Hiroshi Fujiwara, and you’ve got a certified hit on your hand.
The combination of Sail, Black Military, and Blue Shy on the upper is enough to make us forgive the stupid backward swoosh gimmick. A month later the sneaker dropped in an equally great low-top version. We prefer the high.
Find the Fragment Design x Travis Scott Air Jordan 1 at your favorite aftermarket site. Be warned though, this one is massively expensive.
Off-White Nike Dunk Low 1 of 50, August 2021
This year, the late Virgil Abloh dropped one of his most ambitious sneaker projects ever, a fifty sneaker collection of low-top Nike Dunks. It was admittedly hard to pick just one of the fifty to represent this achievement in sneaker design, but we’re going to have to go with the pack’s first drop.
The debut pair features a crisp white upper with an exposed foam tongue, Abloh’s trademark Helvetica branding, a metallic silver swoosh, and a yellowed midsole with Flywire laces that zig-zag across the design. It’s not easy to reimagine a classic, Abloh did it fifty times.
Find the Off-White Nike Dunk Low 1 of 50 at your favorite aftermarket site.
Social Status x Nike Dunk Free Lunch Strawberry Milk, October 2021
We would’ve liked this list to include both colorways from the Social Status’ Free Lunch Nike collection, but considering the sneakers are so similar and we’re trying to keep this list a tight 20, we had to pick one, so we’re going with the Strawberry Milk.
This Dunk features milky shades of pink and white, a chunky swoosh, and an upper composed of velvet and leather. It has a collector’s item quality to it but that doesn’t mean we wouldn’t stop at wearing the f*ck out of these until they fall apart.
Find the Social Status x Nike Dunk Free Lunch Strawberry Milk at your favorite aftermarket site.
Air Max 1 x Patta Aqua Noise, November 2021
As we hit the winter months, the sneaker drops started to slow down considerably but a few releases managed to catch our eye as the perfect cap for a near-perfect year of sneaker releases. This iteration of the Air Max 1 made in collaboration with Amsterdam-based skatewear brand Patta is one such release.
Featuring a mix of grey and aqua tones, the Aqua Noise sported a mini swoosh, a wavy-mudguard, dual-branding at the tongue and heel, and an off-white midsole. It’s clean and slightly understated, one of the year’s top five sneakers for sure in spite of its simplicity.
Find the Air Max 1 x Patta Aqua Noise at your favorite aftermarket site.
COMME des GARÇONS Homme Plus x Nike Air Foamposite One, November 2021
I have a love-hate relationship with this shoe. On one hand, I love that it looks like something that belongs in a glass case at a contemporary art museum, and then on the other hand… I hate that. It attempts to push the expectations of sneaker design, which I can always appreciate, but I’m not sure I’m totally sold on the result.
The upper features zen garden-esque swirls dressed in either an all-black or all-white colorway. It’s a statement sneaker if there ever was one. What does it say about you if you own it? You’re a pretentious asshole. Just kidding, of course, it’s a dope design worth appreciating even if we’re not entirely convinced it works.
Find the COMME des GARÇONS Homme Plus x Nike Air Foamposite One at your favorite aftermarket site.
Air Jordan 2 Low x Off-White White and Varsity Red
This Off-White Air Jordan 2 has the unfortunate baggage of being Virgil Abloh’s final design released while the late great designer was still alive. The fashion world is still reeling from the loss, but the sneaker stands as a powerful final statement from one of footwear’s GOATs.
The design served as a tribute to the legacy of the Air Jordan 2 and featured an artificially aged design that attempted to capture what a vintage pair might look like had it been locked away in a time capsule. The pair sits atop a cracked midsole and was revered-engineered from an original pair MJ actually wore.
As a final detail, Jordan’s signature was printed on each pair, a reference to his tendency to sign a pair of shoes and give them away to kids after games.
Find the Off-White Air Jordan 2 at your favorite aftermarket site.
Air Jordan 1 x A Ma Maniére Sail and Burgundy, November 2021
When A Ma Maniére dropped the Air Jordan 1 Sail and Burgundy, it felt like a victory lap. High off the success of the A Ma Maniére Jordan 3, the Sail and Burgundy offers everything the previous release offered, just on a Jordan 1 instead of a Jordan 3.
The sneaker features a textured suede upper with snakeskin detailing on the collar and swoosh, and a soft quilted sock liner in a beautiful off-white and brown colorway. In any other year, this would be the best sneaker release, but it had to compete with the A Ma Maniére Jordan 3, which came first. As such, this feels a bit like retreading old ground, as beautiful as it is.
Find the Air Jordan 1 x A Ma Maniére Sail and Burgundy at your favorite aftermarket site.
Air Jordan 11 Cool Grey, December 2021
This feels like an anti-climactic way to end a list of the best sneakers of 2021, but what can we say? This sneaker is simply beautiful. That’s to say, it’s simple and beautiful. Featuring a monochromatic leather upper dressed in tones of grey, the uninspiredly named Cool Grey features a crisp white midsole over an icy outsole and is one of the sneakers OG colorways.
It’s not mind-blowing, but it’s a celebration of one of the greatest Jordan silhouettes of all time on the year of the design’s 20th anniversary. For some Jordan 11 fans, this colorway is the holy grail.
Find the Air Jordan 11 Cool Grey at your favorite aftermarket site.