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Skates can generally be broken down into two broad categories: roller and ice. Both ice and roller skates are used for recreation, artistic purposes, and athletic competition.

Roller skates can be further differentiated into roller skates and inline skates based on their wheel configuration. Roller skates feature four wide wheels, two in the front and two in the back. All are the same size. Roller skates are available in different models that are specifically designed based on their use. Derby skates are for use in roller derby competition, artistic and rhythm skates are for dancing and other artistic activities, speed skates are designed specifically for maximum speed, outdoor skates are for use on outdoor surfaces, and jam skates are recreational skates. Inline skates can have four or five wheels arranged in a straight line under the middle of the boot. Inline skates are available in two general styles: roller blades and roller hockey skates. Roller blades are for recreational use and feature padded boots, urethane wheels, lace and buckle closures, and a brake on the back of one skate. Roller hockey skates have harder boots with increased support in the Achilles section of the heel, a high back and tongue, lace closures, urethane wheels, and no brakes.

There are two types of ice skates: hockey skates and figure skates. Ice hockey skates are configures the same way as roller hockey skates, but have a different plate and a metal blade instead of wheels. Figure skate boots are similar to artistic roller skate boots. They are leather (typically white), have lace closures, and a wooden sole. The metal blade attaches to the sole of the boot and has a toe pick on the end for increased control during spins, jumps, and other artistic elements.

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