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Hockey skates are your direct connection to the ice, so finding the best skates for your budget and playing style is vital to your performance. This guide on how to buy hockey skates will walk you through the important considerations for choosing your first pair or finding an upgrade or replacement.
Hockey skates are typically made of performance plastics and other synthetic materials, with high-density plastics used for the “last,” or the bottom of the skate that forms the shape. As you go up in price point, you’ll find hockey skates with more advanced materials and technologies meant to enhance protection, comfort, weight, and durability.
Elite-level hockey skates, designed for the most serious players, incorporate high-tech materials that ensure a secure fit and a lightweight skate that can withstand the abuse that comes with regular play. For instance, the Bauer Vapor skate line is built with their proprietary Curv Composite material, which is 3D-lasted for a precise boot shape, along with their thermoformed X-rib pattern in the quarter package, which creates a tighter fit in the heel and ankle. Meanwhile, the CCM Tacks skate line incorporates a carbon composite with an anatomical design and form-fitting liners for added comfort and moisture control.
But all hockey skates have the same basic design, with different parts of the skates protecting different parts of the foot and ankle. A hockey skate is essentially a boot attached to a blade, but there are several components to the boot, while the blade typically consists of an integrated holder and runner. All boots are built around a last, high-density plastic in the shape of a foot, that determines the size and width of the skate. Here’s the detailed anatomy of a hockey skate:
There are a few major considerations when buying new hockey skates: the price, the fit, and how well they match your individual game. We cannot stress enough to never buy hockey skates based on how they look or if your favorite NHL player wears them. You have to buy the skates that feel the best to you and support your style of play.
Hockey skates range in price from about $50 for an entry-level Youth model to around $1000 for a top-of-the-line Senior model.
As a general rule, your hockey skate size will be 1-1½ sizes smaller than your shoe size. But it’s not uncommon for players to have hockey skates up to 2-2½ sizes smaller than their shoe size, so don’t be concerned if your skate size differs that much.
Your specific foot size and shape will also dictate the skates you’re looking for: do you have a narrow foot, a wide foot, a flat foot, a high arch, thick ankles, narrow ankles? You'll want to choose a hockey skate that can accommodate you—perhaps one with a larger toe box or a special footbed. Hockey skate makers design skates for all shapes, sizes, and playing styles, which is why you see so many options. The major brands know you need skates tailored to your feet and your game, so keep looking and trying on models until you find the ones that feel right.
Check out our related guide on How to Size Hockey Skates for more detail on finding the correct fit, including skate sizing charts for specific manufacturers such as Bauer and CCM.
In addition to your specific foot shape and size, your position and playing style may influence the skates you should buy. The finesse player looking to make tight turns and cuts needs different performance features in a hockey skate than a power skater looking to get as much potential energy out of their stride as possible.
Fortunately, the major manufacturers have developed their product lines with these different needs in mind. For example, Bauer Vapor skates are designed for speed and agility, ideal for traditional wingers and other quick-moving skaters, while Bauer Supreme skates are built for power and stability, more typical needs for defensemen and more physical players. Similarly, CCM’s Ribcor and Jetspeed skates are designed for agility and acceleration, while the Tacks line is made for power.
Parents generally want to know how to buy the right size hockey skates for their kid and how much they’re going to cost. Our guide on How to Fit Hockey Skates will help you find the correct size for your child, and our guide on Kids’ Hockey Gear has some additional information to help you decide.
If your kid's a beginner, there's no need to go high-end. Elite skates are crafted with lightweight, stiff materials to maximize energy transfer while skating, benefiting players who have distilled every stride down to a science. But beginners are still learning the basics; stiffer skates would not provide much benefit and they would be more uncomfortable. Plus, without all the precision materials and design of the higher-end models, beginner skates are far less expensive.
Don't worry: when kids get to be such good skaters that their entry-level equipment starts to hold them back, it's easy to upgrade to a more advanced pair of skates.
A pair of Youth hockey skates will usually range from $50 to $200, but you can often find a pair on sale or clearance.
If your child plays goalie, they will need goalie skates, not player skates. Likewise, figure skates are not an acceptable substitute for ice hockey skates, even for children. We’ll talk about some of the differences below.
Make Note: buy the skates that fit. Buying up a size so your child can “grow into them” means they’ll have a sloppy fit, which will impede their skating and may cause blisters or other injuries. Plus, playing in uncomfortable skates will mean your child may not enjoy the game as much as they should.
There are a few crucial differences between goalie skates and player skates: hockey goalie skates have shorter boots for better range of motion; longer, thicker blades for side-to-side movement; and a wrap around the boot called a cowling to protect against hard shots. Goalie skates are designed to address the specific performance and protection needs to block shots and protect the net. Simply put, goalies need goalie skates, and player skates are no substitute.
If you play goalie, check out our related guide on How to Buy Hockey Goalie Skates for more information on finding the right pair.
The question of “figure skates or hockey skates?” sometimes comes up, mostly in the context of young children just learning how to skate: parents might wonder if there’s any distinct advantage to learning on a particular type of skate, and how the skills might translate from sport to sport.
Hockey skates and figure skates each have unique features geared to their sport. Figure skates have longer, heavier blades with a toe pick at the front, designed for executing jumps and pivots and tracing long, graceful arcs on the ice. The boot on a figure skate is typically a pliant leather material, in contrast to the hard plastic boot on an ice hockey skate. Still, hockey skates tend to be lighter than figure skates due to the smaller blades, and hockey skates are generally built for speed, acceleration, and quick changes in direction.
There’s no substitute for the proper skate if you know which sport you or your child wants to play. But an entry-level pair of hockey skates is a perfectly valid option for learning and just having some fun out on the ice, and we also offer a selection of recreational ice skates designed specifically with that in mind.
Heat molding or baking your new hockey skates is a way to help break them in faster so they’ll fit better and be more comfortable. Some players choose to bake their skates at home in the oven—it’s certainly doable, but we say, don’t try this at home. It’s possible to ruin your skates or even injure yourself, so it’s best to leave it to the pros. Pure Hockey will bake your skates for free when you purchase a new pair, so check out a store near you to take advantage of this service.
Note: not all hockey skates can be heat-molded. Most newer, higher-end skates can be baked, but lower-end or recreational skates are easy to damage in the process. The materials in lower-end skates generally can’t stand up to the temperatures required for heat-molding, so they’re prone to degrading faster when baked. Check with the manufacturer or the pros at Pure Hockey to find out if your skates can be baked.
If you can’t find a hockey shop to bake your skates near you, and you don’t want to throw your new skates in the oven, another at-home alternative is to use a hairdryer: heat the skate materials inside and out until they become soft enough to form.
There’s no substitute for just lacing up a new pair of skates and hitting the ice to break them in, and there’s not much getting around the initial discomfort of those first few skates. But skate baking can be a great way to reduce the break-in period and make your new skates as comfortable as possible when you first step onto the ice.
Sharpening your hockey skates is an important part of maintaining them, and it’s important for performance: maintaining a sharp skate blade is essential for the ability to accelerate, turn, and stop on the ice.
If you don’t know what you’re doing, it’s best to get your skates sharpened by a professional. While there are tools you can throw in your hockey bag to sharpen your skates, they’re best used for a touchup before a game or to smooth a nick during a game. Some tools will wear away more of your blade, which means your skates will need new blades sooner. It’s best to take your skates to a trained skate sharpener who uses quality equipment. Many rinks and hockey shops, including several Pure Hockey locations, offer skate sharpening services on the premises.
When skates are sharpened, a hollow groove is cut into the center of the bottom of the blade. It is cut deep enough that what is left are the two edges on each side. The blade hollow is between these two edges and extends up into the blade. The depth of the hollow will affect the performance of the skate. A deeper hollow will slow the skate yet give the skater more control. A shallower hollow will increase a skater’s speed but may require more skating skill. Generally, hockey skates will have a hollow between three-eighths and five-eighths of an inch. Experienced skaters will often use a hollow that they have played on for years and have become accustomed to, while beginners will often use a half-inch hollow.
So, how often should you sharpen your skates? As a general rule, some players sharpen their skates every 15-20 hours of ice time, which works out to once or twice a month for many skaters. Some players will sharpen their skates before every game, while others might only sharpen them once or twice a year. A lot depends on your frequency of play, the quality of the ice (outdoor ice tends to be colder and harder, wearing out skates faster), and the quality of the skates, so you may need to adjust your skate sharpening schedule to find what works for you.
There are some tell-tale signs that your hockey skates need to be sharpened. Dull blades will chatter, pull to one side, wobble out of control, or prevent you from turning as tightly as you normally do. Other ways to tell are if you can feel nicks and gouges in the blade when lightly running your finger along the surface, or if you can see a reflection in the blade edge when viewed under a bright light.
Get a sense of how often your hockey skates need to be sharpened, and try to adhere to a schedule. Sharpen them too often and your blades will wear out prematurely. Not frequently enough, and you’ll find yourself losing an edge when trying to turn, or being unable to control your skates.
Your hockey skate blades or runners should be kept sharp, smooth, and free of rust, burrs, and pitting, and with the right hollow (the concave semi-circle on the bottom of the runner that makes contact with the ice surface) to maximize skating performance based on conditions. But after lots of sharpening, the steel wears down and you'll eventually need to change the blades or runners. This is routine care for your ice hockey skates—like getting new tires on a car.
You'll know when to change the runners primarily by feel. Your skating will feel soft and wobbly and you won't turn as crisply, stop as quickly, or accelerate as cleanly as you're used to.
You can visually inspect the blades to determine whether the steel is pitted or has burrs, and whether you have enough steel left for sharpening. Maybe the blades are dull and that's the problem; get them sharpened! Nothing affects skating performance more than dull blades. If you determine that the steel is worn down or banged up, opt for replacement runners in the right thickness to fit the holder of your skates, with the blade profile that fits your skating style.
Take the new runners and skates to a Pure Hockey store or wherever you'd usually sharpen your skates—they can do the replacement for you. For DIYers: take the foot bed out of the skate, remove the plastic cap that covers the nut holding the runner in place, use a tool to remove the nut, remove the old runner and carefully insert the new one, and then fasten it in place with the nut.
Once you're good to go, consider protecting the edges of your skate blades using cloth blade soakers, blade covers, or hockey skate guards.
Remember that regularly cleaning and drying your hockey skates can extend the lifespan of your equipment and prevent the materials from breaking down prematurely.
Are you in the market for a new pair of hockey skates? Shop our full selection of hockey skates online, or if you’re still unsure which pair might be right for you, visit a Pure Hockey store near you for a full assessment from our staff.
If you’re shopping for other gear, too, be sure to check out our other hockey equipment buying & fitting guides so you can purchase with confidence.
Regularly cleaning and drying your elbow pads can extend the lifespan of your equipment and prevent the materials from breaking down prematurely.
Are you in the market for a new pair of elbow pads? Shop our full selection of hockey elbow pads online, or if you’re still unsure which pair might be right for you, visit a Pure Hockey store near you for a full assessment from our staff.