The one thing that separates ice hockey from all other team sports is the ice itself, so it should come as no surprise that buying the right pair of hockey skates—your connection to the ice—can make a big impact on your performance. The right pair of skates won't magically improve your skills, but they can help you make the most of your abilities and enable you to improve on the ice. Before you purchase a new pair of hockey skates, however, there are several things to consider, from skate style to proper fit.
A hockey skate may seem pretty simple—it's just a boot attached to a blade, after all—but every part of that description is more complicated than it appears at first glance. For instance, there are several styles of boot, and the boot itself is made up of as many as six components, available in multiple configurations. The same is true of both the blade holder and the blade itself. By taking the time to determine the right hockey skates for your foot shape, skill level, playing style, and budget, you can step on the ice with confidence every time.
Parts Of A Hockey Skate
Hockey skates range in price from about $40 for an entry-level youth model, to more than $900 for a top-of-the-line, high-performance model. Variations in materials, construction, and features account for this wide disparity, and the sheer number of skates available from multiple manufacturers means that there's a good chance you can find exactly what you want and need. The first step is understanding how the pieces all fit together.
Parts of the Boot
The main part of a hockey skate boot is the "quarter package," which extends from the toe cap to the heel and up around the rear and sides of the ankle. Like all kinds of boots, the quarter package is formed around a high-density-plastic “last” that is molded in the shape of a human foot. Different lasts produced boots of different shapes, accommodating wide or narrow feet. This is why it's important that the skates you choose are designed to be comfortable for the shape of your foot. (We will discuss how to properly fit skates below.)
Each part of the boot may be constructed of materials that affect levels of protection and comfort, weight, and durability. High-end skates, designed for the most serious players, incorporate technical materials that ensure the most secure fit and can withstand the most abuse, while keeping the overall weight of the skate as low as possible. For instance, the Bauer Vapor 1X hockey skates are constructed using a proprietary lasted 3D Curv Composite with X-Rib pattern and Comfort Edge padding. If you read the specifications of other high-end hockey skates, you'll find materials with fancy names, such as RocketFrame Composite or TUUK Lightspeed Edge. But you don't have to spend an arm and a leg to get good performance. Oftentimes, the cutting-edge technologies used to make the most expensive skates filter down to lower-priced models in subsequent years, usually making use of less expensive materials.
The tongue of a hockey skate protects the front of the foot and is an important component of fit and comfort. The traditional tongue has a felt liner, which some players still prefer. However, foam liners are becoming increasingly popular because they can be more comfortable, make use of breathable materials to reduce sweat and odor, and help reduce the overall weight of the skate. More and more models are incorporating foam inside the boot, as well, for both padding and enhanced fit.
Modern hockey skates often have advanced boot liners and footbeds, as well. The boot liner is the inside surface, which incorporates strategically placed padding for protection and secure fit. For instance, most boots offer specific protection for the ankles and Achilles region at the back of the foot. The footbed (or insole) is a removable insert that fits in the bottom of the boot and serves as the base on which your foot rests. Footbeds come in many configurations—to fit different-size arches, for instance—and in materials that offer comfort, odor protection, moisture management, and better edge control on the ice.
The outsole is the hard piece on the bottom of the boot to which the blade assembly is attached. Ideally, the outsole is very rigid, resisting the torque created when the player applies pressure during the stride. Skates in the mid- to high-price range feature outsoles constructed from composites that achieve a good balance between low weight and rigidity.
Holder and Runner
The holder attaches to the outsole of the boot and “holds” the runner, or blade. Most holders and runners are a single piece, although higher-end models feature separate holders and runners. The advantage of a two-piece system is that you can change runners on the fly if the edges become dull or the blade breaks. Also, if the holder breaks—usually caused by impact with the puck—you don't have to replace the runner. Runners are designed from metals of different hardness, and more expensive blades feature harder steel that holds a sharper edge longer, coatings designed to reduce friction, and attractive finishes.
Three Things To Consider When Choosing Hockey Skates
Of course it would be great to have the best hockey skates that money can buy, but not everyone is prepared to make that kind of investment. Determine how much you're willing to spend, and then start looking at the models in your price range, comparing features. Perhaps you'll be enticed to go a bit higher than you expected, or you might even find what you need at a lower price point. But do keep in mind that your skates are the most important hockey equipment you'll buy.
You are going to spend many hours wearing your hockey skates and putting a lot of pressure on them every time you push off or stop, so comfort and fit must be priorities. You won't be able to perform on the ice if your feet hurt.
Do you have wide feet or high arches? If there's anything special about your foot type, then you'll want to choose a hockey skate that can accommodate you—perhaps one with a larger toe box or a special footbed. Most skates are available in standard and wide models, and there are lots of resources and charts online or in shops to help you determine which skates have fit profiles designed for your foot type. Plus, each manufacturer offers a fitting guide for its skates. As with shoes and sneakers, sizing varies somewhat from manufacturer to manufacturer, so don't assume that because you wore size 9 Bauers you'll automatically be comfortable in size 9 CCMs.
A big part of fit is determined by the lacing system, as you want the boot to be as snug as possible. If your foot slips inside the boot, you won't have good control of your edges. Many skates feature special materials on the tongue, sometimes called a “bite bar,” to lock the laces in place and keep them from loosening. The placement of padding inside the boot also helps achieve a snug fit without creating discomfort.
Are you a weekend rec player, or do you plan to pursue the sport to higher levels? If you plan to spend many hours each week in your hockey skates and demand high performance from them, then you'll want skates with the most advanced features. You can spend money on better skates than you'll need, but skates that aren't up to the task might hold back your playing. Here are just a few of the things to consider:
- Comfort: The more you play, the bigger concern comfort should be.
- Stiffness: Stiffer skates offer better control and transfer of power.
- Weight: Lighter skates reduce fatigue and help with speed.
- Padding: Well-placed padding provides comfort, protects the foot from flying pucks and slashing stick blades, and also plays an important role in how the boot fits.
- High-Quality Runner: Harder steel holds its edges better and lasts longer.
- Features: Specific components of high-end models may fit your needs or simply appeal to you.
Each manufacturer offers hockey skates in a wide range of performance and price, so a player has many options to choose from. If you approach the selection process deliberately—taking into consideration your specific needs and desires—you'll find the right pair of hockey skates to enhance your time on the ice. Whether you're simply looking to have fun or trying to take your game to great heights, selecting the right hockey skates is an important first step.