Buying Your First Pair of Hockey Skates

You might think The Stick Guru would say sticks are the most important piece of hockey gear, but realistically, skates are the most important. Since skating is the most important hockey skill, having properly fitting skates will only help you. The first thing you need to know is how to size your skates. Skates are measured at least 1.5 sizes less than your shoe size. So if you wear a size 10 shoe you will wear approximately a size 8.5 skate. The best way to determine your size is to get measured at your local hockey shop. If you’re going with Bauer skates try their new measuring system. It scans your foot in 3D and tells you the perfect [Bauer] skate and size for you. For example, I wear a size 9.5 shoe and a 6.5 EE skate. CCM and True also have fitting systems but only for their custom skates.

How Do Skates Fit?

This seems like a silly question but I see it asked a lot by parents and young kids at the pro shop. Skates are not like shoes, they are supposed to fit very snugly, but without being uncomfortable. Like a hug for your foot. Your foot should be surrounded by the skate and your big toe should barely scrape the front of the toe box. Luckily, skates come in a variety of different widths as well as volumes. So if you find yourself cramming your foot into your skates, explore your many options.

Which Skates Should I Buy?

Now that you know your size, let’s talk prices. Skates range from the basic $40 skate, up to $1200 for fully custom skates. With such a wide range you might be a bit overwhelmed. Luckily there are skates for everyone. There are usually around 3-6 different models at different price points depending on the manufacturer. They are also broken down into 3 categories of skates; beginner, intermediate, and elite. If this is your first pair of skates you will want to look at the first two categories except for a few exceptions we will talk about later.

Beginner Skates

Beginner skates are meant for, well, beginners. They are usually in the $50-$300 range. If you are unsure if you like hockey or only using them for public skate sessions then the most basic skate will be for you. Beginner skates don’t have much stability or protection against pucks but can work for a short while. They will break down much faster than higher models. For example, my first pair of skates was the very cheapest in the store; I think I paid $40. They lasted me a month before the tendon guard broke off and I had to replace them. As a general rule, the higher up you get the longer they will last. If you plan on playing or skating a few times a week you may want to be closer to the $300 range. You don’t have to spend $300, you just want that price point. So if the MSRP is $299.99 but on sale for $149.99 you know you are still getting that price point. Keep in mind that companies reuse model numbers (I think to intentionally confuse us).  So a Nexus 8000 from one year might be the highest level, and the next year it’s the lowest. It’s important to check the MSRP so you know what you’re getting. 

Intermediate Skates

The intermediate price point is for players who are a little better skaters and/or more frequent skaters. They range from about $300 to $700. They are generally stiffer and offer more protection. This is where the bulk of beer leaguers get their skates from.  As you go up in price point the skates tend to get stiffer. The stiffness helps you get more energy transfer and the materials used make the skate lighter. The really stiff skates can take forever to break in and are the bane of all hockey players. But the stiff and hard materials allow your skates to take more of a beating and last longer. When buying new stiff skates, I recommend going to a few public sessions before you bring them to a game; your feet will thank you. The intermediate level has the widest range of features. You have the low end with very basic beginner features and the higher end with pro-level features, and some mixing and matching depending on the manufacturer. Some manufacturers offer special models to local shops called SMUs. Some of the larger retailers (like Pure Hockey) get some features from the next price point up at a slightly reduced cost. So you get a better skate for a discount. There are different levels of SMUs depending on the store ordering it. Companies like Pure Hockey get better SMUs because of the scale they buy them in. Your local shop may still get a great skate but for a different price point. Check with your local shop if that’s something that interests you. Be aware that there are lower-end SMUs for discount stores such as Modell’s, and Canadian Tire which may have the look of a higher price point skate.

Before we move on to Elite skates I want to mention that heavy skaters may need higher price point skates. All your weight is going into the boot of the skate so it needs to support you. If you ever notice your skates tend to crease around the middle of the quarter package of the skate you need a stiffer boot, which you get with higher price points. 

Elite Skates

Now on to elite skates. These are the lightest and best-performing skates on the market. Meant for your high-level players or someone wanting high performance out of your skates. They have pro-level features and protection. These are the same or similar skates your favorite NHLers or other pros are wearing. Elite skates tend to have very drastic clearance prices as new skates come out, sometimes as much as 40% – 50% off. So if you’re an intermediate player looking for something elite or a major upgrade, wait until new skates come out and snag a pair of high-end ones. Be aware that elite skates are very very stiff. Made with some of the same materials as hockey sticks, so they may hurt and take a while to break in. But it will be worth it! They tend to be very light as well.

Note for parents: As much as your kids beg for the top-of-the-line skates, they don’t need it unless they are playing at a high level or very frequently. They will outgrow them pretty quickly, especially the younger ones. If you can find a good deal, then great. But, it’s much better to get lower intermediate models that fit right. Then replace them as they grow out of them instead of buying elite skates to grow into. It will only hurt their development to “grow into” their skates. 

Custom Skates

Your last option is custom skates. If you want skates designed just for you or want to mix and match features that retail just doesn’t offer; these are for you. You may also want to go with Custom skates if you have oddly shaped feet. If you have been struggling with finding comfortable skates, it’s a good option. Custom skates are elite skates so you will probably get many years out of them. You can buy lower-end models with the custom option but the price is the same. The 3 main companies offering custom skates are Bauer, CCM, and True. Bauer is a newcomer to the custom skate biz for average players. They have been making custom skates for pros for years but not us. In my opinion, they have the best method. They digitally scan your foot and find you the closest retail skate to your foot. You may even be able to fit a retail skate and save yourself the money. Or you can make small modifications to help fit better. They have 3 lines (Vapor, Supreme, and Nexus) and whichever skate your foot is closest to is what skate you get. You then get to choose some other cool options, like liners and different tongues and thicknesses. You still need to bake them for ultimate comfort but they were built exclusively for you. CCM also has a similar process but instead, they have an app that scans your foot instead of a machine. They also choose the closest retail fit to your foot, and let you change as many options as you like. Lastly, we have True, who pretty much invented the custom skate option for average Joe’s. They bought a company called VH which had been making custom skates for many years. The advantage to True skates is that they make a last of your foot so the skate is designed around your foot for a glove-like fit, instead of matching a retail model to your foot. I’ve heard issues about their durability but many compliments on the fit and comfort level. 

Baking Skates

A feature that has been around for a few years is skate baking. Most of your intermediate level and up [and small amounts of low-level] skates have this feature. The skates have a gel system that, when heated will conform to your foot. You bake your skates by putting them into a special oven (most pro shops have them) and then lace them up as tight as you can. Then you sit with them on until they cool down, take them off, and don’t skate on them for at least 24 hours. I’ve seen some shops tell you to walk around with them on while baking. DON’T DO THIS! While you walk you will put uneven pressure on the skate and as you break them in can ruin the fit in the long run. The best thing is to just sit and relax and let it conform to your foot. Plus if you go in the winter the warm skate is quite delightful. As you break in your skates, your foot will sink back a little into the skate a bit. So if your toes and a little cramped in the toe box when you first try them on, keep in mind that they will drift back a little bit. DO NOT USE YOUR HOME OVEN!! Another misconception or DIY solution is to bake them in your home oven. Not only can it start fires, but you can also ruin your skates and it will void the warranty. Since it’s heat moldable you have to be concerned with all heat. Meaning, if you leave your skates in the car on a hot day your skates can soften and “rebake” themselves. If you must leave your gear in your car, take your skates out. It is especially susceptible to this for the first 24 hours after you bake them in the store. 

Fit vs. Price

Fit is the absolute most important thing about your skates. A properly fitting skate will only help you skate better. Even if that means paying a little more than you wanted for a better fit, it will be worth it in the long run. Wearing skates that are too big, you risk losing out on energy transfer and skating harder than you have to. Plus you will look like a bender and crease your boots. I’ll be honest: I wore the wrong size skates when I first started. I was used to shoes that have a little wiggle room so a very tight skate was uncomfortable for me. Once I realized and got used to how skates are supposed to fit, it made skating easier. Like I said earlier, you can check the clearance rack for some great deals on old skates. Keep in mind that 5-year-old skates, which are now 80% off won’t get you the latest and greatest features you may want. Plus modern skates are almost half the weight they were only a few years ago. In general, when new skates come out they give the higher-end features from last year’s models to lower-end skates from this year. For example, Bauer offers a trigger system to easily swap steel. It was exclusively offered on their highest model skate when it first came out, the next year it was on all higher-end intermediate skates, and today it’s on most models except for the lower-end beginner skates.

You may also want to consider used skates. Check out our article here on used gear. (Just skip to the skate section). The same rules apply to fit and quality.

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