How to Buy Hockey Skates

Hockey Skate Buying Guide

Here is some advice from on how to buy Ice Hockey Skates

Ice hockey skates are the defining piece of hockey equipment that makes our sport unique. Figuring out which ice hockey skates will provide the best fit for you is the most crucial decision you will make when buying hockey gear. They say that a good skater can skate on anything, but it would be a huge mistake to underestimate the importance of taking time to choose the skates that will enhance each hockey player's specific style and needs based on their experience level and foot shape.

Hockey Skate Construction

Before you start looking at all of the different hockey skates that are available, it is important to understand the basics about how a hockey skate is built. There are three distinct but equally important parts of a hockey skate; the boot, the holder (plastic) and the runner (steel). Every manufacturer uses this same 3-piece construction model (2-piece, if you count the holder/runner as one) but there are many variations on each part of the skates that help distinguish one skate maker from the next.

Ice Hockey Skates

Holders and Runners

Bauer uses TUUK holders and runners, Graf uses Cobra holders and runners, and CCM uses SpeedBlade Holders with HyperGlide runners. They accomplish the same key goal, which is to mobilize the skater, despite the small visual differences in design. Most introductory level skates use a one-piece holder/runner. The one piece holder/runner is appropriate for introductory level skates, but the two-piece design is better suited for competitive skaters. Typically, runners and holders only break when a high velocity shot is taken directly at the holder/runner. This is why intermediate and elite level skates use the two-piece design; the two-piece design allows you to replace the runner if it is broken.

If you break a runner with the one-piece system, then you have no choice but to replace both the holder and runner. If you do happen to break a runner or holder on a lower-priced pair of hockey skates, it's often more cost-effective to simply take the opportunity buy a new pair of skates altogether, especially if you've gotten a fair amount of use out of them prior to the holder/runner breaking. The cost of purchasing the new holder or runner along with the cost of mounting the new holder will likely end up costing you about $40-50, which isn't much less than another brand new pair of introductory level skates.

Hockey Skate Boots

Hockey skate boots have evolved into a rather complex piece of equipment when you consider the amount of technology that goes into building them. Manufacturers are constantly looking for innovative ways to create the lightest, most supportive and responsive skates. High quality boots are now made with materials like texalium glass, carbon composite, thermo-formable foam and anti-microbial hydrophobic lining. The quality of a boot can be measured by taking into account the weight, durability, comfort and protection offered. Elite level skates employ a few key features that will be discussed in more detail later. Here's a simple breakdown of the boot components:

  1. Quarter package - the boot shell, which holds the padding and support inserts. The quarter package is stitched with precision to target specific areas for optimal flexibility and support in the boot
  2. Ankle padding - foam inserted into the quarter package for comfort and support
  3. Heel support - anatomically shaped "pocket" built into the quarter package which helps secure the foot inside the skate boot
  4. Tongue - protective coverage for the top of the foot and front of the ankle
  5. Outsole - rigid underside of the skate boot to which the holder/runner is mounted
  6. Footbed - removable, padded insert in the bottom of the skate boot upon which the foot rests
  7. Liner - surface material inside the boot which contains the padding and provides a secure, comfortable fit

Over time, every skater develops his own set of preferences as he becomes more familiar with the options and features that are offered with each skate model.

Identifying your foot type

Hockey Skate Fit Profiles
Model Instep Heel Mid-Foot Toe Box
Vapor Regular Slightly Narrow Regular Regular
Supreme Slightly Shallow Snug Snug Slightly Narrow
Nexus Deep Wide Wide Wide
RibCor Regular Slightly Narrow Regular Regular
RBZ Deep Wide Wide Wide
Tacks Regular Snug Snug Slightly Narrow
Mako Regular Slightly Narrow Slightly Narrow Regular

The width and depth of your feet are going to be the most important pieces of information used when determining which skates will fit your feet best. Most companies offer a standard width boot (D or R) and a wide boot (E, EE or W) for each of the models they produce. In some cases they will also offer C width which provides a narrow fit. Paying close attention to these three attributes when you're trying on skates will help you identify your foot-type:

  1. Width of your ankles/heels
  2. Thickness/depth of your feet
  3. Width of the front ¼ of your feet (toe box)

Generally speaking, if you've never had issues with width when purchasing tennis shoes then you will most likely fit well into D or R width skates. If you've experienced discomfort while wearing regular width shoes then you ought to consider E, EE or W width skates. Of course, the best way to find out is to try on several different models before making your selection. Once you have a good understanding of where you fit in comparison to the standard foot type then you can effectively choose a brand, model and width of ice hockey skates that will accommodate your foot type/shape. In order to further clarify the width sizing system, D and R are used interchangeably and so are E, EE and W. Most skates are offered in D or EE, but there are exceptions where R and W are seemingly arbitrarily substituted.

Intended use of the skates

At this point you should have a good understanding of which type of foot you have. That being said, the next thing to consider is the level of competition at which you will be playing. If the skates are going to be used for recreational purposes, then it is not absolutely necessary to choose a high performance ice hockey skate. If you are going to be playing competitive ice hockey, you ought to be looking at models that match your competitive level of play.

Competitive Hockey Skates

Competitive ice hockey is one of the most physically demanding team sports. Keeping up with the intensity and high-speed pace of the game is a challenge that needs to be met with an informed and deliberate decision when choosing ice hockey skates. Every hockey player is unique and has a skill set that should be identified and enhanced by the skates they are using. As mentioned before, each hockey skate manufacturer provides a tiered set of options within each line of skates that they produce (i.e. Bauer Supreme 2014/15 Hockey Skates - TotalOne MX3, 190, 180, 170, 160, 150, 140).

A hockey player who is serious about his effectiveness on the ice should be serious about the hockey skates that he is wearing; especially when you consider that your full weight is resting on blades that are about 1/8" thick. Higher end models offer more than just a slick look and comfortable fit. When you choose a high performance skate you are paying for several important features:

  • Lightweight materials for maximum speed and agility (composite quarter package and outsole construction)
  • Highly durable boot and holder/runner construction for consistent, longlasting performance
  • Thermo-formable foam padding (most upper end skate models can be "baked" to achieve a customized fit)
  • Increased ankle support and boot stiffness
  • Maximum padding and protection for vulnerable foot bones and tissue
  • Precise, high-quality workmanship

Recreational Hockey Skates

Each manufacturer provides many skates to choose from based on the needs of the skater. For instance, CCM produces Tacks, RibCor and JetSpeed skates, and within each line you will have a series of skates that range from recreational specs to high performance pro specs. The recreational player or skater can choose a skate that is more affordable and will amply accommodate their need for a comfortable and supportive boot. All ice hockey skates double as a great choice for public skating sessions at your local rink, but you don't need to pay a premium price if public session skating is the primary function of the skates. A pair of senior skates in the $100 or under price range will work perfectly for the recreational skater.

The bottom line is that you get what you pay for so be sure to pick a hockey skate that is equal to if not greater than the ability of the hockey player who is wearing them.

Ice Hockey Skate Sizing

In a perfect world every skate manufacturer would come to an agreement on a standard sizing system. But the reality is that although each brand is in the same arena there are some exceptions that need to be noted, even between models offered by a single company. Please refer to the hockey skate sizing guide for more information.

Inline Skates and Ice Hockey Skates — What's the Difference?

Inline hockey skates and ice hockey skates are built very similarly. The main difference, of course, is the fact that inline skates have a chassis with wheels while ice hockey skates have a holder and runner. The boots are almost identical, and many players actually take the holders off of their ice hockey boots and mount a pair of chassis onto them for inline hockey. Some ice boots work very well for inline hockey, but many are not built to handle the same amount of torque and flex that inline skating requires. Skating on the ice and skating on an inline surface may seem very similar at first glance, but you'll learn very quickly that the motions are unique and different.

One of the differences to make note of is the way that the holders and chassis are attached to the boots. Ice hockey skate holders are riveted to the outer edges of the boot outsoles; inline hockey skate chassis are riveted just a bit closer to the middle of the outsoles. This causes the boots and outsoles to flex in slightly different spots. Manufacturers take this into account when they're building the skates by reinforcing certain parts to make sure that the boots and outsoles are able to handle the stress of the nuances associated with each type of skating.

With all of that in mind, when you're shopping for inline hockey skates, you should still be looking for many of the same qualities that you look for with ice hockey skates; lightweight, durable materials, good ankle support, and a comfortable fit. Of course, when you're looking at inline skates, the wheels and chassis are important components to consider as well. High end skates come with better wheels than low end skates. In addition, high end skates tend to come with indoor wheels rather than outdoor wheels. Many recreational level skates come with outdoor wheels. Make sure to check the Durometer rating of the wheels when you're purchasing a pair of skates so that you can be sure they're appropriate for your intended use (indoor or outdoor). For more information on inline hockey wheels and Durometer ratings, read our Inline Hockey Wheels Buying Guide.