How to Choose Recreational Ice Skates

by Elisa Koshkina

If you're lucky enough to live near an outdoor ice skating rink this winter, or if you just want to have your own skates for skating at an indoor rink, here are a few skate selection tips that will help you get the most out of your time on the ice.

Pick Your Specialty and Check Out the Materials

Determine whether you would prefer to learn to play hockey or do a graceful figure skating spin. Of course, you can always play hockey in figure skates, and you can learn to do some Michelle Kwan moves on hockey skates. When you're choosing your skates, though, you should determine what you want to do most of the time and choose the type accordingly.

Go to a sporting goods store and look at the products that are available.

If you are buying figure skates, you should get leather boots with steel blades that are attached only to the sole of the boot. Hockey skate boots are generally made at least partly of cloth and are built on a fiberglass frame, and the best ones have a gel layer inside that will help the skates conform to the shape of your feet when they heat up.

Do not buy skates with boots that are completely made of vinyl; wearing vinyl boots is a good way to freeze your feet fast, and they don't give much ankle support.

Know that fleece-lined boots have limited usefulness. They may seem like a good idea, and they're fine for outdoor skating in extreme cold, but forego the fleece if you want good control over what your feet are doing.

Try a Size Smaller

Try on a pair of skates that are one size smaller than your shoes. It is best for skates to be tighter on your feet than your regular shoes are. This will give you a good feel for the ice and an improved ability to stand up. If you have ever asked for rental skates in your regular shoe size and ended up skating on your ankles, your skates were too big.

When you're trying skates on, request that your salesperson bring you skates in your shoe size, a half-size smaller, and a full size smaller. Try each pair on, starting with the largest size, even if you think your size fits fine.

Be sure to wear the socks you will be skating in. Generally speaking, the thinner the sock, the better the control over the skate; tights, knee-high stockings, or thin summer socks are best. If you buy good-quality skates, your feet will not be any colder than usual once you start skating.

Lace Up Right and Move Around

Lace your skates slightly loosely around the toe area, tightly over the bridge of your foot and beginning of your ankle, and less tightly again at the top.

If the laces are extra long, wrap them back and forth around the hooks at the top of your boot before you tie them. Do not wrap them around the ankle.

Walk around in the skates for five minutes or so.

If your heel is moving at all in the boot, it's too loose. Try retying it. If that doesn't work, go to the next half-size down. You also need smaller skates if your ankles are wobbling a lot, or if you find you're standing knock-kneed or pigeon-toed.

If your feet fall asleep within five minutes of putting the skates on or it is extremely painful to walk, it would be a good idea to try the next half-size up.

Ideally, when you are walking around on the ground, you should feel as solid on your feet in ice skates as you do in regular shoes; there should be no sensation of teetering unsteadily. If you bend your knees, your skates should give slightly while not allowing your ankles to roll.

If everything else is fine but you feel that your skates are too narrow across the ball of the foot, ask your salesperson for advice. You may be able to buy a spray or a boot stretcher that will solve this problem.

Look Sharp

Examine the blades of your skates. They should have two edges, with a slight hollow between. They should also be smooth and free of nicks and dents.

Test the sharpness of the blades by trying to scratch the surface of your fingernail with them. If this does not happen easily, your blades are too dull and you will slide around uncontrollably on the ice more than necessary.

Ask your salesperson if she can sharpen your skates at the store if they are too dull. If that isn't possible, call a nearby indoor rink or skate supply store; almost all of them employ a specialist who will sharpen and smooth your skate blades for a small fee.

Now that you have the right equipment, get out there and glide.

About the Author

Elisa Koshkina is a freelance writer who divides her time between Russia, Europe and the U.S. She has worked in several fields, including education, tourism, journalism, translation, editing, retail and IT.