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Upgrading Your Skates Part 3 - Boots

So you already know everything there is to know about upgrading your plates. At this point, you're really going to want to make yourself a cup of coffee, possibly bake a tray to cookies, and get comfortable. If you thought plates were complex, boots are basically String Theory.

Boots come in different shapes, sizes, materials, heights, and if that weren't enough, soles are made differently, how boots are laced differs model to model, and there are a variety of straps, cinches, and lacing systems to keep you SUPER INTERESTED until 2018.

What is a Last?

Literally, the last refers to the foot mould that the skate is built around, but more simply it is the way a skate fits and why even boots from the same manufacturer can fit differently. The last qualifiers often describe the width across the widest point of the boot, the width of the heel, and how much space your toes are afforded, and they come in all combinations. Wide at the toes and the heels, wide at the toes and narrow at the heels, narrow at the toes and wide at the heels, and narrow all around.

Manufactures try to simplify their offerings by having a small number of lasts that they use for many skate models. In theory, trying on two different skate models built on the same last should feel the same.  I say in theory because the rigidity of the materials can have an affect on how a boot feels around your foot.

Toe Box

In addition to the varying widths, come different toe configurations. There are low toe boxes for pointy toes and higher toe boxes for square or meaty toes. If that weren't enough, there are also skates that come with a hard toe box which means THEY WILL NOT CHANGE. Unless they are heat mouldable, don't expect them to conform to your foot, so if you are squished up against them now, these are not the skates you are looking for.

Lastly (pun intended), consider where the lacing comes to on the toe box.  If the laces come all the way to your toe, you have more flexibility to adjust the width as the skate stretches. If the laces come to the ball of your foot, the toe box is more static.


What These Things Do

These are the basic elements you want to match to the shape of your feet. Like yeah, there was a time when EVERYONE wore the 495 (Torch) like it was the 90s and Dr. Martens were part of your uniform. But, you're thinking about upgrading so it's not a matter of what's all the rage, it's about your personal anatomy. Keep in mind that most of the skates available can be customized to meet your needs, but there are limits.

Boots that are too narrow may eventually stretch to fit better, but the stretched material will be weaker and wear out faster. You may also size too long to make the width bearable which will come back to bite you. Boots that are too wide will also stretch because skating will put pressure on the materials, resulting in sloppy boots. Foot slippage and toe stop work do not mix. Loose heels will result in slippage and blisters; tight heels will cause numbing and can result in long-term problems.   


Leather boots are said to be more comfortable and fit better, as they stretch and conform to the uniqueness of your feet. The stretch can occasionally be a drawback, since over time, boots can stretch more than desired, forcing you to buy a replacement. This is why we'll always push you into buying a boot that almost feels too small, when you're buying leather. Leather boots also offer more protection for your toes without a hard toe box as the material is thicker, which is a great advantage for the players whose toes take a beating.

Synthetics have seen some major improvements in recent years and are becoming comparable to leather. Synthetic material is man made. It also holds colour better than leather. Modern synthetics are finding ways to overcome lessened feel through lighter and thinner materials but can have a vast range of quality so it’s important to get a reputable skate if you prefer to have a synthetic. Keep in mind they don't breathe as well as leather, so you're going to have to air those puppies out or there will be yet another smell to complain about.

Rigid and thick versus pliable and thin boots make a big difference for skaters too. Linings and layers have a lot to do with the thickness of a skate. Some skates, like the Crazy Skate DB-X, are thick and padded and as a result feel incredibly form fitting on the inside, like a well-fitting sneaker. The Riedell Blue Streak, by contrast, has a thin soft leather upper that will form to the foot and feel like an extension of your foot but may feel more pliable over time. People who often love one hate the other. 

Soles are a funny things because we often don't think about them being significant in the way a boot fits or performs; they're just a platform under your foot to attach the plate to right? Well, sort of, except they can affect what plate will actually work best.

Take a leather or rubber sole, for example. These materials are flexible; pairing them on a nylon plate may result in feeling unsteady or unresponsive (muddy). The opposite goes for carbon based boots which are incredibly rigid and you may be able to afford a more flexible plate.

Hi or Low Ankles????

Sorry dudes, I know this isn't getting easier. And this is probably going to be a little hard to hear: the height is really a non-issue. Actually, wait. That should be awesome news. 

Traditionally, low boots are known as speed boots, but you don't really hit the consistent speeds that require the ankle flexibility afforded by speed skates in this sport. Higher boots offer stability, which is great for people who've sustained ankle injuries or require a little more rigidity there because that's how they're built. 

In the end, it's about comfort because either work great. This is one decision you can make just based on your desires. That's right: DESIRES.

Straps? Heel Locks? Ankle Loops? Oh My!

We promise that's as far as we're going to go and we put all this awesome stuff in a chart!

Straps go across the tops of the boots and clamp your feet in. Heal lock systems either lock your feet in from behind...or like don't, if you don't use them. Ankle loops are extra places your laces can go if you want to keep the tops of your boots tighter.

So figure that once you have boots that match the shapes of your feet, in a material you're good with, at a height that makes you feel safe, these features are the final touches that make your boots ALL YOURS.

Pros and Cons of Features

 Feature Great for Avoid if
High ankle Added support You have a freer skating style and don't like being restricted. Or hate rubbing on your ankles.
Mid ankle Compromise between support and flexibility and ability to use ankle fit to prevent heel lift. The only reason you're going for this is because you're heard horror stories about people's skates coming off their feet.
Low ankle Flexibility, additional movement. You have ankle injuries, weak tendons/ligaments. Also don't allow for cinch straps or heel cinches.
Heat moulding THAT PERFECT FIT & a hard form fitting surface to transfer full energy. The boot doesn't actually heat mould where you need it to.  Often skates only have a heat mouldable quarter or two.
Low lacing Your foot isn't the exact shape of the last and you need to adjust the width of the toe. You don't want to fuss with all that lace. You just want quick on and off.
Hard toe box Protecting your digits.  If you have toe sensitivity or if you kick people often.  That's a penalty! Your foot doesn't fit the shape exactly.  They can make you lose toe nails if they don't fit properly.
Cinch strap Minimizes vertical movement of your feet. You do a lot of your steering by moving your feet around; some people use their weight to do that, some people use their feet.
Heel cinch Locks your heels down. You have straight heels. Puts a lot of pressure on your achilles and can apply painful pressure and blister.

When to go Custom?

Custom boots meet a variety of needs:

  • you have two different sized feet;
  • you dream in Technicolor and no black/white boot is good enough for you;
  • you have anomalies on your feet, like bunions, broken bones that didn't heal properly, nerve problems, or chronic foot conditions;
  • your boot height/shape/toe box needs don't match the available configurations; and/or
  • you just WANT THEM.  Because a skate just isn't worth it unless it has unicorns on it.

Things you need to know about customs:

  • they are non-refundable;
  • they take a bit longer to get in, depending on the brand; and
  • you will love them more than you love air.

What Now?

We've given you a lot of characteristics that make boots different.  If you have the luxury of trying on all the boots because you either live near a store or you go to every tournament ever then try stuff on and figure out what you like. If you don't have that luxury, then give us a call and we can talk about what you like and don't like about your existing boot and what different features can mean for you. Also think about what you like about your favorite other equipment, like running shoes, hockey skates, flippers, and think about why you loved them so much. We can figure out how to apply that awesome to your derby skate.


Join us next week when we discuss in part 4 the art of sizing yourself properly for the boot you've chosen.

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