We’re going to help you pick and fit your skate boots! So whether you’re on quad plates or inline frames and whether you’re looking online or in your local skate shop, you ARE going to feel more confident as you hand over your precious hundred-dollar bills.
First let’s get expectations adjusted:
Less than half of boots feel great right out of the box.
But the vast majority of peoples’ boot choice
can fit their feet with adjustments.
Roller sports are NOT big business for anybody so there just isn’t the money to make a perfect fitting boot for every foot. Heck, there’s many models that don’t even offer half sizes! But manufacturers and (good) skate shops have developed products and learned methods to accommodate nearly every foot. Innovative materials, lacing tricks, insoles, heat-molding, and surgery (just kidding) go a long way to make any boot more symbiotic with your feet.
We can take some aspects of skating (like physics, anatomy, and geometry) as hard facts but all aspects are subject to personal preference. If you’re told that the skates you’re buying are three sizes too big but you knowthat’s your preference and you skate best that way then you do you.
So don’t give up on a boot too fast! Just like it’s hard to imagine how you’d function in a room without furniture, judging a boot without some “interior design” is premature.
- CUFF HEIGHT
- HEEL HEIGHT
- MATERIAL CONSIDERATIONS
- PICKING A SIZE
- WIDTH CONSIDERATIONS
- SOLE ISSUES (Arch, Instep, Heel Lift)
High cuffs, as high as six inches on traditionally-styled skates, provide much more ankle support as you would expect. This is an advantage if you have ankle problems or are challenging your ankles with large drops or jumps.
Lower cuffs free up your ankles which allows a skater to finesse through losses of balance due to derby hits or cock-eyed landings. It also allows considerably more leverage in your push which contributes power (and you go faster).
There’s of course variations like Antik’s high boots which have high cuffs but are low at your achilles which give support laterally but flexibility for pushing or running on your toe stops. Many hockey skates are high in the front and back but lower on the sides giving support and flexibility accordingly.
This aspect of your skate is the hardest to describe in words. It really is an advantage to be able to actually try skates on but I want to give you some information to go on. I’m unaware of a boot that doesn’t have at least a little bit (a few millimeters) of heel rise but there’s options up to almost an inch and a quarter of heel rise. Raising your heel puts your weight on your toes, which makes you bend your knees, which lowers your center of gravity, which makes you a better skater for multiple reasons. So could there be any disadvantage to elevated heels?
Well, right now with or without shoes on, stand on your toes and jump as high as you can. Unless you cheated and lowered your heel right before you leapt, you felt pretty limited. So if you plan to do any apex jumping (jammers) or jumping over/onto anything, it’s a good idea to have your heel at least a bit lower. Between 3/8 and 1/2 inch is fairly nominal and a good compromise.
The goal of skate boots is to translate the movement of your feet to movement of your wheels. Generally, the stiffer the material is, the better that translation is; hard plastic or carbon fiber gives more response than thick foam liners. But seriously ask yourself how much control you want. There’s a reason that a Cadillac’s steering is less responsive than a Ferrari’s. Too much response can make your skates feel twitchy or kind of “rattle-y”. But too much “squish”, while making skates feel as comfy as bunny slippers, begs the question: do you really want bunny slippers with wheels?
-Full-grain leather – There’s a reason it’s been used in footwear for thousands of years. It’s durable, it looks good, and it conforms to the shape of your foot. So far, all leather quad boots are cow hide of which there are many levels of quality. There are several factors which determine quality but the two most desired properties are durability and softness. So in a high quality leather boot like the Riedell Solaris, you’re going to get a supple but durable boot. But you’re going to pay for it; quality of leather is a major contributor to price.
-Suede leather – Suede has all the qualities of full-grain leather (naturally) but where quality full-grain leather might have a ratio of about 3 parts durability to 2 parts softness, quality suede will favor softness over durability at about 3:2. This makes suede the fastest natural break-in (vs. heat-molding say).
-Synthetic – This covers a lot of different specific materials, like synthetic leather and woven nylon, and there’s a lot of varying aspects between them. But one general consistency that matters to you is that it stretches very little; this can be both an advantage and disadvantage depending on your goals.
-Microfiber – This is a popular synthetic material that is often added to boot construction for the purpose of comfort but beware, without a material added for durability, microfiber does not last long.
-Nylon sole – Nylon soles, depending on thickness, are light and provide some flex between your boot and your plate, a combo preferred by many different kinds of skaters including Death & Glory’s own Midge Wilhelm, one of the world’s best jammers.
-Leather sole – These can be soft or stiff depending on thickness and quality. One deficiency can be, over time, permanent sagging over your plates around the edges.
-Carbon fiber or fiberglass sole – The stiffest, lightest, and most expensive outsoles. Very responsive.
-Hybrid sole – These are a combination of the above materials and/or rubber, high density foam, and medium density foam attempting to utilize the best qualities of multiple materials.
PICKING A SIZE
So for ‘performance footwear’ in general, the ideal is that with
-equal weight on each of your feet (not sitting!)
-knees bent (similar to when you’re skating)
-laces tied (to pull your heel into the heel ‘pocket’)
you can wiggle your toes and when you do, your longest toe(s) just grazes the end of the boot. If your toes are pushed into the end of the boot, pain will most likely result. Pain is bad.
If you’re to err, we recommend choosing a little bit short (no more than half a size!) over a little large knowing that with some break-in time, most boots (see the Material Considerations section above) will stretch and conform to your foot, resulting in a truly perfect fit.
It's not a sin to choose a larger fit though! If you don't have the patience for break-in (it can be tough so we don't blame you!) and you're measuring between a 7½ and 8, the 8's will definitely be more comfortable out-of-the-box. Realize, though, that with too much length you start sacrificing control of your skates or inviting blisters with excessive movement inside your boot (derby players and park quad skaters: how much will your foot move with toe stop work?)
-Insoles – Insoles are perhaps not an intuitive fix for length but it helps more than you think. A thicker insole (or even a whole extra insole) will make your boot feel shorter and thinner insoles (particularly at the toe) will make boots feel longer. PLUS insoles can remedy other fitting issues, see here.
-Socks – The thickness of your socks make a noticeable difference in the functional length of your foot.
-Heat-molding – Is your boot heat-moldable? If so, you can probably get a ¼ boot size of extra length.
-Material stretching – Synthetic materials will stretch very little (unless they are heat-moldable) but leather, and suede in particular, stretches up to a half size. This will take some time (how much time depends on various aspects of the leather like thickness) but things can be sped up some with leather conditioner or a lot by your local cobbler with a boot stretcher.
The width is the aspect we see disqualify boots most often and, more often than not, the problem is that boots are too narrow. But where a boot feels tight matters so much so consider where they feel narrow: the instep which is behind the ball of your foot, the “toe box” which is the width at the ball of your foot, or the toes themselves?
-Heat-molding – This typically helps a lot and remedies your specific foot.
-Lacing techniques – It’s remarkable how much comfort skipping a pair of eyelets can give. See here.
-Material stretching – Synthetic materials will stretch very little (unless they are heat-moldable) but leather, and suede in particular, can stretch quite a bit. This takes time of course (how much time depends on various aspects of the leather like thickness) but things can be sped up some with leather conditioner or a lot by your local cobbler with a boot stretcher.
FEELING IT IN YOUR SOLE (arches, heel height, heel lift)
Aftermarket insoles are pretty much the only way to accommodate abnormal arches or any arches really because almost all skates and boots come with worthless insoles (Jackson, Luigino, & Mota being exceptions: theirs are useable). There are many options for insole upgrades like Superfeet, for example, but in our experience, no company beats Dr. Scholls for variety or cost.
The top of your foot between your toes and ankle is called your instep and it really matters. Things don't often go wrong here but it can be terrible when they do. If your instep is high and your footwear doesn't accommodate, stress fractures are very possible (and they suuuuck). Also, fun fact: all your foot's blood circulation is on top of your foot and if your instep is high or you just have a habit of clamping down your laces (we call it "crank-itis"), blood flow is restricted which can make your foot cold or numb. Add the fact that female blood circulation just isn't really strong, and you can have a lot working against you.
High instep solutions
-Lacing techniques. See here.
“Heel lift” is when you shift your weight onto your toes and your heel moves upward in the back of your boot. This isn’t bothersome for everyone but for those whom are sensitive to it, it’s maddening. Heel lift is nearly impossible to eliminate since skate plates/frames are rigid (unlike running shoes for example) and your foot is not so any foot flexing will create incongruence between the sole of your foot and the sole of your boot. So temper expectations.
Heel lift solutions
-Lacing techniques. See here.
-Heat-molding - During the heat-molding process, squeeze the boot at your achilles and above your heel while the boots are cooling to close the material around your foot.
-Straps – Many boots have instep straps built in which help but aftermarket straps like Powerslide Myfit straps give the advantage of holding your foot down to both the boot AND the plate/frame making your heel more static.