You have been directed here because you've probably asked the question "what skates should I buy?". I'm afraid the answer is a little more complicated than "go here" and "buy this". So, here is a guide to buying inline skates. It includes all the information you will need to make an informed decision. This guide is an update (slash shameless plagiarise!) of Mike VE's Inline Skate Buying Guide, written in May 2002 and available here.
This guide is aimed at the new or beginner skater, who may not be sure what skate to choose and why. There are so many different skate models and manufacturers out there, and there is so much technical and marketing hype, that buying new skates can be a confusing experience.
What type of skating?
This diagram helps explain the different skating disciplines. The most common (most basic?) type of skating is "recreational" skating. If you're not sure what type of skating you're going to be doing, starting with recreational skates (or perhaps freestyle or fitness skates) is probably a good idea. All the other types of skating are specialised disciplines, and the skates used will be optimised for those disciplines. A good pair of recreational skates will give loads of skating pleasure, and still allow you to at least try out some of the other disciplines once your skating has improved.
If you're a brand new skater, I would strongly recommend buying a skate that comes with a heel brake. This will therefore exclude most types of skates other than recreational, although fitness and freestyle skates can often be purchased with a heel brake. If you want to learn how to stop with a heel-brake, there is an online tutorial about heel-brake stopping here.
The main skating disciplines are:
This involves skating for fun, often in parks and on paths/trails. The skates generally fit well and are as comfortable as trainers. The frames tend to be a little longer, and the wheels a little larger, which keeps the skates fast and good at cruising long distances.
Aggressive skating is about big jumps, rail slides, stairs, grinds, etc. The skates tend to be solid, strong, stable, and pretty heavy, and they have replaceable parts to allow for the high wear and tear found in this type of skating. They're not good for going fast or long distance because of the weight and small wheels.
Freestyle skates are somewhere inbetween recreational and aggressive skates. They will have a well-fitting hard boot and a frame similiar in length to hockey skates. They will therefore be more supportive and manoeuvrable than recreational skates, but are quite often more expensive. (However, as with almost anything, you get what you pay for).
These skates have very large wheels and are designed for one purpose - to go fast over longer distances. The big wheels and long frames help to increase high speed stability, reduce rolling resistance, and improve power transfer to the ground. Very low or non-existent ankle cuffs mean that you will need to develop more ankle strength and control when first moving onto these skates. The longer frames do make speed skates slightly harder to turn, but not a lot more than a pair of 4 wheel recreational skates.
Fitness skates fall somewhere between recreational skates and speed skates. A comfy boot with a cuff, plus a longer frame to hold 84mm or 90mm wheels.
There are many variants of inline hockey, but essentially it is a little like ice hockey. The skates generally have a short frame to increase manoeuvrability. The boots are lace up and fit closely, often needing to be broken in and/or heat moulded to fit a particular skater's feet properly.
Artistic skates will be very similar to ice figure skates and often - uniquely for inlines - feature a toe stop, to mimic a pick on ice blades.
Set your budget
I strongly recommend that you don't buy a cheap pair of skates that cost much less than around £100 for new recreational or freestyle skates. This may seem like a lot of money, but in my opinion it's really important to spend at least this much. This price threshold does not apply to used skates, or last year's model, as those can often be bought for a good discount. If your budget does not stretch to new skates, then we strongly advise buying second-hand or reduced good quality skates than new crappy ones. Have a look at the Market forum here on NS.co.uk (we often post links to good deals), or try eBay.
New skates that cost less than about £100 are going to be cheap and nasty, and you'll probably end up not enjoying skating much because the skates are likely to have all kinds of problems such as poor fit, poor performance, etc. The result is that you would still spend money on skates that aren't likely to last you very long, or give you much pleasure whilst skating. Getting a decent quality pair of skates above this price threshold, however, will cost a little more money, but you'll save in the long run because you're likely to get more use and more pleasure out of them.
It's also important to set aside some money for wrist, knee, and elbow protection. You'll need about £20-£30 for new pads, but they can make all the difference between getting up from a fall with a smile, or getting up with some nasty grazes.
See here for the latest freestyle skates I recommend.
Where to buy
There are two main options here - at a brick and mortar shop, or online. I recommend avoiding online purchasing for first time buyers as skate size and fit are so important. Although you may save a little cash with an online retailer, if you get it wrong you'll have to pay for shipping skates and all the hassle of returning them. We'd recommend that you spend the time and effort to go to a real shop, as there you will be able to directly compare lots of different skate models yourself, and you can try them all on until you find the right skate. Of course, if you already know the skate model and exact size you need, then buying from the online shop may save you some money.
Here are some of our favourite skate shops, all of which are online, but some you can go and visit for real:
Club Blue Room, London
Slick Willies, London
Proline Skates, Cardiff
Loco Skates, Eastbourne
Skate Asylum, Co. Durham
Kates Skates, Cumbria
Fit, Fit, and Fit
These are the three most important things to consider when buying skates. Skates that don't fit well will probably cause blisters and will be uncomfortable to skate in whether they are too loose or too tight. When you go skate shopping, give yourself plenty of time to spend trying on the skates in an unhurried manner until you find the right skate for you that fits well and is comfortable. Don't be pushed by the sales people: if they are that insistent in hurrying you up, it's time to take your business elsewhere. Take a pair of the socks you intend to use while skating, as that's what you should be wearing when trying out the skates. (And these should be thin cotton or sports socks, not thick woolly hiking socks!)
Don't forget to try a bunch of different skate models from different manufacturers. The experience of trying on these skates first hand will help to give you a much better idea of which skates fit you well.
When trying on skates slip the skates on, and while sitting down knock the rear wheel into the ground to ensure your heel is firmly back into the boot. Now tighten the laces and/or any buckles on the skate so that they are firm but not tight. Stand up and bend your knees until they're just over your toes. OK, sit down again now, and check the fit of the skates:
- Your toes should be quite close to the end of the boot, but not crunched up into the end. You may be able to touch the end of the boot if you stretch your toes out, but no more than that.
- Check the fit around your heel, ensuring that the skate doesn't squeeze your heel.
- Make sure that you can't move your heel around, and especially not up and down inside the boot.
- Check the width around the ball of your foot.
- Now retighten the laces and buckles as the liner may have changed shape conforming to your foot.
A good idea is to try on skates that are a half to a full size smaller and larger than your current shoe size. That will quickly show whether you're getting the right size. Once you've found the right pair of skates, make sure you spend at least 15 minutes or so standing in the shop wearing the skates. This is because that 15 minutes will probably bring any fit problems to light that may not be so easily noticeable at first.
Remember that skate models are a little like shoes in that skates from different manufacturers don't always correspond in size, so use your shoe size as a guideline rather than an exact rule. Many people also find that the shape of skate boots is different between different manufacturers. For example, some people find that they get a better fit from Rollerblade skates, whilst others prefer the fit of K2 skates. This is another reason it's good to go to a real shop and spend time trying on lots of different skates from different manufacturers.
DO NOT automatically buy your shoe size or, heavens forbid, a size larger, as many skate shops seem to promote (suggesting larger sizes limits the number of returns they get). You want your skates to be very snug at first, as the foam in the liner will compress in time. As above, try the skates on and see which actually fit your feet, regardless of the size they claim to be. Any sales assistant insisting you need to buy skates one size larger than your shoe size should be reported to me for re-education. ;D
After buying - Where to skate?
Well, now that you've bought your skates and have brought them back home with you (awesome!), where are suitable places to start skating with them? I strongly recommend that you go skating with an advanced skater or best of all a skate instructor (see below) the first time you go out to use your new skates. But you should look for a clean, dry, level, and traffic-free area. A deserted car park is often a good place to start.
Inline Skating Lessons
I recommend taking inline skating lessons from an ICP certified instructor. This will not only speed up the rate at which you learn new skills, but will help improve your confidence, and will ensure that you learn the important basic skills to make your skating experience fun and safe.
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