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Recreational Figure Skating FAQ - Boots

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Archive-name: sports/skating/ice/rec-skate/boots
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Last-modified: Feb 27 2007
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                        Recreational Figure Skating FAQ

     * Home
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     * Questions
     * Basic Skating
     * Advanced Skills
     * Adult Skaters
     * Boots
     * Blades
     * Injuries
     * Off-ice
     * Tests

4. Boots

   Within broad limits, as a beginner it doesn't matter what boots you have
   provided that they are comfortable and fit well. They should be snug in the
   heels and support the ankles firmly because the commonest type of injury in
   the early stages of skating (apart from bruised knees) comes from ankles
   caving in. Most important of all though, is that they help you to feel
   *confident*. That will help you more than anything else, and I often worry
   that many beginners end up with so much advice about boots that they feel it
   is a life-and-death decision. Good boots will help your skating, bad boots
   may hinder it - but only by a very small amount. Provided you aren't in pain
   and are well supported and comfortable, practice and effort will make a far
   bigger difference

  4.1 Selecting new boots

   Intermediate and advanced boots and blades are sold separately and mounted
   by the skate shop. Beginner boots may be sold in pre-assembled sets, but
   avoid those that have the blades riveted to or molded into a plastic sole.
   For adults, the boots should fit snugly on your feet such that the tips of
   your toes just brush or can stretch to reach the toe of the boot. Good
   quality beginner boots are moderately stiff to provide adequate support, and
   the more advanced boots get progressively stiffer.

   The advantage of stiff boots is that they may last many years and provide
   good  support. Their disadvantage is that they have a long and perhaps
   painful break-in period and they are more expensive. If you buy *too much*
   skate, you may find them virtually impossible to break in. Lighter boots on
   the other hand are more comfortable and break in faster. They also wear out

   Before  choosing  boots,  here is a checklist of some questions to ask
   yourself. The boots you buy will depend entirely upon the answers:
    1. How much do you enjoy skating? Do you feel that in time you will be
       skating daily or is it something you just want to do once a week or so?
    2. How long do you envision yourself skating? Do you think you have found a
       sport that will keep you happily exercising for the next 20 years?
    3. What are your future expectations. Many skaters who initially can't
       imagine  ever  doing  a three-turn progress farther than they ever
       imagined! What you need to ask is "What are my FANTASIES!" Also, what
       about ice dance and synchronized skating? Do you have any dreams in
       those areas?

   If  you  feel that you could easily end up skating every day, you will
   probably want to skate for the next 20 years, and in your deepest darkest
   heart of hearts you'd love to skate like Torvill and Dean and maybe land a
   double Salchow, then the cost of your boots will in all likelihood be the
   LEAST expense you have to worry about over the next three years. And a good
   boot will probably last that long.

   Whatever make of skating boots you buy, it is most important that the boots
   fit properly (your foot should be held firmly by the boot) and show first
   class workmanship. When trying on boots, wear the same socks/tights that you
   will skate in. Thick socks are not a good idea as they will allow the foot
   to move in the skate.

   The construction of the boot tongue is important, since a relatively stiff
   padded tongue will stay in place and keeps the pressure of individual laces
   injuring  your feet. Some tongues have a padded lambs wool lining, but
   tongues of higher level skates are generally padded with a foam rubber. The
   foam rubber should be about 3/8 - 1/2'' thick and fairly stiff with small

   It is difficult to relate the size of the boot to your shoe size as this
   varies from one manufacturer to another. Ask to be measured by a competent
   vendor. They should have you sit and put a little pressure on the measuring
   board. Try on the boots before having the blade mounted, and don't hesitate
   to try others if you're not satisfied with the fit.

   Custom fitted boots are usually not necessary unless your foot/ankle is
   shaped unusually or has been injured, you require extra support for your
   weight or are doing advanced jumps.

  4.2 Breaking in your boots

   Wear thin socks. Basically, you want the socks to slide against the leather.
   Thin polyester socks are good in this respect. Lace and unlace your new
   boots three or four times before skating. Skate for short periods at first
   paying attention to the way your feet feel and stop if there is chafing or
   irritation. Never ignore discomfort because it can turn into blisters and

   If the top rim of your boots rubs your legs, buy some cloth medical tape and
   moleskin to protect the irritated areas. Silicon gel ankle sleeves or pads
   (e.g., Bungapads) are excellent to prevent blisters, lace-bite and protect
   chafed skin.

   It has been suggested that if there is excess glue at the top rim of the
   skate, this can be carefully sanded to smooth it out. It has also been
   suggested that before putting on socks, covering the areas of the foot at
   pressure  points with Vaseline or the equivalent prevents blisters and
   general soreness until the boot is broken in.

   You can get boots "punched out" (stretched) where they're hurting your feet,
   customizing them to some degree (this leaves marks on the leather which
   almost disappear in time). Some skate shops can do this or look for a store
   specializing in orthopedic shoes.

   Don't lace them right to the top at first. See about lacing.

   To make the boots fit the contours of your ankle bones, find a wooden dowel
   (eg. broom handle) about the diameter of the projections of your ankle
   joints and cut two lengths equal to the width across each ankle. Using tape
   and a marker, mark the location of your ankle bones on each boot (on top of
   the tape) -- it turns out that the inner and outer ankle bones are not
   directly across from each other. Then when not wearing the boots, insert the
   dowels,  lining them up with the marks, and lace the boots up tightly.
   Similarly, a shoe tree or other solid object placed in the toe will help to
   relieve pressure on the toes.

   Warning! The following recommendations for breaking in your boots are not
   accepted by all - some say that they may shorten lifespan of your boots or
   result in an inappropriate break-in pattern. Put on skating tights or socks
   after putting them in water as hot as you can stand and then put on your
   skates and just sit, no walking, until the tights dry. Or, take a couple of
   damp hand towels (not dripping wet), put them in a microwave and get them
   hot, put them in the boots for a few minutes, then remove the towels and
   wear the boots for a while.

  4.3 Maintenance

   Boots are expensive and deserve all the care you give them. Be sure to dry
   the entire sole of your boot off immediately after leaving the ice and don't
   store them in a closed bag. When not in use, always remove them from the
   skate bag and leave the skates in the open so that the air can thoroughly
   dry them, otherwise the leather will start to decay. Scratches and nicks in
   the boots should be attended to before water penetrates the leather.

    4.3.1 Waterproofing

   Waterproofing should be applied to the entire sole before the blades are
   mounted, and reapplied periodically. If leather gets wet and can't dry out,
   it starts to rot and then will not hold the blade's screws. A variety of
   types of waterproofing are available at skate shops. Here are a few ideas.
     * A sole enamel can be used. It comes in black and neutral. Depending on
       the amount of skating you do, it may need to be reapplied monthly. It
       will build up and occasionally must be sanded or scraped off, then
     * A variety of bees wax or similar wax-like products such as SnowSeal are
       popular. They are applied then melted in with a hair dryer. Wax must be
       reapplied more frequently than enamel but is very easy to use. There is
       no sanding or buildup. After repeated use, the soles may develop a
       grayish cast.
     * Another suggestion is polyurethane varnish thinned down so it soaks into
       the fresh leather. Applied in many thin coats, it is said to require
       very little follow-up maintenance.
     * Shoe polish is a very effective water proofer but must be used very
     * It has been mentioned that Harlick and Risport apply a waterproofing to
       new skates at the factory which is very durable.
     * On white uppers, black streaks can be easily removed with a solvent made
       for this purpose. Use a buff type liquid polish on white boots. For
       black boots, use a black liquid or canned shoe polish.

    4.3.2. Re-plugging the screw holes

   You  should  periodically  check  the screws which hold the blades on,
   especially when the skates are new and make sure they are tight. If a screw
   is stripped or won't stay tight, water is probably getting inside the screw
   hole and the leather of the sole itself causing the hole(s) to expand and
   soften. What you should do is bring your skates to a reputable skate shop
   and have them take the blades off, sand off the top layer of enamel, re-plug
   the holes, and re-coat the soles before putting the blades back on. They
   will put screws in new holes wherever possible. If the soles are really
   rotted out, then your only option other than replacement is to send them
   back to the manufacturer to get new soles.

   Repeated removal of the screws is undesirable. The threads in the holes will
   strip after a few remove/mount cycles. Then you'll have to use different
   holes,  and  if they're all stripped, you'll need to repair the holes.
   Although it is best to leave this kind of maintenance to the sharpener, you
   can plug the hole yourself in an emergency: Take a piece of leather lace and
   cram it into the hole together with lots of leather or hide glue. If you
   don't  have  any  leather  laces, slice off a little piece of a wooden
   matchstick, put the matchstick into the hole, and replace the screw.

   If the the screw is really rusted or seems rounded off, get a new one. You
   might have to drill or poke a starter hole for the new screw. In this case
   it is better to let your skate shop can do the dirty job for you.

  4.4 Selecting used boots

   The boot must support you, otherwise you will be expending most of your
   energy just holding your ankles straight. See about worn out skates. Grasp
   the boot by the top of the ankle and hold it sideways (parallel to the
   floor). If it droops, it will not provide you the ankle support you need.
   Don't buy it. Look at the condition of the boot - it should be leather and
   not some kind of plastic or pseudo leather with a cloth lining. There should
   be no cracks or tears in the leather, though some creases are fine.

   Your best bet is to check any rinks in your area - see if the skate shop,
   rink office or pros/instructors have any used boots for sale. If there is a
   bulletin board or skate club, check any advertisements or advertise that you
   are looking for size-N skates.

  4.5 How do I know my boots are worn out?

   There are some relatively objective signs that a boot has worn out or is
   being used beyond it's limitations and others that are purely subjective or
   require reference to a coach. Certainly, a skate is finished if the leather
   in  the  boot has started to wear out -- fissures in the inner lining,
   rips/tears in the outer boot or a cracked/crumbling sole that won't hold

   Judging when a boot no longer offers adequate support is more difficult. If
   the top flops over of it's own accord, it's obvious, but more subtle signs
   are when the normal creases which afford forward flexibility begin to look
   like accordion pleats that go all the way around the skate -- a sign the a
   the boot is free to flex sideways at the ankle.

   Some more subjective signs are the feeling that you need to tighten the
   laces more to make things work, even though they are still tight, or the
   feeling that your foot is free to slide around in the skate, or your heel
   lifts even when the laces are tight. You might also feel that you're having
   trouble keeping your ankles erect or holding clean edges on tight edges,
   turns, spins or jump landings.

   On the final front, your coach/instructor may make observations that your
   boots aren't doing their job or suggest that it's time to upgrade. This may
   be based on close observation or rule-of-thumb. Asking your instructor is
   always a good idea, while talking with other skaters can either be helpful
   or lead to a lot of confusion.

   Keep in mind that boot requirements are highly relative. Given the model of
   boot that you have and the amount of "wear" you've put on them, they may be
   entirely adequate for what you're doing, or they may be an obstacle to
   further  progress.  A recommendation on buying new skates might differ
   depending on whether you're skating recreationally and just interested in
   picking up some jumps, or planning to go from singles to triples as quickly
   as possible to get into serious competition. Also, the recommendation for a
   petite woman would be different from that for a mid-sized athletic woman or
   a mid-sized or larger man.

  4.6 Lacing

   Getting your skates laced properly will enhance your balance and control and
   make your skates more comfortable. First, loosen the laces completely and
   position your foot when lacing - don't just step in the skate and lace it
   up, but set your heel firmly in the rear when tightening the eyelet area up.

   Second, you don't have to lace all areas equally tightly. Put in overhand
   twists (like the first step of tying the bow) at strategic places to keep
   the laces from "evening out". Remove the slack through the first 3 or 4
   holes but don't tighten too much or you'll stop your circulation. Tie a
   twist (optional), then lace tightly for the rest of the holes to hold your
   ankle firm. At the top of the holes tie a double twist, and cross-lace the
   hooks (that is, lace them so they are crossed at the hooks). For the last
   two hooks, lace fairly loosely so you can bend your ankle.

   When breaking in new skates, you can leave the top hooks unlaced and skip
   the top hole to make them more comfortable and start a crease in the leather
   at the ankle.

    4.6.1 What is lace bite?

   Lace bite arises from pressure of the laces over the extensor hallucis
   tendon, which runs from the front of the lower leg to the base of the big
   toe. Lace bite can result in the appearance of cysts and bumps and, in the
   long term, the development of tendinitis. Silicon sleeves or pads applied
   over the tendon are very effective to prevent or alleviate the problem. If
   you start experiencing this problem as the boots age, you can also get the
   boot tongue rebuilt by the boot manufacturer.

  4.7 Children's skates

   Every parent has had the experience with buying shoes or other clothing for
   a growing child and having them no longer fit after only a few weeks -- and
   not due to shrinkage, but due to a growth spurt. Unfortunately, feet grow
   erratically, and the growth is not always accompanied by an increase in

   If you buy children's skates too loose, they will interfere with the skating
   and may actually be dangerous because of lack of support. They may also
   repeatedly raise blisters. If you buy them too small, or have your skater
   continue to skate in them for some time after they have become too small,
   either the skater will quit (because it hurts so much), or the skating will
   suffer, OR the feet will suffer - perhaps permanently.

   To check the fit of the skates your child has now, ask him to put his skates
   on loose and put his foot right to the front of the boot. If you can put an
   index finger between his heel and the back of the boot, he has enough room
   to grow. When he skates, check to see if his skates are perfectly upright.

   The only way to lessen the impact of keeping children's feet in skates that
   fit is to buy used skates (on consignment, or at skate swaps), and to sell
   your outgrown skates as well. Used children's skates are very available and
   usually in far better shape than used adult skates. Get the children's coach
   to help you select them, (and yours, too, if you go that route) so that you
   don't get stung.

   You can buy gender neutral brown boots if you plan to have the skates passed
   on from girl to boy etc.

  4.8 New technology for figure skating boots?

   Despite a more rigid construction to withstand repeated jumping and there is
   a  gradual introduction of new materials to make the boot lighter (for
   example, heel plastic inserts available in some models), the figure skating
   boot design has not changed radically for over a century. Several causes
   have been mentioned:
     * Leather gradually molds to the foot and the combination of suppleness
       and rigidity helps acquire the fine control of the skate required for
       complex footwork
     * Traditional  figure skating boots conform to the sport aesthetics.
       Imagine how a pretty sequined dress with go with metal buckled shiny
       x-treme plastic boot...Nope!
     * When asked for advice about equipment, coaches and experienced skaters
       tend to suggest established "tried and tested". Few are willing to try
       anything new that does not provide an obvious and immediate advantage.

    4.8.1 Hinged boots

   Recently, a hinged boot developed by Jackson Ultima has become commercially
   available. As the name implies, this boot is hinged at the ankle, allowing a
   larger motion range that the traditional boot. The design allows skaters to
   point their toes further down during a jump and absorb a greater part of the
   impact with the toe-pick, decreasing the load by an estimated 20-30% on the
   knees, hips and lower back. The boots are fairly comfortable, even when new,
   and offer plenty of lateral support.

   Although hinged boots have been developed for freestylers, ice dancers
   mention that they create a more attractive line than the traditional boot
   when the free foot is pointed; note that because the ankle piece has a
   rubber edge that has to stretch as the foot is pointed, it requires strong
   calves to achieve maximum extension.

   It  has  been suggested that the ankle hinge might require a technique
   readjustment on the part of the skater, because the increased motion range
   at the angle may affect weight shifting to different parts of the blade
   during footwork. On the other hand, an adaptation period is usually the norm
   when changing to new skates.

   Another potential problem is that the cable cinching system at the top might
   be prone to breaking: For example, the cable may wear out and snap or set
   screw that holds the cable to the wheel can break or come loose. It is
   likely that newer models will address any ''teething'' issues with these

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