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How to get the right hockey skate and break them in

You’re thinking about buying some new hockey skates to replace your old ones, or you’ve just bought your first pair of skates. You may not know what type of skate to buy – or the new skates you’ve just bought are so stiff and uncomfortable that you can barely walk afterwards – here’s some essential hints and tips on buying the right skate for you – and having them fit more comfortably.

Buy the right hockey skates for you!

When buying new skates, it’s extremely important to ask the right questions and get the right answers. Your skate is your direct connection to the ice, and finding the right skate is crucial for you to stay on top of your game. Not only will an ill-fitting, or incorrect skate, affect your performance, it could cause discomfort, or even permanent injury.

Skate fit is highly dependant upon your age, level of play, position, performance requirements and your own personal preferences. Forwards may prefer lighter, lower-profile skates built for maximum speed and agility, whilst defensemen may prefer studier, more balanced skate that offers greater protection while blocking shots without having to resort to after-market shot-blockers

Tapered or Narrow Fit

EXAMPLES: Bauer Vapor, CCM JetSpeed
INSTEP: Shallow
HEEL: Narrow
MID FOOT: Slightly Narrow
TOE: Standard
BENEFITS: Low-volume fit locks the heel to maximize speed and agility, helping you “turn on a dime” and accelerate faster.

Contoured / Anatomical Fit

EXAMPLES: Bauer Supreme, CCM Tacks
INSTEP: Standard
HEEL: Snug
TOE: Standard
VOLUME: Medium
BENEFITS: Close fitting through the skate locks in the heel and contours the ankle, helping players with a fuller, more powerful stride without sacrificing control or comfort.

Classic / Comfort Fit

EXAMPLES: Bauer Nexus, CCM RibCore
HEEL: Slightly Wide
BENEFITS: A deeper heel pocket with a wider and softer profile, wraps around the foot to provide a comfortable feel.

When buying skates, always go to the most experienced store in your area, do your research, look at online reviews like Google, Yelp or here on HockeyCircles. Unless you know the exact make and model, we advise against getting them from online or big box stores as you may not be able to change your mind, or try on a few models to see which skate fits you best. A Bauer Vapor fits completely differently than a CCM Jetspeed – so taking your time, trying on a few pairs will help save you from buyers remorse and regret later!

Fit is the most important thing. Make sure the skate isn’t too wide or too narrow and fits front to back – usually skates will fit 1 to 3 sizes smaller than your shoe size (so if you’re a size 10 foot, expect to wear a size 8 skate). When trying on skates, an experienced hockey shop will help you, but only you know how your feet feel. It’s important to note that the foam in skates does give a little over time, so it’s important not to get skates that feel too tight, or too loose. Ideally, your feet should feel snug, without any crunching of toes or pain in your ankles. With your heels fitted deeply in the back of the boot your toes, when seated, should just feather the end of the toe caps – when you’re in your hockey stance on the ice, your feet will naturally be pulled back slightly.

Too big a skate, and you’ll get blisters and loss of control and performance. Too small a skate can restrict blood-flow causing cold-feet, damage nerves in your feet causing temporary or permanent numbness or cause rubbing on bones which will cause bone buildup (calcification) and more pain.

In-store skate fitting

Once you’ve decided on a pair, then a hockey shop will normally bake skates for you. This means they’ll put them in a specially designed oven that heats your skates to around 80c (180f) which will help soften the plastics and foam which helps them mould closer to your foot. If there are any sore zones on your skates (normally an odd shape of bone or in-between sizing), these can be ‘punched’ out – meaning they apply more heat to the area and expand it, giving extra space and more customization. This is usual, and don’t feel worried about asking for it if you need it!

Many good hockey shops will, and expect you, to come back and have your skates tweaked!

At home baking / heat-fitting of skates

If you bought your skates online, or you’re too far away from the hockey store, you can take the risk of heat-fitting your skate at home – bear in mind that you could permanently damage your skates, so the risk is on you!

First – see if you can adjust the fit, or a painful spot by using the hot setting on a hair-dryer. It’s the lowest risk, and might just help fix that spot. Heat up for 5-6 minutes making sure you concentrate in one area, but heat up the surrounding area slightly. Press out or in with your thumb from where the discomfort is, then put the skate on and lace-up as normal. See if that cures it.

Secondly – if all else fails, then you can resort to baking your skates in the oven. Take out all the shelves other than the lowest one, then pre-heat your oven to 80c (180f) with the convection fan on. Loosen your skate laces as much as possible, and place your skates, not touching, and in a way that won’t touch the oven itself, onto a metal baking tray covered in a tea-towel (so your skate isn’t touching a metal that will cause damage). Put them in the oven, and set a time for 5 minutes. When the time is up, see if the skates are slightly soft to the touch, if they are remove them, if they’re not, put them in for another minute or two until they are.

Don’t forget about your skates in the oven!

BE AWARE! Skates will be extremely hot on any metal eyelets, rivets, bolts or blades / runners.

Fitting skates after heating

Having someone help you is best, sit on a chair, place your skates on your feet, firmly (but not too hard) tap your heel to seat your ankle deep in the boot. Then tie your laces, making sure you keep them flat and pull them wide – DO NOT pull up on the laces which can cause the eyelets to pull out or loosen. Tighten your laces just a little tighter than you would do normally – as the skate will give a little over time. Sit still, DO NOT WALK AROUND YET. The glues and plastic need time to mould to your foot, so sit with your feet flat and your shins a slightly forward stance (but not too forward that causes pressure on the eyelets). If you don’t it will cause your boot material to separate or damage the holders (the plastic that holds the runner or skate blade).

After 10 minutes stand-up and see if there are any areas that feel uncomfortable, you can then heat up with a hair-dryer and adjust. Stand and watch your favourite TV show for another 20 minutes until the boot has cooled, well beyond being warm.

We recommend not skating on freshly baked skates for at least 24 hours (we’ve done it less, but don’t tell anyone).

Remember – we always recommend using your local hockey store to bake / fit skates – even if you haven’t bought from them – most will charge $20-$30 to fit them, but won’t take liability unless you purchased the skate from them.

After buying your skates and heat-fitting them

There is really no short-cut to breaking in new skates. Even if you’ve baked your skates at home, or in-store, you will be uncomfortable for the first skates, especially if you’re changing skate makes and models from your previous skates. If you’re uncomfortable after 5 long skates, then it maybe worth adjusting your skates further, either by hot spotting using a hair-dryer or heat gun, or using in-soles to adjust how your foot fits into the skate. We always wear skates around the house (with skate blade guards on!) for hours helping you break them in and get used to them before heading out to the ice.