What is the best skate brand?
The truth is, there is no "best brand". There are reliable and trusted brands to choose from, but the best brand is the one that will fit your foot the best and meet your skating needs. Often, people don't realize that when a brand of skate is recommended by another skater, a skater parent, or even a coach, that it may be because they like that particular brand for themselves or it's because it's the "latest and greatest." However, feet have different shapes and since different brands of skates are "lasted" or shaped differently too, some will fit better than others. just like apparel, the sizes don't always coincide between manufacturers. Don't feel pressured to purchase something that may not work for you or your skater, just because their BFF suggests it.
What's the difference?
All boots are basically the same. The thing that differentiates them is the "last" or shape and the thickness, the stiffness and quality of the leather or material from which the skate is made. Sneakers and most of the recreational "soft-Style" skates have an athletic "last". They are wider and softer, often using nylon mesh in the construction, which is easily stretched. Dress shoes and the standard figure skate model have a snugger, more form fitting "last". They allow more control and fell less bulky. Like apparel, each brand of skate also has it's own last by which it is produced. Some manufacturers will have a last that will fit a person who has tapered toes (where the big toe is the biggest and each toe gets smaller in size). Some brands will have a last that will fit a person who has a wider toe area but a narrow heel; some are long and narrow. Each brand has an excellent description available here: Comparing Figure Skates by Fit & Design.
Why can't I just get skates from a big box sports store?
Well, you can, of course, but chances are they will be poorly constructed with cheap blades, offer little or no support and create a frustrating skating experience. Hold one upside down, it will probably flop over. If it can't support it's own weight, it certainly will not support the weight of even a tiny skater. You will also probably have a salesperson who has little knowledge of figure skates, how they should fit, or if you have chosen something appropriate for your skater.
So what makes other skates better?
Quality figure skates are those with the correct size, good quality steel blade, that will provide the correct support for the foot and ankle, so that a figure skater can concentrate on learning the proper technique and not just trying to stand straight. They have an appropriate amount of padding for the level and provide a comfortable fit.
Why are some skates so expensive?
Obviously a beginner figure skater doesn't need the same support as a skater attempting advanced jumps. Most advanced skates are hand lasted to exact specifications. The extra, anatomically placed padding and stiffer materials are needed to provide support for a more advanced skater and those extra materials and labor going into the construction increase the price of the skates or boots. The same goes for the blades. Quality blades are made with a better grade of steel to hold an edge longer.
Will the new lightweight skates improve my jumps?
First and foremost is proper fit and level. If you switch to a new boot, thinking that the few ounces of weight difference will make your jumps higher and improve your technique, it will probably be a frustrating experience if they don't fit properly and you don't increase your training time. All of the current brands weigh within a few ounces of each other within the same level range. So, they are all lightweight, when you consider how much boots weighed in the past. Initially, boots were made of thin leather and extended up higher on the calf, depending, primarily, on the skaters musculature to provide stability. So to prevent injury and allow younger skaters who had not yet developed the muscle tone to advance quickly, manufacturers decided to use multiple layers of stiffened leather with a metal shanking for support. While this did indeed make many improvements, injuries in different forms persisted, break in was a nightmare, utilizing everything from wet socks to large "turkey basting bags" to shorten the time and pain, besides feeling like you were skating in a cement boot. Now, with manufacturers using different synthetics, acrylics, heat sensitive stiffening and various other light material in boot construction, flexibility and comfort are possible without sacrificing stability.The break in period is days instead of painful weeks. In many instances, however, some durability is sacrificed, and the boots may not last as long as they had in the past.The best thing to remember is the most expensive, lightest boot and blade out there isn't going to make a bad skater better without time, dedication and practice.
How do I know if my skates fit properly?
A skater once told me that her skates feel like an extension of her feet. So, a properly fitted boot will fit on your feet the way gloves fit on your hands: no pressure points and no floppy tips.There should be no or very little movement in the heel. Your toes will be slightly touching the inside of the the boot. You should be able to wiggle your toes, but there is no "extra" room making your skates feel like your bunny slippers. Most boot sizing charts indicate a snug fit. When an insole is removed from the boots and the skater stands directly on that with heel properly positioned, there should be no more than 1/2" at the tip or the foot will begin to slide after the boot stretches with a few weeks of wear. Tender spots such as the bunion area or navicular, can be "punched" or stretched during fitting process to provide a customized fit. Unless you are strictly a recreational skater, a shoe size is only a starting point, as all boots ( like clothing brands) run differently.
What should I watch for after I get new skates? Here is a list of a few common ill-fitting symptoms:
Too Big (length or width): The boot will form creases near the toes and blisters will form from feet slipping.
Too Small (length or width): The skater will need to recognize that the boot is too small. The toes will often curl on top of each other (width) or the toe knuckles will curl up and rise (length). Boots that are too small may be “relasted” (stretched) one half size to release the length/width to accommodate the skater’s feet. For specific pressure points the boot can be molded to release pressure (outside toes, ankles, navicular bones [arches]).
Boot Twisting: Boot twisting is usually caused by the pronation of the skater’s feet.( putting more weight on the inside of the foot) This may be reduced by, using an Orthotic correction ( Riedell's new R-Fit footbed kit, Superfeet, and inside wedge and arch cookie or a prescription device) or choosing a custom fit boot.
Arch Cramping: When the skater’s navicular bone, arch muscle, and/or low/flat arches do not match the shape of the arch counter of the boot, the skater will experience pain and cramping in the arch and plantar muscle. This is similar to what causes the boot twisting and the same corrections apply. A temporary punch may relieve the symptom initially, but does not correct the problem.
Slipping Heels: Heels will slip when the shape of the foot is narrower in the heel area of the boot than the shape of the boot or if the heel is not properly positioned to the back of the boot. There are quite a few options available to correct this problem, depending on the amount of slippage. Boots could be too big and require a smaller size. For small amounts of slipping, an additional heel pad can be placed under the insole, putting the heel in a better position. Some brands and models have Heel Hugger and Achilles tendon padding and combination width stock boots are available Only one size difference from ball to heel is available in stock boots this is marked with both widths, ie: A/AA or C/B. the first is the ball measurement, second is the heel.
How stiff should by boots be?
These are things to consider when purchasing your boots : your height, your weight, how often you skate, and your skating level. This will help you to determine the appropriate model stiffness of the skates/boots you require. The "stiffness" is the amount of support a manufacturer will put into a specific skate. Lower level skates are less stiff and some recreational style are called "soft-style skates" because they offer thicker padding which feels soft. Top of the line boots are extremely stiff and designed for triple jumps. Sometimes skaters or skate parents think that an upper level boot will provide the best chance at fest progression through classes and skills; absolutely false! "Over-booting" is never the answer and the skater is hindered by a boot that won't flex or break in and feels uncomfortable, sometimes painful, making good technique unlikely and the possibility of a skater giving up likely. Just like sizing, each manufacturer also has different ways of determining stiffness, although there is a fairly consistent "stiffness scale" 1-100 approximated for each model.