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A Complete Guide to the Selection and Maintenance of 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

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 faster.

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 pores.

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 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.

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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 infection.

If the top rim of your boots rubs your legs, buy some cloth medical tape and moleskin to protect the irritated areas. Bandages or round foam makeup pads can be made into pads to fit over your ankles.

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 the section below on 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.

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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.

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.

1. 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 reapplied.

2. 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.

3. 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.

4. Shoe polish is a very effective water proofer but must be used very regularly.

5. It has been mentioned that Harlick applies 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.

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.

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Selecting used boots
The boot must support you, otherwise you will be expending most of your energy just holding your ankles straight. See the "Question & Answer" page 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.

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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.

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Back to Equipment

Selecting Boots

Breaking in Boots

Maintenance of Boots

Used Boots

Lacing Your Boots


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