EQUIPMENT/BEGINNERS - Buyer's Guide and Advice
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12-08-2011, 12:50 PM
Join Date: Jul 2007
Location: St Paul, MN
EQUIPMENT/BEGINNERS - Buyer's Guide and Advice
While I’m not an expert on hockey gear and don't work at a shop, I see a lot of questions about recommendations for hockey equipment for beginners.
This guide isn’t for the player who wants to skate at the outdoor rink once a year. I'm making the assumption that the person shopping for gear intends to play at least a couple times a month in some sort of pickup game, organized league, beginner’s school, stick and puck, whatever.
I define a beginner player as someone who has an interest and passion for the game and wants to play regularly. For the most part, protective equipment for this player will protect him from falling as he learns to skate and becomes comfortable on the ice. It will also protect from errant pucks and sticks which always seem to find the face or space between pads. As you improve on ice and face tougher competition, you may want to upgrade gear to intermediate levels for the additional protection and durability. Buying inexpensive gear at first isn’t a bad idea as you will learn what you do and do not want when you make an upgrade.
An intermediate player is one who is competent on his skates and regularly plays in some sort of pickup game or league. At this level, protective equipment is subject to a lot more wear and tear and durability is a larger concern. Shots are a lot harder and higher at this level and players are more physical and chippy, necessitating additional protection from slashes and contact.
Finally, when shopping for gear that comes in different colors, the safe bet is black. Most teams use black as the color of their helmets, gloves, and pants, and if you end up joining a team you don't want to have to get all new gear.
For additional advice on women's equipment,
Here's a table of what I'd consider "minimum" recommended gear.
I'll try and keep it up to date as much as possible. Obviously not everything will be listed and getting clearance gear is a great way to save some money.
Nexus 600, Vapor X5.0, One40
Vapor X3.0, Nexus 400, One40
Vapor X5.0, Nexus 600, One80
One40, Vapor 3.0, 4-Roll Elite
One80, Vapor 7.0, 4-Roll Pro
U+12, 4-Roll Pro
EQ50, 85S, EQ PRO
Surge, Remix, Koncept, Bonafide
One40, Vapor X 3.0
One80, Vapor X 7.0
Vapor X3.0, Nexus 400, One40
Vapor X5.0, Nexus 600, One60
Vapor X 3.0, Supreme ONE.5, Nexus 400
Vapor X 5.0, ONE.7, Nexus 600
Nexus 600, ONE.6, Vapor X 4.0
65S II, Mako M3
Nexon N8, T90
What to Look For
I recommend that you read
AIREAYE's guide on skates
. He's much more knowledgeable than I am in this area and will help answer any questions you have.
Whatever your budget is, try and put the most money into your skates, and spend the most time trying them on. Skates can come as cheap as $50 on up to over $600. The more you spend, the more durable, lightweight, stiffer, and higher quality the skate. At about the $150 range, skates will have some type of composite outsole (rather than rubber), good quality holders and steel (so they won't chip and rust), and adequate stiffness. Closer to the $300 range, you will get almost all the features of a top end skate for half the price without noticing the difference. I do not recommend cheap skates under $150 as they are flimsy, not meant for heavy usage, and will likely fall apart or break down too easily.
Every brand has a different fit, most brands have different models that have different fits, and most models have different widths. The first thing to keep in mind is skates are usually 1-2 sizes smaller than shoe size. A good shop will measure you and look at your foot and pick out a few for you to try on. The heel/ankle pocket is the key to the skate. A foot that is locked into place allows you to skate better, no question. If it wobbles around, you're going to get blisters and pain and you will always feel some degree of unsteadiness on the ice.
Here are three simple tests you can do to when trying on a skate:
- put your foot in the skate, kick your heels back into the skate, and pull the tongues forward. Try laying a pencil across the top of the skate behind the tongue and trace up and down. Ideally, you want your foot to just touch the tongue around the 3rd/4th eyelets. If there's a big gap, the skates might be too deep, and if your foot sticks out, the skates might be too shallow.
- lace up the skates nice and snug, then stand up. Put one foot forward and shift your weight front to back. If you feel your heel lifting up, the skate might be too long or wide in the heel. Slide your foot forward and see if you can fit a finger behind your heel...if so the skates are too long.
- with the skates laced up snug, leave them on for several minutes and/or walk around the store (assuming they have carpet and will let you). If you feel too much pinching, cramping, or pain in the front of the feet, you may need to have them stretched or go to a wider boot.
These are very rough guidelines...nothing beats a good shop with knowledgeable sales staff and a wide selection. But if your skate locks your heel/ankle into place and you can skate without pain, you will set yourself up for a much easier path to improving your ability to skate.
Buying a used skate is a great way to save money...be sure to check it thoroughly to make sure the boot isn't falling apart, the stitching isn't falling out, the holder is still secured tight, and the steel has some life left.
Contrary to some manufacturer claims, no helmet has been proven to prevent concussions; science has a long way to go to understand them still. The primary purpose is to prevent you from cracking open your skull and giving a little cushion upon impact. Most mid-price helmets have comfortable padding and will protect your skull adequately. Expensive helmets have additional padding for comfort. It should be noted that nearly every professional player at the highest levels use what we would consider mid-level helmets (check out pictures of your favorite players on ice…the helmet padding is probably yellow foam).
By far, the most important aspect of a helmet is how it fits your head. A helmet that is too big will slide around when you're falling, which is not going to do you any good. On the other hand, a helmet that's too small will pinch and cause pain and headaches. Most models have a fixed width and adjustable length, so try different brands, sizes, and adjust the fit.
I don't recommend a used helmet because any cracks or damage to the structure or foam seriously compromise the protection. And who wants to stick their head into a helmet that someone else has been sweating in? Be sure to replace the helmet if the padding gets cracked, hardens due to age/sweat, or if you have a severe collision.
Assuming you're playing with other people, get a cage. Yes, the NHL'ers wear visors, but you're not getting paid to play hockey, and accidents happen. Sticks and pucks get up high and can not only knock out teeth and break noses, they can take out eyes. Cheap cages are often painted white or black and have thick bars that are distracting to the vision as well as heavy on your head. Spend a little more to get a cage with silver, oval-shaped bars that have the same protection but are thinner, lighter weight, and less distracting.
Be sure to check the fit with your helmet and make sure you get it installed properly.
For beginners, look for gloves with good foam padding, some kind of thumb lock (to prevent dislocated thumbs...ouch!), and a soft palm material. Intermediate players will want to find gloves with additional plastic inserts on the cuff and backroll/fingers to protect against slashes and flying pucks.
When trying on gloves grab a stick off the shelf and notice how they move with you. Do they slide around when stickhandling? Are the cuffs restricting your movement? Are the fingers uncomfortable when holding the stick? Do you like them tight or loose fitting? Most gloves will break in some, so if you are undecided between sizes or a tight or loose glove, I'd recommend going with the tighter model.
I don't like used gloves because they will almost always smell, which a sign of bacteria or mold. And you don't want to risk picking up a staph infection.
A good pair of elbow pads is essential for learning to play hockey. You're going to fall, and often you will land right on the elbow. You shouldn't have to spend a lot of money to get a good fitting and protective elbow pad. Make sure there's plenty of cushion and a good hard cap to prevent fracture. Intermediate players will want to spend more on models with additional forearm protection to protect against slashes.
When you try on elbow pads, they shouldn't slide up and down the arm. Most quality pads will have a strap running across the elbow to lock them into place. You don't want gaps in protection, so be sure to try on the elbow pads with your gloves and make sure you don't have a large gap where the elbow pads end and the gloves begin. There are slash protectors you can wear to make up for this gap in coverage though, in case you have longer arms or prefer smaller equipment.
Used elbow pads that are very clean can save you some money. Just be sure all the straps and padding are in good condition.
There is a wide variety of shoulder pads on the market. For the beginner, lightweight recreational shoulder pads work just fine. There's enough padding to take the sting out of shots and caps to reduce shoulder injuries. Intermediate players should consider a mid-level pad with additional protection for the chest and spine, two areas where it is vital to get protection from pucks and sticks. These models will likely also have floating or sublimated pads that will allow the shoulders to move freely form the torso for better mobility.
When trying on the pads, hunch over, grab a stick, move around, turn your torso to either side, basically do anything you can to try and make the pads move around. You don't want a shoulder pad that will slide around or one that will inhibit your movement. Another consideration is how much air flow you'll get. A pad that covers a lot of the body and doesn't have ventilation will make you get incredibly hot on the ice and will be terribly uncomfortable. For women, they make shoulder pads that have some extra room in the chest; some women are fine using a men's pad and others find the women's pads much more comfortable.
Used shoulder pads are certainly an option to save some money if they are clean and in good shape.
(or Breezers as we call them in Minnesota)
For beginners, the primary purpose of hockey pants (or breezers) is to cushion your butt when you fall...which you will do a lot. Look for some pants with plenty of hip and tailbone padding. Intermediate players may want additional padding in the legs, kidneys, and spine to take the sting out of shots and crosschecks.
Ideally, the pants will cover your knees when standing up straight. As with other pads, try them on and move around every way you can think about to see if they slide around or are uncomfortable. If you're skinny or tall and require bigger pants, pick up some suspenders to keep them from moving around too much.
Used pants are some of the best deals around. Because players usually wear shorts under them, they are usually fairly clean. You also see a lot of high quality pants at used shops as high school players outgrow them (often in the local team colors). Just make sure the padding is all intact, the belt is in place, and the cover isn't ripped up.
Shin guards serve two main purposes: they protect your shins from pucks and sticks and give your knees padding when you fall. Beginners will want to find a pad with plenty of knee padding to cushion falls. Intermediate players should look for mid-level pads with additional padding in the back of the legs, which is really nice if you take a puck or stick in an otherwise unprotected area.
Shin pads should comfortably fit your knee, shin, and calf without sliding around. If the pads are longer, you can wear them outside the tongues of your skates (put the skates on first, then the shin pads) for extra protection. If they're short, you can put the tongues outside the shin pads to allow a little extra freedom of movement. Either way, be sure your entire shin is covered from knee to skate. And if they still move around a bit, you can tape them down after getting dressed.
Like elbow pads, you can find used shin guards, although I'd tend to shy away from something that has been on someone's sweaty legs.
I have written
an extensive guide on hockey sticks
that I consider an excellent introduction to the topic.
For raw beginners, I would recommend a good wood stick with a mild curve. It will build up muscles, give better feel for the puck, make it easier to learn to pass, and will be about the same for shooting until proper mechanics are learned.
Intermediate players can benefit from a good quality composite stick if they have sufficient strength and proper technique.
Although a full cage will save your teeth, a mouth guard can prevent your teeth from cracking if you take a hard hit or fall and your jaw gets smacked shut. The cheaper boil-and-bite models will work fine if you're wearing a cage, but there are some great models that go on your bottom teeth only that make it easier to speak and breathe for just a bit more.
A lot of the old school players still go for the old jock strap and cup, but I prefer a modern compression short jock. These are more comfortable and have velcro tabs to hold socks up, eliminating the need for the old garter belt. Plus, you can wear them to and from the rink under pants for quicker changing (most rinks don't have showers available). There are also loose jock shorts with the same features but a looser fit.
Just a note to beginners, if you wear your authentic NHL jersey with a star player's name and number on the back, everyone on the bench will laugh at you. A better option is to pick up a simple white and dark jersey, because at open hockey teams are split up and you'll want one of each color. And get a white jersey, not light gray, or yellow, or a pastel color. If you're particularly ambitious, cruise around the used shops for obscure team and practice jerseys.
You'll want one good pair of quality hockey socks (the ones that go outside your shin guards, not on your feet). Go wild and get whatever color you like...you do want to express yourself, don't you? As for your feet, thin socks are the way to go, especially if you haven't yet purchased skates. Skate socks can run quite a bit of money, but some thin dress socks will do the job just fine.
You'll want to grab two kinds of tape: cloth tape, and shin tape. Cloth tape comes in white and black, and that's what you use to tape up your stick. Most people use white tape up top to prevent glove palms from getting discolored and black tape on the blade because it's the traditional color (although white is very popular too). Don't be that guy who uses camouflage tape. Shin tape is made of plastic and is more flexible (prevents you from cutting off blood flow). It's used over the socks to keep shin guards on tight (most players will tape below the knee or at the top of the calf muscle, some at the bottom of the calf as well). Get plenty of tape unless you like driving to the store a lot.
Now that you've got all your shiny new gear, you'll need a bag to put it all in. I recommend finding a bag that has skate pockets as well as at least one extra outside pocket for jerseys. Even better, a second outside pocket that can hold your helmet, and a small accessory pocket for extra tape, a screwdriver, some change for a vending machine, etc. Cheap bags will likely rip and fall apart, so if you can spend a little more money on a quality bag, you will save a lot of money in the long run. I personally use a backpack bag because I have to trek up and down apartment stairs and it's great for getting into narrow rink doors.
That's it! Now you should know what to look for when picking up all your gear.
Last edited by Jarick: 12-17-2012 at
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