Hockey skates, much like your everyday shoes, are designed to fit general foot sizes and shapes. However, nobody has exactly the same feet, and sometimes the skates you’ve bought, despite their comfort, can still cause a world of pain if not broken in.
In this easy step guide, we’ll explain how to properly break in your hockey skates using different methods and techniques like wear them around your home. So, without further ado, let’s get started.
Table of Contents
- 1 Why Do You Need To Break in Hockey Skates?
- 2 How To Pick the Right Fit?
- 3 In-Store Skate Fitting
- 4 Methods of Breaking in Hockey Skates:
- 5 Things to Keep in Mind:
- 6 Conclusion
Why Do You Need To Break in Hockey Skates?
Unlike regular shoes, which have minimal ankle support and provide very little protection, ice skates are like a military tank for your feet and they require a break in period. They’re constructed from durable, technical materials like carbon fiber composites, plastics, nylons, leather, heavy-duty textiles, etc., which can withstand the rigors of the ice hockey rink.
But because of that, they tend to be very rigid right out of the box and need to undergo a breaking-in period to mold to your feet properly and ensure a proper fit, and ultimately, comfort. They don’t say “comfortable as an old shoe” for nothing. With that said, the first key to successfully break-in your skates is purchasing the skates with the right fit for your foot size/shape.
How To Pick the Right Fit?
Picking out street shoes is easy; you just put them on, make a few steps and decide whether or not they’re comfortable enough to buy. Those rules don’t apply to hockey skates for hockey players. To begin with, it’s a general rule of thumb that hockey skates typically run a full size, or size and a half, smaller than your regular footwear. In other words, if you’re a size 10 shoe, you’ll probably need a size nine or even a size 8.5 hockey skate.
But size isn’t your only concern when size-fitting skates. You also need to factor in the height and width of your foot. The main idea here is to find the best-fitting, most comfortable out-of-the-box skates to help reduce the inevitable break-in period. So, the best way to assess the size and shape of your foot is actually to try the skates on before you purchase them.
There’s no amount of breaking in that will make a skate feel comfortable if the fit is off. To learn more about how to size and fit ice ice skates properly, we suggest reading our article on the Best Ice Skates. The article contains a comprehensive Buyer’s Guide, which explains sizing, fitting, and test-fitting ice skates in great detail.
In-Store Skate Fitting
Purchasing a new pair of skates in-store offers several advantages over online shopping, at least when it comes to fitting. Once you’ve decided on a pair of skates that fits you best, most stores will thermoform them for you – and this is one clear advantage over online shopping. In-store fitting just saves you the hassle of having to fit and thermoform the skates yourself.
So, make sure you have your hockey socks on because the store will likely offer to thermoform your skates for you. The process includes applying heat to the skates to make them more pliable and then mold them against your foot. Additionally, professional services offer on-spot corrections of any sore zones, like oddly-shaped bone rubbing against the skate, by reapplying heat to the area to expand it further.
Professional thermoforming of high-quality skates almost always excludes any kind of breaking in period. Still, sores can happen, and we strongly encourage you to re-visit the shop and have them correct the issue.
Caution: Make sure that the skates you’re buying are heat-moldable. This isn’t really an issue with the in-store fitting process, but it can be if you’re purchasing the skates online. Thermoforming ice skates which are not heat-moldable will cause irreparable damage to the skates, and most likely, your oven.
Methods of Breaking in Hockey Skates:
There are several methods that you can use to break in fresh skates. Some are more trusted than others, and some require a bit more attention, but we’ll overview the most popular ways of breaking in fresh skates.
This is probably the oldest tried-and-tested method of breaking in fresh skates for most skates. So, pick up your new skates and head to the local rink. Before you step on the ice, we must stress the importance of a proper fit – no amount of hard work and skating will make an improperly fit boot more comfortable.
With that said, even properly fit right skates can cause slight discomfort during the first few sessions. But the more time you invest, the more molded to your feet the skate will become. There’s really no substitute for hard work unless your skates are heat-moldable. Even then, you can expect some residual stiffness and slight discomfort until the boot completely forms and conforms to the shape of your foot.
Playing hockey with stiff and unbroken boots can be excruciating and can even cause blisters. If you know you’re due a new pair of skates, purchase replacements before your old ones become entirely worn out. You can skate them and break them in until they’re comfortable, while your old skates still have life in them. That way, you can jump right into your new, comfy skates once the old ones wear entirely out.
Walk Around Your Home
Walking around the house in your new, shiny, but uncomfortably stiff skates is a good substitute for skating. Though nothing beats skating and thermoforming, walking puts pressure on your feet and expands them, further expanding and breaking in the sides of your skates’ boots. This will make the sides more flexible, causing a better and more comfortable fit around your feet.
However, we strongly advise that you wear hard skate guards while wearing your skates inside to prevent any damage to the blades. Soft skate guards do a fantastic job for ice rink’s rubber floors, but they can’t really resist against hardwood flooring or other hard surfaces around the house. Using soft guards instead of hard ones increases the likelihood of damaging and dulling your skate’s blade.
Bake Them Yourself
Most shops will bake the skates for you, even if you haven’t bought the skates directly from them. Still, if you don’t have access to a store with an skate oven, you can bake the skates yourself in your home oven with a tiny bit of caution. Here’s how you do it:
Check Your skates – It’s crucial to check whether your skates are heat-moldable or not before putting them in the oven. Don’t assume that your high-end skates are thermo-responsive; some models, like CCM RibCor 80K don’t have thermoforming properties, despite a hefty price tag. Always check the instructions provided by the manufacturer.
Prepare the Skates – Loosen the laces on your skates before putting them in the oven, so you can tighten them easily when they come out. You really don’t want to fumble with the laces on a hot skate.
Some people like waxed laces. If that’s the case, you must remove and replace them with regular ones for baking purposes. High temperatures involved in the baking process will melt the coating on waxed laces, which can damage your skates.
Additionally, you might want to remove your holders and runners before baking the skates, as they might not respond well to high temperatures and could melt.
Prepare the Oven – Take out all shelves but the lowest one, and heat your oven to 180°F/80°C or any other temperature recommended by the manufacturer. While the oven heats, use that time to prepare a baking tray, and cover it with a tea towel, or some double-stacked baking paper, to avoid skates touching the metal. Once the oven’s up to temperature, turn the heat off.
Bake the Skate – Put the skate (or skates if your oven is big enough) onto the tray, and put it in the oven for 4 – 5 minutes. After 4 – 5 minutes, take the skate out, and give it a gentle squeeze. If it’s pliable, you’re done baking, but if it’s not, put it back into the oven for another 2 – 3 minutes, then test again.
Make it Fit – Put your skating socks on, slide the skates on, and tighten the laces. It’s essential to keep equal pressure on your foot, so it’s highly recommended that you sit with your feet flat on the floor. This will apply pressure to your foot and expand it so that it can mold the skate. Keep some on-hand entertainment with you, and sit there for 20 minutes, letting your skates cool before taking them off. It’s strongly recommended to give them another 24 hours to additionally cool.
Hair Blow-Dry Method
The Blow-dry method is a more localized way of heat application, which can be used to loosen up stiff portions of the high end skates. Using a blow hair dryer allows you to target specific areas which still feel uncomfortable, leaving comfortable regions untouched. You can apply this method on previously baked boots or completely new ones. Just make sure that you’ve adjusted the right temperature for the device.
Things to Keep in Mind:
The break-in process implies certain things you need to be aware of or risk damage to the skates or personal injury when you play in them, so be careful and keep these things in mind.
Breaking in a pair of skates can, and most likely will cause blisters on areas that rub uncomfortably against the boot. You can avoid forming blisters by wearing a band-aid or athletic tapes over susceptible regions, like the back of the heel, ankles, and toes. If blisters remain an issue, you might have to reassess the fit of your skates to avoid further blisters.
Watch the Lacing
Don’t over-tighten the laces on your new skates. The pain you’ll experience later is a direct result of how tightly you laced your skates. The general rule of thumb says that you should just enough to ensure a snug and secure fit for initial use and work your way from there.
Take it Slow
Don’t take your current skate on a 0-100 test skating. It’ll almost certainly end with your blistered feet, and a world of pain, and a feeling of resentment towards your fresh skates. Take it slow; 15-minute increments of moderate skating for a few days should be more than enough to break in your new skates properly.
By following the steps from this guide, even your new ice hockey skates can be as comfortable as an old shoe. Give the process some time and patience – it’s definitely worth it, and your feet will thank you for it.