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What’s the difference between figure skates and hockey skates?

Picture the graceful figure skater, jumping, turning and spinning sharply. They pivot and spin in the air and float across the ice on one leg. On the other hand, hockey players need quick bursts of speed to protect themselves from being hit. They’re constantly scanning the ice for the puck and for the other bodies trying to get in their way. 

Because they have such different functions, the skates for these sports are specialized. The main difference in design between ice skates and hockey skates are the length of the blade and the figure skates’ toe pick. If you just want to learn to skate, figure skates are more learner friendly.

Figure skates

Figure skates

A pair of figure skates are better for beginners because the shape of the blade distributes weight more evenly over the foot, making it easier to balance. The blade is long and has a curve near the toe called the “rocker,” which allows the skater to make long and graceful turns. The toe pick at the front of the boot allows for big jumps and tight spins. The ridged teeth of the toe pick dig into the ice to give the skater an easier time balancing and pushing off the toe without falling.

The material of a figure skate’s boot is more pliable and lighter than the heavy composite of hockey skates. This is because a figure skater doesn’t need to worry about being struck by hockey pucks and sticks. 

Figure skate pros

Figure skate

A figure skate glides easily and makes long swooping turns. It excels at acrobatic jumps, aerial twists and pivots in place. The longer blade is helpful when on extended one-foot glides. The boot is made of many layers of leather and a wooden sole on the inside for support. The leather is tight enough to support the ankle but pliant enough to contort during jumps and turns. The blade of a figure skate efficiently detaches when you need a replacement as well. The longer blade means more surface area, so they’ll pick up more momentum over the length of the rink.

Figure skate cons

Figure skate's

The figure skate’s long blade is not suited for agility and quick changes of direction, and it’s also more dangerous to use on the ice with other people, as the long blade sticking out could hit others. The material is relatively thin and won’t hold up well to impacts. It also takes time to break them in, sometimes a few weeks. While a figure skate is perfect for beginners, they might be tempted to use the toe pick incorrectly and try to push off with it or start and stop with it.

Hockey skates

Hockey skates

Hockey is a sport that demands the ability to stop and go quickly because you need to get around or go through your opponent. Their skates are more straightforward than figure skates. Hockey players need skates that turn easily, handle well and go fast. Hockey skates have blades that are attached directly to the boot via a long, thick piece of plastic called a tuuk. The way the blade is positioned might make balancing difficult to get the hang of at first unless you have experience with inline skates.

The composite material of hockey skates is tough and doesn’t bend easily, keeping your toes safe from being broken by flying pucks. There are different kinds of skates for different positions. Unless you want to learn just to play hockey, these skates aren’t good for beginners. You need to have a good grasp on how to push and stop with the length of the blade.

Hockey skate pros

Hockey skates

A short blade with a more rounded curve than figure skates makes the hockey skate extremely good at executing quick turns and digging into the ice. The fact that there’s more rocker means that they turn easier. Their lightweight construction is comfortable and allows players to practice for longer without fatiguing. Pucks and hockey sticks bounce right off without allowing much impact to penetrate through to the feet. Depending on whether or not you’re a goalie, you’ll also have padding included in the design. It’s very easy to stand in hockey skates as well because they’re lower to the ground than figure skates.

Hockey skate cons

Hockey skates

Hockey skates don’t glide easily and require more effort and pushing against the ice to gain speed. While it was designed to maximize protection, that didn’t translate to comfort. Hockey skates can be stiff and cause blisters if the laces aren’t tight enough. It can also be difficult for beginners to keep their balance with hockey skates. If you lose balance, you will fall forwards or backwards immediately and won’t be able to catch yourself, unless you know how to push with the blade.

Should you get figure skates or hockey skates?

Whether you want to land a triple axle or hit slap shots into the net, it’s important to get used to the skate you’ll be using the most. Some people think that young hockey players are better off learning the fundamentals of skating on figure skates because it’s easier to balance. If you’re just starting out and having a hard time, then figure skates are a good way to help shorten the learning curve.

 In the end, it’s all up to you and your preferences. Do you want to be a figure skater or a hockey player? Figure skaters and people who are new to skating should learn on figure skates. If you’re going to be a hockey player, the sooner you learn how to use hockey skates and can get the proper feel for them, the better.


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Sam Bramlett writes for BestReviews. BestReviews has helped millions of consumers simplify their purchasing decisions, saving them time and money.

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