Types of Ice Skates

The ice skating world provides different types of ice skates. And each type of ice skate works best for a certain kind of skater or ice skating style. So, what kind of a skater are you and what type of ice skate do you need? You can choose recreational skates, or figure skates, or hockey skates, or speed skates. But that’s too much choice already, you quip. In this post, I aim to describe each skate and do it in a way that helps you decide what ice skate type would work best for your skating level or style.

Let’s jump in right away and learn what each kind of ice skate is and what you can do with it.

1. Recreational Ice Skates

Recreational ice skates are just as the name suggests. These are ice skates designed for having a good time on the ice with your loved ones and friends. These skates are purposely designed for leisure ice skating outdoors.

The main thing when skating in recreational figure skates is fun and personal enjoyment. That’s why they focus more on comfort than performance.  By the way, recreational ice skates are usually a type of figure skate. That’s why they’re sometimes called recreational figure skates. But that’s not saying you won’t find recreational hockey skates on the market.

It’s easy to confuse recreational skates with beginner ice skates, but these shoes are two different kinds of ice skates. Recreational skates are typically cheap, significantly cheaper than beginner ice skates. I mean, I’ve seen tons of sub-$50 recreational skates online and in skate shops.

I recently visited Kenya’s capital, Nairobi, with my hubby, Jason.  And we saw $28 brand new ice skates being sold in small shops located in several locations around the city. We interviewed three shop owners, and each said the $28 ice skates, all of which unsurprisingly came from China, perform OK.

The traders told us these cheap Chinese ice skates perform as well as any secondhand ice skates that ship in from the U.S. after each ice skating season. Yes, they have artificial ice rinks there. And no, we never saw any hungry lions roaming in the capital ha ha ha.

But why are recreational ice skates cheap? It’s because they’re typically made out of plastic and a bit of textile. And neither plastic nor textile fabrics cost an arm and a leg. You shouldn’t expect much performance, support, or longevity from recreational boots.

But you can expect enough comfort and support for spending many happy hours on the pond, lake, or in a public skate. The best recreational figure skates offer developing ice skaters with enough support and comfort to participate in shows and recitals at rinks and clubs.

2. Figure Skates

Figure skates have existed since the dawn of the 20th century. Figure skates from those days tended to be thin and quite supple rather than thick and rigid as modern figure skates. And in terms of design, figure skates from those early periods went up all the way to somewhere around the middle of the calf.

Today’s figure skates come with ample padding for support and comfort, but not as much padding as in hockey skates. And while today’s figure skates are still kind of thin, they’re nowhere near as thin as what 20th-century figure skaters such as Sonja Heine wore.

Modern boot technology has given the figure skating community boots that offer tons of rigidity that translates into loads of foot and ankle support.

When it comes to doing figure skating jumps and other super-neat, acrobatic movements, figure skaters need a serious level of ankle support. These skaters also need to bend their knees a lot to set up a whole slew of precise moves on the ice.

For these reasons, modern figure skates come with a far-below-the-calf cut. In most figure skates today, the upper part of the boot rarely extends past the ankle. And that design evolution has resulted in lots of boot flex.

If you’re into ice dancing, you need boots with an even lower cut on the back. That’s because ice dancing consists of various moves and maneuvers that necessitate lots of knee bending. I’ve even seen figure skates for ice dancing that feature a bit of elastic on the back to boost the boot’s overall flexibility.

If you’re a beginning figure skater, you can start your ice skating journey with pre-assembled boots that come with the boot and blades pieced together. You can find legions of these kinds of figure skates on Amazon and many other corners online.

In terms of boot colors, men traditionally wear black figure skates while women wear white skates. But it’s not like you can’t wear white if you’re a man or black if you’re a woman. In fact, the market groans under the weight of white figure skating boots for men and black boots for women and girls.

Now, fit is a critical element when choosing figure skates. But fit becomes even more important when shopping for professional figure skates. That’s the main reason professional figure skaters use custom figure skates instead of cheap, ubiquitous, ready-to-wear boots.

3. Hockey Ice Skates

As the name suggests, hockey skates are ice skates designed for playing hockey. A lot goes on the pitch every single minute during a hockey session. So, the best hockey boot for you is one that meets your needs the entire time.

You need speed and the ability to stop suddenly. You also need to be able to quickly build up acceleration as well as make sharp, quick turns easily. So, the ice hockey skate you eventually settle for should be an option created to handle the rigors of intense hockey sessions.

Protection is another critical consideration when choosing hockey skates. A good hockey skate should be constructed from super tough, durable materials and components that act as a fortress against constant attacks. Why, you ask.

It’s because there’s always hard puck shots flying all over the place all the time. Also, there’s always some agile hockey player that seems to think there’s a way right where your boot is planted. So, they’re gliding hard in your direction, and their steel blades suddenly give your boot a hard slam.

In either situation, you’ll likely experience pain. Plus, your blade may get a nick, dent, crack, or whatever. And it’s not unheard of for hockey players wearing boots made out of low-quality materials to get a broken leg because an extremely momentous puck shot crashed into the boot!

What skater wants to end up on some hospital bed instead of hockey heaven after a successful game?  Nobody, that’s who.

Whether you’re looking to buy hockey skates for yourself or your child, you’ll have to order the boot in one of three sizes. These ice hockey skate sizes are junior skate, youth skate, and senior skate sizes.

When sizing hockey skates, considering ordering them in a size and a half smaller than your size in regular street shoes. For example, if you wear size 9.5 in dress shoes, size 8 hockey skates will in most cases fit your feet properly. But you must remember that this is nothing more than a general rule.

Always remember that each hockey player is an individual. And each player’s feet shape and size may not be like everyone else’s. So, always consider picking up hockey skates only after you’ve correctly measured your feet and chosen a fitting size from the model’s skate size chart.

Even better, get properly fitted hockey skates from a skate shop. Or, have the skate fitting expert fit you and recommend a model from a given brand and then leave and order the boot from a cheaper place online or wherever. But if the store offers hockey equipment at great prices, why not support them? By all means do.

4. Speed Ice Skates

Speed skates do one thing and do it really well — glide super fast on the ice. But these aren’t the safest ice skates out there. That means you shouldn’t ever skate in race ice skates unless you’ve mastered every skill needed to fly around safely in them. These boots are for skaters that have spent tons of hours perfecting their skating form, people that are insiders of the speed skating world.

Typically made of leather and with blades that are longer than any other skate, these boots focus manically on gliding forward at great speeds. Some speed skates have blades as long as 17″, which means that these blades usually extend way past the end of the boot.

Leather is a pretty common material when it comes to speed skates, also known as clap skates. But these boots are also available in other kinds of long-lasting materials (synthetic). When you put on a pair of speed skates, it feels like your feet effortlessly assume a natural running position.

Unlike the speed boots from the 1990’s speed skating scene, the modern speed skate/clap skate doesn’t come with the boot permanently attached to the blades. Instead, today’s speed skates feature some kind of hinge that links the blades to the boot.

The beauty of this skate design is that it lets the blade detach from the skate’s heel during a speed skating session. And when that happens, the skater has an easier time preventing their blade from cutting deep into the ice and potentially slowing them down. But while these ice skates move super fast, you won’t have much control of your ride. Small wonder lots of people think of speed skating as being a little clumsy.

Speed Ice Skates Vs. Regular Ice Skates

The main difference between speed skates and other types of ice skates is that speed skates are built purposely for speed. Hockey skates focus on providing support, protection, accelerating, great stopping, and fast turning ability. As for figure skates, these ones dedicate their structural design to cutting figures with amazing precision.

Another difference between speed skates and other skates is that speed skates have super flat blades. Also, these pieces of steel don’t have grooves as in hockey skates and figure skates.

Unlike hockey skates and figure skates that are hollow-ground, speed skates are flat-ground. While you can use a machine to sharpen other skates, the flat blades of race ice skates are best sharpened by hand.

Why Are Speed Skates Faster Than Other Ice Skates?

Ever wondered why speed skates are faster than either hockey skates or figure skates? It’s because speed skates have a lot of surface area in contact with the ice. But even my rusty high school physics tells me such blades should be slower because more of the blade experiences friction with the ice, you say.

Now, that counterargument sounds great. But the same argument crumbles once you take a closer look at the physics of ice skating.

When skating, you apply tons of pressure on your blades, causing them to push hard against the ice. And when you push against the ice, the ice does precisely the same thing, but in the opposite direction. The ice does that in complete obedience to one of Sir. Isaac Newton’s three laws of motion. For every action, there’s an equal and opposite reaction. That means that the ice pushes equally hard against your stride’s push, giving you an equivalent force that manifests as forward movement.

But, consider this: the more pushing force you can apply on your blades, the more forward motion you can expect from the ice, right? And the more blade you have in contact with the ice, the more pressure you can transfer to the blade and onto the ice, correct? Which in turn means the more reactive force you’ll get from the ice, which then means more forward motion for you.

I’m sure you can now see why flat blades with a lot of surface area touching the ice’s surface translate into tons of forward momentum. You can also see why only professional ice skaters that have built up enough skating skill riding speed skates should use racing skates.

5. Rental Ice Skates

Well, rental ice skates aren’t exactly a specific type of skate. But, I’m going to talk about them a bit because people view them as though they were a different type of ice skate.

Rental skates typically aren’t the best quality you can have. For the most part, some rink has decided to invest in a couple ice skates to make a few bucks off of skaters (or aspiring skaters) that don’t own skates, yet.

The rink’s principal aim, of course, is to make as much money out of each asset as possible. And seriously, why buy $500+ hockey/figure skates to rent out for $15 a day when you could charge more or less renting out ridiculously cheap skates?

Most rental skates aren’t the sort of skate you want to use for playing hockey or doing any kind of serious figure skating. That’s because rental skates tend to be low-quality ice shoes that often fit poorly.  I keep coming across first-time skaters that say that rental ice skate hurt feet badly, making them almost start looking for a better  (less pain-causing) pastime.

Are rental ice skates bad? Well, they aren’t bad, as in they’re a regular pair of cheap skates, just like any other skate you can obtain at ridiculously low prices. But ice rink-owned skates usually aren’t good enough to be called beginner-level skates.

For the most part, rental ice skates are just a pair of skates you strap on to build up a bit of confidence on the ice. Usually, you’re not going to be able to do any kind of ice skating tricks on them. Once you’re ready for jumps and spins on the ice, you’ll want to sink a hundred-plus dollars into a good quality beginner or intermediate level skate. Jackson carries quite a few good beginner and intermediate level skates.

Skating forward, skating backward, and building up enough courage to come away from the rink barrier is pretty much the greatest achievement you can expect skating in rented boots.

How much does it cost to rent ice skates? It costs anywhere between $10 to $15 to rent hockey skates or figure skates for a day. If you have a whole week to yourself, you can expect to pay between $45 and $100 for that much fun on the ice.

Some rinks will even let you rent their skates the night before at no extra charge. And if you and your family are all ice-loving souls, hunt around for a rink that offers family rental specials.

If you’re not yet sure whether ice skating is a worthwhile sport or pastime for you, it’s best to start with rental skates. If you end up deciding that spending your free time gliding around on the ice isn’t much fun, you can always quit it all. You can always walk away without having thrown a ton of dollars at expensive skates you’ll never use.

Recreational Ice Skates Vs. Other Ice Skates

In terms of general product design, recreational skates look like figure skates. They’re designed to provide lots of comfort. However, recreational skates don’t boast as much padding as professional figure skates have. I’ve noted that even beginner and intermediate-level figure skates tend to have way better quality padding (and more of it) than the best recreational skates.

Since the materials used to create figure skates are much better than those used to make skates for leisure skating or hobby skating, figure skates cost significantly more.

Is there any difference between kids’ recreational skates and adult skates? No, there’s no difference between adult and kids’ hobby ice skates. Having said that, I must mention that kids’ leisure ice skates focus more on providing ankle support than adult skates do. But that’s not surprising considering that children’s ankles are naturally weaker than those of grownups.

For that reason, leisure skates for kiddos feature hard, plastic boots packed with tons of ankle support so kids can skate safely in them. It’s pretty common for kids hobby ice skates to have double blades so young skaters can balance easier. And if you’re wondering how much the cheapest recreational ice skates for adults and kids cost, the cheapest I have seen is $40.

Which Ice Skates Are the Best Ever?

There’s nothing like the best ice skate ever. The best ice skate for you is the one that adequately supports all your skating needs regardless of your skating level or ability. If you’re a recreational ice skater, find something that works great as far as providing you with comfort and support for your leisurely skating sessions.

If you’re a beginner hockey play or figure skater, find an option designed for that ability level. Here’s a list of 5 of the best ice skates for beginners. What if I have big feet? No worries! I’ve invested tons of expertise, research, and personal experience into reviews of 5 ice skates that fit large, flat, wide feet. Here’s the post:  Best Ice Skates for Wide Feet.

If you’re a pro figure skater or hockey skater, read reviews online and ask any skaters you may know. You’ll surely find a bet that wins every time. The same goes for speed skates.

Hockey Skates Vs Figure Skates, What’s Better for Kids?

For kids, you want a pair of skates that offers lots of ankle support. Lots of parents have different opinions on whether figure skates or hockey skates are the better option for kids. I’ll give my two cents worth and say that figure skates tend to work better for kids than hockey skates.

That’s because figure skates offer a little better balance due to the blade design which doesn’t have a rocker as pronounced as that of hockey skates. The blades are longer and flatter than those on hockey skates, and that means it should be easier for a child to balance on them.

Also, figure skates offer lots of ankle support, plus the toe pick stop prevents them from gliding forward too much. What’s more, figure skates come with a tail designed to prevent the skater from leaning too far back.