The boot is one of the most important elements of all your derby gear. If you can’t control your feet, you can’t skate. If you’re distracted by pain or blisters, you’ll be discouraged from practicing.
Getting the ideal fit
A skate should be slightly more snug than an everyday shoe; it’s important for the skate to be as tight as possible without feeling uncomfortable.
There should be a slight gap between your largest toe and the end of the skate – such that your foot does not need to move forwards in order to stand tilted forward on your toe-stops.
There should not feel as though there is pressure being exerted on any area of your foot – particularly the toe box and sides of the foot. If toes feel crushed together, or the foot feels squeezed, this is too tight.
When you lift the skate off the floor, your heel should remain in contact with the sole of the shoe, rather than lifting off.
You should not experience any pain or numbness in your foot, even after skating for a few hours. Remember to keep adjusting your laces throughout practice if needed.
Avoiding common issues
For most fresh meat, you’re likely going to be stuck with whatever skates you can pick up cheaply or borrow from your league. Everyone’s feet are different, and skates which fit one person perfectly, might be totally wrong for another skater. Even as you progress and decide to upgrade, it could take a good deal of time and money to hunt down the ‘perfect’ skates.
Once you’ve laid hands on a pair that’ll do, it’s likely that you’ll need to do a little DIY to get your boots fitting nice and snug.
With that in mind, here’s a few of the common problems and some methods of adjusting your skates to fit.
Thicker socks – these will ‘pad-out’ your heel, helping reduce the wriggle room at the back of the skate. If your foot is really loose, you might want to double up socks, or hunt down some hiking or running socks with extra padding in the heel. If thick socks cause the front of the boot to get too tight, eZeefit produce a heel sleeve for the exact purpose of padding out narrow heels. For a budget option, consider using an ankle or wrist bandage such as those used to treat a sprain. Or snip up a pair of socks so they only cover from the ankle to the middle of your arch.
Jam straps – these are adjustable, three-way collars which wrap around the back and bottom of your skate and connect in front of the ankle. Jam straps are very popular amongst skaters at all levels, so it’s well worth borrowing or trying some out if you can. At £20 for a pair of straps, they’re a fantastic investment compared to forking out for pricey new skates. Can be found at Skate Britain.
Extra laces/rope/elastic – as an alternative to Jam straps, you can use almost anything to tie your foot into your skate. An extra pair of laces or straps would do the trick – see this great video for an example of how to try this for yourself:
Lacing techniques – there are ways of adjusting your bootlaces in order to hold your ankle more tightly and prevent your feel lifting out. The style you need is called a “heel lock”, which allows laces to be tightened around the top eyelets without squeezing the rest of the foot. It’s popular with runners and athletes as an effective method of holding the heel in position when the foot is lifted.
Toe box is too tight
If your boot is slightly too small, or very snug-fitting, you might find it uncomfortably tight at the front of the shoe – this may cause cramping up or numbness in your toes.
Thinner (or no) socks – thinner socks mean less bulk at the front of the foot, giving more room for movement. Some skaters choose to forgoe socks altogether, although this may result in blisters eZeefit booties are designed to provide padding around the heel while allowing toes to roam free.
Skipping eyelets – try lacing your shoe so that the initial eyelet(s) closest to the end are skipped. By not lacing through these holes, this reduces pressure within the toe-box and allows more space for your toes to stretch out.
Individual pairs of laces – using two pairs of laces, this allows you to vary the tightness to be slacker or more secure where you need it. For example you could then loosen pressure on your toe and lower foot on one set of laces, while using the second pair around the ankle to keep the skate fitted comfortably tight at the top.
If you try these methods and find that your toes are still too crowded at the front, it may be worthwhile removing the insole in the boot and replacing it with a slimmer one, such as Superfeet.
Arch pain and cramping
For pain the arch of the foot, this is frequently caused by poorly fitted boots. Loose shoes may cause you to tense or curl up your foot in order to hold onto the boot as your foot lifts. Over time, this habit can take its toll on your sensitive arches, and cause cramping or discomfort.
Thicker socks – As with heel slippage, thicker socks or lacing the boot tighter can help keep your skate snug, and foot stable and comfortable inside the boots.
Insoles – some insoles are purpose made to reduce or mitigate arch pain – particularly for those with extremely high arches, or very flat feet. Prices vary depending on exact requirements, but decent insoles can be picked up for a reasonable price online. An example is Superfeet insoles. If you have existing orthotics for your shoes, it is worthwhile trying these inside your skates if your pain persists.
Heat moulding – some top-end skates have the ability to be ‘heat moulded’ – meaning they can be softened with heat, then worn in order to morph the inside to the shape of your foot. While more costly, this is a reliable method of getting skates which fit your needs. (Note: If you’re not sure whether your skates are heat-mouldable, then they probably aren’t. Please don’t put your skates in the oven unless you’re 100% sure!)
Top of foot aching or pinching
Pain in the top of the foot is a common ailment – especially for those with high arched feet. This can feel like a dull throbbing sensation, or sometimes manifests as a sharp pain when pressure is applied to the tendons at the top of the foot.
This pain is caused primarily by boots which are laced too tightly, and which ‘strangle’ the foot as it moves and flexes.
Unfortunately, simply slackening the laces can lead to a skate being too loose, which in itself causes problems.
Skipping eyelets – this is probably the most effective way to prevent pain on the top of the foot. By missing out on one or more sets of eyelets, pressure on the foot at this position can be relieved without needing to loosen up the entire skate. It may take some experimentation to find the exact holes which need to be missed; it will depend on whereabouts you feel the pain in your foot. Don’t be afraid to experiment – as long as your skate feels snug on your foot, you may find yourself skipping most of the holes.
Slimmer insoles – by replacing the insole in the skate with a thinner sole, this will mean that less pressure is exerted on the top of your foot by the tongue. Be warned though, thinner sole equals less padding, so is less forgiving on the bottoms of your feet until you’re used to it.
Individual pairs of laces – this means you can keep the bottom section of the shoe tightened up, and the upper section looser. For this method, one pair of laces could occupy the front-most eyelets up to the middle, and another pair of laces used for the rest of the eyelets up to the ankle. Or you can vary the positioning of the laces depending on where you need it tighter or looser.
Blisters and rubbing
Blisters are common in all sports which require specialist footwear, and are often the first indication that your shoe isn’t fitted quite right.
Sports socks – these help by providing padding on your feet in the ‘danger zones’ around your heel and toes. They are also absorbent and will wick sweat away from your skin to prevent friction against the inside of the boot.
Tights or pop-socks – When word underneath socks, this helps by creating lubrication so that the shoe isn’t creating friction directly against your skin.
Vaseline, or anti-chafe lubricant – will also reduce the effects of continual rubbing from the inside of the boot.
Moleskin or suede – this can be used as padding if there is a specific part of the boot which is causing the problem. For example, if the inside of the tongue has a pertrusion, a small swap of suede can act as a barrier between the boot and your foot.
Once a blister has developed, it is important to take care not to aggrevate it, so ensure you are treating it with disinfectant and keeping it covered with plasters. Do not try to ‘pop’ blisters, as this will hamper the healing process and could also leave scarring.
Resources for foot pain
Hopefully by now you have been able to find a few pointers for how to make your boots work for you. But finally, Ian’s Shoelace Site is a fantastic resource for finding lacing methods to deal with a variety of different foot pains, which can make an enormous difference to the fit of your boot.