For all the rookies heading out on a cleat run this weekend, here are the things you should be looking for in a pair of cleats. This is your only piece of equipment, so make sure you get it right!
- Comfort. You’re going to be playing entire weekends in these. If they’re not comfortable, your feet are going to hate you on Sunday. All cleats will break in to a certain degree, but in my opinion they should be reasonably comfortable from the start. One thing to look out for when trying them on is stud pressure. You shouldn’t feel any “hot” points on the bottom of your feet either standing still or pushing off the ground. If you do feel a point where one of the studs is causing a lot of extra pressure, that should be a warning that you might be better of with a different size or model.
- Fit. They should be tight! Not so tight that you’re going to explode them as soon as you start running, but you definitely don’t want your feet to be sliding around inside them while you’re cutting. That’s how you get blisters. Make sure you try on a couple different sizes. You may be a different size in one brand than you are in another, and you’ll probably find that certain brands fit you better than others (Coach Kaner swears by Adidas, I’ve typically had better luck with Nike).
- Traction. There are two types of cleat: conical studs and blades. I think conical are generally a little better for ultimate’s unpredictable cutting, and they’re almost always better for turf. Since most Yuk practices will be on turf, it’s probably best to avoid bladed cleats. Make sure there is some sort of traction on the middle of the forefoot (the ball of the foot), which is where you’ll need it most when running. Certain soccer cleats are kind of lacking in that area.
- Weight. When Kobe Bryant was working with Nike on his line of basketball shoes, they did a bunch of research to quantify the total energy expended in foot motion alone during a basketball game. What they found was that with so much movement over the course of a game, reducing the weight of the footwear by just an ounce or two would end up saving Kobe from literally hundreds of pounds of force by the end of the game. So Kobe wears low-tops and encourages Nike to make them as light as possible. If that reasoning is good enough for Kobe, it’s good enough for me. Clearly weight isn’t everything. You don’t want to sacrifice comfort just for a lighter shoe (especially in ultimate where you could be playing 12 hours over the course of a weekend), but you should try to avoid the more overtly bulky and heavy models.
Football Cleats vs. Soccer Cleats
Football cleats and soccer cleats are designed with very different goals in mind. In soccer, there’s a lot of consideration given to ball control and shooting power. This usually results in more expensive materials on the cleat upper and more expensive cleats in general. Soccer cleats don’t include a toe cleat at the tip of the foot, again for the sake of ball control, but I’ve found that this isn’t so important as long as there’s sufficient traction on other areas of the forefoot. Soccer cleats come in tiers, so an expensive cleat model will often have a bunch of progressively cheaper models in the same family. Sometimes a low end model flat out sucks, sometimes you’ll find a really solid cleat for a bargain. You won’t know until you try it on.
Football cleats come in a very wide variety to accommodate all of football’s various positions, but for ultimate you should only really be looking at the cleats designed for wide receivers. They’ll have more aggressive traction patterns (usually with a toe cleat) built specifically for sprinting and cutting. They’ll usually be more comfortable than a comparably priced soccer cleat because they’re just built for running, not kicking a ball around. Football cleats often come in a low-top and mid-top version (referring to ankle height). I’d encourage you to stick with the lows if you can. If you feel like you need the extra ankle support, in the long term you’re better off working on improving your ankle strength rather than buying cleats to compensate.
And yes, there are cleats for lacrosse too, but they’re very similar to football cleats and from what I’ve seen they don’t offer any distinct advantages over football or soccer cleats.
Detachable vs. Molded Cleats
Some football cleats are offered in both detachable and molded models. In my opinion, the molded models are always better. Molded cleats have a greater number of smaller studs which will give you better traction on a wider variety of surfaces. Detachables are meant for softer ground (which, as an ultimate player, you will almost never play on) and will be much more slippery on firm ground where they can’t dig in. Molded cleats are more durable and you won’t have to worry about them falling out or wearing out like detachables.
Where to Buy
Even if you don’t plan on buying from Dick’s, it’s definitely worth a trip down there to try a bunch of cleats on. Online, my favorite places to order are Eastbay and Soccer.com. They both have pretty solid return policies in you want to order a couple sizes and only keep one (just make sure you try them on in your room, since you won’t be able to return them once you’ve worn them on grass or turf and scuffed them up). When ordering online, always remember to check RetailMeNot to see if there are any good coupon codes for those sites.
Favorite Cleat Models
Under Armour Blur. Really comfortable. Light. Great traction on grass or turf. I’m a little concerned about the durability as the bottom plate started to separate a little from the upper after the first game I wore them. It doesn’t appear to be getting much worse, but I’m not counting on them to last much more than one season. They’re on sale for $70 right now which is pretty awesome because, yes, they actually were over $100 when they came out at the start of the summer.
Nike Vapor Jet 4.2. Okay, so they’re three years old and discontinued and you’ll probably never find a pair, but I just wanted to highlight these for their comfort and awesome traction pattern. I also want to warn you that the two more recent versions of these cleats, the Vapor Carbon and the Vapor Talon, are nowhere near as good. The Carbon had a poorly designed soleplate that fell apart after playing in them for a month, and the Talon are nowhere near as comfortable. Shame on you, Nike. Do better next year. (Fun Nike Fact: If your cleats break within the first year, you can send them back for a full refund. If you buy Nikes, keep your receipt.)
Nike Mercurial Miracle III. I know I said to avoid bladed cleats, but these actually do great on the CMU turf due to that one lateral blade at the center of the forefoot. Unfortunately, they’re completely useless on certain other turf fields. I couldn’t wear them at any Buffalo Hunters home games, or on the Spinners’ field. But I’ve been wearing them for most of the club season and they’re great on grass. They’re insanely comfortable and light, and Nike also makes a couple cheaper versions of Mercurial if the Miracle are out of your price range.
Nike Tiempo Flight. Another really good soccer option. Very comfortable, and the conical stud pattern make them good for both grass and turf. They’re actually lighter than the much more expensive high end model of the Nike Tiempo, which is a nice bonus.