There is absolutely no shortage of choices when it comes to soccer shoes – there’s so many brands, types, materials and technologies. It’s no wonder then, that companies are working hard to come up with eye-catching designs that will grab your attention on the store shelf or the webpage.
Thing is, better aesthetics won’t make you play any better – but it will make you look great. And that’s fine! If looking good if your number one priority, then have at it. For everyone else, read on.
In this article we’re going to break down the all the major variables to help you understand the differences between models and choose the right pair for you and your situation.
“What do I want?”
When choosing a set of cleats, it’s easy to get overwhelmed by the options. That’s why it’s a good idea to step back and be clear about what you really want. It’s important to think about your position, playing style, the surfaces you play on, your foot width and of course, your budget. Draw up some parameters and requirements to help you narrow down the options.
You can find a list of some of the best soccer cleats on the market here if you’re interested…
It’s worth talking about your budget, because although good boots can help complement your game, they won’t drastically improve you as a player, no matter how much we’d like them to. With that in mind, it’s not worth spending far more than you can really afford on new cleats – you’d be better off spending the extra money on a training aid to improve specific aspects of your game.
That said, you do also get what you pay for, and very low end boots (about $35 or less) generally aren’t worth your time. At the top end, boots made for professional players can easily run over $200. And while these have performance good enough for the best in the world, they often take a hit in durability since they aren’t expected to last even a full season at the top level. As a result, our advice is generally to stick somewhere between $70 and $150 for the best balance of performance, durability and value.
What surface do you play on?
This is the best place to start – and probably the most important consideration. The type (or types) of surface you play on make a lot of choices for you. Let’s talk about the definitions we use for each type of boot.
Firm ground boots are for natural grass pitches with good drainage or without a lot of rain. These days, they tend to be designed with artificial grass in mind too. They’re the classic all-rounder design and a strong place to start.
Soft ground boots are designed to keep you moving on a wet or muddy surface where the studs dig into the ground. The studs on these are often metal and sometimes unscrew. You’ll need to check whether your league allows them – some don’t.
Hard ground boots are well-suited to dry pitches with worn grass or other very hard surfaces. In other words, they are good at sitting on top rather than getting traction by digging in. They have larger numbers of smaller, lower studs that also work well on short artificial grass.
Artificial ground boots are the newest style and are specifically designed with artificial pitches or turf in mind. In appearance they’re quite like hard ground boots but this kind of cleat is designed to give maximum tractions on the latest generation synthetic surfaces.
Indoor boots are for glossy, gym-style hard courts. They don’t have studs, usually, and instead have a flat rubber sole. Because of that, they also work as day-to-day trainers.
Hybrid boots combine elements of more than one of these styles – for example boots designed for both firm ground and artificial pitches, or futsal shoes that are flat-soled but also very lightweight.
What is your playing style and position?
While you don’t want to overspecialize, it’s important to factor your position on the pitch into your buying decisions. If you play upfront a boot with a well-designed strike zone is important. As a winger, you might look for lightweight above all else for maximum agility.
If you play in the middle, being comfortable with excellent control is key, and as a defender a heavier, tougher boot might be a good idea to deal with all the tackles. Goalkeepers need traction on demand, especially sideways.
If you play multiple roles you might want a more rounded boot, and it’s worth thinking about how you play, no matter the position. What defines your playstyle? Movement, passing, shooting or tackling? You can tailor your boot choice around what you do best.
The choice of studs
Studs are normally rubber, plastic or metal (or at least metal-tipped). You’ll typically find the metal variety on soft ground boots and the rubber types on hard ground models. The plastic cleats tend to be on everything in between. Generally speaking, blades are all about speed and traction while cones give more stability.
The kind of studs you buy will often be determined by the surfaces you play on but you do have a few choices now, especially thanks to the hybrid cleats that let you mix and match to give you good cross-surface performance at the expense of specialization. Think about what’s better for your position.
What material should you choose?
In general, you’ll find a choice of two materials for the uppers on your cleats: leather or synthetic. Each have particular characteristics. To boil it down, leather tends to be softer and conform more easily to the foot. Synthetics on the other hand, are usually more durable, lighter, and have extra features like being waterproof.
Among the leathers, kangaroo is the most prized. It is lighter than calfskin or full-grain and very soft. It isn’t waterproof though, and will be less durable than the alternatives – and more expensive too. There is a particular quality to natural leather that is still very popular, and the softest examples will conform perfectly to the ball. It’s one for the purists.
There is a wide range of synthetics now in use, and generally speaking that’s where the market is headed, and not just because of their advantages in play but because to avoid using animal products.
There are synthetic leathers, and as technology advances they are getting closer to replicating the exact feel of natural leather but with the advantages that synthetics bring, such as waterproofing.
Where synthetics do not aim to replicate leather, we’ve seen a lot of really interesting innovations. The newest idea is a knitted upper that gives you better control and traction on the ball, for example. Mesh, more traditionally seen on running trainers, has also made it onto super-lightweight cleats.
Synthetics won’t generally need a break-in period, but they won’t stretch either – so keep that in mind when trying them on in the shop. On the other hand, a leather boot should improve over time as it naturally forms to your foot, and you can safely choose a boot that’s a little on the tight side as it’ll loosen up.
Choosing the right material is significantly related to personal preference and priorities – although circumstances play a role too. If you often play in wet conditions, synthetic is likely to be the clear choice. On the other hand, if you have wide feet then kangaroo leather might be the winner, because its ability to mould to your foot will make the shoe more comfortable.
It’s also worth checking out this article here from US Soccer about blisters if you’re prone to picking them up.
Work out what’s most important to you and hopefully your decision will become clear!
Getting the right fit
While we all do our window shopping on the internet, it’s really important, if you’re serious about investing in the right set of cleats, to go and try them out in a store – ideally with a professional fitter who can help you out. It’s vital to get a boot that fits snugly. It needs to be tight (without hurting, obviously) to maximise control, precision and to avoid injuries. Sizing, inevitably, varies across manufacturers a bit as well, so there’s really no replacement for trying them in person.
Ankle height is an area of variation among cleats, especially these days. The new trend of having a collar around the ankle offers a little extra support and potentially stability, and it’s becoming quite popular. It’s a middle ground between the traditional low and mid ankle choices, where the lower one offers more manoeuvrability but less protection than the mid variety.
Soccer cleats wide feet
If you’ve got wide feet – and get your feet measured to double check – then your options do get a little more limited. You’ll be able to squeeze into all sorts of boots but to be at your best you really need cleats that are designed for wide feet.
As you’ll see when we talk about materials, leather cleats form more easily around your feet, especially the kangaroo variety. They’ll mould to your shape over time, making them a good choice.
Having said that, look for ‘wide last’ cleats. The last is the term for what gives the boots their shape, and you may find that a wide pair in the right size that fits perfectly, without any wearing in. As a last resort, some of the manufacturers even offer personalized sizing – at a cost.
I’ve gone into the specific soccer cleats for wide feet here if you’re interested…
So to sum up: visit a store with a professional fitter, determine a sensible budget that balances performance and value, consider the surface you play on, think about the position you play in and what aspects of your game are most important to support, and choose a material that suits your priorities: especially if you need waterproofing or want the cutting edge in cleat tech. Hopefully that’s helped you pick a path through the complex process of buying the perfect cleats for you!