Great gear will not make you a great skater but bad gear will hinder your progress at best or get your hurt at worst. The key is to strike a balance and to know which pieces are worth investing in immediately and which ones can wait a bit. A lot of protective gear has been adapted from skateboarding, some adaptations are better than others, especially since some movements are different (no crossovers in skateboarding so knee pads can be different).
Steve at the Lombard Roller Rink is a really good source of information for these items – You should make an appointment with him and not just drop in during session as he gets very busy. Monday nights after 8 PM are generally good.
Used gear: Some items used makes a lot of sense, others not so much. Used skates, plates, wheels, etc are usually fine as long as you have a critical eye or a friend with one. Pads and especially helmets less so unless you can find out the history. As an example “I found this helmet at a garage sale and it seems to fit ok” is a bad idea -how many impacts has it taken? how old is it? is the material brittle? etc. Bad idea. However if a teammate says “I got this helmet and tried it on, didn’t like the fit, but never really wore it” you are good to go.
Helmets: This is one of the Big Three. Concussions are a significant injury that will affect a lot of different areas of your life. You may be able to work with a broken bone depending on what you do but a concussion can be debilitating. Please do not buy used helmet.
The most commonly used helmets in derby are the skateboarding type helmet. They will offer basic protection but really aren’t adjustable, aren’t very comfortable and are not rated for more than one impact, which means they need to be replaced if your helmet hits the floor. Hockey helmets, however, are tested and certified for multiple impacts and will do a much better job of protecting you – they will also fit more securely and more comfortably. A good hockey helmet will range from $100 to $200.
Mouthguard: The boil and bite type work pretty well. Many people use the SISU mouth guards, they are fairly inexpensive and do a good job. Don’t get one that molds to your top and bottom teeth – they’re impossible to talk around. Make sure you get one that allows you to drink comfortably with it in place. You don’t need to go nuts on these but don’t get the $5.99 special either, if they offer insurance with them they are probably just fine.
Elbows: Make sure they fit and don’t slip but there is no need to go crazy on these.
Wrists: You’ll be using these more than elbows, make sure they are comfortable and have a hard “spoon” on the underside of the wrist. Something to upgrade as needed.
Knee pads: Another of the big three. You WILL be landing on your knees a lot. especially in the beginning as you go through falling drills. Huge bulky ones will provide nice cushioning but make skating a little more challenging. Really slim ones will help your skating but end your career, knees force retirement on a lot of skaters. Find a few people about your size and ask to try theirs on, ask why they picked them. Spend wisely here not cheaply.
- Pro Designed: Elbows and wrists are really good, some people think that the knees don’t provide enough protection during falls. They will make custom fit gear and have color options.
- Scabs: Well thought of across the board.
- Deadbolt: Knee pads only, beginning to catch on but a newer manufacturer. The pricing is on the higher end but they offer custom colors and the quality is high.
- 187: Wide variety of gear in various fits and price points, good protection all around. One of the default choices.
- Triple 8: Wide variety of gear in various fits and price points, but generally mediocre protection for the knees. One of the default choices due to availability.
- TSG: Also popular, mostly focused on skateboarding but works well for derby too.
- Atom: Recently started offering protective gear, reviews seem to be mixed so far. The initial feedback is that the gear is really light, but the knee pads are not well loved. Good reviews on elbow and wrists.
Shin guards: Optional, some like them some don’t. Personal preference.
Tailbone protector: Some use them, some don’t. Either way landing square on your tailbone won’t ever catch on as a recreational activity.
Skates are the last of the big three. These are a very personal thing, but these are someplace where you don’t want the cheapest things out there but you may also just want a decent starting setup and plan on upgrading later. YOU DO NOT NEED TO BUY A SKATE PACKAGE – talk to Steve about buying a plate and boot separately and getting it assembled. It’s usually cheaper too!
Boots: An ill fitting boot means you’ll hate skating, get the best fitting boot you can. TRY ON SOMEONE ELSE’S SKATES BEFORE YOU BUY. No, really. There’s a reason this section is comprehensive!
- Reidell is the most common, a well crafted boot that is the default choice for most skaters. Readily available and customizable (at a cost), these boots are a popular choice. Sizing varies by boot (the 965 and 1065 are known to run at least half size big). Most “lasts” (aka foot models) are built for the male foot – the 265 model is built on a “split last” (or D/B, which refers to the foot model it’s built around) and will fit a narrower heel. Custom sizing is available but $$$.
- Antik: Also popular, this boot is made by Reidell as well and holds up well. These have higher ankles, which some prefer. Custom colors available. Sizing runs HUGE – you must try these on before buying! Custom colors.
- Vanilla: A common boot among jam skaters, Vanilla fits a little wider and often is priced a little lower. People either love ’em or hate ’em. No customization.
- Luigino: New to derby in 2013, this artistic boot maker has teamed up with derby super power Atom Wheels to enter the derby market. A nice boot with a narrower heel (molded more for the female foot, but that doesn’t mean they won’t fit you). Sizing runs a touch big.
- Bont: Originally a speed skating company, Bont entered the derby market years ago and offers semi-custom fittings for only $30 on top of the regular boot price! Custom colors as well as an extensive list of options. Reasonably priced – no excuse for them not to fit if you send in tracings (free!). If your feet are two different sizes or unusually narrow/wide, this is the way to go!
- Crazy Skates: New to derby and growing in popularity. Accessible price point, and customize-able colors.
Plates: Plates range from really inexpensive to “you paid how much?!?!?” – The basic differences are plate material, kingpin angle and ease of adjustment. Plates are relatively easy to upgrade. Many entry level packages come with nylon or fiberglass plates. You should plan on changing them, especially if you are not a light skater. (Or avoid skate packages – Steve can help you pick out a plate and boot separately, then assemble them!) The most commonly sought after derby plates are all aluminum.
Bearings: Not the best place to spend your starting money, Bones, Qube, Cheezeball, Atom Bionics, lots of choices, mostly you won’t out skate your bearings but making sure you can clean them is helpful. Bones China Reds or Cheezeball Cheddars are sufficient for most people and are usually in stock at the Lombard Roller Rink. One thing to keep in mind is that bearings come in both 7mm and 8mm so make sure you get the correct size for your plate.
Wheels: Everyone has favorites. Aluminum, nylon or hybrid hubs, 62mm or 59mm height, narrow or wide, …the most common hardness ratings range from 88A to 95A. You should try someone else’s wheels before dropping serious money on a set. Don’t forget a set of outdoor wheels as well.
Sample starter package (just to set a budgetary expectation):
Bauer 7500 helmet: $100
Sisu Mouthguard: $25
187 elbow pads: $27
Triple 8 or 187 wristguards: $18
Smith Scabs or 187 pro/pro derby knee pads: Approx $70
Total so far: $270
Add skates, etc to that number.
Other minor stuff you will need or eventually want:
- Tall socks, they will stop rink rash (caused by sliding across the floor)
- Large water bottle (required)
- Towel (suggested)
- Whistle and stopwatch (useful but not required)
- sweatband that fits inside your helmet (highly suggested)
- NSAIDs – ibuprofen, naproxen, whatever works for you
- band-aids, mole skin for blisters, ace bandage
- spare toe stops and wheel nuts
Treat your gear well and it will last quite awhile. There are a few basic things you need to do:
Open up your gear bag, spread out all of your pads, air out your skates. If possible, set your pads outside in the sun to dry. Some people use a spray (lysol, sports-specific sprays, etc) to keep their pads fresher.
Periodically wash your gear, pull out all of the foam padding possible (usually in the knees) and thoroughly hand wash your gear. No washing machines, but dish washers work well too! What you use to clean it is a personal choice, ask around. Drip dry, preferably outside in the sun.
Another option is something like https://playersindoornaperville.com/ustink2/ haven’t tried them yet but that might be useful when the funk has set in bad enough that you are deciding whether you can salvage the item or not.
Rotate your wheels occasionally, they will wear unevenly, as will your toe stops.
Clean your bearings occasionally. Please ask for help if you’ve never done this before; it isn’t hard but there are a couple of tricks to it.
Don’t forget to clean your mouth guard, you do know where it has been.
Most importantly: Ask questions, ask to try gear, ask for advice and reviews.