Our sport is played on a huge variety of surfaces, and choice in footwear on each has a significant impact on performance and safety. Here are my thoughts on optimal shoes for each surface.
Firstly, it’s not necessary to have absolutely every single type of shoe at your disposal. Some are incompatible with certain surfaces, but some are more flexible than others. There are some surfaces you may never even set foot on.
What you can expect from your shoes: you probably won’t get more than 1-1.5 seasons out of any shoe you play in regularly, regardless of quality and cost (indoor shoes and shoes used in the dry may last a fair bit longer). For that reason, I’m pretty resistant to spending more than around £50 on a pair. That said, I’d also think twice about spending less than around £25- boots that price tend to be made of poor materials, the studs either drop out or stick into your feet, the sole can deform quite easily and change the amount of support they give your feet.
So, without further ado…
Indoors (hard court)
e.g. Kelsey Kerridge, CUSC, Indoor Regionals venues
You’ve got three options here.
Many people make do with normal trainers, because it doesn’t seem worth buying extra footwear for a very short season. They’re not great, but not terrible.
A slightly better option is court shoes, as used for badminton and squash. They are at least designed for indoor sports.
Far and away the best option for indoor play is basketball shoes. They’re designed for exactly the short sprints, hard turns and jumps that you make in ultimate. In my opinion, the mid-ankle ones are best. High-ankle support sounds great, but any rolling which can’t happen in your ankles gets sent straight to your knees, which are a lot harder to fix – it’s better to roll an ankle than bust a knee ligament.
e.g. Abbey Pool
Once again, trainers are just about acceptable. I mean, they won’t get you thrown out of the venue, and aren’t going to kill you, but you’ll be sliding around quite a lot.
Better are astroturf shoes. The commonest type have lots of small rubber knobbles, and are OK. Of that type, slightly more aggressive knobbles are better – I have found that Nikes tend to wear down very quickly.
The best astroturf shoes I’ve seen are the hockey shoes made by Asics, specifically in the Blackheath and MP ranges. They also stand up very well to use on 3G astro, and on hard, firm and even moderate ground (although they’re not good if the grass itself is wet).
An honourable mention here should be made for TD-style american football cleats (more on these later). They give an absurd level of traction, but some argue that that degree of sticking is actually bad for your knees; they’re also absolutely on the limit of what some venues may or may not allow (often they ban aggressive studs to protect the surface). I would really avoid wearing other hard-studded shoes and especially blades, which have no shock absorption and raise your heel quite a long way above the turf.
3G/ rubber-crumb astroturf
e.g. Indoor Nationals venue the Alan Higgs Centre, UKU Nationals show pitch
This is a more forgiving, ‘realistic’ surface. Astros like the Asics discussed above, or like the Nike Landshark range, are great. However, if your astros are more of the knobbly description, I’d opt instead for…
Firm Ground moulded football boots, like the Adidas Copa Mundials shown here. These tend to have more studs than normal football boots, made of plastic or rubber, but on a solid footplate. These are better than knobbly astros, and probably about the same if a little less comfortable than the Asics. Sidenote: some football clubs have banned the use of blades for safety reasons, and there are rumours that they can cause knee issues as they get ‘stuck’ in the turf. Your mileage may vary.
The optimal shoe for this surface is the wide receiver cleat, like the Nike Speed TDs pictured here. Designed for exactly the movements we want, on exactly this surface. The toe cleat actually makes a surprising difference to sprinting and pivoting. Good luck getting them in this country, though!
Grass – hard ground
e.g. Jesus Green circa late summer
On actually hard ground, I find even FG boots like the Copa Mundials to be quite uncomfortable. So long as the ground is dry, the best performance can probably be had from the Asics above. However, if there’s even just some dew on the ground (as is common on Sunday mornings) you’re better off in TD-style cleats. Some people find TDs uncomfortable on hard ground, but they’re certainly much better and more comfortable than most FG shoes.
Grass – firm ground
Absolutely a vote for the TDs again here. But the Asics will do pretty well, as will most FG boots and blades (if you don’t believe the anti-hype).
Grass – moderate ground
The Asics tend to lose their edge here, and some FG boots (in particular, blades) will not be much cop when it comes to starting and stopping. Many FG boots will contine to do well, as will the TDs.
Hybrid cleats like the Adidas F50 SGs are a very good option here. Their cleat pattern means they’re pretty comfortable, but they’ve got the slightly longer metal studs to take care of any more muddy patches as well. The AdiZeros are absurdly light, as well, but don’t last that long and it doesn’t make much difference if it’s muddy. I prefer the Predator XT SGs, a rugby boot based on the F50 – very comfortable, lasts longer, and great value.
Otherwise, normal 6-stud soccer cleats will be fine.
Grass – soft ground
And finally, garden-variety soccer cleats find their peak.
I would still pick hybrids over your standard 6-stud shoe, but…
They tend to be pretty cheap and plentiful and behave well in these conditions. Just make sure you screw the studs in tight before the first few times you use them!
In an ideal world, we’d use these instead of SG soccer boots. Very similar cleat pattern, but generally better built and with the toe stud.
I still like my hybrids here.
Grass – you’re in a bog
e.g. Jesus Green circa any rain at all
SG boots will achieve something here and you may be entirely happy with them (I still like my hybrids in these conditions, but the optimal footwear is a proper 8-stud rugby boot.
Note: strictly speaking, any boot with exposed metal is considered dangerous equipment and not allowed. However, that knocks out literally every SG boot you can buy in this country, and I’ve never seen this ruling enforced in the UK or Europe. Rugby boots are very aggressive and coming down hard on someone with them isn’t going to be pleasant, so minimise their use to when it’s really bad out, if at all.
For the sake of completeness. Some people swear by sand-socks, but I can’t see that being very pleasant and have never had any issues with the foot-wear that a lot of beach players complain about. I would not recommend minimalist shoes like FiveFingers – even the ‘Keeps Stuff Out’ variant picks up sand like nobody’s business. Go barefoot! Sandsocks may be helpful on more shingly beaches, though.