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Choosing Hockey Equipment for Yourself — and Your Kids

The best way to buy the right hockey equipment is to find a store or outlet that specializes in hockey equipment and has knowledgeable salespeople who can not only help pick out the best gear for you and your kids, but also make sure it all fits properly.

Getting the right skates

Most adults should get skates that are a size to a size and a half smaller than their usual shoe size. Children should drop half a size. The skates should fit comfortably and snugly at the time of purchase; it's not like buying a sweater two sizes too big and waiting for a kid to grow into it. The best way to check is to push your toe, or your child's, to the front of the skate and then put a finger down behind the heel. If you can fit more than one finger in there, the skate is too big.

The whole key to good skating ability is support, and you can't get support if the skate doesn't fit.

Choosing the right helmet

When choosing a helmet, make sure you have the right width and that it does not wobble. Children should have protection for their ears. Players at all levels should wear a full face guard, either a clear shield or wire cage, and a chin cup.

Padding up: From the shoulders to the hands

Shoulder pads should be comfortable and not too bulky. You want the cup to fit right on the shoulder and the pad to almost rest against your neck; anything that's looser in that area may jam into you when someone checks you or you fall to the ice. And that will hurt. Defensemen should get shoulder pads with full frontal protection so they can block shots without worry; forwards can get away with a lot less.

Whether you get heavy-duty, football-like equipment or go for lighter-weight wear depends on your abilities and your level of play. Many adult and youth leagues don't allow checking, for example, so there's no reason to get big, expensive pads.

As for elbow pads, you want ones that fit properly on the point of the elbow and won't slip up and down. And you want to make sure that they're not so tight that they constrict the flow of blood. These days, elbow pads come in various lengths; some people prefer to wear a long glove and short elbow pads, while others like a shorter glove and longer pads. You should have the forearm covered against slashes and stick checks so it is as well protected as the elbow.

Gloves used to be all leather, but now they're made mostly of Kevlar or nylon or some combination of the two. You want something with a strong thumb, which is an area where many injuries occur. For a good fit, you should have a little room at the end of your fingers.

From the waist down

Hockey pants used to be held up exclusively by suspenders, but now they come with belts, so it's not so hard tucking that sweater in the right side a la Wayne Gretzky. The key is getting pants with good thigh, hip, and tailbone protection.

Shin guards should fit in the center of the kneecap and go down to the top of the skate. They run from 7 inches in length to 17 inches. If you are a defenseman, you want to get ones with lots of padding because you will be blocking more shots than a forward, who should get lighter and smaller guards. Defensemen often have padding that wraps right around the back of their legs.

Choosing a stick

Choosing a stick is mostly a question of which size and type of shaft you prefer. The aluminum shafts are somewhat more expensive, but they do last longer and may not be a bad way to go for the more serious player. Kids, beginners, and very part-time players can get by just fine with wooden sticks.

The bottom line

So what will all this equipment cost? Plenty, if you go down and pick it all out at once. Outfitting one child will run anywhere between $300 and $400, while equipment for adults could go from $400 all the way up to $1,000 for top-of-the-line stuff. You should purchase equipment that best suits your level of play and commitment, and the same goes for the kids. Just don't take shortcuts on the critical gear, like helmets and skates. It pays to be safe and comfortable.

Some extra advice for parents outfitting children: Check out area stores for trade-in and swap programs. Many youth hockey leagues and sporting goods stores that supply them allow parents to trade in skates and pads for gear that fits as their children grow up, at minimal cost. Do it if you can.

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