What’s in your skate bag?

A couple of months ago, I finally decided to start Ask anAdult Skater in the hopes of helping to answer the questions I wish someone had answered for me (or that I had even thought—or known—to ask in the first place) when I got back on the ice… and, in true Maddie fashion, promptly forgot about it.

But when I did first propose the idea, the fine folks in a skating sub-Reddit lobbed a metric fuckton of great ideas at me. I like to think I’m still pretty in touch with what it’s like to start out in this sport; the nature of the questions I received proved to me that I am not. Like, at all. There are things you take for granted as you progress, and there are so many opportunities to be useful that I had lost sight of as I prepare for tests, consider competition, and duke it out with moves that take forever to learn. It was a welcome refresher in what it’s like to be a relative newcomer to this sport.

Anyway. I asked for questions from a bunch of strangers, got a lot of great responses, and found out that there was one query that emphatically outnumbered all others.

Ask an Adult Skater: What gear do I absolutely, positively need, and what’s just optional?

Sorry, folks, you're not getting away with a $50 pair of skates and a hoodie: You picked one mighty expensive sport to fall in love with. Hooray!

You need to protect your skates. You'll need to replace things on those skates. You'll need to protect your body from being an adult doing physically ruinous things on 3/16-inch blades. You'll need to stay warm on the ice, which includes mittens, layers, mittens, socks, mittens, mittens, and more mittens (or gloves, if that's more your style—I prefer mittens but they WILL get wet if you fall a lot, hence the redundancy). You might want to throw in a lace tightener, lip balm, some quarters, and odor absorbers. Plus those skates. And you'll definitely need a bag to keep all that stuff in.  

Please keep in mind that this is in no way an exhaustive list, nor am I claiming to be the end-all, be-all expert of what you need. This is based entirely on my own experience and preferences, as well as those of the other adult skaters I’ve encountered in the past 19 months.

What’s in My Skate Bag

My own skate bag is a work in progress, as I’m still figuring out what works best for my own needs. I am a chronic over-packer because I like a variety of options, I know how to thwart my own forgetfulness, and I REALLY know how my anxiety works.

In my own skating go-bag, you’ll find:
• My skates
• Plastic blade guards (Rockerz are suuuuper popular but I've been perfectly happy with my Guardogs)
• Mittens (two pairs)
• Extra pair of socks
• Extra pair of legwarmers
• Extra pair of arm warmers
• A water bottle

And in that bag is a smaller zippered pouch that holds things like:
Lace puller
• Lip balm
Desiccation packets to keep my skates from stinking
• Deodorant
• Eye drops
• Band-Aids
• A bag of quarters and a padlock for rink lockers
• A hair clip
• Two travel-sized packs of tissues
• A hotel-sized bottle of hand lotion

Do I need all this stuff? Of course not. But I know my nose gets runny and I get sweaty when I’m skating hard, my perennially dry eyes get even drier from whipping around the rink, my skin gets super dry in the cold, and I am entirely too likely to forget to pack things that I don’t wear in the summer, like socks and mittens. A lot of what I haul around is more for comfort than out of necessity, and I love knowing that I can usually just grab my skate bag and run out the door without double- and triple-checking to make sure everything’s there—every minute counts when there’s ice time on the line!  

The Gear You Need

Obviously, you can’t do any of this without skates. And I’m of two minds on how even to proceed with that: On one hand, you don’t want to shell out hundreds of dollars on a pair of skates if you’re not even sure you’re sticking with the sport (or, if you’re like me and assume that the second you cough up the cash for heat-molded, high-end skates, you’ll break yourself in a spectacular fashion and never be able to use them again anyway); on the other, you DO really, truly need a good pair of skates. I LOVE this chart for determining what you need from a pair of skates at your current level AND explaining how things like stiffness ratings work. Jackson and Riedell are two of the most popular, easiest-to-find brands, and they’re great for beginners and advanced skaters alike—both companies can boast of their Olympian brand loyalists. And I will say that the Jackson Mystiques I bought at Dick’s last summer to replace my purchased-secondhand-20-years-ago-and-beat-to-hell first pair of skates have certainly serviced me well enough as I work my way through the USFS Free Skate curriculum, though I’ve already decided that this year’s Christmas present to myself will be a more formidable pair of competitive skates.

Bottom line: You canNOT cheap out on skates. You need ankle support to both progress and avoid injury. Unless you can find some fantastic barely used secondhand skates, expect to shell out at least $125 for your first pair. It’s worth it: You really are getting what you pay for here, and a flimsy pair of bargain skates where the boot can barely hold its own shape is only going to make you work twice as hard and accomplish half as much because you’ll be physically compensating for all the support you’re not getting.

And don’t forget to protect your blades! You’ll want a hard plastic blade protector for when your blades are dry or when you’re walking on them, plus a cloth soaker to protect them when they’re still damp from the ice. (You might want to grab a towel to dry your blades off so they don’t get rusty, come to think of it.)

Beyond skates, you’ll want to dress warmly (especially during lessons when you’re doing a lot of standing around and watching your coach) and in clothes that keep you warm without being either too restrictive or too baggy . I loveloveLOVE Ny2 Sportswear’s skating pants, both fleece-lined and not: The former is great for my absolutely freezing home rink, and the latter is perfect for rinks with heaters. You don’t necessarily NEED skating pants—leggings have worked perfectly fine for me in the past—but they are made to move and breathe as a skater requires, and I’m the hothouse flower who’s freezing in 75-degree rooms, so some extra warmth is delicious. For tops, I’m a fan of a camisole or a baby tee under something like a hoodie or a zip-up skating or Northface jacket, since there absolutely will be times you’re sweating in an ice rink. And I definitely rock everything from big fuzzy toe socks to thinner skating socks, depending on how cold I already am. Packing a back-up pair is especially handy if you’re putting in serious skating time every day: By the third or fourth hour, I am giving my poor feet a break while also changing into dry, fresh socks.

And then there’s the maintenance required to be an adult skater. Ace bandages, Bunga pads of all kinds, braces, toe protectors, wrist guards, butt, hip, and knee pads—the good news is that for whatever physical ailments you’ve got, the skating world most likely has it covered. If you follow adult skaters on Instagram, you’ll see a lot of the #HeldTogetherByTape hashtag, and many, many of us are. From former skaters nursing old injuries to adult skaters who are hauling around decades of bodily wreckage, the demand for pads, cushions, and bandages that ease the pain is high, and the available options for dealing with various aches are proportionally varied.

As for lugging all this stuff around: I’ve been using tote bags since I began my adult-skater adventure. My first one was simply a swag bag from a previous work event, until I hated tarnishing my happy place with relics from a job that drove me to latch onto a hobby in the first place. Now I use one from Out of Print Clothing because the word-nerd in me likes to proclaim itself whenever possible. But not every skater is content to shove their stuff in an admittedly smaller bag, and Zuca bags seem to be the stuff-hauling carrier of choice.

The Gear You Might Want

And, I mean, who doesn’t love stuff? Half the fun of a hobby is acquiring the goodies that you don’t really need but definitely want.

Among them are:
• Legwarmers and arm warmers
Kiss & Cry bags, which seem to serve as countless skaters’ on-ice caddies
Hand warmers that fit inside your gloves/mittens (though I wouldn't suggest these if you fall a lot, since our hands are often our first line of defense there)
• Hats and headbands, which can be as simple or as ornate and personalized as your fancy demands
• Off-ice training aids like spinners (I use the hardwood floor in my living room, but a 3’x3’ or 4’x4’ piece of Plexiglas is a great surface, too), jump ropes, stretch bands, and trampolines
Boot covers, especially if you naturally run cold
• Massage rollers, like The Stick
• A helmet, which some rinks actually do require beginning adult skaters to wear
• A journal or planner to chart your progress and keep track of your skating days
• A small screwdriver in case the bolts in your blades are loose (which is a big reason why I finally retired my old skates)
• ANYTHING to suck the post-skate moisture and stink from inside your boots—tea bags, desiccation packets, odor eaters, dryer sheets, &c.

The Gear You Don't Need—Yet

So what can you wait to buy?

Chances are, if you’re just starting out, you do not need to worry about competition gear. I know the siren’s call of skating dresses is impossible to ignore, so use this time to go virtual window-shopping and get a sense of what you do and don’t like if you’re as easily lured in by pretty, twirly things as I am. (I mean, sure, I DID just buy a dress from Simply Skating Consignment for a competition I don’t even have a program for yet but… hey, when you find a stunningly detailed skating dress in your size AND good condition for $50, you pounce on it!)

But if you’re ready for testing, definitely get yourself a simple outfit so you look presentable and poised for that. I’ve seen MITF videos where the skater is wearing pants and a black sweater, but my coach insists on skirts when I test. Jerry’s Skating World, Chloe Noel, and even Amazon are fantastic resources for practice attire that doubles well as testing outfits, and even dance supply stores will have long-sleeved leotards, skating tights, bun holders, and other neat little flourishes (if you’re REALLY lucky and skate at a rink that stocks figure skating stuff, know that I am deeply envious of that convenience).

And, seriously, wait on the expensive skates. Save them as a treat to yourself for hitting a lofty goal, a milestone, or that moment when you know that the ice is your home and that your future is there.


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