ANATOMY OF A BOOT
When you're in the market for a new Rugby boot there is a lot of information to sort through. It can be overwhelming and difficult to understand what you need and what you don’t. We're going to organize all the information you need to know to make an informed decision on your next Rugby boot purchase.
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Soft ground boots are designed for soft and often wet fields. Think well sodded or muddy fields. They typically have detachable studs in various configurations sometimes in conjunction with molded studs. Given the heavy grip demands of rugby with driving, rucking and particularly scrummaging these are very common to our sport. The detachable studs can range in length, but are typically between 12mm – 19mm. This allows the player to adjust their length based on field conditions.
The two most common stud configurations for soft ground boots are the 6 stud design and the 8 stud design, but hybrid outsoles that have both removable studs and molded elements are increasingly common. There are even 7 stud designs on the market though these are much less common as toe spikes have traditionally been outlawed in Rugby Union.
Firm Ground boots are meant for firm to moderately forgiving fields. Firm ground cleats are perhaps the most commonly used type of boot as they can be used on a wide variety of field types and conditions. While best suited for firm surfaces, they are serviceable on hard and even mildly soft fields if the studs are long enough.
They generally have between 10-14 studs on the outsole. The increased number of studs/pressure points and less rigid plastic/rubber materials make FG boots significantly more comfortable on firm fields than typically longer studded soft ground boots. They also tend to grip better than soft ground boots as the longer studs of SG cleats can’t always penetrate firmer fields effectively. This can even cause a skating effect on the field increasing slippage despite the long studs.
Firm ground boots are perfect for all positions if you play in drier parts of the country with very firm fields. Loose forwards and backs might still prefer them even if they play on relatively soft (but not wet) fields. This outsole is particularly good for summer sevens. If you can only own one type of boot this is usually the one to opt for unless you live in a very wet part of the country.
Given the increasing prevalence of artificial grass/turf fields, manufacturers have started to cater to this very specific field type. While firm ground boots will work on artificial grass, there is some evidence that firm ground or longer studded cleats have too much grip on artificial grass which could possibly cause injury including ACL tears. Hard ground or turf shoes often don’t give the same level of traction that players desire. This is why you are seeing more artificial grass (AG) specific boots. They are designed to mimic the same feeling and functionality as wearing firm ground boots on natural grass, but without the increased injury risks.
Artificial grass shoes are similar to firm ground cleats but with more studs across the outsole. Since artificial grass fields are easier to penetrate, the studs themselves are often shorter, softer and even hollow. They are designed to be extremely durable as AG fields can be very abrasive and wear down traditional firm or soft ground boots rapidly.
Hard Ground (HG) and Turf Field (TF) boots are meant for extremely hard and/or original synthetic surfaces. Some examples would be baked dirt fields, very patchy dry fields, and original turf surfaces. In order to increase comfort and grip on fields that are unlikely to be penetrated by traditional studs and patterns, these finely studded shoes place short, usually rubber studs uniformly across the outsole. This allows for the greatest force displacement across the pressure points for foot comfort and allows the boot to grip the ground by offering many shallow studs that can just penetrate the surface of the field. Traditional firm ground and soft ground studs would skate across the surface and not offer strong traction.
Turf Field boots also work well on early generations of artificial turf pitches that do not accurately replicate the feel of grass fields like modern artificial pitches do. This is more of a specialist boot for very specific areas and conditions or for people that prefer comfort over grip on more normal surfaces. These have the closest feeling to “normal” athletic shoes and can be used to help reduce the wear and tear on joints on normal surfaces if maximum performance is not required.
FIT & SIZING
For rugby boots, the aim is for a snug fit.
Rugby boots should fit as close to the end of the foot as possible without touching the toes for performance and comfort.
A 1/4-inch to 1/2-inch gap is ideal.
Women’s sizing is smaller by a size to a size-and-a-half. For example, if you wear a women’s size 8, you would wear a men’s 6.5. Youth or junior sizes are simply smaller men’s sizes (sizes 1-6).
Also be sure to pay attention to which country or regions standard the boot is sized in.
At World Rugby Shop we list American sizes but have conversion charts for reference.
WRS SIZING CHART
CALF SKIN LEATHER
FULL GRAIN LEATHER
It's a good idea to own 2 pairs of boots: 1 firm ground pair and 1 soft ground pair appropriate to your position. This is the ideal scenario and may not be feasible for everyone. Having the 2 pairs will cover you for most any field type or weather you are going to encounter. The more competitive your team, the more this matters as even small performance drops can make a big difference in how you perform. So if your budget allows, opt for two pairs, with a less expensive pair as a backup option for inclement weather or the odd travel game.
In the event you can only purchase one pair of boots, it is best to own a longer studded firm ground (FG) pair. This will cover the greatest array of fields you are likely going to encounter. The one caveat to this is if you live in an area that gets lots of consistent moisture during the season such that the fields are always soft enough for soft ground (SG) boots or you play in a position that requires tons of traction and the fields can handle SG cleats.
Another factor associated with the budget is the quality of the boot. There is a wide array of price points to choose from, but the most expensive boots are higher quality. There is a connection between the cost of the boot and its comfort, performance and durability.
The upper is basically all the material above the bottom of the boot or outsole (see below). It is what wraps around your foot.
The outsole is the bottom of the rugby boot. This is where the studs reside and are the part of the boot that determines whether one is made for soft ground, firm ground, etc.
This is the cushioning inside the shoe that is designed to offer cushioning, disperse stud pressure and protect the foot from excessive slippage and skin irritation. These are often removable so specialized orthotics can be inserted, but some boots have fixed insoles. If you want to replace them or use orthotics, make sure the insole is removable.
The cushioning built into the shoe. Sits between the insole and the outsole or foot plate and cannot be removed.
HEEL COUNTER OR EXTERNAL HEEL COUNTER
The back portion of the shoe that cradles the heel of the foot. This is designed to provide stability to the foot when changing direction particularly laterally. Typically, the higher and more rigid the heel counter the more control and support it offers. This lets it withstand significant side to side shifts while providing maximum stability. Proper cushioning needs to be employed to avoid blistering.
Front portion of the upper, aka the strike zone. The part of the upper that makes contact with the ball. Many vamps are stitched or have added technologies to enhance kicking power, ball control or comfort.
These are the blades, cones or studs fixed to the bottom of the outsole. They can be a range of types and patterns depending on the field conditions they are designed for.
Lasts are the three dimensional forms that rugby boots are constructed on. This is what determines the size and shape of the rugby boot. Terms like “wide last” or “narrow last” refer to whether the boots are designed for wide or narrow feet.
RUGBY BOOTS vs OTHER BOOTS
It is very common now to see players at all levels wearing both rugby and soccer boots. The demands of some positions, particularly in the backs, do not require a rugby specific boot. However, certain positions benefit massively from a rugby specific boot. The tight five in particular require 8 studs for soft grounds and the ability to handle tremendous amounts of pushing in scrums, rucks and mauls. Non-Rugby specific boots are not designed with these requirements in mind.
In general pack players will benefit more from Rugby specific boots than backs. On firm ground, hard ground and artificial grass all players can wear molded boots so rugby specific boots become less significant although rugby specific lines do have some tweaks more focused on the particularly kicking needs and running styles of rugby compared to other sports.
SHOP THE BOOT ROOM
This is considered the premium leather for rugby boots. It is prized for its soft, supple fit and comfort. Kangaroo leather molds to the foot and requires little to no break-in time.
Preferred by professional players, kangaroo leather is an extremely light and soft material. It is important to note that kangaroo leather is not waterproof or as durable as calfskin and cowhide leather. It will also generally stretch after a few uses.
For the best fit, make sure you err on the snug side as they will stretch out.
Calfskin is another type of premium natural leather that offers a more balanced blend of softness, thinness and durability when compared to kangaroo or full-grain leather.
Calfskin is soft and water-resistant, but a bit heavier and more durable than kangaroo leather.
Full-grain leather is usually thicker and tougher than calfskin and kangaroo, but is more water-resistant and durable. Full-grain leather can handle significant wear and tear while still providing the comfort of leather.
NOTE: Natural leathers tend to absorb water more than synthetic leather and are not recommended for consistent use on wet fields.
Synthetic uppers can vary greatly from boot to boot and between brands. Synthetic materials tend to be lighter and more durable than natural leather, but are harder to break in and are traditionally less comfortable.