Modifying Skate Fit and Balance:

The Experts; Using Heat

Copyright © 2003, 2004, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2015, 2019, 2020, 2022 by Mitchell R Grunes
General remarks on my web pages; Online Shopping Precautions; If a link no longer works; Contacting Me

Diploma Image Most people are best off going to competent experts to fit and make their boots, and to modify them as needed. The sections of these pages on boot modification are best used if the available experts have done the best they can, and there is still pain, sores, or discomfort.

Boot Makers

If you are considering new boots, first verify your old ones cannot be adjusted, as per the rest of these pages, or rebuilt to your satisfaction.

If at all possible, go to the factory and get yourself fit by the master boot maker, and have that person make subsequent modifications. Most skaters eventually have so many problems with their skating boots that I think it is well worth the extra time and money in the end. That is true even if you get stock or custom moldable boots instead of custom built boots. Master boot makers are very well qualified individuals, at the very top of their profession, who have learned over the course of a lifetime how to fit people with a wide variety of feet, and who best understand what their boots are capable of doing. For the most part, no lesser fitter has nearly the skill. Letting them fit you also allows you to tell them of your special requirements and medical needs, and it makes them much more willing to make whatever subsequent modifications are required, usually at no extra cost, if you ask shortly after the boots are bought.

Each boot maker makes very different assumptions about how you are measured for fit, and makes different corresponding adjustments to the measured shape. Very few fitters understand all the issues, and all the boot makers I have spoken to greatly prefer to do the measurements themselves.

"Custom boot" means different things to different boot makers. What I call custom molded boots are built to standard shapes and then heat molded by you or your local boot fitter to approximately match your feet. They will only fit well if your feet have very nearly the same sizes and shapes as what the boot maker assumes, in terms of things like the relative width, length and height of your toes, arch and heel, the longitudinal curvature of your feet, the left-to-right and front-to-back slant of the bottom of your feet, the relative overall size of your feet at various heights, and the size and placement of your ankle bones and other bumps and depressions in your three dimensional foot shape.

What I call custom built skates are specifically built to fit your feet, and should fit and function almost perfectly, if fit and adjusted by the master boot maker. That said, some good boot makers have been totally unable to make boots for some people. Some famous skaters have dropped lucrative endorsement contracts with boot companies because those companies couldn't make them a boot that fit well.

In alphabetical order, the custom built figure skate boot makers I know of that let you be fit by the master boot maker are:

Avanta Made in Hayward, CA. (They are quite new as of April 2014 - don't know much about them, except that some of their boot makers came from Klingbeil.) Avanta's facebook page. If you go to them or to one of their designated orthotists, they use the "STS Casting System" to help create customized lasts around which to mold your boots, which sounds like a great idea. They sound very innovative, and may be very promising. I'm not very certain, but some people love them.
Harlick Made in San Carlos, CA, USA. Mike Cunningham, who was a very well respected skate tech, advised me around 2017 or 2018 that they might be the company that did the best job of creating full custom boots for people who needed them, and suggested I use them.
Klingbeil Used to be made in New York City, NY, USA. They were great custom boots. Don Klingbeil (and Bill Klingbeil before him), Klingbeil's one-time master boot maker, delivered incredible value and customer service. But they changed ownership, changed their business location, and some personnel, and finally went out of business. At the end, some people complained of poor service. But much of their staff moved to Avanta. Around November 2014, they went out of business. As of 1/2015, Don Klingbeil worked part time as a consultant for Avanta, but passed away in 2018. In May 2022, Avanta told me that they might be able to rebuild my old Klingbeil boots, but asked me to send them pictures, so they could guess if it could be done.
Riedell Their high end models are made in Red Wing, MN, USA. Cheaper models are made in China. The biggest well established custom figure skate boot maker.
SP Teri Made in San Francisco, CA, USA. (NOTE SP Teri's family business has been bought out, since the last info I have on them. I do not know if the new owners will do as good a job.)

Other respectable boot makers who might or might not offer custom built boots include

Aura I don't know anything about them.
Edea Made near Montebelluna, Italy. Last I knew they do not make custom boots. Makes good quality lightweight synthetic material boots that fit some people whose heel, arch and toes about the same width as each other.
Gam Owned by same company as Jackson, but different design.
Graf (Web page flickers slowly between hockey and figure links.) Made in Switzerland; factory fit unavailable. Graf Canada used to import to North America, is now out of business, but stores can still import boots from Switzerland. Some ice dancers claim their Dance boots are too stiff. I and other people have had leather Graf heels come apart, but it is possible we used screws to mount our blades that were too short. Graf told me that they could be glued back together by a good shoemaker, (using a type of glue and equipment that most people wouldn't be able to safely use), but John Hammand, a very well known skate tech, told me that heels that come apart may be defective, and can't be safely glued back together. Graf also told me that they can be bolted back together, and I met someone who did that successfully after multiple failures gluing them back together.
Jackson Made in Canada?
Risport Made in San Gaetano, Italy.
WIFA Made near Hundsturm, Austria.

(Another list of boot and blade manufacturer's websites)

I don't know enough to list good hockey and speed skate boot makers.

Even the best experts will not always produce ideal results, and different boot makers make different assumptions that may or may not work well with your particular feet. So you can find many people who have very strong feelings about the skills of one or another boot maker, but soliciting opinions on who makes the best boots, among the respectable custom boot makers, is usually useless, in my opinion. The less biased people often praise different boot makers for handling different types of foot shapes and problems best. On the other hand, boot fitters vary in ability to a much larger extent, and most unsolved boot and blade problems can be traced back to them. If you cannot go to the boot maker directly for fit and modification, and two fitters of differing ability fit different brands of skate, go to the better fitter. But problems can also be traced to skaters who are reluctant to ask their less proactive fitters, and/or the boot makers, to make the desired adjustments.

As far as I know, every good custom built boot maker gives a full money-back satisfaction guarantee on custom built boots, including fit and function. But ask the boot maker (not the boot fitter) before ordering! (BUT at one point one company told me they couldn't guarantee fit on kids whose feet were still growing, because their feet change sizes too quickly.)

Boot Fitters (and Skate Techs)

If you genuinely can't go to the master boot maker for your fit and subsequent modifications, there are a few boot fitters who are reasonably acknowledged experts in their fields. (By the way, what I call a boot fitter is sometimes called a skate technician. They typically also sharpen blades.) As with master boot makers, it is worth driving a long distance in the long run to find the best. I only know of the ones local to my geographic area, Maryland (USA):

1. Mike Cunningham, of Skater's Paradise, in Waldorf, MD, USA. Unquestionably one of the best known fitters and skate technicians in the world, he has trained many other fitters and sometimes travels to regional and national competitions to do fits. He has been the official ISU figure skate sharpener at World and Olympic competitions. Unfortunately, he has essentially retired now. He told me that he has been recommending people go to the pro shops at the Fairfax Ice Arena or the rink at the University of Delaware.

2. Name unknown, works at the Fairfax Ice Arena Pro Shop. Recommended by Mike Cunningham (see above). I asked a bunch of freestyle skaters at Cabin John Ice Rink, and most of them used that guy.

3. Name unknown, works at the University of Delaware Pro Shop. Recommended by Mike Cunningham (see above).

4. (Not local) John Harmata, Geppetto's skate shop. Another very well skate tech, near Chicago. Wrote "Anatomy of a Figure Skating Injury" and writes "Ask Mr. Edge" for the USFS skating Magazine. Offers an expensive skate tech training program.

5. Name unknown, only sharpens hockey skates at Columbia Ice Rink. Was former assistant equipment manager [?] for the Washington Capitals, an NHL team, and is said to be extremely competent. Is present two days/week, last I knew.

Again, ask around your local skating rinks to see who has the highest success rates.

If you cannot be measured at the factory by the master boot maker, I think it would theoretically be a good idea to send the boot maker full three dimensional positive casts of your feet and legs, up to the height the boots need to be, but even there, a cast is only as good as how your foot shaped by the pressures and shape of what you were standing on. In practice, most boot makers do not work from such casts. So first contact the boot maker (not the boot fitter) to find out if they can use casts. A good podiatrist or orthopedist can try to shape your foot to proper configuration, taking into account all medical issues, when making the cast. An alternate but imperfect method instead of using a doctor for your skates would be to stand on orthotics made by a medical professional for you for other shoes, slanted from below in about the same way as in those shoes, while making the cast. Most boot fitters will claim casts are unnecessary, may be insulted that you don't consider their measurements sufficient, or not know how to make casts, but a cast lets the factory take its own measurements, and custom skating boots are very expensive shoes. If you will use custom orthotics inside your boots, place them next to your feet inside the casting sock - but be sure to tell the boot maker this has been done! It is important that an orthotic extend to cover the entire bottom of the foot, so it doesn't cut into the foot, and the orthotic must be fit so it will jam without moving or rocking. Some boot makers ask that you send them the orthotic, some don't.

Foot Doctors: Podiatrists and Orthopedists

These foot doctors are the certified medical experts in the field of shoe fitting, including podiatrists and some orthopedic surgeons, particularly the ones who specialize in sports medicine. They can also analyze a host of medical conditions associated with feet and body part alignment. In principle, these should be the very best boot fitters.

But most foot doctors don't specialize in skates, and don't always do a good job for skaters. They have been taught to compensate for walking and running gait problems by taking advantage of the fact that shoes flatten to form a local planar surface, flat to the ground. They shape orthotics to place differential pressure on parts of the foot to make the foot and the rest of the body move the way they want it to. This does not work at all with skates, because only a tiny portion of the blade is in contact with the ice at any one time, and the whole boot below the ankle is very stiff and must be quite snug, which eliminates the possibility of the foot moving and reshaping inside a properly fit skate boot, except for forward/backwards ankle flexion. Further, skating requires that you to use many possible body positions, including strongly edged (pronated and supinated) feet, which foot doctors often try to prevent - especially ice dancers. Skaters must therefore use athletic training instead of boot shapes to achieve correct body part alignment. However, the boot can and should eliminate excess muscle use when maintaining an average non-edged position. Be sure that the medical professional understands the differences, because there is some widely referenced professional podiatric material that ignores these issues. They must also understand that the need to precisely control the edge requires very tight boot fits, and that orthotics that push outwards hard on the sides of a boot will eventually widen the boot so it no longer fits.

Most molded orthotics (whether molded by a medical professional, or by yourself) just try to equalize pressure, which you can do yourself in a few minutes with tape, using the methods I discuss elsewhere in these pages. Most molded orthotics only mold to the bottom of the foot, not the sides, so they may not be adequate for skating, because so much of the force generated by skaters is sideways. In addition, because orthotics do not also mold to the bottom of the boot they rock and move around within the boot, causing blisters, unless they are jammed so tight as to eventually widen the boot, as just mentioned. I consider molded orthotics a waste of money, but if you are unable (e.g., your feet cannot feel contact spaces or pressure points) or unwilling to use the methods I discuss, they may do the job.

I haven't visited a foot doctor, and only know about the podiatrists that other skaters have praised within my own geographic area:

1. Many local skaters and skate techs praise Dr Paul Meissner, in Cockeysville, MD, USA. He also plays hockey, and is the father of Olympic skater Kimmie Meissner.

2. Many local skaters and skate techs praise Jonathon P. Contompasis who practices in Wilmington, DE, Newark, DE, and Kennet Square, PA.

3. Someone on a skating forum I frequent praised Dr. Michael Donato in Fredericksburg, VA, USA. He is also a hockey coach.

Again, ask around your local skating rinks to see who has the highest success rates.

Flat Feet, Pronation and Supination, Heel Height

Neither stock nor custom boot makers specify an adequate number of measurements to be made to completely describe your foot, and various boot fitters take measurements in quite different ways. Furthermore, simple measurements cannot take into account medical issues like "flat feet", pronation and supination. It is also difficult to estimate what heel height will provide optimal results for you. I discuss these matters further here. A good foot doctor can help you estimate and deal with these issues during the initial fitting, and after the boots have been made. To some extent other medical personnel, such as sports physical therapists, certified physical therapists, and orthotists, can diagnose and/or deal with such issues, but that varies by locality and certification. Unfortunately, few boot fitters and boot makers have any medical expertise, and the cost of bringing a foot doctor, etc., to a boot fitting and to subsequent adjustments to refine those estimates would be very high. But last I knew, Avanta has its own podiatrist.

How the fit should be done

Many people can find stock boots that happen to fit them reasonably well in a store. If the boots in one store don't fit well, don't hesitate to drive around to multiple stores to get a better selection. If you find a pair that comes close to fitting, that's wonderful, but if you can't you can order stock or custom built boots to your or your fitter's measurements.

This section is about the things that might happen if you use a very good fitter. If you are unable to find a good boot maker or fitter within driving distance of where you live, and can't find a nearby shop with boots that come close to fitting you, you may have to fit yourself. It isn't worth having to make your own measurements just to get a discount price or avoid a day's drive, as you are much less likely than a good experienced fitter to do a good job, and many people who have done mention having to deal with many problems. Not having measured myself, all I can suggest is to follow the boot maker's directions as much as possible, but consider also the things I have said here. Directions are often on their website. Don't hesitate to call the boot maker for help. Good luck!

Because skates must be snug to maintain edge control, and there are differences in boot shape by boot maker and model, it is almost impossible to select boots by normal shoe size. Riedell sells a mat that shows the size and shape of the insoles in their rental boots, which is on the floor outside some skate rental counters, but it only applies to the most common sizes and widths of Riedell models used for rentals.

If you have previously skated with other boots, it is a good idea to bring them with you to the fitting, so the fitter can examine how your feet and skating have affected the old pair. If you have had orthotics made by a medical professional for other shoes or boots, bring the orthotics and the shoes or boots. If you have had orthotics made to put into skating boots, bring them.

"Stock boots" can now be ordered somewhat customized from some boot makers. Many boot makers don't just use the foot length and one width - you can specify widths at two or three different points along the length of the foot (e.g., across the toes, arch and heel). You can also get a "split fit" - different sizes for the two feet, which can be very important. Nominally "heat moldable" boots can be made to fit a little better (after molding), and are preferable.

Different brands fit different foot shapes than others. That is definitely true for stock boots, but can also be true for custom built boots, for the reasons discussed below. Most people can make do with stock boots, if chosen well and modified by the methods discussed on these pages.

If you must order boots, find a boot maker who's assumed foot shapes (as characterized by the shape of the insole, and the relative sizes at the bottom, middle and top of the boot) approximately match your own, separately have each foot measured, following the boot maker's instructions, and order boots to those measurements.

If you don't find boots in the store that fit well, and can afford them, you are better off with custom built boots, especially if your feet have an unusual shape, or if you are using more than beginner level boots, and/or if you are unwilling to do the type of modifications discussed here. The poorer the initial fit, the more modifications you need to make, and possibly the more excess bulk (which makes close footwork difficult) and excess weight you will end up with.

Very cheap boots that provide very little support are available at sporting goods stores and even at some good fitters. Although these have are often flexible enough to conform to your feet, they aren't very safe to use. Likewise there are some completely stiff plastic boots that create problems of their own. As of 2014, you can probably get away with $100 - $150 (USD) beginner level boots (including blades) at the beginning, especially if you aren't sure you will stay with the sport. A lot of people jump immediately to low intermediate level figure skating and hockey boots, including blades, of quality comparable to good rental boots, costing about $200 (USD). Higher level but stock (but sometimes heat moldable) figure skating or hockey boots are at least $500, without blades. (There are boots of intermediate levels and costs.) Custom built figure skating boots are from about $640 (from Klingbeil, in 2010) to about $1500. Virtually all good boots used to be leather, but an increasing number of boot makers now make ultra-light boots out of composite materials. Higher level blades cost $200 - $550 / pair. (Note: This is out of date. Some blades are over $1000 now, especially of the lightest weight variety.) A few skaters prefer very expensive blades built out of exotic materials, like titanium (rust proof, light and strong), or mounted in carbon fiber chassis (light, supposed to reduce impact on feet).

If you have a coach, ask him or her what type and level of boot to get - but remember that the coach's foot shape and requirements are different from yours. In some cases you may be better off listening to a very good boot fitter. Ask your coach and other good skaters at the rink which fitter they go to. I believe many low level skaters get boots that are too stiff by assuming higher priced boots must be better. Too much stiffness can injure and hurt, if your muscles aren't strong enough to bend and break in the boot, and stiffer boots can be quite heavy, which can cause problems and injuries too. Most high level freestyle skaters want no sideways flexibility anywhere, to avoid injuries in jumps. But many ice dancers, and perhaps a few others, want some sideways flexibility at the ankle, for deeper edges.

I believe it is also a good idea, especially at first, to accept a good coach's advice on the type of blade. Different blades behave differently, and the coach's teaching fit best with the type of blade they are used to dealing with. But many of us eventually decide we like other blades better. It is unfortunate that blades are so expensive, and that it is usually impossible to rent high quality blades, so we can't always figure out what works best for us.

You can't always trust the way your boot fitter measures you. There is a lot of ambiguity about how foot measurements are done. They take a very small number of measurements, take them different ways, and sometimes also make a tracing and/or an impressible imprint of your feet. That isn't enough to fully describe the three dimensional shape of the foot. Various boot makers make different assumptions about foot shape which won't always be right for you.

There is a lot of disagreement about how to fit boots. What follows here makes sense to me, though I'm not a certified expert:

I think the majority opinion is that all measurements, impressions and foot casts for each foot should be done while putting your weight on the measured foot only, in a balanced position you might skate on that foot in (so you don't slant the feet towards each other, which alters shape of your feet). Remember, skates are almost completely stiff on the bottom, unlike most shoes, and skates are fit and laced quite tight, so the shape of the cast (the impressible foam fit) is the shape your foot will be forced into all the time. If that foot collapses under weight to an unhealthy or long-term uncomfortable shape, you can instead sit down in a chair and let your leg hang vertically, with only part of your weight on that foot, in such a way that the arch doesn't collapse all the way, and is left in a configuration that you determine to be healthy and comfortable. Some fitters always fit people that way. If you decide to use doctor-supplied rigid orthotic(s) inside the boot(s), and you send the orthotic(s) to the boot maker, they may be able to shape the boot so it fits. You will still probably have to adjust the overall left-to-right and front-to-back slant of the orthotic, because the boot surface on which it rests probably won't be horizontal. The foot measurements, impression, and/or foot cast clearly should be taken with the orthotic included, because that is what has to fit, and the boot maker must be told that has been done. Unfortunately, stiff orthotics need to fit extra tightly, so it can't rock while you skate; it is not clear whether the boot maker can take that into account. If not, the suggestions I make on making insoles "with wings" could be use to tighten the fit. Contact the boot maker for suggestions on how to handle the issue. Or make measurements on the foot itself, then substitute your own custom insole, for the one they include, made by the methods discussed later in these web pages, that imitates the way the orthotic shapes that foot.

I believe that good foot tracings should show the position, height, and extent of bumps in your feet above the tracing level, that need to be accomodated, such as at the ankle bones and toes, so the boot maker can create the boots with those bumps incorporated into the design. A poor skate tech failed to do that on my custom Klingbeils. The result was that the only places that the boots touched my feet while I wore them were at those ankle and toe bones, along with one side of the bottom of my feet (one side because they incorrectly had me do foot impressions while standing on both feet). Needless to say they hurt a great deal to wear, and was unable to fix the problems, and failed to tell me I could contact the boot maker for help, which is the reason I had to learn to modify boots myself.

Subsequent Modification

Once the boots, be they stock or custom, are received, they should be modified to fit you exactly, as per the rest of these pages. Those modifications the boot fitter knows how to make are often done by the fitter at no extra charge, as part of the purchase price. You can make almost any shoe or boot fit nearly perfectly, if it isn't much too tight (after insole removal, if needed to make space), or more than a size or two too large, if you spend the time and effort.

Many people, including me, have had problems with custom boots that were measured by non-factory boot fitters. I honestly think most of those would not have problems if they had gone to the master boot maker in the first place. I wish I had driven the 7 hours each way this would have entailed. (Of course maybe this should be tempered by the costs of travel - e.g., fuel and toll costs differ from country to country.) Note that some boot makers send travelling factory certified fitters to skating competitions and occaisionally to do fits at certain pro shops. Hopefully they are as good as the factory fitters.

It is typical that there will still be problems that you, your boot fitter, or medical personnel, must fix, after the boot is made. They are the same type of problems that a good custom boot maker and boot fitter deals with, but not all can be estimated perfectly when the boot is first fit and made, no matter how good a job the fitter does. The best person other than the skater to make these adjustments is usually the master boot maker. It is best to try balance adjustments at an ice rink, where you can observe the results, though you can make a fairly good guess by balancing on one foot in your skates on a rubber or synthetic ice mat.

If all the experts fail, you often have to make the modifications yourself. If you, the skater, are willing to spend the time and have a reasonably analytic mind, and are not afraid to work on skates with sharp blades, I believe you can do the job best, because only you know what you feel. If a lacks an analytic mind or is afraid to do the job, a parent or friend can usually figure out what needs to be done, by asking questions. A good proactive boot fitter will ask the skater the appropriate questions, and make appropriate modifications.

Some adjustments, such as those having to do with medical problems, are best diagnosed by a foot doctor or other appropriate medical personnel, though if you have already been diagnosed in connection with other shoes, you can try to copy what was done in those other shoes.

Heat Molding

Once they arrive, many (perhaps most) shoes and boots can be heat molded, whether the shoe or boot maker says so or not, though if the shoe or boot maker says no, there is a risk that doing so will destroy the shoe or boot. Some shoes and boots are designed to heat mold more completely and at higher temperatures than others. Some boot fitters have equipment to make heat molding easy, and you can ask usually them to do so at no extra charge, if they were bought there - but don't expect a professional fitter to risk it, unless the shoe or boot maker says it is heat moldable.

Boots that are specifically designed to heat mold have instructions from the boot makers on at what temperature, and for how long, they can be left in an oven, though many only provide those instructions to boot fitters, or sometimes to customers who request them. If you have such boots, and you wish to heat mold them yourself, be sure to ask the boot maker for these details, and try to follow them.

At one point I said that almost any good leather shoe or boot can safely be heat molded at some temperature, but as modern adhesives have sometimes replaced threads in modern boots, and new materials have come into use, I'm not sure of that. Ask the manufacturer about the specific model, and the specific year and perhaps month it was made. Many will advise you that only a trained fitter should do the molding, in a carefully controlled oven designed for the purpose, but some of us choose to ignore that.

Virtually any shoe or boot can probably safely take human body temperature, or a little higher - say 100 deg F (37.8 deg C). That is also the temperature that many ski boot driers are designed to be used to dry leather ski boots on a very frequent basis. But that is not hot enough to effectively mold their shape long term.

Likewise, virtually any shoe or boot has to tolerate human sweat on the inside, so they can take some moisture on the inside, though some dressy shoes are easily damaged by getting too wet. As a general rule, water is not good for leather, but, within reasonable limits, most leather shoes and boots can probably be stretched more effectively if you wet them with water on the inside. In many cases it also helps to use a stretching oil (like Lexol leather conditioner) on the outside, but many shoes and boots now have a clear coat layer on the outside that keeps out the stretching oil.

In 2015 Don Klingbeil, who was at that time the master boot maker at Klingbeil, told me that Klingbeil boots were not designed to be heat molded by anyone but the factory, where they used a combination of very high pressure, heat and moisture (he said they used "low temperature steam", which usually means steam substantially below the boiling point of water) to mold them on the lasts. However, he said I could probably get away with molding them to my feet at 140 deg F (60 deg C).

Some other brands and models that were designed to be heat molded by a trained fitter in a very well controlled boot fitting oven have cited 180 - 185 deg F (82 - 85 deg C). I was once given a pair of high level boots that was supposed to be heat molded at 260 deg F (about 127 deg C); my hair drier couldn't reach that temperature, and I was unable to heat mold it with the equipment I had. I admit that I gave up on using those boots.

You can use a hair drier or restroom hand drier, or some low temperature heat guns - but check the air outflow with a candy thermometer or a good oven thermometer. If you use too high a temperature, the glues and threads that hold parts of the boot together may melt. Separately test the laces to determine if they can stand the heat (I've had no problems at 185 deg F with nylon laces), and use unwaxed cotton ones if they can't, or remove them and re-lace after heating as quickly as possible. Most ovens are poorly calibrated, and cycle over a large range, so don't trust one until you've measured the temperature at the hottest part of its temperature cycle, and be sure to preheat. I wouldn't use an oven that is used to cook food, because heated boots might give off toxic or carcinogenic glue fumes.

I suggest you mold one boot at a time, because it takes time to put the boot on and tie the laces. Immediately after heating, put the boot on your foot and lace it very tight. I would re-heat it with a hair drier after lacing, if it took more than 20 or 30 seconds to put it on and lace the boot. As mentioned, leather will mold better and longer if you get it a little wet, but water isn't good for leather at all. (The advice some sources give to mold leather boots by soaking them in water, and wear them until dry, will reduce their lifetime substantially, especially thick boots like skates. Also, modern high level boots usually contain a stiffening material between layers of leather that water may not make less stiff.)

Perhaps you should only heat mold boots sitting down without body weight, because Graf instructions say that. I assume that putting body weight on the boot creates stresses in directions and places that a heated boot may not be designed to take. But you will have to tie the laces tightly to succeed.

If you choose to heat mold, or apply moisture or oil, even if the manufacturer says no, do so conservatively, knowing that you are taking a risk, and might destroy the shoe or boot. So, moisten and heat each specific spot you wish to mold, not to a specific temperature (though if the manufacturer did specify a temperature, an candy or oven thermometer might be cautiously used to find a maximum, though some are poorly calibrated), but only hot enough to make it pliable, staying away from stitches and maybe away from glued edges. Then quickly tie the laces tightly onto your foot, sitting down, without putting your body weight on the foot, perhaps reheat after tieing the laces, and let it cool. Then repeat for the next spot you wish to heat mold.

Edea is a very special case. Edea says that putting their boots (which have synthetic uppers) in any oven would destroy them. In principle, only a carefully trained individual should heat mold Edea boots, because the edge between making it pliable enough to mold, and completely destroying the boot, is very fine. Also, some parts of Edea boots, perhaps the sole, may not be able to take much heat.

I watched David Ripp, at Skates US the U.S. importer, modify Edea boots using heat to fit people. He did spot molding, somewhat as described above, but I don't know all the details. By the way, he said (a number of years ago) that he could not modify Edea boots to fit my feet - so at least at that time, feet like mine, with are substantially wider at the toes than heels, are probably unsuitable for Edea boots. I believe he has now trained several of his staff to modify them as well, and there are a few other people who do so.

Most skate midsoles and outsoles cannot mold no matter what you do. But a few insoles, including some insoles that you can separately buy from stores, are specifically designed to heat mold. If you have a heat moldable insole, the conservative approach, on boots that were not specifically designed for heat molding, would be to separately heat only the insole, until it is pliable, put it into the boot, put your foot in and quickly tie it tightly, and let it cool. But to heat mold an insole designed for it, you possibly do want to apply body weight from standing on one foot, so the foot will balance correctly in one foot glides, at least for figure skating - and let it cool. You should already be wearing the other boot, so that part of balance is correct too. If you don't have a rubber floor panel to stand on (or for easier balance even if you do), and the blades are attached, use blade covers so you don't damage your floor, and to improve balance. Make sure there is something to hold onto if needed so you don't fall.

Foot doctors and some other medically trained personnel often provide "orthotics" - essentially the same thing as insoles, when made and/or molded by them.

If an insole or orthotic is not designed for heat molding, or if it was already heat molded by the medical provider, you may not want to place it inside a heat molding oven, and perhaps you should take it out while heating the boot - it might be damaged, or modified.

I'm sure some people will disagree with even this conservative advice.

Heat molding softens and breaks down leather, and many other shoe and boot materials, so don't do it more than a few times in the lifetime of a boot. Repeated heat molding is sometimes used to rapidly break boots in. (To break boots in even faster, flex your foot forward and back while heat molding - but this breaks down the boot somewhat, so avoid this if you can.)

By the way, any leather stretching modifications that you have made, as described elsewhere in these pages, may have to be redone after heat molding, because to a large extent, heat undoes stretching.

Warming Boots Before Skating

Virtually any shoe or boot will fit better and be much more comfortable if it is put on while warm, though it needn't be warm enough to mold. Many people microwave socks full of rice, and leave them in the boots while traveling to the rink. I have used the car cigarette lighter powered version of Dry Guy Circulator boot driers (which are regulated to 99 degrees, about body temperature) in the same way. Very cautious warming with a hair drier or restroom hand drier, to about the body temperature, works too. Some people re-warm their boots mid-session, to keep their feet warm.

Neoprene boot covers can also help keep your feet warm. You could make your own covers by slipping thick oversize pile socks (sold for skiers) over the boots, in which you have cut a slit down the bottom to fit the blade through. It may be awkward to skate with covers, if you want to bring your feet very close together, as advanced figure skaters do.

I elsewhere in these pages describe cutting my own custom insole out of the closed cell foam from a camping mat. (Camping mats are designed both to cushion your body, and to reduce heat loss while sleeping.) It is very effective in keeping your feet warm - perhaps too effective, if your feet tend to sweat a lot.

If you have severe problems with cold feet, you perhaps should have fit your boots so you could place a chemical foot warming pack inside each boot, perhaps by sanding down an insert spot in the insole. One boot brand is available with battery powered heaters similar to those in ski boots, but they may be heavy.

Dealing With The Expert

Boots aren't always made to high accuracy, and manufacturing defects occur. It isn't always the fitter's fault, and many fitters quite reasonably resent problems being blamed on them that they haven't been given a fair chance to fix. The same is true of the boot makers, who should always be contacted if the boot fitter can't completely fix things, especially with custom boots. For that matter, boot making, fitting and adjustment is still more art than science, and even the best sometimes guess wrong.

A fitter may say that a problem occurs because you are using the equipment wrong or haven't gotten used to it, that it hasn't broken in yet, that you need to work on your skating skills and consult with a coach, or will disappear on its own. They could be right! Especially if you are a beginner and are afraid to balance on outside edges. Most people need a few days of skating to get used to new equipment. But if the fitters advice doesn't work after a few days, come back later, tell the fitter you tried, and ask them to try again.

One of the biggest differences between a good fitter and a bad one is that the good one will do whatever it takes to make things right. Be nice, don't yell, and don't tell everyone the fitter is awful, unless he or she won't fix the problem. If a problem exists, tell the fitter, and come in to have it fixed, as soon as possible. Some fitters do need a little gentle encouragement, but, as in most things, you get the best results if you give them a fair chance.

If there are no problems, or the boot fitter fixes those that exist, praise him or her, and tell everyone you know. If not, be sure to tell the boot maker and everyone you know of your problem with that fitter.

If the expert can't make it right within a few weeks at most, and it was a custom boot or there was a manufacturing defect, the boot maker usually will. Even if it wasn't a custom boot, they often will. Call them for advice, again being nice. Ideally the boot maker or the boot fitter will pay the cost of shipping, but that doesn't always happen. You will get the best results from the boot maker if you travel to the factory store or to another place that they designate. But don't wait too long, or they may refuse.

If all else fails on a custom boot, ask the boot maker about that money-back satisfaction guarantee.


Here are some web pages, which I provide without review.

Riedell's fitting instructions
More Riedell boot fitting info
SP Teri's boot fit comments
Jackson Skates Maintenance, Selection, Fitting, Breaking in, Care and maintenance See also here.
Harlick detailed fitting instructions
Rainbo's boot fitting and heat molding instructions
Heat molding Riedell boots from ISkateRiedell
Heat molding Riedell boots from SharperEdgeSkates
Heat molding Jackson boots video
unofficial archive of Avanta boot fitting documents Associated video for STS casting sock (wow)
IceMom's instructions on heat molding boots.
Inner Edge Skate and Dance: Figure Skate Fitting

Tognar Toolworks [Ski & Snowboard] boot fitting tips not fully applicable to skates
Great Outdoors (hiking) Boot Fitting Guide - not fully applicable to skates
How To Evaluate Figure Skating Injuries Podiatry Today Article by Rachel A. Janowicz, DPM, April 1 2006 V 19. The author has said the article was edited to remove some issues she intended to include.
Jordana Foster's Biomechanics article on boots and blades
Linda Tremain's Boot Problems and Boot Solutions Part 1
Orthoses, Materials, and Foot Function (For podiatrists)
Mann's Surgery of the Foot and Ankle (For surgeons)
Podiatrist vs. orthopedist
Podiatrist vs orthopedist
Books by Lauren Downes, PT, who specializes in skate training and injury treatment.


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