Soccer cleats 101: How to choose the best soccer cleats for you
Cleats are the most important tool that a player needs on the field. But beginners, parents, and even professionals can easily get confused with a gazillion options in the market.
The 5 most important things to consider when buying soccer cleats:
The shoe material
Your playing style/position (this is not as important as the others!)
You’ll be ready to buy cleats online after reading this guide
1. Let’s start with the pitch
Where do you normally play? Modern cleats are more specialized than ever – with specific soleplates designed to provide traction on different surfaces. Soccer cleats can mainly be classified as soft ground, firm ground, indoor, and turf – designed with a soleplate and stud set offering pros and cons. Let’s break it down further…
>>The surface you play on determines the type of cleats you should buy
Types of soccer shoes:
Artificial Turf and Artificial Grass
Firm Ground Soccer Cleats:
These are the most popular and versatile stud type. These shoes feature 10-15 bladed or round studs that perform well on the typical grass pitch as well as harder surfaces like dirt or even frozen ground.
Firm ground shoes may feature bladed, rounded, or a mix of either stud type. Think of bladed studs as little knives and conical studs as spoons and you can imagine the difference.
Bladed studs are more conducive to lateral movement as they are thinner and pointed, allowing them to grip the ground better than round studs.
Conical studs can offer quicker release and pivoting since they are not cutting into the ground quite as effectively as bladed studs.
Most firm ground cleats that feature a mix of conical and bladed studs will typically have 4 bladed studs under the heel and rounded studs under the forefoot for easier pivoting. Shoes that offer the mixed stud patterns such as the Nike Men’s Tiempo Legend V FG are popular because they offer the best of both stud features.
Firm ground cleats are a great choice for kids or beginners because of their versatility.
Note: There is some evidence that firm ground or longer studded cleats have too much grip on artificial turf (AT) which could possibly cause injury including ACL tears. Also, artificial turf is abrasive and can really wear your shoes down especially if you live somewhere where it’s hot, as artificial turf fields can really heat up and lessen the life of your shoe. You may want to consider owning a firm ground shoe as well as a turf shoe if you play frequently play on artificial grass fields.
Soft Ground Soccer Cleats:
Soft ground studs are often made from metal, sometimes plastic, and narrow towards the bottom of the stud allowing them to drive deep into soft playing surfaces. Often, these shoes feature removable studs, which are great if you want to customize soccer cleats to different pitch and weather conditions.
Round studded cleats are designed for more giving surfaces like soft or muddy grass. These are a great option for rainy areas. Typically these cleats will only have six studs – four in the front and two on the heel. This concentrates the downward force onto a few points driving them into the soft ground giving the player traction.
Given the physics of these shoes, you do not want to use these type of cleats on hard or compact ground as all the force is transferred into back into your feet (instead of the soft ground) in just a few points – consider this if you are buying these type of cleats for kids.
Also be sure to check with your league to make sure metal studs are allowed. Check out the top four cleats for soft ground here.
SG Cleats in action
Artificial Turf and Artificial Grass Soccer Cleats:
Artificial turf and artificial grass fields are becoming much more common in many schools, arenas, and indoor 6v6 surfaces. You can now find two different stud patterns specifically designed for either plush artificial grass (with the rubber pellets) or shorter Astroturf style carpet.
Many players did not like the classic style turf shoes on the newer artificial grass surfaces, citing a lack of grip. Nike was the first to address this by coming out with a specific stud pattern designed to grip artificial grass more but without the risk of injury posed by wearing longer studded firm ground boots.
Firm ground and soft ground cleats with longer studs or blades can grip too much on turf or artificial grass surfaces causing ACL or ligament injuries. For this reason, you should be cautious using a traditional firm ground or soft ground stud pattern on artificial turf. Ideally, if you play on both firm ground and turf you should own a pair for each type. Check out my list of best turf soccer cleats.
Artificial Turf Cleats
The studs on classic turf shoes are small and more numerous than firm ground studs. Instead of plastic, the studs and the outside of the sole are made from rubber which is much more durable on artificial surfaces. Turf can get hot and is abrasive to plastic studs, so the durable rubber studs and soleplate help to extend the life of the shoe on artificial grounds.
Artificial Grass Cleats
Artificial grass studs are longer than the rubber turf stubs but shorter than firm ground cleats. They are also hollow which allows them to cope with the little rubber pellets and prevent the shoe from getting stuck (in a bad, injury-causing way). The combination of longer and shorter rounded studs are designed to grip more than artificial turf cleats giving the player a more firm ground shoe-like grip on the artificial turf.
Indoor Soccer Shoes:
Indoor shoes come in two varieties: indoor turf and futsal shoes.
Futsal shoes are lower profile than other soccer cleats and have flat rubber soles. As they do not have any studs, these indoor shoes are designed for gym floors or concrete/asphalt. They are most commonly worn for gym 5v5 or 6v6 and futsal style soccer.
Indoor turf soccer shoes are artificial turf cleats. Ten to fifteen years ago, almost everyone wore flat shoes and played on carpet. But many indoor facilities now have artificial turf or grass and most players are sporting turf soccer cleats instead of the flat, futsal style shoes. However, because the style of soccer is called “indoor,” many players call turf shoes “indoor shoes.”
Some players like to use the flat-soled shoes on artificial turf, especially the old astro-style turf. This is perfectly fine in my opinion, however there are better choices for the newer style artificial grass. Also keep in mind that the flat-soled style indoor shoes should not be used on wet grass or wet artificial grass as they slip easily those surfaces.
Indoor shoes, i.e. the shoes with flat rubber soles, can make great street shoes as well. Most of us have probably seen people sporting a pair of Adidas Sambas off the field – not surprising since they are one the most popular soccer cleats of all time.
Check out the top 4 list of the best indoor soccer shoes.
Flat rubber soles on Indoor Shoes
Hard Ground, Multi-Ground, or All Ground Cleats:
You might be asking – what’s the difference between firm ground and hard ground cleats? Hard ground or multi-ground shoes feature many low profile (short) conical studs that are suited for playing on harder surfaces such as sunbaked dirt, or dry, low cut or worn down grass.
The numerous, shorter profile studs are more suited to hard ground because they spread the downward force out via many studs. This provides some traction and helps keep you balanced without that jarring feeling of longer cleats pounding on a hard surface.
The PUMA Allround is well suited to hard ground or turf and is one of the most popular cleats in this category.
You’ll notice if you do a search for hard ground cleats that they can be hard to find. This category of cleats are becoming less popular with the advent of turf and artificial grass cleats. Many people are choosing to use artificial turf or grass shoes instead of hard ground cleats.
The PUMA Allround
2. Choose the Right Material: Synthetic vs Leather Soccer Cleats
Okay, now that you’re narrowed the best soccer cleats based on where you’re playing, let’s explore what material makes sense for you.
Modern cleats are generally made of two materials:
Leather soccer cleats
Leather boots come in two varieties: kangaroo leather and cowhide leather
Historically kangaroo leather has been the material of choice for all the top-end shoes. However, it’s not as common as it used to be because of the environmental impact and the advent of very good synthetics in recent years.
Kangaroo leather became popular for soccer shoes because it is has much higher tensile strength than cow leather, allowing the use of thinner material over the same surface area of the shoe. This results in a strong, light shoe.
K-leather is also very soft, molding to the feet easily after a very short break-in period giving players a great feel for the ball.
For these reasons, K leather soccer cleats are in many people’s opinion the most comfortable soccer cleats and worth the investment.
Some notable Kangaroo leather shoes include Nike’s Tiempo Legacy line and Adidas’s Copa line of cleats
Close up of Adidas Copa Mundial Kangaroo leather upper
Leather from cows will either be called half grain (calfskin) or full grain depending on the age of the cow when made. Cowhide leather does not have the tensile strength of kangaroo leather, so more is used in the manufacturing of the shoe. This results in a thicker upper that can be more durable than kangaroo leather but also heavier.
Half grain or full grain leather uppers are naturally very water resistant as well.
Cleats made of cow leather will take a little longer to break in but many players claim that the softness and padding of the leather can result in a great touch on the ball.
Often overlooked in favor of kangaroo leather or new synthetics, half or full grain leather cleats can offer great value and are a good option over cheaper, similarly priced synthetic cleats.
Leather cleats in review:
Close up of calfskin leather Pele Sports 1962 soccer cleats
- Lightweight and durable
- Soft, thinner leather easily molds to feet giving shoes a custom feel
- Higher price point
Full or Half grain Leather
- Extra padding allows soft touch on the ball
- Thick, durable upper offers good protection
- Heaviest shoes on market
Synthetic Soccer Cleats:
Quality synthetic materials will generally fall into two categories: synthetic leathers and lightweight synthetics. Click to check out some specific examples of the latest technology from Nike and Adidas below.
Modern synthetic leathers are designed to mimic the softness of leather but at a lighter weight with good water resistance. Lightweight synthetics are designed as super light shoes sometimes only weighing 6-7 oz for that barefoot feel.
There have been some great improvements in the synthetic materials used for modern cleats for both synthetic leathers and lightweight synthetics.
- Better control in wet conditions
Some synthetic shoes can be really slick when it’s wet which is great for keeping your feet dry, but can also affect your touch on the ball. Manufacturers are combating that with new technology like Nike’s All Conditions Control or PUMA’s GripTex technology which are designed to give you more friction on the ball in wet conditions.
Some modern synthetic cleats are featuring running-shoe-like mesh uppers, which are very lightweight and allow for ventilation. Cleats that incorporate mesh are a great option when playing on artificial turf which can really heat up in the summer months.
- Better materials to combat stiffness
Synthetic cleats are lightweight and don’t absorb as much water as leather cleats, however they can be stiffer and more difficult to break in than leather soccer shoes. Newer materials like Nike’s Kanga-lite mimic the feel of leather cleats and have reduced break in times on newer synthetics.
- Hybrid technology
Hybrid cleats feature the best of both worlds – a blend of synthetic and leather boot will have the softness of leather but retain some of the water resistant properties of synthetics. An example of a hybrid cleat is Nike’s Tiempo Legend V Pro (link) which is made from kangaroo leather and Kanga-lite.
Synthetic vs Leather Soccer Cleats on a Budget:
Below are some of the latest and greatest synthetic materials featured on their higher end shoes:
- Kanga-lite: Premiering on the Nike Tiemo Elite in 2010 for the South Africa World Cup, Kanga-lite is a water resistant synthetic leather meant to mimic the touch and soft feel of kangaroo leather.
- Hybridtouch: Adidas version of synthetic leather and rival to Kanga-lite. Meant to mimic the suppleness of leather, Adidas claims Hybridtouch is 40% lighter than natural leather resulting in a lightweight, durable shoe with the softness of a leather cleat.
- NikeSkin: Featured on the Nike Hypervenom Phantom, NikeSkin is a breathable mesh material held together with a thin layer of polyurethane. Over time NikeSkin molds to the shape of your foot and combined with its very light weight, the end result is very close to a barefoot feel.
- Sprintskin: Is Adidas’s light single layer synthetic alternative to NikeSkin and is featured on the F50 Adizero and Predator LZ SL.
3. Do Not Sacrifice Fit – For Anything!
Fit is perhaps the most important factor in picking out a soccer cleat. Whether you are buying the most expensive soccer cleat or a budget-conscious boot – you need to have a good fit.
Probably one of the biggest mistakes buyers make (aside from choosing the wrong stud configuration for their field) is choosing a shoe based on color or wearing the boots of a certain famous player. Don’t get me wrong – you should buy Messi shoes or pink soccer cleats if you want – just make sure they fit properly!
>>Proper fit is critical.
For this reason, I recommend buying 2-3 pairs of cleats and returning the ones that don’t fit. If you’re buying soccer cleats online and haven’t tried on any shoes in a store, definitely consider buying multiple pairs since most online shoe sellers make returning cleats very easy.
>>Since fit is so personal, I’ve answered some of the most common questions people have about whether or not their cleats fit properly and how to address specific needs.
Soccer cleat sizing – how should soccer cleats fit?
In general, soccer cleats should fit snuggly on your foot…more snug than your street or work shoes. This tighter fit is important for support and stability in a fast-paced game.
This translates approximately to no space to a finger’s width (¼ inch – ½ inch) between the end of the shoe and your big toe. If your feet are done growing, you may prefer a shoe with no toe space. This allows you to have sock-like feel to your shoe and avoid toe drag (hitting the ground). Many players feel this gives them the ultimate control.
Keep in mind that soccer shoes run small. Some players who like a very tight fit may wear up to 1 or 2 sizes smaller than their normal size. I wear a size 13 shoe but usually wear size 12 or 12.5 cleats.
Also – it’s good to know that that if you are buying a leather shoe, especially a kangaroo leather cleat, that the shoe width and toe area will stretch a bit (NOT a whole size or anything like that!) and you can get away with a slightly tighter shoe out of the box.
Do Nike, Adidas, Puma, Diadora, and others have specific fits?
Many people think that certain brands fit certain ways. This is usually based on anecdotal evidence and is simply not true – everyone’s foot is different and every boot must be treated as a stand-alone fit regardless of its brand.
To get a better idea of what size you should get, you can measure your feet. Trace your feet on paper from the back of the heel to the end of your big toe and check the corresponding size recommendation from the shoe manufacturers. I’ve compiled Nike and Adidas soccer cleat sizing charts for men, women, and children. This is a good place to start if you are not sure what size to get.
Soccer.com has a really cool tool called shoefitr – a 3D comparison of any two shoes. It works best by inputting the size of a specific shoe you know fits well (like one that you already own) and then recommends a size of the second shoe.
Soccer cleat sizing for toddlers and kids
Kids grow – a lot. Parents with soccer-playing kids or toddlers must constantly balance price and fit with growing feet.
Some parents try to get around this by buying kids soccer cleats that are too big. Don’t do this – shoes that are too big could sacrifice performance and make their feet prone to blisters. Spend the extra money to get them a new pair as needed rather than buying cleats two sizes too large and making them wear three pairs of socks!
Most soccer cleats for toddlers as well as youth soccer cleats are relatively inexpensive, so make the investment in your kid’s future and current comfort by buying proper fitting boots.
Soccer shoe sizing for toddlers or kids is the same as adults. A small finger sized gap between the toes and the end of the shoes is ideal.
I’d also recommend going with leather for kids for two reasons:
- Leather cleats stretch – especially kangaroo leather. This makes leather boots a much better option than synthetics for fast growing feet.
- Better padding – Natural leather cleats usually offer thicker padding than synthetics which offers better protection and can help with getting a softer touch on the ball. After all, unless you have a mini Messi on your hands, most of us start off with lead feet!
What if I have wide or narrow feet?
If you have wide feet you may have trouble fitting into some of the lightweight synthetics on the market. The loss of weight has to come from somewhere and a smaller sole plate and narrow sidewalls are usually the victims. Try a natural leather shoe for wide soccer cleats or some recommend the hot water trick (link) for some extra give.
>>Looking for wide soccer cleats?
Many reviewers have reported the Asics DS Light 5 as one of the best soccer cleats for wide feet. Also, www.widesoccercleats.net is a great resource for wide soccer cleat advice with links to extra wide cleats.
If you have narrow feet, there are many soccer cleats, especially the lightweights and synthetics that will fit like a glove.
What if I have really big feet?
I wear a size 13 so I know it can sometimes be tough to find soccer cleats for bigger feet. If you are looking for size 14 or size 15 soccer cleats it can be even tougher.
Some bigger sized shoes that I’ve found available online are the Adidas Copa Mundial (Amazon link) which Amazon also carries in size 14, 15, and even 16! For bigger indoor shoes, the Adidas Samba (Amazon link) in size 14 soccer cleats is also available on Amazon. If you’re looking for a big turf shoe, you can also get the PUMA King Allround (Amazon link) in size 14.
4. Another Big Consideration – Your Budget
Budget is of course a big factor when choosing a cleat. How much should you pay? Why are some shoes $30 while others sell for $200 or more? There are two things to consider here:
- What type of shoe you are buying
- The quality of materials
I did a budget analysis of every soccer cleat on Soccer.com and got the following results:
You can see that the money you will spend will vary a LOT by the type of cleat you are buying – with soft ground cleats being the most expensive and indoor cleats being the cheapest.
Also worthy to note – the average cost of women’s soccer cleats – are much cheaper than men’s. This is a rare price break in the world of women’s shoes!
>>Material and quality matter:
Within each type of shoe however, there still exists a wide range of prices. No doubt that a big part of the price differences is due to branding and marketing. However, the material and the quality of construction DO come into play.
At the lower end of the price spectrum you will find shoes made of cheap plastic synthetics. We may have all owned one of these at some point – the plastic shoes you got for $20-$30 that don’t bend or break in very easily. These shoes will sometimes include the bare minimum in terms of insert comfort and support – something to think about when looking to save money.
At the high end, you will either get quality kangaroo or calfskin leather upper or a lightweight synthetic shoe made of the latest materials like Adidas’s Kanga-lite and Nike’s Sprintskin.
Higher end shoes will also usually feature foam inserts that mold to your feet. In addition many of the expensive shoes will have additional technology add-ons such as Nike’s all conditions control and Adidas rubber “lethal zones” designed to improve touch and ball control.
You don’t always have to pay top dollar to get the best features of these higher end cleats.
>>One good strategy to save money buying discount soccer cleats is to get previous year’s top end model for less.
Many of the shoes that are featured on my website are 2013 or 2014 models that are discounted now that we are in 2015. In my blog about my cleat collection, I detailed how I obtained really high quality, cheap soccer cleats buying formerly $200+ cleats for just $25. If you’re lucky and they have your size you can still get these cleats today!
5. And Finally – Should You Buy a Position Specific Shoe?
Players want to know – should they buy cleats tailored to their position or playing style. Is it marketing hype or are there some genuine cleat features worthy of certain positions?
In my opinion – a lot of the information about position specific shoes is marketing hype. I agree that the shoe does not make the player. That said – I believe there are some advantages to player position shoes. Namely, thicker padded leather shoes like the Copa Mundial and Nike Premier are the best soccer cleats for defenders and goalies. While lighter shoes won’t make you run faster, shoe’s like Nike’s Hypervenom Phantom gives speed-oriented players that barefoot feeling – making it of the best soccer cleats for strikers.
With that said; my day job is a scientist and I know firsthand the power of the placebo effect. Check out this review detailing the power of the placebo effect in soccer. So if you believe – then maybe just maybe – a position specific cleat can give you a slight edge.
My final take?
If a boot fits all the other criteria – right pitch, right material, right fit, right price point – and it’s specific to your position? Then that’s the cleat for you!