With the folkstyle wrestling season approaching, InterMat caught up with Jeff Pape, owner and president of WrestlingGear.com, to discuss what goes into purchasing wrestling gear, from shoes to singlets, to headgear and other wrestling accessories.
ASICS, Adidas and Nike are the three major brands in the wrestling shoe market. Each brand offers models that fit all types of needs and budgets.
According to Pape, there is no clear brand leader when it comes to sales on his company's website.
"For us, it kind of goes back and forth, year-to-year," said Pape. "Sometimes Adidas will have the hot shoe. Sometimes Nike will have the hot shoe. And sometimes ASICS will have the hot shoe. I think a lot of it has to with college wrestlers and what wrestlers see top athletes wearing."
ASICS has wrestling shoes endorsed by Jordan Burroughs, Cael Sanderson, Dan Gable and Adeline Gray, while Adidas has Jake Varner and David Taylor models. Nike has been in the wrestling shoe market for many years, but recently has been leveraging its history with its Inflict and Freak models.
Nike's high-end wrestling shoe is the Hypersweep, which sells for $170 on WrestlingGear.com.
ASICS' high-end wrestling shoes are the Dan Gable Evo and Omniflex Attack. Both have retail prices of $160.
Adidas' high-end wrestling shoe is the Tech Fall, which sells for $200.
ASICS and Adidas wrestling shoes (typically entry level shoes) are more readily available in sporting goods stores and offer a full-size run starting with 10K. (Nike wrestling shoes start at 12K.)
A couple things to know when purchasing wrestling shoes …
Not all shoes come in all sizes and colors
Figure out what shoes are even available. For example, you can't always find shoes in navy blue or orange.
Determine your budget
"The wrestling shoes we sell will service any new wrestler or experienced, high-level wrestler," said Pape. "There are wrestlers competing in the Olympics with $50 to $60 entry level shoes. I wouldn't get too worried about functionality as a first-year wrestler. I would probably start with your budget."
One of Pape's budget tips when it comes to purchasing wrestling shoes is to buy a model from the previous year. You can get more bang for your buck. Often times, websites will have the previous year's models available in their clearance or retired sections.
Do all wrestling shoes fit true to size?
Sizing for wrestling shoes can vary depending on the brand or even the model within a brand. Sites like WrestlingGear.com provide sizing information to help customers get the right fit. In general, Adidas wrestling shoes fit true to size. ASICS wrestling shoes typically run a half size small. So someone who typically wears a size 9 shoe may want to order a size 9.5 when ordering ASICS wrestling shoes.
Are there shoes for wrestlers with wider feet?
Some wrestlers may have wider feet. While there are no specific wide-foot wrestling shoes, there are certain models that are wider than others.
"The Nike Inflict is our widest shoe," said Pape. "Any wrestler who calls and wants wider shoes, we recommend the Nike Inflict."
Are there specific wrestling shoes designed for women?
Currently, there are not any wrestling shoes designed for women only. Wrestling shoes are unisex, but use men's sizes.
"What we recommend is trying to figure out what a woman's gym shoe size would be in a men's shoe, and ignore the sizing up rules," said Pape. "A women's foot tends to be a little narrower too."
There used to be a women's line of wrestling shoes.
"Maybe it was too early, but they did not sell very well," said Pape. "It was kind of an intermediate level shoe. Most of the women that were wrestling either wanted a super high-end shoe or an entry level shoe, so they kind of missed the mark with the intermediate level shoe."
ASICS carries the Aggressor 3 L.E. Adeline Gray shoes, the first-ever female endorsed wrestling shoes. Though endorsed by women's wrestler Adeline Gray, the shoes use men's sizes.
Are there wrestling shoes built specifically for the international styles of Greco-Roman or freestyle?
Wrestling shoes are designed and built for all styles of wrestling. Pape is not aware of a shoe designed specifically for Greco-Roman or freestyle. He watches international wrestling at the highest level and takes note of the shoes the wrestlers are wearing.
"To me there doesn't seem to be one shoe that is only for Greco-Roman wrestling or only for freestyle wrestling," said Pape. "It seems like there are a variety of shoes worn at the elite level. I figure if the elite level wrestlers can wear them, then the youth, high school and college wrestlers who are doing freestyle and Greco-Roman can wear those same shoes."
Where can wrestling shoes be purchased?
While wrestling shoes can be purchased at select sporting goods stores and shoe stores, there is a much larger selection of wrestling shoes available online at sites like WrestlingGear.com. Many stores that do carry wrestling shoes only keep them in stock during the early part of the wrestling season, and many only carry shoes in the entry level and intermediate levels.
Should a wrestler have both practice shoes and competition shoes?
Some wrestlers prefer to use multiple pairs of wrestling shoes. A wrestler might use a pair of wrestling shoes for practice and a different pair for competition. It comes down to personal preference and budget.
"If the budget makes it work, I recommend having a practice shoe and if you have higher-end shoe, try to save those for competition only," said Pape. "But then there's also a case that can be made for using the same pair of shoes for practice and competition. You can break them in and simulate that match environment in practice."
It is common for wrestling teams to have a specific team shoe?
While many sites like WrestlingGear.com offer discounts for team orders on wrestling shoes, it's not very common for teams to purchase team shoes. Pape says typically wrestlers want to purchase shoes themselves.
"With our customer base, we don't sell a lot of team deals," said Pape. "Kids can express themselves with their shoe selection. They can select a crazy green shoe, or some crazy color combination, and they can wear that shoe usually. Usually there aren't team rules about shoes. That's something a parent should ask a coach. Are there any restrictions on color? Do I have to have shoes that are a specific color?"
Like with wrestling shoes, there are a variety of headgear options available to wrestlers. WrestlingGear.com carries headgear from Cliff Keen, Adidas, ASICS and Matmen.
"Typically, what I recommend is spending the most money you can on headgear," said Pape. "The reason is because the people who buy the cheaper headgear will typically come back and buy the more expensive headgear, whether it's a month down the road or later in the season. A $50 shoe and an $80 shoe will have a lot of the same features. With a headgear, when you go from $15 or $20 up to $30 or $40, you get quite a bit more comfort. To me, comfort is probably the most important thing. If a wrestler doesn't wear his or her headgear, they are going to get cauliflower ear. I would say personally that's avoidable. Always wear your headgear."
Pape says the same headgear can be worn for multiple seasons, and wrestlers will probably lose the headgear before outgrowing it. It's most common for wrestlers to purchase headgear that matches his or her team colors, but sometimes wrestlers will choose headgear that does not match the team colors.
Singlets come in numerous designs and styles. WrestlingGear.com sells singlets from major brands like Nike, Adidas, ASICS, Cliff Keen, Brute, Matman and Under Armour. These brands offer stock singlets, stock singlets with silk screening, custom sewn singlets with silk screening and sublimated singlets.
Pape says sublimated singlets have been taking over the market the last few years.
"There is a lot of competition with singlets," said Pape. "A lot of brands are popping up selling sublimation singlets."
Earlier this year the National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS) Wrestling Rules Committee approved an alternate two-piece uniform consisting of compression shorts or shorts designed for wrestling and a form-fitted compression shirt for the 2017-18 high school wrestling season.
Pape said it's important to purchase a two-piece uniform from wrestling company so that all guidelines are met.
"You can't go to a big box store and buy a compression short and shirt off the rack and wear it in competition," said Pape. "It has to be provided by the school or wrestling club."
Pape believes two-piece uniforms in wrestling could become popular, but many coaches are taking a wait-and-see approach.
"I think some coaches are a little weary of whether kids will want to wear them, and whether the uniforms are worth the cost," said Pape. "Many coaches have a lot of money already tied up in singlets. What we have seen so far is some are buying them now and some are taking a wait-and-see approach. Once the wrestling season starts and teams start seeing them on wrestlers, I think the two-piece market is going to kind of pop."
Unlike wrestling shoes, singlets and headgear, kneepads are not a requirement for wrestlers. It comes down to personal choice.
"Typically, I advise parents that if your son or daughter has knee issues, then definitely purchase kneepads," said Pape. "There are many different types of kneepads. But if not, I usually say hold off on kneepads and see if the wrestler needs or wants kneepads. Kneepads are something you can come back for."
Other wrestling accessories
According to Pape, gear bags are an accessory many wrestlers purchase from WrestlingGear.com.
"All the manufacturers have gear bags with a mash component to it," said Pape. "One thing to look for in a gear bag is a clean and dirty compartment. A lot of the bags we sell have dividers in them so you can keep your fresh stuff away from your dirty stuff. That's a real nice feature to have."
Other popular wrestling accessories are wrestling T-shirts and hygiene products.
Wrestling, unlike many sports, doesn't require a lot of expensive gear to get started.
"What's nice and exciting about wrestling is you can join the sport and you don't have to buy a ton of gear," said Pape. "You can kind of just buy it as you go. Then you can upgrade from year-to-year. You don't have to buy the $200 shoes right away. You can start with the more entry level shoes and kind of upgrade as you go along and as you kind of grow within the sport. That's the big advice I would give to parents."