Needed pickleball equipment
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One of the great things about pickleball is the ability to start playing with minimal investment in pickleball equipment.
Assuming you have a court to play on (permanent or temporary), you just need a pickleball paddle and a pickleball. There are lots of pickleball paddles to choose from as well as a number of pickleballs available. Let’s talk about the differences between them and what might be best for you.
It should probably go without saying, but a paddle is a critical piece of hardware for your pickleball game. The vast majority of paddles will look very similar to this
The rules from the USAPA on paddles can be found in section 2.E. of the 2020 Rule Book but consist of the following key points:
- Paddles can be made from a lot of materials as long as it’s “rigid & non-compressible”
- The surface can’t contain holes or texturing that would allow imparting ‘additional’ spin on the ball
- The combined length and width shall not exceed 24 inches (61cm)
- There is no restriction on the width or weight of the paddle
- Homemade paddles are not allowed
Let’s talk about some of the key differences and what to consider when making your choice.
Some paddles will have longer handles (5+ inches); these provide extra reach, and give you that little bit of extra room you’d need for 2-handed backhands. For the majority of players, the shorter (more traditional) handle will be the right choice. However, if you’re used to a 2-handed backhand from other sports (like tennis) and/or suspect that you would be using a 2-handed backhand while playing Pickleball, then opt for a paddle with a longer handle
The game began with wooden paddles, but today they are usually made of a composite of various materials. While this section won’t go into tremendous depth (we’ll save that for a dedicated article on paddle compositions), you should know that paddles today are typically comprised of a core material and an outer surface (facing) material. The various materials used for each will affect the weight, durability, and power provided by the paddle.
It’s best to play with a few different combinations of materials to find the one that works best for you now at your current playing level and style. In all likelihood, this will change as you become more experienced and your style of play changes.
Paddle head shape
There are four major paddle shapes in use today:
- Standard Paddle: 15 3/4″ x 7 7/8″
- Wide Body: 16″ x 8″
- Thin Body: 16 1/2″ x 7 1/4″
- Blade Shape: 17″ x 6 7/8″
The extra length that the blade-shaped paddles provide allows for more reach. For this reason, blade-shaped are often used in singles matches (where a player has more court to cover) and by people whose court coverage may be more limited than others. Remember that what you gain in length, you’re sacrificing in width of the paddle which may be more important if you’re playing primarily at the kitchen line. Again, while these are general rules and observations, find a length/width combination that works best for you and your style of play.
As a general rule, the lightest paddles are the easiest to maneuver and the heavier paddles provide more power (or ‘pop’ on the ball). If you’re just starting your pickleball journey, it’s generally best to start on the lighter side because of the easier maneuverability as well as the improved endurance that will come from carrying a lighter paddle around. You’ll feel those extra ounces/grams over time.
Later, if you find that the extra power provided by a heavier paddle suits your game better, you can opt for a heavier paddle or use lead tape add additional weight to an existing paddle.
A pickleball ball is perhaps the most distinctive piece of pickleball equipment for the sport. Hollow plastic, perforated with holes all around, it could be mistaken for a children’s toy. Usually these balls come in high contrast colors such as yellow or neon green. You’ll need to buy different balls depending on whether you intend to play outdoors or indoors
An indoor pickleball ball is optimized for the still air and smooth playing surfaces of an indoor court. It is exceptionally light and is made of a softer plastic, giving it a little more bounce. This also means it won’t bounce quite as high, and is easier to control. As an added bonus, it hurts less to be hit by an indoor ball!
An outdoor pickleball will be harder and heavier. It is made of hard, smooth plastic, making it slightly more durable than an indoor ball. It also makes it noisier; a good fit for larger spaces. Outdoor pickleballs bounce higher and can be hit hard and fast. They have more holes—as many as forty—and these holes are smaller. This is essential, as an airy indoor ball would be blown far away by even a slight wind.
Be aware that pickleballs tend to crack easily: not surprising, considering their light plastic shell. Be prepared to replace your balls as they break: it comes with the territory.
Two pickleball balls popular with competitive players are the Dura Fast 40 and the Onix Pure. These balls are hard, heavy, and best suited for outdoor play.
If you’re practicing for a specific competition, though, it’s worth finding out what ball your tournament will be using. It’s not the question of one or two: 33 pickleball brands have been approved by the USAPA for tournaments. You can find a list of approved balls here.
If you’re not into competition, just choose two or three to try out and enjoy experimenting with them! It won’t take long to find your favorites
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While a pickleball net looks very similar to a tennis net, the dimensions are different. A standard pickleball net is 22 feet wide, 36 inches high at the sidelines 34 inches high at the center. There is a wide range in quality, and you’ll want to pick something durable. If you’ll be doing a lot of setting up and taking down, choose a portable net with easy assembly and you’ll thank yourself later.
Any court shoe you feel comfortable with will likely work well on the pickleball court. Traditionally, most players have used tennis-specific shoes of which there are numerous options. However, some manufacturers have come out with pickleball-specific models of shoes in their lineups. A few recent examples of these are shoes from Fila and K-Swiss.
Others, like Tyrol, only make shoes for Pickleball.
If you find yourself playing a lot of pickleball on indoor courts, volleyball shoes are also a good option as the soles are designed for the gym surfaces.
Pickleball Equipment for Practicing
Practice sessions are another opportunity to explore the plethora of pickleball gear available to you.
You may not always have a partner to hit with, and that’s where ball machines come in extremely handy. Today’s models can hold a large number of balls, provide consistent feeds when you’re drilling on a particular shot (volleys, overheads, 3rd shots,…), can provide variability of feeds when needed, and can run on battery for hours (without the need for an outlet near the court).
We use The Pickle – Pickleball ball machine by Lobster and have had great success. We’ll have a review of our experience posted here on the site soon.
Other popular options are the Spinshot Player and the less expensive OnCourt OffCourt Pickleball Tutor.
Ball Hoppers and Ball Tubes
Drills typically require a large number of balls so that you’re not constantly having to stop, gather the few balls you have, and restart the drilling session. This is where pickleball equipment like ball hoppers come in handy. Ball hoppers make the transporting and availability of balls much easier. Some ball hoppers can even be used to collect stray balls on the court as well.
In addition to some ball hoppers, the picking up of large numbers of balls on the court (quickly) is usually best done with dedicated ball tubes. There are several that are have diameters specifically made for pickleballs and will often hold a dozen or more balls before having to be emptied.
We’ve used and like the Tourna ball tube.
Another option for ball collection is a tool like that made by Kollectaball. Just roll it along the court over the balls, and they’ll be scooped up into the bin for later emptying into your ball machine or ball hopper. To use this for pickleball, you assemble it with half of the provided
Finally, drilling with targets on the court is a great way to improve accuracy and consistency in your pickleball game. As such, court targets should be part of the list of essential pickleball equipment for those looking to improve their game. You can use a variety of different objects on the court to take aim at (towels, cans,..) but dedicated, high-contrast, weather-resistant targets that are easy to pack up and carry with you are often a great (and inexpensive) option.
Now that you know what equipment to get, it’s time to grab your paddle and ball and get out on the court!