What Are The Differences Between Firm Ground And Soft Ground Cleats?

So, it’s that time of the season when you need some new soccer cleats and, as always, there are copious amounts to choose from.

You have models made from premium k-leather for more longevity and sturdiness and some that are made from light synthetic material to help improve speed and agility on the pitch.

Listen, I get it. It can be an annoying and overwhelming process.

Do you change up your cleats for the new season because you think it might improve your game?

Do you play it safe and stick with the same or similar model you had last season?

Do you decide you want to be a replica Neymar and go all-in on a bright yellow pair that burns $300 in your pocket?

Only you can decide, I’m afraid.

But what about the soleplates? Well, the soleplates are a vital and somewhat overlooked part of the cleat selection process. Therefore, you must consider this factor before opting for your golden preference, and I’ll tell you why.

Soleplates are offered in three different variations known as soft ground cleats (SG cleats), firm ground cleats (FG cleats), and, most recently, hybrid cleats.

However, we won’t be discussing the hybrid cleat in much detail for this article, so don’t worry. For now, it’s all about the showdown between FG cleats vs SG cleats!

Let’s get started, shall we?

When To Use Firm Ground Cleats?

First and foremost, we must establish what FG cleats are and how they affect our game. FG cleats are a variation that mainly uses small plastic studs at the bottom of the soleplate.

The type of brand, or style of player the cleat is designed for, can often determine the stud placement and how they’re formed on the bottom.

If the cleats are designed for a box-to-box midfield maverick, chances are the plastic studs will be designed so that the player can gain more traction when frequently turning on a firm ground surface. 

With that said, the main bulk of FG cleats is designed for this purpose as it’s more practical for players during match days.

Typically, these studs will be smaller than traditional SG cleats as this allows the player to adapt to the conditions without hindering their performance naturally.

As the name states, they are designed primarily for firm ground only. 

This doesn’t mean wearing your boots on the sidewalk, guys, unless, of course, you enjoy breaking your ankles – which I imagine you don’t. 

This means wearing them on a grass field that feels hard underneath and is usually dry. Alternatively, you can still use them if the surface is slightly wet as long as the upper doesn’t run deep into the ground. If this happens, I advise getting out of that swamp immediately before your cleats suffer a long and painful death.

Best Suited

FG cleats are best used on dry, firm, and moderately wet terrains. Not only this, but FG cleats are now widely worn on 3G/4G artificial pitches as they bear similarities with AG cleats. This enables them to be used effectively for these conditions due to the plastic stud placement.

Least Suited

Surfaces that are muddy and extremely wet won’t bode well for FG cleats due to how the soleplate and studs are made. Other surfaces that could also inhibit performance are sand-based and indoor pitches.

When To Wear Them

The best time of the season to wear FG cleats will depend on your location, as some areas are more treacherous than others. However, as a general rule of thumb, FG cleats are worn during the summer, as the pitches are typically drier and more rigid.

With that said, this doesn’t mean you lock them in the cupboard the second wintertime arrives. On the contrary, it’s helpful to keep a pair in your cleat bag as wintertime surfaces can become slightly frozen, making FG cleats a viable option.

When To Use Soft Ground Cleats

Soft ground cleats (SG cleats) are a variation that helps gain traction on pitches that are severely muddy or wetter than others.

Traditional SG cleats come equipped with around 6-8 metal studs that are spaced around the soleplate. Additionally, the general aesthetic of the studs is longer and thicker than their FG counterparts, but why is this?

Well, they’re designed with the intent to prevent players from slipping in the above conditions due to their length and thickness. Usually, metal studs help adapt as they anchor themselves into the vulnerable surface without losing any footing, allowing players to stay on top of their game.

Although they serve a great purpose, SG cleats have also been known to carry a certain stigma as they’re widely associated with hard-tackling and no-nonsense players such as Roy Keane.

This is because cleats with studs tend to carry more weight in the boot, so if a player wanted to dish out a heavy dose of ankle-crunching violence, you can bet your money that player would be more often than not wearing SG cleats.

But hey, I’m not here to insight soccer-related brutality. Instead, I’m just trying to bring awareness to those that use these boots for the wrong reasons!

Best Suited

Very wet and muddy terrains are ideal for SG cleats, but players can also use them in the long soft grass. This will enable the player to use the longer and thicker studs to gain additional control on the unpredictable surface.

Least Suited

Any surface aside from those mentioned above. SG cleats are made for a specific purpose and aren’t very versatile, so if you have plans to wear them on a firm pitch, I’d consider having a medical team on stand-by.

When To Wear Them

As you may be able to tell, most muddy and wet surfaces are apparent during the colder winter periods. This is the perfect time to lace up some SG cleats and put them to work, as they will help avoid any slips on the pitch!

The Dangers Of Using The Wrong Type Of Cleat

Using the wrong type of cleat on the wrong kind of surface could land you in a world of pain, trouble, anguish, disaster; you get my point.

Although manufacturers make it easy by detailing what kind of ground the cleats are designed for, some people still think they know best – this is when things get messy.

For example, I’ve seen it myself on 3G/4G artificial pitches where a player turns up wearing SG cleats. Not just any SG cleats, but one’s with studs as thick as Roberto Carlos’ thighs and longer than Petr Cech’s wingspan.

In other words, borderline weaponry.

Anyway, this person decides it’s a good idea to test these cleats on the incorrect turf, so guess what happens?

Yep, it didn’t end well for him.

As he was trying to turn pace quickly, his brilliant idea of wearing SG cleats on an artificial pitch soon became his downfall. His studs got caught sinking into the surface, and the second he tried to turn, he sprained his ankle.

All-in-all, his bright idea earned him a trip to the hospital, a pair of crutches, and a few weeks of painful mobility issues. Not so bright, aye?

Picking FG or SG cleats

I’m at this point you’ll want to know what cleat is the best to choose from, correct?

Unfortunately, I don’t have the answer to that. However, I can lend some advice that will help you in making this decision a lot smoother and easier to make.

Firstly, when dissecting the old FG vs SG cleats debate, you need to determine what conditions you play in more than the other. This is a good starting point when searching for the right cleat.

Once you’ve drawn that conclusion, you should then ask yourself whether that particular cleat will provide longevity throughout the whole season.

If not, you may need to consider buying both an FG cleat and an SG cleat.

Now, I know they can be expensive, so I have a method I like to abide by for these tricky situations.

If you decide you undoubtedly need both an FG and an SG cleat, I suggest spending more money on the pair you will wear the most as they will need to be your most reliable throughout the year.

On the flip side, if you’re strapped for cash when purchasing a secondary pair, I advise going for a lower-budget boot that will make do whenever you need to use them on the off-chance.

Both FG cleats and SG cleats can quickly burn a hole in your pocket, especially if you opt for the elite versions that the pros wear, so it’s essential to be mindful of this going forward.

However, if you can only afford one pair, don’t worry! All you have to do is analyze both cleats in deeper detail and decide which one you would use more than the other, and there’s your answer.

The Extra Time

In short, the most crucial factor to consider is the conditions that you play in, as that will ultimately determine what boots you will need throughout the majority of your season.

Of course, if you can afford both FG and SG cleats, then it would make your life a lot easier, but in the long run, it’s not an essential requirement.

Oh, and one more thing, please don’t wear SG cleats on an indoor surface for the love of God.

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James Cunningham
James Cunningham
James lives in Chicago with his wife and three daughters. Originally from the UK, soccer has allowed him to travel the world. Now a youth coach, he fully enjoys teaching others about the game that he loves so much. His favorite team is Manchester United.