Todd's Volleyball Equipment Review
and Recommendation Page

shoes, balls, net systems, accessories, stores

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Created July 31, 1997. Over 11,000 visitors served as of 4/28/00.

As an engineer, I like to do a lot of research and comparison shopping before I buy anything. Since this is a fairly common trait in the profession, one might say that engineers make great consumer advocates--let them do all the research, then just buy what they buy. In any case, here's what one picky, anal-retentive engineer actually likes when it comes to volleyball equipment. If you don't know where to start on a ball or net purchase, here's your guide to the good stuff!

Remember, I am speaking only as a player here and am relating my personal experience with these items. None of this should be taken in any light other than that by any organizations with which I am affiliated, regardless of sponsorships held with these affiliated organizations. I only mention products I've actually used myself. If I haven't had the inclination to purchase your product on its own merit, or haven't received a sample to review myself, you won't see it here. I will only recommend a product that I have actually used, and actually like.

Indoor Ball--Tachikara SV-5W (approx. $42 US) or Mikasa VFC-200 or heck the Molten Pro/Soft Touches are good too!
Tachikara used to be the shizzle--the ball everyone used. That's changed a lot since the USA Volleyball contract was bought out by Molten, and Mikasa bought the NCAA contract, and the international community started going to a harder ball like the Mikasa. If you're a newer player and want a ball that recreational players will feel comfy with, get the Tachikara--no one except maybe higher level men's or higher level younger players will turn their nose up at it, because it's a very soft, consistent leather ball. If you are a USA Volleyball club player, lean more towards the Molten or Mikasa balls. As for the Tachikara, it does (at least used to) matter where the Tachikara ball is made, so be sure to ask/look before you buy.

The Japanese-made balls are the best because of the special leather tanning process. Tachikara realized this and halted production of standard SV-5W's in Japan, renamed the Japanese balls "SV-5W Gold," and jacked up the price $10. The Indonesian SV-5W's balls run a close second. They reportedly use the same Japanese leather tanning process, but there is a slight difference between the SV-5W and the Gold.

The SV-5WH is just an SV-5W with the high-school stamp on it--even though the Gold carries the NFSHSA stamp these days as well. All are fine balls. If you can find a US-made SV-5W, avoid it! I'm not sure they are made anymore, but the US-made balls I've seen have been noticeably inferior. I'm not sure why.

Mikasa makes a fine indoor ball as well. They have also been kind enough to sponsor the Great Lakes Region of USA Volleyball, and I'd encourage you to give them a try. The Mikasa VFC 200 ball is one of their best and is the official ball of several collegiate conferences, and has the approval of USA Volleyball.

See if Volleyball Corner is currently running any web specials on either of the balls mentioned above. Someone kindly emailed me a link to Fairway Volleyball which also seems to be doing some aggressive pricing on balls.

Outdoor Ball, Leather -- Spalding TF18 Gold or the Wilson AVP Traditional ball (all around $65 US)
The Spalding TF18 has been known by many names including Top Flite, AVA Gold, was the official ball of the AVP tour until Wilson bought the contract in the late 90's (sensing a theme here?). The Top-Flite has long-been revered as the only ball for the beach, however, there have been some other respectable balls to come onto the scene in recent years. The Wilson AVP Traditional (formerly known as AVP Gold) is of a similar, wonderful ilk, but don't get these all leather balls wet! Now, the new Wilson Official AVP ball with the yellow trim is the ball of choice on the tour, but be warned it's very polarizing--it's light and a lot of people really really hate it. However, they have improved it since its first season, and it's really not that bad. Best of all, you can get it wet and not be worried you're ruining it.

I have seen some lobsided balls slip out of both manufacturers' factories, so be sure to give your ball a good spin to make sure it's good before you misplace your receipt! If you have a defective Top Flite, call Spalding's customer service number at 800.225.6601 for instructions on how to return it. I bought mine at Spike Nashbar.

The Mikasa VLS200 is the official ball of the FIVB international beach volleyball tour. Mikasa is also a kind sponsor of the Great Lakes Region of USA Volleyball, so be sure to give them a try.



Outdoor Ball, All-Weather -- Spalding Extreme (formerly Top-Flite TF-All Weather, approx $25 US), or the Wilson Official AVP ball (approx $65 US).
No synthetic leather ball feels more like a top-flite than....a Top Flite. If there's any chance of rain, or a body of water nearby, this is the ball of choice. It's also an extremely good value! This ball has the raised hand-stitched seams of the leather Top-Flite, in addition to similar weight and feel. Truth be told, I use this ball more often than my AVA Gold since my sand league is played on a court next to a pool. Unfortunately, this ball is no longer marketed.

I've also used the official Wilson AVP ball has really matured into a great ball that happens to be all weather.



Outdoor Net System -- Park and Sun Spectrum 2000 (approx $230 US)
Click here for an extensive review of most popular net systems by Michael David Bertz and separately, check out Tom Z's review of the Cobra Net System which has some good painstaking Engineer viewpoint on that excellent guy-line-free system.

I own the Park and Sun Spectrum 2000 or Spectrum Classic, and itwill do you no wrong. Very quick to set up, seems durable, excellent net play. Easy to take with you anywhere. The Classic is a bit beefier than the 2000. Some say it's worth the extra money, some disagree. Both are fine net systems.

Feb 1999 update: I've had the PS Spectrum for a while now, and there are some things I should add to this recommendation. If you do a lot of beach playing, be aware that the Park & Sun may give you trouble should you get sand in between the two pieces of the poles. In storage, the 2-piece poles collapse and slide together such that one sleeve is inside of the other. Add a little sand in there when you're collapsing the system, and you've got a recipe for welding the sleeves together while your system sits in storage! My advice: wipe down the poles _before_ disassembling the net system. Also, those who have used the P&S Spectrum _heavily_ have told me that the net tends to rip at the top corners under repeated tension. Other systems that are bungee-based like the Centerline do not have this vulnerability. More things to think about!

2004 update: I still have this net system and it won't die. If I had to replace it, I think I may just get another one!

Best Accessory--The Pocket Pump (approx $10 US)
How did I live without it? This tiny little pump is less than 6" long and gives you instant gratification for correcting ball pressure. I saw Nancy Reno using one at the Evian Austin Open in 1996 and I just had to have it.
Shoes--Nike Air Pound It Mid (approx $75 US)
Click any image for an enlarged view
ASICs Gel Alta Plus
Air Execute Mid
Air Bohemian Lite
Air Digs
Nike Air Pound It - May 2000
ASICs Gel Alta Plus - April 2000
Nike Air Execute - 1998
Nike Air Bohemian Lite -1995
Nike Air Digs - 1995
Shoes are tough to keep up with. The darned manufacturers change stuff every year. That said, i tend to like most of what Nike does on the high end of their vball shoes. And frankly, I haven't (in 2004) purchased a pair in over 2 years.

That said, the Nike Air Conquer II's are wonderful! It's their best volleyball shoe since the Air Bohemian lite! Excellent cushioning, outstanding lateral stability, excellent traction, and the best looking volleyball shoe they've ever produced. They also work well with ankle braces such as the Active Ankle. The only negative thing I have to say about the Air Conquer II is that the heel's curvature as viewed from above is too eliptical to allow my custom orthodics to seat all the way to the rear of the heel cup. If the heel radius were rounder and less eliptical, the fit of the orthodic would be much better. If you don't wear custom orthodics, you won't notice and won't care.

Shortly before I got the Air Conquer II's, I had replaced my aging Air Execute mid's with the Air Pound Its. Before the Executes, I was very happy with the Air Boho's and Air Digs. I was very pleased to find the Air Pound It to be reminiscent of my old Air Bohos. A teammate who normally wears ASICs shoes tried the Nikes at one practice and nearly didn't give them back! He felt immediately at home in the Air Pound Its and was impressed with their light weight.

The Air Pound It Mid is a mid-profile shoe, so it might not be the best choice to be worn with an ankle brace, although the collar is pliable enough to accomodate one in a pinch. Traction is excellent, and these things are super light! I like them much better than the ASICs Gel Alta Plus's which are also excellent shoes, but are quite a bit heavier than the Nike Air Pound It's.

On the down side, the arch support in these Air Pound It's and my former Air Executes is not as good as it was in the long-discontinued Air Bohos or Air Digs. I also miss the prominent forefoot cushioning that was in the Boho's and Digs, but I was certainly in the minority in that view--most viewed the prominent forefoot padding bulge as distracting. I would recommend the use of Spenco court/athletic insoles with these if you are in need of a little more arch.


The Pound It's run even smaller in size than their predecessors. I wear a 10.5 in Air Pound It's, but wore a 10 in Air Execute, Air Boho, and Air Digs. The Air Pound It's lacing system makes them look really slick, but they are a pain in the butt to lace up when you first get them.


I've also tried the (original) Nike Air Conquer shoes--but I did not like them much at all. The insoles were extremely thin, there was very little arch support, the collar of the shoe was too thick, and the odd lace-integrated heel tensioning mechanism seemed like a recipe for achilles tendonitis. I'm told the Air Conquer II is due out in May of 2000, and should improve upon these aspects and make us Air Bohemian Lite lovers a lot happier!

Mail Order Place -- ????
Volleyball Corner gets my current vote for balls and shoe selection--they carry all the popular vb shoes including Nike! I got a killer deal on some SV-5W's from them a few months back, and they're currently running a great special on the Mikasa VFC-200's. This is a small shop, and the folks who answer the phones can give you decent advice and answer questions. is on my short list of places to shop too. Charlie Jackson is the owner, and Charlie is a prince of a guy, and a long time supporter of volleyball who put his money where his mouth was in making sure the women's pro beach folks had something to do for 2 years before the AVP got on board with adding the women to their tour. Prices and selection are excellent as well.
I used to love Spike Nashbar 1-800-WE SPIKE. Eric Nashbar, however, sold Spike Nashbar to some Florida-based company in 1999. Eric's company embraced the web early with an on-line catalog and on-line ordering capability. Unfortunately they don't carry the Spalding TF-All Weather or Nike Shoes. People had horrible experiences with Spike Nashbar during the transition to Florida, but things have improved since then. I placed some orders in early 2000 that arrived promptly. The staff won't be able to field any questions or offer recommendations, but the prices are still decent.

I used Nike Town in Portland (503-221-6453) for my original Nike Air Bohos and Air Digs, and the TF-All Weather can be found at many local sporting goods stores.
Comments? Suggestions? Indications that I'm full of it? Email me at tdh [at] vbref [dot] org and be sure to mention this page in your subject. Note that this is not carte blanche for any ole volleyball equipment reseller to tell me about their amazing low prices or ask for a link here. If you want to get the word out about your store, please, get involved with the volleyball online community as a helpful contributing poster, and put a link to your store in your posting signature. People will patronize a store that has employees who are helpful and friendly in the community. Don't spam!

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