Firm Ground (FG), Soft Ground (SG) and Artificial Ground (AG) football boots – Know Your Sole

We discuss using the right soleplates for your playing ground.

This is a golden age for football. Matches are easy to access online, you can play FIFA on your phone and there has never been more locations for you to play at. On top of the usual natural grass fields, Artificial Ground (AG) pitches are sprouting quickly all across the world and playing on them has become a really popular option for lovers of the game. With that comes the question of “What boots should I wear for my matches”? BOOTHYPE is here to help you find the right footwear for various grass surfaces.

The difference between Soft, Firm and Artificial Ground Pitches

Soft grounds (SG) can usually be found in more temperate climates. European football pitches (EPL, La Liga, Champions League etc.) are all based on soft ground which are natural and much softer and slick than other ground types. Maintenance of these grounds is extremely tough and they require a temperate climate to keep its form.

Firm grounds (FG) are also another form of natural ground but are harder than SG. FG pitches are quite common around the world though its texture may vary quite greatly around the world due to the local weather. Living in South East Asia, we have seen firm grounds which are really wet with soft and muddy fields to grounds that are extremely dry, arid and hard. The grounds change texture often due to the weather conditions that may swing between hot and rainy – a common issue in tropical climates. They’re all technically FG pitches but you may need to find different soleplates based on the nature of your FG pitch.

Soft ground pitch
Soft ground pitches (above) are great for sliding and professional sports. We do not recommend doing so for FG and AG pitches.

And finally, we come to the Artificial Ground (AG). They’re usually built with a thick layer of rubber in between concrete foundations and artificial grass turf. Its most recognizable feature are the black rubber pellets that are strewn all over the pitch. AG’s popularity is due to its weather-proof nature that is easy to maintain and can last for some years before needing to be relayed. However, AG pitches are also shallower and harder than FG and SG surfaces. This has led to many professionals being wary of playing on AG due to a higher chance of injury and wear and tear on their joints. Have you seen a player slide and celebrate in matches? We do not recommend doing so on AG as you will skin your knees upon contact.

In summary, SG grounds are the softest and possibly the toughest to maintain and is the preferred choice of pros. AG grounds are the direct opposite in its texture but are really popular now. FG sits somewhere in the middle with its properties varying due to the weather in its region.

Artificial grass
A closer look at AG. Photo – Duke University

Understanding different stud configurations

Football boots may look primarily the same with its studs on the underside. However, there are quite a few subtle differences catered to the needs of each pitch type. Its main function is to give players the right balance of traction and maneuverability on the different grass surfaces we play on. These are the 2 most important factors in choosing your boots.

SG soleplates usually have the longest studs and the least number of studs. Their studs are usually made of metal to really dig into the soft ground to reduce slipping on its wet surface. As an added bonus, Nike has developed a technology called “Anti Clog” to ensure all wet mud slips off the soleplate to ensure that the long studs can still do a god job without chunks of mud sticking to it. We would recommend only using SG boots on SG pitches.

SG boots (above) have longer studs for traction.

AG soleplates, just like the surface, are the total opposite of SG. They are mainly developed with many short, conical studs and have twice the number of studs as an SG plate. This is due to AG being a very hard and harsh ground. The many studs help distribute your weight across the sole to reduce any soreness on your feet. The shorter and rounded shape of each stud helps reduce impact and provides only minimal penetration of the ground with every step. This is to prevent  major ACL injuries when the studs do not dislodge from the ground while simultaneously making sudden changes in direction. AG plates straddle a balance between having minimal traction and maximum comfort for the user. Some manufacturers build the soleplate to be slightly thicker and harder to bear the increased impact against the harsh AG pitch. Nike’s AG soleplates for instance are durable but are notoriously hard to break in to and you might face some minor discomforts in your first few sessions.

You may also occasionally find Turf soleplates (TR). They are built to look more like running shoes with a thick jagged and teeth-like base. We reckon they’re safest to use on AG fields but you may lack proper traction on some pitches.

Last but not least, we have the most popular FG soleplates – a variant that is available with all major boot launches. In relation to the SG and AG boots, FG soleplates have a medium number of studs of medium length. FG boots are the middle ground option (pun unintended).

FG v AG soleplates
Above: FG soleplates
Below: AG soleplates
Pictures – Prodirect Soccer

Can you use FG soleplates on AG pitches?

This is the most common question players have and the answer to that is quite complex. On the surface, AG and FG boots look quite similar. However, with closer inspection you can tell that AG boots have more studs with each of them being shorter and less aggressive than an FG’s. Despite this, we still see most players using FG soleplates on AG pitches. Most players don’t have a problem with this but there have been cases of injuries due to FG studs’ inability to dislodge properly from AG grounds.

Brands like adidas and Puma are also trying to create hybrid soleplates that could be used on FG and AG surfaces. We seemed a bit apprehensive at first as the studs look too long for the AG pitches we play on. In our review of the adidas Predator 18.1, the traction was surprisingly not too aggressive and worked well on both grounds. The Puma Future’s studs look even longer despite their “FG/AG” claim so our best advice to you to is buy what you feel most comfortable in.

Adidas Predator 18.1
adidas’ answer to a hybrid FG/AG soleplate

Another consideration is that some retailers do not honour warranties if you use an FG boot on AG surfaces. They can identify this via the black scuff marks that are a trademark of the AG rubber pellets vs having mud on the boots.

Brands are still figuring out what to do with Artificial Ground boots

If AG boots are the “safest” to wear on all grounds, why don’t Nike and adidas constantly launch FG and AG variants? Why are FG boots always available and AG boots only available for selective models? The biggest reason lies in commercial appeal and sales. FG boots sell more due to the soleplate resembling the top grade versions seen in the brands’ marketing and on the feet of the endorsed athletes. A first grade AG boot usually carries a different look that is nowhere near as cool or flashy as the FG or SG. “We sold AG boots but they weren’t very popular as customers wanted the same versions that Neymar or Ronaldo wears. The FG and SG soleplates are usually well designed and mimic the ones worn by the players. AG soleplates don’t get the same attention to design and customers want something nice, especially when they fork out the cash for an expensive Nike or adidas boot,” said Ami Chopra, owner of Weston Corp.

Brands are still figuring out and testing a strategy that could balance AG performance and commercial appeal – this is apparent in their product launches. adidas claims that their FG boots are FG/AG compatible, but they have intermittently sold some pure AG boots which we’re sure work better on AG pitches but are nowhere near as cool looking as they could be. Puma is in the same conundrum with their new “MG” soleplate which stands for “mixed ground”. Nike have a dedicated AG soleplate that is replicated for all their top grade boots but only for the main colourway launches.

The pure AG soleplate was developed only for the lower grade Predator 18.3 (below) which may be more functional on AG pitches but nowhere near as sleek at the 18.1’s FG/AG soleplate (above).

Conclusion: What type of soleplate is best for me?

The best answer to this question lies in what makes you most comfortable on the pitch and not what looks nicest to the eye. FG boots, on paper, does seem like Swiss Army knife solution for all pitches but do consider the nature of the pitch you play on and listen to your body for any pain and discomfort you’re already feeling. Look at the photos of the studs before buying them. Rounded studs are always the safest bet.

Even Neymar switched to an AG boot configuration for the 2018 World Cup due to a recent injury. Now, if only we could develop a boot that reduces the number of dives a player makes…..

Neymar Jr
Neymar wore AG soleplates on an SG pitch

Get 10% off any purchase from Ultra Football with the use of discount code “BOOTHYPE10” at check out. Discount is applicable to sale items as well but not applicable to shipping fees.

Did we miss out anything regarding soleplates and football pitches? Let us know in the comments below.

Founder and editor of BOOTHYPE, Hats loves nothing more than a control/power boot that'll add a little something to his first touch. He counts the Puma evoPower 1 and the Nike PhantomVSN as some of his all-time favourites. The one that got away? The adidas Predator Mania in champagne.
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