The game of pickleball is literally gaining millions of new followers per year. So, if you’re one of those people wondering “what do you need to play pickleball”, then this article is for you!
All you need in order to play pickleball is a paddle, a pickleball ball, a pair of court shoes, a partner, and some friendly competition. After that, all you need is a court with the proper pickleball lines laid down, and you’re ready to get started.
Let’s talk more about the equipment you need to start playing pickleball and answer some common questions that a lot of beginners typically have.
Essentially for any beginner learning pickleball for the first time, the only two things you need to start playing are a paddle and a standard pickleball approved wiffle ball.
It’s pretty simple, in order to show up to your local pickleball courts and learn the game you’ll first need a paddle. You can’t hit the ball without the proper paddle. So, that’s usually what people buy first.
Next comes the ball. Pickleball uses a specific kind of plastic wiffle ball so playing with a designated USAPA approved indoor or outdoor pickleball is the next important step to playing and learning the game of pickleball.
But, there are literally thousands of paddles to choose from and even hundreds of different balls to select from. So, if you’re a beginner, knowing how to sift through all the cheap junk, and buy quality gear is essential. That’s where I can help.
Let’s break down what to look for with regards to pickleball paddles and break down the different types of balls so you can make an educated buying decision and get the most bang for your buck.
I’ve been playing pickleball for over six years, so I am happy to share the lessons I’ve learned and more importantly, the brands I trust and the ones I don’t.
Let’s talk about my favorite pickleball topic – gear!!
The most important piece of equipment when first learning to play pickleball is your paddle. You’ll need a quality paddle to get the most enjoyment out of the game.
Generally speaking, you’ll want to choose your paddle based on weight, paddle shape, and price. If you’re a complete beginner, I recommend reading my friendly guide on how to choose a pickleball paddle (without having to buy it). There are many online retailers that will give you a 30 day trial period where you can return it within 30 days with no questions asked. Click this link for a complete break of where to take advantage of such programs.
Most beginners tend to pick their first paddle based on price. This is a mistake. My advice is to pick from a reputable pickleball brand and choose something in the $80 to $100 range.
Don’t just buy a cheap knockoff brand from an online retailer. Amazon is littered with them so beware! Instead, look for brands like Prince, Engage, Paddletek, Wilson, or Selkirk.
Once you’ve set a budget for your paddle, the next important feature is the weight of the paddle. When you are first getting started playing pickleball, the options for weight can be a little overwhelming.
Overall, the weight you choose for your paddle will be based on personal preference. Lighter paddles allow more control over where the ball goes, whereas heavier paddles allow you to hit the ball harder and faster.
Lighter paddles tend to be 7.8 to 8.1oz. Medium-weight paddles are 8.2 to 8.4oz and heavy paddles weigh above 8.4 ounces.
If this is your first paddle, I recommend aiming for 8.1 to 8.2 ounces and trying that first. See how that feels. Many brands make a light and normal-weight version of the paddle and allow you to return an item 30 days later. So feel free to buy both and return the version you don’t like.
Remember, choosing a pickleball paddle that is too heavy means that you have less control over where the ball goes. Heavier paddles will also tire your arm out faster. So, using a heavy paddle when you are still learning, may cause your arm to get tired quickly or even lead to an elbow or arm injury.
Lighter paddles require more effort behind your swing to get the ball where you want it to go, but overall they are better for beginners.
Grip size is also an important factor to consider when buying paddles. The grip should feel comfortable in your hand, but that’s not the only reason that size is important.
Paddle grips that are too large can slip while you are playing, and they also become difficult to hold on to over time. On the other hand, paddle grips that are too small may be uncomfortable to hold in your hand despite being easier to control while playing.
As with paddle weight, most reputable brands will give you a choice between a small grip size and a medium grip size so it may come down to your personal choice based on what feels good to you.
What beginner paddle do I recommend? The Prince Response Pro is the most forgiving paddle I’ve ever played with because its got a huge sweet spot! It’s a little pricey but literally everyone I’ve recommended it to hasn’t been disappointed. It’s worth every penny and Prince backs it with a lifetime warranty for when it wears out.
Finding the right ball is another important part of learning the game. First, it is important to decide if you will be playing indoor or outdoor pickleball. This will help determine the type of ball you play with.
Outdoor pickleball balls need to be heavy in order to withstand wind, so they tend to be harder and heavier than indoor pickleball balls. Outdoor balls have 40 smaller holes while indoor balls have 26 larger holes.
So if you see a set of balls that has the number “40” after the name it’s an outdoor ball. And if it says “26” after the name, it’s an indoor ball.
As a beginner, the only thing you need to worry about is not buying indoor balls when playing outside or vice versa. The top brands to choose from regardless of indoor or outdoor are Dura, Onix, Franklin-X, and Core.
It’s important to note that heavier outdoor pickleball balls tend to move faster because of the increased weight and hardness. This means that controlling outdoor pickleballs can be harder than indoor ones.
Indoor balls are lighter and softer than outdoor balls and they’re not as easy to hit hard. You’ll need more effort to hit indoor pickleball balls hard down the line, but they’re a little easier to control.
Balls used for pickleball will also wear out over time. So, it is important to consider longevity when choosing a brand. Based on my play experience with outdoor balls, Franklin X and Core last a long time, so I’d recommend those two for sure.
Outdoor balls usually wear out fast because an outdoor court creates more wear and tear on them. Not to mention, exposure to the elements and sunlight, can cause outdoor balls to wear out and crack. Again Franklin-X balls and Core balls take a long time to crack in my opinion. I’ve got a lot of use out of them.
Overall, the ball you choose should depend on where you want to play. Keep in mind that you may need to replace these balls frequently, depending on how often you play. So, buy a few extras to get you started.
What do you need to play pickleball? Shoes. Yes a good pair of dedicated pickleball shoes.
One of the most overlooked items you’ll need is a good pair of court shoes. The biggest mistake you can make, as a beginner learning the game, is to step out onto the court with your old running shoes or cross trainers on.
Court shoes are tailor-made for racquet or paddle sports like pickleball. In fact, any decent pair of court shoes for tennis will also work perfectly for pickleball. Literally any shoe designed for tennis will work for pickleball.
Court shoes are ideal for pickleball because their soles are designed for both forward and backward motion but also lateral movement as well. Its this lateral movement functionality that separates court shoes from running shoes and cross trainers.
I’ve seen to many new players go down with knee and ankle injures by stepping out onto the court with a standard pair of running shoes on. It’s a recipe for a sprained ankle or worse and I don’t recommend it.
What brand of court shoes do I recommend for beginners? I’m a big fan of the Express Light Pickleball Shoe from K-Swiss. I’ve worn many pairs over the years. Another good brand and one that excels in durability is Asics. The Asics Gel RENMA pickleball shoe is very highly rated and I’d recommend it to anyone looking for their first court shoe for pickleball.
Chances are, if you’re planning on playing outdoors, you’ll either be playing on a tennis court with pickleball lines laid down on it or on a standalone, dedicated outdoor pickleball court. In either scenario, then the net will already be provided for you.
But, if you’re playing in your driveway or neighborhood, a portable pickleball net will be necessary. A standard pickleball net should be 22 feet across, 36 inches high at the posts, and 34 inches down the middle so, all portable regulation nets accommodate these specifications.
Fun fact: Tennis nets are slightly higher than pickleball nets for a reason.
But again, if you’re just learning to play pickleball, then buying a portable net isn’t something you’ll need to do. I’d recommend heading to your local park or wherever there are tennis courts to see if they have stand-alone pickleball courts or tennis courts with pickleball court lines laid down within the tennis court.
If you’re looking for my recommendation for a quality portable pickleball net you can set up in your driveway in just 10 minutes, then I recommend the Portable Pickleball Net from PickleNet. This is the one my family sets up and plays with every Summer. It’s super easy!
Overall, you don’t need much to start playing pickleball, and it won’t cost you a whole lot to get started either.
Consider purchasing a good pair of court shoes to go along with your paddle. Paddle features such as shape and weight can be subjective and come down to personal preference so I recommend making sure the item is returnable so you can try multiple versions.
When you boil it all down, all you need is a good medium weight paddle, decent court shoes and the proper ball based on indoor or outdoor use. I hope this article has answered your question “what do you need to play pickleball” and has given you some great recommendations on where to start for beginner level gear. Now off you go!