Three best footballs

Allen Foster

According to NFL guidelines, before a game, both teams must bring 24 footballs to be inspected by officials.

Unless you're a kicker or punter, your foot doesn't even touch it. And with its odd shape, looking like an elongated sphere that's pinched at both ends, can you even call it a "ball"? It has other more colorful and impressive-sounding nicknames, such as the "ole pigskin" or "The Duke," but for some strange reason, we prefer to call it a football.

Football also happens to be America's favorite sport. Whether you have a gifted child who aspires to be a gridiron hero or you just enjoy tossing the ball occasionally, you need a football (or two) to call your own. But how do you know what to look for when shopping for one?

BestReviews is here to help. This guide has everything you need to know about choosing a football that's right for your needs, including how it's made, what it's made of, and which size is best for you. We've even included a few of our favorites to help you narrow down the field.

Considerations when choosing footballs

Football construction and costs

Footballs are made of four identical panels, each of which looks like a two-dimensional football. The four panels are stitched together, leaving an opening for the laces on the last seam. A polyurethane bladder is inserted in the stitched panels and inflated slightly. The football is laced tightly, placed in a protective canister, and over-inflated for about 90 seconds to smooth out the seams and mold the ball into shape. It is then brought back to normal pressure, removed from the canister, and brushed clean.

Size: Since footballs are handmade, the sizes are not exact, not even for official NFL footballs. NFL footballs are approximately 11 inches long, with a circumference of roughly 21 or 22 inches at the widest spot. Each weighs between 14 and 15 ounces and must be inflated to between 12.5 to 13.5 pounds per square inch. Official footballs are best for ages 14 and above. There are three other sizes of footballs: pee-wee, for players ages 6 to 9; junior, for players ages 9 to 12; and youth, for players ages 12 to 14.

Besides air and stitches, there are only three main parts to a football: the laces, the bladder, and the covering.

Laces: The eight laces on a football serve two purposes: they hold the football together and provide a gripping area for throwing. Most laces are made of polyvinyl chloride (PVC).

Bladder: The bladder is the inflatable part inside the football. It's made of rubber or an artificial rubber called polyurethane. Polyurethane has a higher resistance to cuts and tears than rubber.

Covering: The skin covering the bladder of a football is crucial in the football's design. It must be textured so the football can be thrown and caught, as well as durable enough hold up to the rigors of gameplay. Footballs are covered with rubber, composite, or leather.

Rubber: Rubber is both waterproof and easy to grip. It is also inexpensive, making it a good choice for recreational activities. Price: Most rubber footballs cost somewhere between $5 and $10.

Composite: Composite footballs are weather resistant and can be fashioned for improved grip and durability. However, if you're playing at or above the high school level, the composite balls will likely be relegated to practice. Price: These footballs range from about $10 to $25.

Leather: Leather is used in the highest-grade and most expensive footballs. Football leather is tanned to make it more durable, as well as tacky to make it easier to grip. Water-resistant leather footballs are suitable for use outdoors and in wet conditions. Price: Decent quality leather footballs start at around $50 or $60, but if you've got the budget, you could spend $100 per ball.

Foam: There is one more football option made of solid foam. It doesn't fit in with the other considerations because it doesn't have a bladder, a covering, or laces. A solid foam football is soft, lightweight, and inexpensive but not very durable. It's ideal for young children or tossing at the beach or at a tailgate party. Price: Foam footballs cost about $5.


Q. Why is a football called a "pigskin" if it's made of rubber, composite, or leather?

A. In the early days of the game, a football was made by inflating an animal bladder, typically, the bladder of a pig. As the design of the football evolved, the bladder was covered in leather, giving the bladder a sort of skin. It's widely believed that this is why the term pigskin caught on.

Q. Why is the football such an odd shape?

A. According to numerous sources, such as the Smithsonian Institution, footballs were never meant to be such a curious shape. Because the football needed to be reinflated several times during a game, and it was difficult to get an animal bladder to inflate properly, the ball was often put back in play when it was still misshapen. Over the years, the design became intentional and was ultimately refined to evolve into the shape it is today.

Q. What's the purpose of wearing football gloves?

A. Football gloves serve several purposes on the field. Superficially, they help protect a player's hands from cuts and scratches. Additionally, some thicker gloves can help protect hands from the elements, such as rain and cold. Ideally, a glove should be thin enough to allow players to feel the football in their hands while providing an enhanced grip so receivers can make those spectacular one-handed catches.

Footballs we recommend

Best of the best: Wilson: Ultimate Composite NFL Junior Football

Our take: A great textured football designed for junior players that's manufactured by the most reputable name in footballs.

What we like: Constructed using affordable yet durable composite leather. Both the leather and the laces feature a pebbled surface that makes the football easier to grip and throw.

What we dislike: Since it's designed to be fun for 9 to 12 year olds, there's nothing we dislike about this football.

Best bang for your buck: Wilson: NFL Super Grip Football

Our take: An affordably priced, official-size football that's designed for high school, college, and adult players.

What we like: This football is manufactured using a tacky composite to enhance the grip. The price makes it a great choice, especially if you need to purchase a number of footballs for a team or school.

What we dislike: A few of the footballs have experienced air loss that's a little higher than typical during rigorous play.

Choice 3: Wilson: NCAA Composite Football

Our take: A high-quality football for the serious pee-wee player.

What we like: This football features the same design as NCAA footballs, but it's constructed with a composite leather that feels softer in the player's hands. It's sized to fit small hands yet durable enough for rugged play.

What we dislike: Because this isn't a bargain-priced football, it might be more than you want to spend if your child is just starting out in the game.

Allen Foster is a writer for BestReviews. BestReviews is a product review company with a singular mission: to help simplify your purchasing decisions and save you time and money. BestReviews never accepts free products from manufacturers and purchases every product it reviews with its own funds.

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