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Everything you need to play pickleball

Experts share what you need in your pickleball starter kit
Described as a cross between tennis, badminton and ping pong, you’ll need a paddle, balls, supportive sneakers and a gear bag.
Described as a cross between tennis, badminton and ping pong, you’ll need a paddle, balls, supportive sneakers and a gear bag.Getty Images

When I first heard about pickleball, I was skeptical. Did I really want to play a sport with a sandwich condiment in its name? Why couldn’t I just play tennis? It became impossible, however, to ignore the frenzy around the game. So, when a pal invited me to play a game with her, I decided to check it out — and promptly fell in love. 

I was not the only one falling in love with the sport. The Association of Pickleball Professionals told CNBC that more than 36.5 million people played the game from August 2021 to August 2022. I grew to appreciate the sport so much that I actually spent some time working at a pickleball magazine, interviewing top-ranking players, talking to celebrities about the love of the game, researching the best spots to play and more. One thing I learned: Having the right gear to play matters.  

SKIP AHEAD The best pickleball essentials of 2023  | How to shop for pickleball essentials

If you are new to pickleball, you may not even know what gear you need. With that in mind, I spoke to experts on what people need in their pickleball starter kit. Ahead, find out the type of things they said you need, along with highly-rated options to shop. 

Our top picks

How we picked the best pickleball essentials

To compile guidance on the gear you need to play pickleball, we spoke with two pickleball coaches. While there are a variety of products out there, when it comes to playing the game, there are only a few things you truly need. They recommended focusing on the following items: 

  • Paddles: A pickleball paddle is rectangular and larger than a ping pong paddle but smaller than a tennis ball racket. The ideal material for a paddle is carbon, graphite or plastic, says Calvin Keeney, a pickleball coach at the Austin Tennis and Pickleball Center in Austin, Texas. Though you can find wooden and aluminum options, Keeney suggests staying away from those as they are heavier and more prone to quick wear and tear. He also advises that you look for models that are approved by the USA Pickleball Association (USAPA), the national governing body for the sport, which provides players with official rules, tournaments and rankings. In terms of price, Keeney says that you can find great options for under $100, so we focused on models under that price point. 
  • Balls: Will you be playing on an indoor court or outdoors? The answer to this question will dictate what type of balls you need. “Indoor pickleballs have larger and fewer holes,” says Andrew Felsenthal, racquet sports leader at Life Time Peachtree Corners in Georgia. “Outdoor balls tend to be heavier so that they can manage the elements better — like wind and court surface.” We included both types on our list.
  • Shoes: You may be tempted to just throw on your old running shoes to hit the court, but Felsenthal suggests investing in a pair of shoes specifically made for pickleball. “I’ve seen a lot of pickleballers play in running shoes and injure their ankles,” he says. “Keep in mind, while playing pickleball, we move in every direction (with a lot of quick, explosive change of direction) while running shoes are designed to primarily move forward.”
  • Bags: Though not a necessity, a pickleball bag can keep all your stuff organized as you come and go from the court. Along with your shoes, paddle and balls, our experts said that a good bag has room for a water bottle.

The best pickleball essentials in 2023

Our experts agreed that the ideal pickleball starter kit includes a paddle, pickleballs, sneakers made specifically for the court and a bag. Below, find highly-rated products in each of those categories that contain features our experts recommended. 

The best pickleball paddles

Onix Graphite Z5 Carbon Fiber Pickleball Paddle

This USAPA-approved option is crafted from graphite and fiberglass and is considered to be a midweight paddle. Lightweight paddles (7.3 ounces and lighter) and heavy paddles (8.3 ounces and up) are thought to be better for experienced players, as they require more finesse. Midweight paddles (anything between 7.3 and 8.3 ounces) are beginner-friendly because they balance speed, control and power, according to the USAPA. The handle also offers contoured cushioning for a more comfortable grip, according to the brand. This paddle has a 4.6-star average from over 4,600 reviews on Amazon.    

Material: Graphite and fiberglass | Weight: 8.2 ounces | Grip size: 4.25 inches | USAPA-approved: Yes 

Paddletek Phoenix G6 Pickleball Paddle

Felsenthal cites Paddletek as a brand that makes solid paddles for all levels of pickleball players. The USAPA-approved paddle is made from a graphite polymer composite and has a slim guard around the edge to help absorb the shock of the ball, according to the brand. Paddletek also notes that the grip is high-tack to help it not slip out of sweaty hands and the paddle has a velvet texture to provide better traction and spin control. 

Material: Graphite polymer composite | Weight: 8.1 ounces | Grip size: 5 inches | USAPA-approved: Yes 

Nettie Pickleball Co Classic Paddle

I’ve been using this paddle for nearly two years and love the way it feels in my hand. The carbon fiber paddle is lightweight and the cushioned vegan leather handle is perforated, so my grip never gets sweaty. Nettie Pickleball Co is a female-owned business and all of their paddles are named after places that are meaningful to the founders. I have The Bedford, which is named for a neighborhood in Brooklyn where one of the founders lived for years. Other options include The Bainbridge (named after the place in Washington where pickleball started), The Ashbury (named after the Haight-Ashbury neighborhood of San Francisco) and The Pendleton (named after a neighborhood in Cincinnati where the company is located). 

Material: Carbon fiber | Weight: 8 ounces | Grip size: 4.25 inches | USAPA-approved: Yes 

The best pickleballs

Franklin Sports X-40 Outdoor Pickleballs

When shopping for pickleballs, you want to make sure they are a color that contrasts the court, says Felsenthal. The higher the contrast, the better you will be able to keep your eye on the ball as it flies back and forth over the net. These outdoor balls from Franklin come in a variety of bright colors and have no seams, which makes them more durable, according to the brand. These balls have a 4.7-star average from over 13,700 reviews on Amazon. 

Indoor or outdoor: Outdoor | Color: Optic yellow, ember, lava and pink | Pack size: 3, 12, 36, 100 or 400

Pckl Optic Speed Pickleballs

These are my pickleballs of choice. I like that the brand makes an indoor or outdoor version and that there are five colors to choose from. I find that these balls have great bounce when they hit the court and they are incredibly durable — a single pack has lasted me through well over 50 games.   

Indoor or outdoor: Both | Color: Ice blue (indoor), orange (indoor), navy and neon duotone (outdoor), neon green (outdoor) and yellow (outdoor) | Pack size: 4

The best pickleball sneakers

Skechers Men’s Viper Court-Athletic Indoor Outdoor Pickleball Shoes with Arch Fit

Felsenthal says that Sketchers are a solid choice for pickleball sneakers. According to the brand, these shoes have rubber soles to provide traction for indoor and outdoor courts and come in a medium or extra-wide width for comfort. The mesh upper is constructed to be breathable and to support the ankle as someone pivots and runs across the court, says Skechers. 

Men’s or women’s: Men’s | Colors: Black/red, white 2, white/black, yellow/navy, white/navy, black/gold, grey/orange 2 | Size range: 7 — 14

K-Swiss Women’s Express Light Pickleball Shoe

I wear these shoes when I play and they weigh just under 10 ounces and feel super light as you race across the court to hit a ball. They provide great ankle support and are constructed with a breathable mesh so my feet never get sweaty. The rubber sole provides good traction and the rubber extends up towards the footbed in places you’re likely to drag your foot when trying to make a shot to protect the mesh and prevent excessive wear and tear. 

Men’s or women’s: Women’s | Colors: Highrise/white, asphalt/steel gray/peach, Aruba blue/Maui blue/soft neon pink, black iris/blue glow/white, coral blush/white/metallic rose | Size range: 5 — 12

The best pickleball bags

Mangrove Pickleball Backpack

“When considering a pickleball bag, look at several factors: size, quality and extra pockets for storage,” says Felsenthal. This backpack slings across your back and has an adjustable strap to accommodate whichever side you’d like to wear it on. The main compartment is big enough to fit two paddles and there are three other smaller zippered compartments that are accessible from the outside of the back that can be used to store your water bottle, wallet and other personal items. This bag has a 4.8-star average from over 1,440 reviews on Amazon.

Bag style: Backpack | Material: Polyester | Dimensions: ‎19.3 x 15 x 7.7 inches | Colors: Green, black, gray/pink

Ame and Lulu Hamptons Pickleball Duffel Bag

My go-to bag for heading to the pickleball court, this bag is both stylish and functional. It has dual top handles but also comes with a shoulder strap if you prefer that method of carrying it. Inside the large main area of the bag are two interior mesh water bottle pockets, two interior slip pockets and an interior zip pocket. There is also a small exterior zippered pocket to store small personal items (like your keys or a tube of lip balm). There’s also a paddle pocket affixed to the outside of the bag that keeps your paddle safe, secure and easily accessible. 

Bag style: Tote | Material: Canvas | Dimensions: ‎18 x 12 x 6 inches | Colors: Two-tone blue, blueberry, white

Franklin Sports Pickleball Sling Bag

The official bag of the U.S. Open Pickleball Championship, this sling backpack is ideal for those who need lots of room to store stuff. This bag fits up to six paddles, two cans of balls and more, according to the brand. Along with the large main compartment, it has two smaller zippered pockets to store other necessities like a water bottle, a sweat rag and your personal items. It also has a built-in hook so you can hang it on the fence surrounding the court, says Franklin. This bag has a 4.7-star average from over 4,200 reviews on Amazon. 

Bag style: Backpack | Material: Polyester | Dimensions: ‎18.5 x 13 x 8 inches | Colors: Gray/blue, black/green, gray/gray, gray/pink, white/gold

How to shop for pickleball essentials

Finding the right paddle for you

If you are new to the game, both of our experts agree that there is no need to spend a ton of money on a paddle. “I always tell my club members, let’s make sure you love the game prior to splurging on a paddle,” says Felsenthal. Keeney points out that there are a ton of great paddles under $100 on the market. Keeney also suggests selecting a paddle that is approved by the USAPA. All of the paddles we feature above meet this requirement. You can also access a list of approved paddles on the USAPA’s website. The USAPA’s equipment evaluation committee (EEC) consists of two people with engineering backgrounds and a long history with pickleball and they put paddles on the list through rigorous testing before approving them. 

In addition to price and USAPA approval, here are the other most important considerations when it comes to shopping for a pickleball paddle:   

Paddle weight: Pickleball paddles range in weight from about six ounces to 14 ounces. For beginners, the USAPA suggests a midweight paddle, which weighs between 7.3 and 8.3 ounces. Lightweight options will give you more agility but can be hard to control your swing, whereas heavier options can add power to your swing but are more likely to tire out the arm of someone who is new to the game.

Grip size: Before shopping for a paddle, you’ll want to know your grip size. “Playing with a paddle that has an inappropriate grip size for your hand is like wearing a running shoe that doesn’t fit,” says Felsenthal. “You should be able to comfortably grip your paddle without any strain on your hand or wrist.”  A paddle’s grip size number refers to handle circumference, which tends to range from four to five inches, and it is usually printed on the packaging or called out in online shopping details. To determine your grip size you should measure the distance from the top of your ring finger to the bottom lateral crease of your hand (this is the middle crease on your palm). 

Material: Skip paddles made from wood or aluminum — aluminum paddles tend to feel too heavy and wooden paddles are more prone to quick wear and tear, Keeney says. Graphite, carbon or plastic are better options. Fiberglass and polymer, two types of plastic, are the most common materials that are used because they are lightweight and sturdy. Carbon fiber and graphite (a type of carbon fiber) are also fairly common. These materials tend to be very stiff and durable, according to our experts. 

Choosing your pickleballs

Where you are playing will dictate the type of pickleballs you need. If you plan to play outside, you’ll want outdoor balls. These balls tend to be heavier with fewer holes so they can withstand the elements, says Felsenthal. Indoor balls are lighter, bouncier and have more holes that are also larger, he adds. In my experience, when an outdoor ball wears out, it tends to crack. When an indoor ball is past its prime, it gets really soft and loses its bounce.

Shoes with the right kind of support

Running shoes are great for running. They are designed to move forward, but in pickleball there’s a lot of side-to-side motion and pivoting — so you need a shoe that is constructed to support your ankles and prevent them from rolling, says Felsenthal. In other words, skip the running shoes and consider sneakers specifically made for pickleball. Felsenthal notes that shoes crafted to play tennis or racquet ball will also work.

Making sure your bag protects your gear

A gear bag can protect your paddle and make traveling to and from the court easier. Most bags made specifically for the sport have a sleeve or compartment for your paddle. This prevents it from getting scratched by other items you may be carrying or dinged if you throw your bag on the ground too hard. Then, Felsenthal suggests looking for a bag that has a few other compartments for necessary items — such as your wallet and keys, a water bottle and a sweat rag. Size also matters —you want something that will fit everything you need, but don’t want to load it up with unnecessary items. “I try not to choose a bag that’s too large as I will tend to overload it with junk,” Felsenthal says. “There’s no need for added weight in your pickleball bag when that will just add tension and fatigue to your shoulders and back when lugging it around.” 

Meet our experts

At Select, we work with experts who have specialized knowledge and authority based on relevant training and/or experience. We also take steps to ensure all expert advice and recommendations are made independently and without undisclosed financial conflicts of interest.

Why trust Select?

Bethany Heitman is a contributor at NBC Select and a journalist who regularly covers topics like beauty, home and lifestyle. For this story, she interviewed two experts to gather their guidance on what to look for when shopping for pickleball essentials.

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