Football is a surprisingly versatile sport when you consider the ways in which it can be played. For example, what usually comes to mind is probably professional or college football and players with helmets, padding, and all the necessary equipment. Or maybe you think of high school football or a neighborhood league. But you can also play flag football in the park, touch football on the beach, or just toss the ball around in the backyard.
Football Buying Guide
Most footballs have four panels, eight lacings, and two white stripes. But some are neon-colored. Some have ridges. Some are weatherproof and some need to be cared for. There’s even a football that syncs with your smartphone to keep track of stats and progress. While a football might seem like an easy thing to buy, there are actually a few key things to consider.
Footballs are typically made from three different materials: leather, composites, or foam. There are pros and cons to each.
Leather is what official National Football League (NFL) balls are made of. The leather is put through a special tanning process that makes them tacky and easier to grip. They’re of the highest quality and will last a long time if you care for them the right way. They have the most effective grip and are what modern football gloves are made for.
Initially, they’ll need some polishing right out of the box to get the grip to where it should be. If you want to make sure your leather football lasts a long time, you’ll have to apply a leather conditioner occasionally, keep it clean, and store it somewhere with good ventilation that’s not too hot or cold.
Make sure the leather doesn’t crack or dry out. Some leather footballs are water-resistant and can be used in the rain, but make sure to let them dry completely before putting them into a bag. They’ll need to air out a bit.
While most leather footballs can stand some water exposure, it’s probably not a good idea to play with one where it will be exposed to water for extended periods of time, like in a pool or in the water at the beach. Leather footballs are intended to be used on turf or grass.
Composite footballs are basically made of fake leather. They vary in quality, some can look and feel almost identical to leather and some will be a little less refined. Composite footballs don’t require the upkeep that leather ones do and are much more tolerant to water and weather.
They’re not as expensive as leather footballs, but the quality isn’t quite as high. The material is textured, making it easy to grip, but they usually don’t handle very well when they’re wet unless they have an additional special coating.
They’re more durable than leather footballs and can take a little more rough play.
Foam footballs are a bit different from the other kind. They’re not typically used in any sort of official capacity as most leagues and schools prefer real leather or composite.
But they are ideal for kids or just for a game of catch in the yard. They’re soft, inexpensive, and completely water-friendly. Foam footballs are a great choice for kids just learning how to throw and catch. They’re soft and forgiving so there’s less chance of injury.
Size is important because, in order to throw the ball effectively and achieve a good spiral, you have to be able to get a firm grip on it. There are a few size options when it comes to footballs. Footballs that are labeled “official size” are the same weight and dimensions as the balls used in the NFL or NCAA.
Other footballs might be adult-sized but not conform to the exact measurements of the official footballs. They also make youth balls and pee wee balls for little kids who are just learning how to play. These balls are the perfect size for smaller hands to learn how to throw a spiral.
There are some nice options available on some footballs. You can get one with your favorite professional or college sports team’s logo on it. Some footballs glow in the dark and others have blank, flat white panels to collect autographs on. Some brands will even laser print your name, jersey number, or phrase onto a ball when you order it.
Footballs have even started being equipped with advanced technology, using an app on your smartphone to let you know how much your gameplay has improved.
You don’t necessarily need any of these things to play a successful game, but a few of the features available might be something you never thought you could find on a football and could be perfect for you or as a gift for a football lover.
One thing to note; autographed balls were not included in this list as it focuses on footballs used for playing. The white part of an autograph ball is meant to be signed by the athlete and then usually put on display and generally not played with.
Like anything else, you don’t always need to go with the more expensive brand name when buying a football, but the quality is typically higher than generic or unrecognized brands. How much you want to pay and what brand to buy depend on who is using the ball and what they’re using it for.
For example, it might not be a good idea to give your child an official game ball for his birthday and your spouse a neon foam football as a gift.
Keep in mind that if you’re going to play hard with it, the ball will get more wear and tear. A cheaper brand might need replacing more often, but if it’s going to be used primarily by children, you might need to replace it every season anyway. Find a balance between quality and cost and pick the one that makes the most sense for you.
Once you’ve considered all of these things, you should have a good idea of what kind of football is a good fit and be able to find an appropriate option from our selections.
Best Football Reviews
This is an official game ball of the NFL with deep texture for enhanced grip. It has a three-ply VPU bladder and strong double lacing. Because it is the official size and weight of an NFL game ball and bears the signature stamp of the NFL commissioner, this ball is more expensive than an average football. But it’s strong, durable, and the perfect choice for a die-hard NFL fan.
It should be noted that, because this ball is leather, it will require some care immediately out of the box. The ball won’t look like a standard game ball when you first get it, it will look more dull and pale.
This is normal. Care instructions are included which will instruct you on how to use water, a brush, and pressure to restore the tacky grip and get it to that familiar brown color. Some red dye will come off during this process, so be sure to use an old towel or something disposable when completing this process.
- Official NFL game ball
- Strong and durable
- High quality
- Requires initial care and ongoing maintenance to properly care for leather
- Should not expose to water for long periods of time
2. Spalding Advance Pro Football
We like the Advance Pro for its overall versatility. It’s pretty cheap at under $25 but offers a lot for your dollar. It’s made of a composite material but it’s soft-grip and it has a foam backing that provides a better grip!
It’s official size and offers TRP lacing. It’s a good option for a variety of weather conditions and I’d use this ball in a second if I know it’ll get wet from rain, snow or dew … or even a dunk in a lake or river. It’s got pretty decent ratings on Amazon but full disclosure here – this is one ball that my team did not test in person. We only did a bit of research to make sure we were not recommending a dud!
- More affordable leather options
- Really good grip with TPR lace, composite laminate and foam backing
- No made to the same standards as a leather game ball
This offering from Nike is a favorite of quarterbacks. With its proprietary leather cover and tacky finish, it’s easy to hold on to. It has a spiral design to help get better height and distance along with more accurate aiming.
It’s a great ball in most weather conditions and it maintains its shaps and holds air very well. The TPU bladder maximizes air and shape retention for the best and most consistent performance.
This is a good all-around ball because it’s a good price, it’s easy to catch and easy to throw. It’s a simple, straightforward ball that is great for most situations and it comes at a reasonable price.
- Good grip
- Easy to throw
- Official regulation football
- Not leather
The XEDGE composite leather football gives players a heck of a lot for around $25. The moisture-absorbing PU (polyurethane) composite cover offers a really soft and tacky feel that we all love! The Butyl bladder gives it a long-lasting air retention ability and the double leather lacing offers exceptional grip.
The catch is that this ball is not really made for gameplay, but for recreation or training.
Available in official, youth and junior sizes, this XEDGE is one of the better values we’ve found.
We really like the aesthetics that offer “just the right amount” of gold trim to give it a higher-end feel and look. It seems to be balanced well and that’s a big deal for a ball that costs less than $30 but looks like it could be an official NFL or NCAA ball!
- Great looks
- Soft and tacky
- Not a competition ball
The Wilson NFL Super Grip Official Football is one of the brand’s lower-cost options. It’s top of the line Wilson quality at a great price. This one is an official NFL sized ball and even has NFL branding on it. It’s high quality, composite leather construction is extremely durable and it has a multi-layered lining to help it maintain its shape.
This ball has a good grip, but it doesn’t have the same feel as a real leather ball or even some other composite balls.
The grip wears quicker than it will on other composite balls, but it’s such a good price that it won’t be too financially burdensome to get another one. This would be a good ball for kids or to take on a trip. It most likely won’t last for more than one or two seasons, but it’s still a great ball for the price.
- Lower cost Wilson brand option
- Looks expensive
- Not real leather
- Only lasts one or two seasons
The UA 495 Composite ball is a good value for anyone looking for a well-featured ball without a $50 price tag. This ball features UA Gripskin technology that enables maximum grip (tack) and it has a 2-ply foam backing for a softer feel.
A proprietary “Grabtack” lace with micro-abrasion offers players 107% more grip than normal laces, and it’s supposed to maintain that level of grip even in less than ideal conditions including rain or snow. The composite cover offers lots of grip as well! Remember, this is NOT a junior-sized ball, so if you’re looking for one of those, check out the UA 295 Composite!
It’s a regulation-sized football so it’s large and may not fit the small hands of younger children, but the enhanced grip makes it a little easier for them to catch and hang on to than some other footballs. It’s not real leather, but you’d never really know. It arrives in the packaging inflated and ready to go. There’s no special care required for this ball, you can open the package and take it right to the beach to play.
- Good grip
- All-weather durability
- Not real leather
This ball holds some impressive statistics and that’s why it’s over $80 while many others are a third of that price! It happens to be the most widely used game ball in the United States of America – PERIOD! It’s the official ball of the NCAA (which has a lot more teams than the NFL) and it’s used by nearly 70% of all high school and college teams in America. That’s a popular ball!
GST is the absolute softest leather on the market (It also stands for Goods and Services Tax which is Canada’s national tax, but that’s another issue altogether!!). It has a very specific and distinct feel to it and the color is a very specific light brown. Because of its softness and tack, the GST Game ball is really easy to control.
The two white stripes are NOT PAINTED on like most, but are in fact a composite material that is SEWN onto the ball and it provides 82% more grip. The lacing itself is pebbled and that’s unusual. It’s called Accurate Control Lacing (ACL) which (according to Wilson) provides 174% more grip in every condition.
It’s made fully right here in the USA (in Ada, Ohio actually).
- Softest leather outer skin on planet earth
- Approved by NCAA, NFHS
- Most widely used game ball in the United States of America!
- 4.6 out of 5 rating on Amazon
- Some users complained about the inconsistency of their construction (ie. different leathers on different quarters, slippery surface, hard to throw spirals, doesn’t hold up, etc.)
- Definitely more expensive than recreation balls
8. POOF Spiral Football
Here’s a fun entry on our list! It’s obviously not for serious practice or competition. It’s a fun ball that can contribute to your kid(s) maintaining interest in the game through the year and in casual/recreational settings.
The POOF foam football has grooves in it for better grip so it can be thrown more accurately. This ball is a great way to introduce someone to the game because it’s lightweight, easy to throw, and not so heavy that it will hurt to catch. Because it’s foam, it’s safe to play with anywhere – in the pool or in the ocean that beach. It’s also a great ball to use for indoor school sports programs or gym classes.
Because it’s made of foam, it won’t hold up very well to wear and tear. It could easily tear or be ripped apart if a young child or pet gets a hold of it. You may not even get one season out of this ball, but it’s exceptionally affordable and won’t cost much to replace.
- Safe for water play
- Will need frequent replacing
Here’s a bit of an unusual entry to our list this year. It’s virtually identical to our ball at #7. It has all the most coveted features like real GST leather, official qualities of all the NCAA college official game balls, softness, ACL laces, and the list goes on! THE ONLY DIFFERENCE that we’ve found is that the white stripes on this ball are painted on rather than composite material which is sewn on for the official ball (the Wilson GST NCAA game ball).
So, the difference is about $30 between these two balls and that price is the difference between getting sewn-on stripes or painted stripes. Your call!
We thought we’d like to include this ball since it’s just as good but a good deal less expensive and makes sense for most athletes who spend far more time “practicing” or “training” or even “goofing around” rather than playing. This is YOUR ball!
- Has all features of the official NCAA GST leather game ball other than the stripes
- For the small difference of sewn stripes or painted stripes, you pay $30 less
- Not much on this one except if you REALLY, REALLY need to have sewn-on composite material stripes!
Conclusion & Recommendations
That’s the list of our nine best footballs of this year! Once you figure out the way you’re going to play, you’ll be able to see which one is the best fit for you.
If you’re looking for a high quality, real leather option that’s an official ball of the NFL, then the Wilson “The Duke” Official Game Ball is a great choice. But If you want a real leather ball that’s a little less pricey, the Spalding TF-Gold Varsity Top Grain Leather Full Size Premium Football is a great choice.
There are a lot of great options for composite leather balls. The Nike Spiral Tech 3.0 Official Football is billed as a quarterback’s favorite thanks to its good grip and how easy it is to throw. The Spalding J5V Advance Composite Leather Football is great for even the coldest, wettest weather. The Wilson NFL Super Grip Official Football is a reasonably priced option from one of the top brands with great grip and multiple layered lining to help it maintain its shape and last a long time.
The Under Armour Gripskin 625 Football is the perfect ball for the beach thanks to its Spongetech cover that gives it exceptional grip. The Poof Spiral Football is a foam ball that’s perfect for the beach, too, and is so inexpensive, it won’t be a problem to replace it if it gets lost or damaged.
If you want to take it up a notch, the Wilson X Connected Football syncs to a smartphone app and can not only give you stats about your throw but can also keep track of eight profiles so you can play against your friends.
As you can see, there are a lot of different options when it comes to choosing a football. Use this list to help you figure out which is the best one for you.