Time for a new volleyball?
We’ve also laid out some key things to consider when buying, helping you pick the best ball for your specific needs.
Soft Play Volleyball
Best Beach Volleyballs
First, we’ll review the 4 best beach/outdoor volleyballs you can buy in 2021.
- Mikasa VLS300 Volleyball
- Spalding King of the Beach Volleyball
- Wilson Soft Play Outdoor Volleyball
- Wilson AVP Official Beach Volleyball
If you’re after indoor volleyballs instead, click here.
This ball is designed for serious players – it’s the official ball of USA volleyball, and the official volleyball of the FIVB and the Olympic games.
The VLS300 can withstand the punishing spikes of the pros, so it’s durable enough for just about any beach matchup. Indeed, it’s completely water-resistant, and the double-cloth backing ensures it won’t lose its shape over time, no matter how hard you use this ball.
But it isn’t just durable – this beach volleyball is fantastic to play with as well. The soft composite leather cover has a grippy texture, and the distinctive 10-panel design makes it easier to be accurate when passing and spiking, since it’s slightly rounder than an 18-panel ball.
Remember, for professional-level beach volleyball, they don’t just use any old ball. This thing is engineered to be one of the best beach volleyballs that money can buy.
However, this level of control and durability doesn’t come cheap. Expect to pay a decent premium for the VLS300.
While you might not quite be royalty yourself, this ball will give you a good shot at becoming the reigning champ on the beach.
This is the official volleyball of its namesake – the King of the Beach tour, as well as the USA Beach Tour. Designed for top-level beach play, it comes with a super-tough construction. It’s designed to withstand water, sandblasting, concrete, and just about anything it could encounter in outdoor play.
Even slippery conditions won’t stop you from making good contact. The wide seams and 18-panel construction provide great grip and control, so the ball won’t slip when wet.
If you’re looking for a super weather-resistant ball that plays well in all conditions (including on concrete), this is your best bet.
However, what we really like about this beach volleyball is the soft-touch leather cover. It feels great to play with, but isn’t too soft – making digging and spiking especially satisfying.
It’s worth mentioning though that the seams are wider than on most other balls, which you do notice when playing. You do get used to this over time.
This ball is the perfect choice if you’re looking for something that won’t involve ending the day with stinging forearms.
Wilson’s Soft Play is meant for families and casual players, because it’s really easy to use and has a super-soft surface.
The downside to this softer feel is the ball doesn’t quite feel like a pro-level beach volleyball does. You’ll have to hit it harder to get real pace on your serves and spikes. For serious players, the Wilson AVP is probably a better option.
Although it’s soft, this ball is also durable: the 18-panel shell is machine sewn. Meaning, no more worrying about stitches coming out over time.
The internals are also well-designed. Wilson’s bladder does a fantastic job maintaining its shape, especially considering that the outer shell has so much give to it.
Best of all, it’s very reasonably priced, and even comes with that all-white Top Gun look.
PriceCheck on Amazon
Wilson’s answer to the Spalding King of the Beach volleyball has many of the same features. But it also has a few more tricks up its sleeve.
Like the King of the Beach, the AVP is great in basically any weather conditions. However, it doesn’t have major gaps in the seams, making for a fantastic-feeling ball.
Speaking of feel, the response of this volleyball is almost to die for. It provides the perfect amount of spring, without feeling like a super high-bounce ball. If you love to spike, you’ll love this ball.
Because it performs so well, the AVP is pricey, but not quite as expensive as some other pro-level beach volleyballs.
In addition to looking nice, the patterned design provides excellent spin and flight path detection, even when you’re dealing with glare. As a result, you can more accurately predict where the ball is headed and position yourself to get there in time, making it easier to set up a killer return.
Best Indoor Volleyballs
Next, we’ll take a look at some of the best indoor volleyballs on the market in 2021.
- Tachikara SensiTec Volleyball
- Molten FLISTATEC Volleyball
- Mikasa VQ2000 Volleyball
- Molten L2 Competition Volleyball
If you’re concerned about the visibility of your ball in-flight, then this is a great option. Available in over 30 different color combinations, the SensiTec is vibrant enough that you’ll never miss it on tough backdrops (like a cheering crowd!).
Tachikara have engineered incredibly low-profile seams, resulting in minuscule gaps and giving you a nice feel for the ball. As a competition-grade indoor volleyball, the SensiTec plays great – it has a nice springy shell which isn’t too hard on the hands.
In addition, the ball features Tachikara’s “loose bladder” construction. This allows a thin layer of air to circulate between the inside bladder and the layer of canvas reinforcement panels that support the outside cover. This system further improves the response of the ball, and ensures it has a 360-degree sweet spot – no matter where you touch the ball, the surface feels the same.
The downside of this construction is that if the bladder gets damaged over time, the ball can wobble a bit in flight. Overall however, the SensiTec is a durable ball, and this issue is quite a rare occurrence.
Molten has taken in-flight consistency to the next level with this indoor volleyball.
The outer shell of the FLISTATEC is designed to use in-flight air currents around the ball to keep it stable and reduce turbulence. This ensures that your sets and overhand passes are more accurate – no more “knuckle” or wobble in flight.
Essentially, this technology works because of the textured cover. Since the ball is less slippery, there’s less tendency for the air currents to lose their “grip” on the ball and have it drop or move suddenly. Plus, this design also offers you better grip as a player, making it easier to make a solid contact on the ball.
The cover also boasts an iconic panel design that results in smoother-looking spin. The panels’ contrasting colors make the ball easily visible in-flight, though it’s only available in two color combinations.
As an NCAA-approved indoor volleyball, this official ball comes with a more traditional bladder design than the Tachikara SensiTec we just looked at. As a result, you don’t have to worry about balance issues. This ball is so durable in fact that it comes with a 2-year warranty for indoor use.
There are fancier indoor volleyballs on the market, but if you’re looking for a reasonably-priced ball that will last for years, the VQ2000 is an excellent choice.
The ball’s longevity is thanks to the design of the internals. It’s built around the philosophy of an even weight distribution, meaning, the ball never becomes unbalanced over time. It also has a fabric-wrapped center, providing extra protection for the butyl bladder.
For even greater control, the ultra-soft composite leather cover has a tacky grip that makes it incredibly easy to handle. The ball is soft without being squishy, so you both get comfort and power.
This all combines to make the VQ2000 a great option for the majority of volleyball players. However, while it’s great value for money, the VQ2000 is not quite a competition-level ball. It’s a bit slow in the air, and just doesn’t feel the same as a top-of-the-line indoor volleyball.
The L2 is designed to withstand the rigors of competitive play/practice. It can be thrashed on indoor surfaces, no problem at all. While it’s not quite as well-made as the FLISTATEC, this is a solid, well-designed ball – perfect for youth/high school volleyball players in particular.
While both balls are well-made, the L2 features a cotton-wrapped construction, while the FLISTATEC is nylon-wrapped. Additionally, the L2 ball has a microfiber leather cover, as opposed to the FLISTATEC’s slightly nicer premium composite.
However, the cover still provides an impressively soft touch that takes the sting out of the game, making this ball great for youth volleyball players.
The L2 also features a single-piece butyl bladder. Since there are no seams internally, this bladder stays inflated for absolutely ages. Meaning, no need to grab your pump after each and every game.
Overall, this is a great all-purpose ball that will get the job done, without any extra bells and whistles. It feels pretty good considering what it costs, but isn’t quite up to the standard of the best indoor volleyballs out there.
Volleyball Buyer’s Guide
To help you pick the best volleyball for your game, we’ve outlined a few key factors to consider before buying indoor and outdoor volleyballs.
If you buy the right ball, it’ll last a lifetime. This is why it’s important to consider what you actually need before pulling the trigger.
1. The difference between beach and indoor volleyballs
The first thing to consider is where you’ll be playing. There are some important differences between indoor and outdoor balls.
The difference between indoor and outdoor balls is the materials they’re made of, and how they’re designed.
Indoor volleyballs normally have a dimpled outer, and molded panels. This means the panels are glued to an inner lining, which gives the seams a smooth appearance. Having a smooth surface makes the ball easier to hit accurately, but the bumps/dimples give you enough grip to get a solid contact on the ball.
They’re also usually lighter and softer than outdoor volleyballs. This is because they don’t need to be as durable or as heavy, since they’ll just be hitting a gym floor instead of sand or water, and don’t have to contend with wind.
Thanks to their softer shell and lightweight design, indoor balls are easier on the hands and forearms. This is why they’re a better choice for beginners. However, you need to ensure that the ball can withstand the environment you’ll be playing in.
On the other hand, outdoor volleyballs balls are built to withstand the elements. Since they’re meant to be used outside on surfaces like concrete, dirt, or sand, they’re designed to be incredibly durable.
Unlike an indoor leather volleyball, outdoor balls are made of water-resistant composite materials. This prevents them from getting waterlogged or destroyed if you play in the rain, or if they end up in the ocean.
The surface of the ball is also different on an outdoor volleyball. Instead of being molded, outdoor volleyballs are made up of panels that are sewn together. The stitching adds even more durability, but also makes the ball heavier.
Weight is important for outdoor balls though, because being heavier helps prevent them from blowing in the wind too much. No one wants their perfect ace to be blown just out of bounds.
If you’re going to be practicing with the ball very frequently, an outdoor ball is a good choice regardless of where you’ll be playing because it will last longer. Plus, it will get your arms and wrists used to harder hits, making indoor balls seem tame in comparison.
2. How to find a durable volleyball
Indoor and outdoor volleyball are essentially made of two parts – these are the two main failure points.
- The outer cover. If the seams (whether glued or stitched) begin to come apart, you’re going to be in a lot of trouble. The best volleyballs in terms of durability are normally an official volleyball, approved for competition play. However, getting an official ball will be more expensive. The thing is, if kids are going to be using the ball, or you’ll just be using it casually on occasion, the cover is unlikely to split for a number of years at least. But it’s much more important to get a volleyball with a tough outer shell if you take your volleyball seriously.
- The bladder of the volleyball is also important. However, when assessing the bladders on different balls, it doesn’t really matter how you’ll be using the ball, since the bladder doesn’t take the brunt of the impacts. If it leaks, it’s very difficult to fix. Look for a single-piece butyl bladder, with no seams for air to potentially begin leaking out of as the ball gets older.
To really see how durable a volleyball is, have a look at reviews from people who have owned and used the specific volleyball for a number of years.
Outdoor volleyballs also tend to be tougher because they have to withstand harsher playing conditions.
3. What weight should I get?
The weight of the ball is important because it affects several aspects of how it plays.
First, a lighter ball will move more slowly in the air, which gives you more time to get into position. This can be especially helpful for beginner volleyball players who are still learning the basics of volleyball.
Secondly, the lighter the ball, the easier it is on the wrists and arms. Again, this is a better choice for more inexperienced or younger players who are still getting used to the force of the ball.
Look for the word “underweight” if you want something a little lighter.
4. What size should I get?
Volleyballs come in different sizes, but if you’re going to be playing in tournaments or school leagues, it’s better to choose a regulation-size ball, even for practice. This will get you used to playing with the correct size.
If you’re just playing for fun, there aren’t any rules about which size you should use. Typically though, the regulation size offers the best volleyball experience.
However, you may want to consider “oversized” volleyballs for younger players under the age of 12, as they’re easier to use.
Here is the official volleyball size chart, based on FIVB regulations, which we’ll discuss more below. Note that outdoor volleyballs may actually be slightly bigger than the average indoor volleyball.
5. Padding and feel of the ball
These days, there are indoor and outdoor volleyballs for sale specifically designed to be extra-soft. Essentially, they’re made for casual volleyball players and kids who don’t want a particularly fast-paced game, or who want to avoid balls that hurt to use.
However, there’s a balance to achieve here. If a ball is too squishy, you’ll struggle to get real power on it.
If you’re a volleyball veteran, you’re probably used to playing with fairly hard volleyballs. Don’t be tempted to go for anything softer, because it will feel slow.
6. Does color matter?
When it comes to volleyballs, volleyball color is more than just an aesthetic consideration.
If you’re playing outdoors in fading light, you’ll want to ensure you can still see the ball. Look for a ball that is as bright as possible – a color like neon yellow or green. These sorts of designs stand out against dark backdrops like the night sky.
White is an option as well, but can get lost in the glare of the sun on occasion.
When playing indoor volleyball, the level of differentiation between the colors used is more important than having a bright ball. This is because you need to be able to pick the volleyball out from a variety of different-colored backgrounds, rather than having to spot it in darkness.
7. Volleyball regulations
If you’re going to be playing in a league or competitive tournaments, be sure to select a volleyball that has the applicable approval.
First, find out what balls you use in your matches. If you can’t find the exact model, look for a similar ball approved by the relevant body.
- The FIVB has a very strict technical document outlining the exact characteristics of its approved balls. Their rules are probably the most strict.
- The NCAA outlines the specifications for men’s and women’s‘ volleyballs separately in its broader rulebook for each classification of the sport. You’ll find the relevant section under rule 3.
If you’re unsure, ask someone from your league’s governing body what specification of balls you’re allowed to use. Typically, for recreational leagues, they will just use the NCAA standard for volleyball designed for indoor play. Outdoor volleyball is a little more of a mixed bag, unless playing at an elite level.
The most important thing to consider is how the volleyball is actually going to feel as you use it.
You want just the right amount of cushioning to make the ball comfortable. But, especially as a serious competitor, you don’t want an extremely soft feel, or your spikes will be lacking in power.
Remember that most volleyballs bought online can be returned, no questions asked. So don’t be afraid to try a few different options to find the best volleyball for you – just check the return policy first.
About the author
Matt is the newest face on the Lift Your Game team.
He’s a former college football player, and also played soccer and tennis in high school.
In his spare time, you’ll either find him at the gym, or on the couch playing Madden!