When people hear about it, they just think you’re talking about shoes, but there’s more to it than that.
You need to think about protection, comfort, and the precision of a perfectly weighted bowling ball that isn’t rented from the alley.
Having the right bowling gear is what sets you, a professional, apart from the common bowler who only sees the lanes five times a year.
You love this sport, just like I do, so it’s time to outfit yourself with the right equipment and maintain that A-game.
Here’s everything you’re going to need.
What do You Need for Bowling?
Here it is, a breakdown of each individual component of your bowling gear.
In total, there are nine critical pieces of equipment that you’ll need. Everything else is just gravy.
Let’s go through them one at a time.
Well, how are you going to bowl without one of these?
If you’ve ever used real league-quality bowling balls, then you’re going to understand how different they are from the restock balls at the local alley.
You have to select your bowling ball based on two factors: the weight block, and the coverstock.
A good bowling ball will be made out of reactive resin, particle, or a urethane coverstock.
Plastic is the least-durable here, but it’s an option for lower-tier balls.
Then, there are two different types of weight blocks: high mass, and low mass.
High mass is basically just a larger weight that sits just underneath the surface or coverstock of the bowling ball.
These are heavier because there’s simply more weight block material.
You also have low mass, which is smaller, sticks to the core of the bowling ball, and can be made into different shapes, unlike high mass cores.
This can help you with aiming your bowling ball in a specific pattern, such as if the core was oblong to give more weight to the front (where your fingers rest in the inlays) of the ball.
It could provide a straighter roll and a better fit with the pins.
You’ll also see bowling ball manufacturers discuss different levels of lane conditions.
Low condition bowling balls are better for housecoats or house lane conditions, where there may be minimal quantities of oil on the lane, which can help you score better.
High lane conditions mean those that are more difficult, so you’ll see a higher score on a scale (usually from 10 to 175) for professional, PBA tournament-style bowling lanes.
Conditioning matters; don’t overlook it.
I cannot stress this enough: your bowling shoes matter.
Many newcomers just grab the cheapest pair, and that might work for you, but there’s a lot to consider when you’re buying bowling shoes.
For one, you need to know what material your sliders are made out of.
Felt is cheap and comes off easy, but microfiber is high quality and provides a smoother slide, even if it doesn’t mean you’re going to glide as far.
Bowling shoes are generally uncomfortable. I hate to break it to you. Even in my guide on bowling shoes, where I cover comfort, it’s a hard sell.
That’s because bowling shoes are meant to be tough and durable, especially for all the hell you’re going to put them through.
They’ll come with cushioned collars and padded tongues, but I still recommend wearing socks with them.
Sliders, rough design, and a serious sense of support.
Your bowling shoes need to be able to support you through the motion of swinging your arm, letting go of that ball, and coming back up.
Even though the lanes are waxed or oiled (sometimes both), you can’t go slipping.
When you lean in to slide the ball down the lane, you’ll notice that you have a bit of traction padding underneath the heel.
This means that once you’re done, you can tilt back on your heel to give you stability now that the motion of tossing your ball is over.
There are more mechanics that go into bowling shoes than most people realize.
I mentioned that bowling shoes can be uncomfortable, and I meant it.
The rubber insoles that you get with most bowling shoe purchases can be durable, but that doesn’t mean they’re as comfortable or as supportive as you’d like them to be.
Orthopedic insoles work well to fight pronation, flat feet, and plenty of other symptoms of damage that you may have done to your feet over the years.
Even if you don’t suffer from chronic foot pain, after enough bowling and standing on your feet for hours at a time, you might find that you’ll be itching for the relief and comfort that orthopedic insoles provide.
Orthopedic insoles offer unique levels of comfort for pressure points, and points of contact in your feet.
This can be the ball of your foot, your arch, sides, your toes—anywhere that support, stability, and pain are an issue.
These insoles might run you about $50 for a good pair, but they’re normally rated to last for two to three years.
In my experience, it’s an essential piece of gear that I always have in my bowling shoes (and dress shoes, for that matter).
Do you want to appear like a pro?
You need to dress like one.
Bowling clothes usually just pertain to the shirt, but even then, it’s something you need to know about.
Bowling shirts aren’t just designed to match your bowling shoe styles: they’re functional as can be.
Think of the dynamic motions that you’re performing while bowling, and then picture doing it in a buttoned-up dress shirt.
Doesn’t sound easy or fun, does it?
Bowling shirts, as you’ll notice, have a very loose fit around the sleeves, the shoulder, and are generally longer than your average T-shirt.
They’re flowy because they ensure you’re not showing your midsection while in the downward motion of swinging your bowling ball.
They’re comfortable, but they also have a place on the single pocket to put your team logo.
Bowling clothes should be functional but also represent your expertise.
I’ve seen plenty of bowlers that come in sweat pants on the bottom, bowling shirts up top. This is a no-no.
You want jeans or khakis that have a certain percentage of spandex, or another type of stretchy material. Anything from 4% up to 10% is acceptable.
Keep in mind that those aren’t official rules or anything, it’s just a way to look stylish while also having a function.
You don’t want to tear your pants, or feel like your range of motion is heavily restricted because of what you’re wearing.
At the end of the day, it’s about what you’re comfortable in that’s going to aid you in landing a strike.
Just don’t make your friends feel embarrassed with your wardrobe choice.
Elbow and Wrist Guards
Bowling balls are heavy.
They’re sixteen pounds in total, and while that may not sound like a lot (it’s roughly the weight of two gallons of milk), it’s a lot of pressure on your joints.
Think of it like this: when bodybuilders train their wrists for better deadlifts, they start with two-pound weights and do little wrist curls.
You’re applying eight times that amount of pressure, presumably without much practice.
You need protection. A wrist guard will help provide stability, i.e. not allowing your joint to bend past a certain point, so you can’t possibly pull the muscle.
It can be a little tricky to learn how to throw your ball with one, but it’s imperative if you’re going to get serious about bowling.
Personally, I use a wrist guard and I don’t use an elbow guard.
One of my friends uses both, and he swears by them—the point is, you at least need a wrist guard where it’s your directly affected joint.
If you have strong arms, and subsequently strong elbows, you can get away with just a wrist guard.
Look for nylon with velcro straps for stability and a strong bond.
Alright, I want to explain why finger tape is considered a critical piece of bowling gear.
Despite your bowling ball having a weight block in it, whether it’s a low mass or high mass (weight block closer to the surface), the resin material on the coverstock is still prone to swelling.
Temperature and humidity changes can make a world of difference here.
For temperature, the ball can swell.
This can make the finger holes either smaller or larger and when you’re used to them being one specific way, that can really mess you up.
Finger tape is actually used inside of the bowling ball hole to resize and reshape it, giving you a better grip.
You don’t need it every single time. You just need to have it on-hand for those frigid winter days, and scorching summer days—it’s going to come in handy.
Every seen the Flintstones?
Fred would always go to throw a bowling ball, but his fingers would be stuck in it.
While you’re not going to throw it and go flying down the alley, you can completely mess up your throw.
Having slide powder is important for precision shots, and it’s one of those things you find yourself needing as your skill increases.
If you can really whirl the ball down the lanes, then you’re in need of a more stable method of releasing the ball from your fingers.
Slide powder is dirt cheap. You can get it for about $4 an ounce, and one ounce should last you for two dozen games or more.
You don’t have to use it on every single toss, either, but it’s definitely good to lube up your fingers and make the transition smoother.
Cloths and Towels
Speaking of powder, you also need to keep your hands dry.
Having them all slick and sweaty isn’t going to make it any easier to throw the ball.
Having some clothes and towels handy allow you to wipe down your bowling balls as well.
Even if they don’t get residual oil from the lanes (it depends on how well the bowling alley actually oils them), it’s still good just keep them dust-free in between matches.
I don’t want to sound rude to bowling alley owners, but nobody is dusting the inside of those machines that bring your ball back to you.
Why would they?
Sometimes, your ball comes back dusty, and that’s not the same thing as using slide powder.
This is just something good to hand on-hand in your bowling ball bag.
Bowling Ball Bag
Last but not least, you actually need somewhere to store your bowling balls for transportation.
Since standard ten-pin bowling allows you to use two balls per frame before the pins are reset for your next round, you should have a bag that can fit two.
Since most bowlers (serious ones) buy their own bowling balls, most bags are already designed to hold two.
Any good bowling ball bag will be able to support the weight of your bowling balls (obviously), but that isn’t enough.
It’s supposed to actually be comfortable to hold, which is why you’ll see ultra-padded handles, or more commonly, roller bodies like you see on suitcases.
The most convenient, by far, is a rolling bowling ball bag (and it’s fun to say out loud).
The wheels on the bottom help you maneuver it around without too many dynamic movements, just be careful of those numerous steps found in most bowling alleys.
It doesn’t roll well on carpet, so if you want to look like a pro, carrying your bag by the handle is going to appear better.
Y’know, until you get into the parking lot and flip out those wheels.
Do I Need Everything on This List?
As a long-time bowler, I have everything on this list with me when I bowl.
I don’t need to use slide powder every single time, and I don’t need to use finger tape every single time, but when I need it, I’m always glad that it’s handy.
You can’t always predict every situation in bowling. It’s a fairly rigid, cut-and-dry sport, but there are variables to consider.
If you plan on being a professional bowler or at least competing in a local league, then you should have everything here.
We talked about lane conditions for a brief moment earlier.
Lane conditions are completely different once you’re playing in a professional PBA environment.
A house lane is designed to aid you in sending the ball down the alley, like an assistance system, but PBA lanes will actually have different oil patterns to trip you up and make it more difficult to score.
That’s when the more specific items on this list come into play.
Is Bowling an Expensive Sport?
Bowling can be expensive, depending on the gauge of gear you end up getting.
But there’s a very distinct differentiation we want to make right now: bowling can be expensive to get started, but after that, it’s dirt cheap to maintain.
Sure, you’ll have to stitch rips in your bowling ball bag or get some new insoles every now and again, but you can spend less than a Benjamin every single year to maintain your bowling gear.
Do you know how expensive it is to maintain tennis racquets, hockey equipment, and other sports items?
A heck of a lot more.
Bowling can cost around $500 to get started—that’s two bowling balls, one set of clothing, some cheap rags, and a budget-friendly bowling ball bag.
Or, you can look at about $1,500 if you go for high-end bowling balls, some more comfortable fabrics for your clothing, and a really, really top-notch pair of shoes.
Then you just have to worry about the cost of bowling at the alleys, but that’s something you can’t avoid regardless of how high caliber your gear is.
Everyone ends up paying the same price to get in and play, so you just have to weigh what you’re willing to spend on this sport.
Enjoy and Win at the Same Time
You have everything you need to carry out a perfect game, land strikes, and become king of the alleys.
Bowling isn’t an expensive sport to maintain, but it can get a little pricey to get started depending on the caliber of gear that you have your heart set after.
It’s okay to try and get budget-level versions of all the items listed in this guide, just remember that it might suffer quality and last for 2-3 years instead of 10+.
If you’re not considering the pro leagues just yet, you can start off buying one high-quality piece of bowling gear at a time and slowly build your collection.
You can rule the lanes. You just need the right gear to get you started on the straight and narrow.