Best Outdoor Basketballs

Updated August 2019
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BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We may earn a commission if you purchase a product through our links.
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We buy all products with our own funds, and we never accept free products from manufacturers.
We may earn a commission if you purchase a product through our links.
Bottom Line
Pros
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How we decided

We purchase every product we review with our own funds — we never accept anything from product manufacturers.

15 Models Considered
5 Hours Researched
1 Experts Interviewed
138 Consumers Consulted
Zero products received from manufacturers.

We purchase every product we review with our own funds — we never accept anything from product manufacturers.

Why trust BestReviews?
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We buy all products with our own funds, and we never accept free products from manufacturers.
We may earn a commission if you purchase a product through our links.
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We may earn a commission if you purchase a product through our links.
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We buy all products with our own funds, and we never accept free products from manufacturers.
We may earn a commission if you purchase a product through our links.

Buying guide for best outdoor basketballs

Last Updated August 2019

When the weather's nice, there's nothing better than a good game of basketball. Whether it's kids in the driveway or a neighborhood pickup game at the park, you need a basketball that can handle concrete, asphalt, and water so you can play anytime, anywhere.

If you’re ready to get the ball rolling (pun intended), you’ve come to the right place. Our shopping guide will take you through the factors you’ll need to consider and the features you’ll find on outdoor basketballs. We’ve done the legwork so you can relax. Don't forget to take a look at our top picks for the basketballs we think offer the best mix of durability and design.

The forerunner to the game of basketball as we know it started at a YMCA in 1891. It featured teams of nine players on a court trying to throw a soccer ball into a peach basket. A professional league started in 1895.

Key considerations

Air retention

Is there anything more frustrating than your basketball losing air as you play? Some basketballs are better at air retention than others. The ability to hold air depends on the quality of the construction and materials. When it comes to air retention, seams are often a weak point. Basketballs with a thick outer layer and well-sealed seams will keep your game going without interruption. There should as little space as possible between the seam and cover pieces. Any gaps should be filled in during the manufacturing process. If there’s any gap, even a small one, it’s easier for the ball to become damaged during play and eventually lose air.

Outdoor vs. indoor/outdoor

Ask yourself how you will use the basketball most often. Do you enjoy a pickup game during lunch and with the kids in the driveway at night? Or will most your games be played on asphalt in a neighborhood park?  

Outdoor: If you'll be playing basketball almost exclusively outside, a rubber ball will probably last longer. The bounce back and rebounding aren’t quite like those of a leather ball, but if you’ll often be playing outdoors, rubber is the way to go.

Indoor/outdoor: Balls designed for both indoor and outdoor play more closely resemble a leather game ball. These are usually made of either composite or synthetic leather, which feels and responds more like a leather basketball. However, an indoor/outdoor basketball, if used exclusively outside, will break down faster than a rubber ball.

Size

Basketballs come in sizes one through seven. Size one outdoor basketballs are minis meant for toddlers, while a size seven has a 29.5-inch circumference and is used in official men’s games.

You can find basketballs in all these sizes, but most outdoor basketballs come in sizes five (youth), six (women’s), and seven (men’s). Pick the ball size that best accommodates whoever will be using the ball the most. Kids age 11 and under typically use a size five ball. Once they turn 12, most kids start playing with the official size for their gender.

EXPERT TIP

If your outdoor basketball starts to get dirty, wipe it down and dry it. Built-up dirt can make the surface slippery and difficult to hold.


Staff  | BestReviews

Outdoor basketball features

Materials

Materials make a big difference in the responsiveness, grip, and durability of a basketball. Outdoor basketballs are made with an outer cover that's either composite/synthetic leather, microfiber composite, or rubber. This outer layer protects the inner bladder, which holds the air. Between these two layers is a layer of nylon and/or polyester thread, called windings, that helps the ball retain its shape.

You’ll find basketballs of varying quality in each of the three materials. Not that price is always an indication of quality, but many times with basketballs it is. Better materials and construction often come with a higher price tag.

Composite/synthetic leather: Composite or synthetic leather includes some leather that’s bonded with synthetic materials to create a more durable outer shell. It has a similar feel to full-grain leather and responds on the court in a similar way as well. Most composite leather basketballs can be used both indoors and out. Their surface may be coated to enhance durability and grip.

Microfiber composite: Back in 2006, the NBA changed the regulation basketball from an all-leather to a new microfiber composite basketball. While it didn’t last as long the NBA’s official ball, microfiber composite basketballs are still on the market as good indoor/outdoor options. The bounce back rivals that of a leather ball, though the texture is somewhat different (one reason it didn’t remain the NBA’s official ball).

Rubber: Rubber is the most durable option for outdoor play. However, it has more bounce back than leather, which means you might have to adjust your game to accommodate the difference.

Moisture wicking

Sweaty hands have a harder time controlling the basketball, whether that’s dribbling, rebounding, or shooting. Some manufacturers include a moisture-wicking coating on their basketballs to prevent water absorption, while materials like microfiber composite naturally resist moisture. If you want your outdoor game to closely match your indoor game, a ball with some moisture wicking is a must.

Surface design and grip

A basketball’s surface design isn’t as standard as you might think. Some outdoor basketballs are designed with extra grooves to quickly move water, dirt, and mud off the ball’s surface. Others have more than the standard eight-panel design and add several seams to enhance grip and control. If water is a constant hazard to your basketball game, a ball with a water-repellent material and surface design would probably be a good choice.

Bounce consistency

Everyone’s trying to create an outdoor game that rivals the indoor game. Bounce consistency is something that’s hard to duplicate simply because outdoor courts suffer the wear and tear caused by inclement weather. However, a basketball with a good bounce consistency lets you perfect your moves, increase speed, and better handle the ball. Bounce consistency requires a uniform quality and construction on every part of the ball. Seams should be as tight as possible so the structure of the windings and the interior bladder stay intact.

Color

Outdoor basketballs come in far more colors than their indoor counterparts. That’s due in part to the materials – rubber is far easier to dye than leather. Color can also play a role in the visibility of the ball, especially when playing outside. Bright, contrasting colors like white and orange or black and green make it easier to distinguish the ball from the background. Youth basketballs, in particular, show the greatest variety of color options with everything from pink and purple to red and blue.

DID YOU KNOW?

A basketball’s inner bladder is usually made of butyl rubber. It’s preferred over natural rubber because it retains air and shape better.

Outdoor basketball prices

Inexpensive: Depending on the size you’re looking for (full-size basketballs cost more than youth basketballs), outdoor basketballs start at around $20. These basketballs are usually made of rubber, have the standard eight-panel design, and come in different colors.

Mid-range: Once you get into the $20 to $50 range, you start to see both composite leather and microfiber composite basketballs alongside more rubber basketballs.

Expensive: As the price goes up, so does the quality and the ability of the ball to mimic the performance of an official all-leather basketball. Outdoor basketballs that cost over $50 are usually designed for both indoor and outdoor use, though the quality of the materials probably makes these more suitable for indoor use or selective outdoor play.

DID YOU KNOW?

The panels on outdoor basketballs are cut into shape then glued and laminated into place. The channels created at the seams are designed to mimic the channels that are naturally created by the stitching used to make leather basketballs.

Tips

  • Don’t store outdoor basketballs outdoors. These basketballs are designed to withstand rain and sun, but they shouldn’t be stored outside in the open. Sunlight weakens the materials, increasing the chances of problems with air retention.
     

  • Check the air pressure before each game. You don’t necessarily need a gauge to do that, although one is helpful. Bounce the ball on the court. It should come back to just below your waist. If it doesn’t make it back up to your hand, it might need more air. If it bounces well past your waist, you might need to let some air out.
     

  • Match the ball to the court, skills, and game. While basketball design has changed drastically since the “soccer ball in a peach basket” days, today there are only a few variations. Base your choice on the outdoor court you’re most likely to play on, the skill level of the players, and the type of basketball you play. Competitive basketball players want a ball that closely matches indoor performance, whereas a family may need a rubber ball that can take a beating from kids.

Other products we considered

There are so many outdoor basketballs on the market that we had a hard time narrowing down our list to a top five. Here are a few models that didn’t quite make it that might still be the perfect fit for you. The Molten X-Series Indoor/Outdoor Basketball has a unique 12-panel design that offers extra seams for improved grip and handling. The synthetic leather cover has enough texture that this ball isn’t going to slip when you drive to the basket. The Spalding NBA Street Phantom Outdoor Basketball looks fierce and has a soft-grip technology that makes it a favorite at the entry-level price. Finally, the Wilson NCAA MVP Rubber Basketball makes a great starter ball for kids. The rubber is easy to grip and it holds air well even after heavy use.

Manufacturers often emboss a logo and other design details on the finished cover. This process doesn’t weaken the basketball’s surface in any way.

FAQ

Q. What’s the best way to store an outdoor basketball?
A.
Not outdoors. Actually, you can store an outdoor basketball outdoors – just don’t leave it out in the elements. Wind, rain, and especially sun can break down the outer cover faster than you might think. The garage, a garden shed, or a box on the porch would all work well.

Q. Will water damage my outdoor basketball?
A.
Outdoor basketballs are designed to withstand water, with many synthetic leather or microfiber composite models designed to wick moisture away so the ball doesn’t become slippery. That same technology also prevents a dip in a puddle from ruining the ball.

Q. Are there any outdoor basketballs specifically designed to help teach shooting skills?
A.
There are outdoor basketballs with hand-placement markers on the ball’s surface. These basketballs are great for teaching newbies how to shoot properly.

The team that worked on this review
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