Note that this is my advice— someone else’s may be different. Much of this information is condensed or summarized from other posts, including our basic Buying Boules and Buying Competition Boules pages.
I always recommend that a player’s first set of boules should be a set of leisure boules from Petanque America. For one thing, Petanque America sells only proper sets of three boules (unlike sets of “bocce/petanque” boules for sale elsewhere). For another, leisure boules are reasonably priced. Don’t spend a lot of money on a set of competition boules until you’ve played long enough to be sure that that is what you want.
There’s another reason to start with inexpensive boules. You may develop ambitions to learn how to shoot. Learning to shoot requires a lot of practice. The best way to practice is to buy several sets of similar boules, so that you can throw a lot of boules in succession before having to retrieve the thrown boules and re-load your boule bucket. (I practice with seven sets— 21 boules.) If you’re buying several sets, you need to keep your cost-per-set within affordable limits.
After playing regularly for a year or two with leisure boules, some players decide to buy their first set of competition boules. This means that they have choices to make about size, weight, material, hardness, and grooves. There is a huge amount of traditional advice on these subjects. Some of it is good for some players (advanced) but not for others (beginning/mid-level). Some of it is contradictory. Some of it is pure folklore. Most of it is rubbish. Ignore it.
For size, I recommend one size, 73mm, for almost everyone. For almost everyone, this size is just right — neither too big nor too small — and easy to get comfortable with. And if you’ve been practicing shooting (see above), this is the same size as the leisure boules that you’ve been practicing with.
There is one exception to my standard recommendation. Many of our women players are petite. With smaller hands, they struggle to grip a 73mm boule. For them (or for anyone who finds 73mm to be too big), I recommend a size of 71mm, or (if they can get it) the smallest size available, 70.5mm. For many petite women, playing with a 70.5mm boule rather than 73mm can make a real difference.
For weight, I recommend 680 grams. Everybody finds that this is a comfortable weight, and you don’t really need anything heavier.
For material, I recommend carbon steel (acier) rather than stainless steel (inox). It tends to be less expensive than stainless steel. Unlike stainless, you can pick it up with a magnetic boule-lifter. If you deliberately want to rust your carbon steel boules to give them a slightly rougher surface, you can. The one advantage of stainless steel is that it resists rust. Rust usually isn’t a serious issue for carbon steel boules, but if you live in a hot, wet climate and other players tell you that they use stainless boules because they’ve found that rust is an issue, follow their example.
For hardness, I recommend a “hard” rather than a “soft” boule. If this is your first set of competition boules (and especially if you frequently play on rough terrain), you probably need high scratch resistance more than low bounciness. And when you shoot and nick a target boule, you want it to go flying as far as possible.
For grooves, I recommend a boule with at least a few grooves, rather than no grooves at all. A bit of paint or magic marker in the grooves will last a reasonable amount of time and will help to identify your boules. High-profile shooters play with smooth boules (and you can too, when you get to be a high-profile shooter) but for your first set of competition boules, go with the grooves.
First-time buyers often ask for specific recommendations about what competition boules to buy and where to buy them. As of September 2021, for players located in the USA, I recommend—
- Geologic Alpha from Decathlon
- La Franc SM (hard) or SB (soft) from Petanque America.
- Obut Match from Petanque America.
Obut boules are more expensive than Geologic or La Franc boules, but Obut has about an 80% share of the world-wide market for competition boules and is without doubt the most widely-recognized brand of boules in the world.