This page contains basic information about boules, information about what to buy and where to buy it, and recommendations for new and beginning players.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
Information about ►types of boules ►sets of boules ►ONLINE VENDORS
►Our recommendations for :: boules for new or beginning players
►Our recommendations for :: your first set of competition boules
►Our recommendations for :: a set of gift boules
►How to select competition boules (size, weight, etc.)
►Make a throwing circle ►Make your own jacks ►Buy a tape measure
►Buying boules for groups
►Boules for indoor play
►Leisure boules vs. competition boules— what’s the difference?
►These boules — are they competition boules?
Types of boules ▲
Most discussions will tell you that there are two basic categories of boules — leisure and competition. But the situation is a little more interesting than that.
- Leisure boules are inexpensive boules meant for occasional or casual play. They may be called leisure (French: loisir), recreational, weekend, generic, or DOG boules. (DOG boules were one of Obut’s earliest models of leisure boules.) They are available in only one weight and size and with a bright chrome finish. They are made of thinner steel than competition boules, and are usually filled with sand or dirt to bring them up to the proper weight. Most inexpensive leisure boules are made in China. As of 2017, a set of three Chinese-made leisure boules will typically cost around $30 plus shipping. The French company OBUT makes leisure boules of a higher quality and and a bigger price tag (three or four times that of Chinese leisure boules). Chinese leisure boules tend to run in the range of about 73mm in diameter, with a weight around 720g. The current (as of 2017) line of OBUT stainless-steel (inox) leisure boules are about 73mm in diameter and weight around 650g.
- Competition boules are boules designed for serious competition play. More precisely, they are boules that have been certified (homologuées) by the International Petanque Federation (FIPJP) for use in FIPJP-sanctioned tournaments. Competition boules must meet FIPJP standards, and are always hollow (i.e. never filled with anything). They are available in a variety of sizes, weights, hardnesses, and striation patterns. Competition boules are between 70.5-80 mm in diameter, and 650-800 grams in weight.Competition boules are made of thicker and stronger steel than leisure boules, and they are more carefully machined so they will be more consistent in size, weight, and balance. They are also significantly more expensive than leisure boules. That’s why, when you’re starting out and learning the game, you should use a set of (cheaper, but still quite functional) leisure boules. Later, if you find yourself getting better and playing more often, you can upgrade to a set of competition boules. A set of three competition boules will, depending on what you purchase, cost from $100 up to two or three hundred dollars.For adults, the smallest legal size of competition boules is 70.5mm. For many years, JB Petanque sold 70.5mm boules under the label Compét. Junior. Obut retired the line when it acquired JB, and it now offers 70.5mm boules as just another size in the regular lineup of sizes for its Match IT model.For more information, see our page on leisure boules vs. competition boules.
- Junior competition boules — When playing in junior tournaments, children age 11 and younger may use “junior” competition boules (65mm diameter, 600g weight). Obut’s line of Match Minimes is available from Petanque America. Note that these ARE competition boules, but not for adult players; only for kids 11 and under.
- Junior leisure boules — Confusingly, Obut also makes a set of “junior leisure” boules (junior loisir or junior initiation or initiation enfant). These are leisure boules, in a smaller size suitable for children. Note that these are NOT competition boules for either adults or children.
- Boules for indoor play — There are a variety of types of soft petanque boules for indoor play. They aren’t real boules, but they aren’t quite toys either. For more information, see our page on indoor petanque boules.
- Mini boules are 35mm metal balls typically sold as “carpet boules” or mini bocce/ petanque boules. In France they are called jeu de boules d’intérieur. They look like real boules, but are about half the diameter. We keep a set so that the toddlers can play with boules that look like what the big people are using.
- Boule-like toys — sets of plastic or wooden balls aren’t real boules. They can be fun for the kids, or for playing not-too-serious games at the beach. For more information, google “beach bocce ball”.
Sets of boules ▲
Boules are available from various sellers in sets of two, three, four, six, or eight boules. You have to be careful about what you’re buying. You should buy boules only in sets of 3 or 6 boules. And even then, you have to watch out for the striations (stripes) on the balls — see the discussion of the Jacques of London leisure boules (below).
- In the past, sets of two boules in a leather carrying case were traditional for playing triples in the south of France. That’s why you frequently see old sets of this type on eBay. Do not buy such sets. To be able to play doubles you will need a set of three boules. That’s why today manufacturers sell competition boules only in sets of three.
- You may see sets described as “bocce/petanque” balls being sold in sets of eight. Such sets typically contain 4 sets of two boules each. Do not buy such sets. None of the standard forms of petanque can be played with that combination of boules.
- Be careful even with boules being sold in a set of six, such as the sets by Jacques of London, L.L. Bean, and Marcod. These sets don’t contain 2 sets of three boules each — they contain 3 sets of two boules each. Do not buy such sets.
- Never buy a set of boules that comes in a wooden or metal box. In the fantasy life of people who don’t really play petanque, the box conveys an aura of expense, quality, and elegance. (That’s what allows a vendor to jack up the price of a set of cheap leisure boules.) In real life, the box is useless. Save your money for a good set of competition boules.
- Proper petanque boules are sold only in sets of 3 or 6 boules — that is, as one or two sets of 3 boules each. The picture at the right is of a set of 6 petanque leisure boules available from the Petanque America online store. Such a set is enough to equip two people to play doubles or triples.
Vendors (Where to buy boules) ▲
In the USA, to purchase boules you must use an online, web-based vendor.
- Petanque America is the only USA-based vendor that sells boules made by Obut, the world’s largest manufacturer of petanque boules. They also sell La Franc boules, which are high-quality competition boules made in Thailand. If you want a set of boules from some other manufacturer, they can special order it for you. PA also sells other petanque equipment and leisure boules.
- You can buy petanque boules on Amazon.com or even at Walmart. Note however that almost all of these sets contain contain two, three, or four pairs of 2 boules. In addition, some boules (like those from Kikkerland) come in two sizes. The “large” size is 73mm (what you want). The “small” size is for “mini” balls (see above).
- In Canada, Canadian vendor Marcod seems to have gone out of business, but you can order Obut boules from Canada Billiard.
- It is possible to order directly from French manufacturers and suppliers, but shipping costs from France are extremely high. For special requests, you’re probably better off contacting Petanque America and seeing if they can special-order the specific boules that you are seeking.
- eBay is generally not a good source for boules, although it IS possible to find the occasional set of nice, used competition boules. It is very difficult to tell exactly what is being offered — in many cases the sellers themselves don’t know. Most boules that you find on eBay America are not certified competition boules. We recommend that you not purchase sets of two boules, or sets of three boules where the groove patterns aren’t all the same. Watch out for the seller location— French sellers sometimes have listings on eBay America, and shipping costs from France to the USA can be ruinous.
- It’s fun to look for boules on eBay France. But be warned, shipping costs from France to the USA can be ruinous. Unless you’re made of money, you’re better off shopping first at Petanque America.
- If you’re in the mood to look for old boules, it can also be fun to look for boules on etsy.
Our recommendations for boules for new or beginning petanque players ▲
Do NOT go shopping for boules on amazon.com.
You shouldn’t spend a lot of money on boules before you’ve had time to really get a feel for the game. So start out with inexpensive boules.
If you’re buying boules for one or two people, we recommend that you go to the Petanque America website and purchase a set of three boules, either single-groove wide, or single-groove narrow. Naturally you want different groove patterns for different players. You can color the grooves with paint, fingernail polish, or magic market to help identify your own set.
If you’re buying boules for four people, one option is also to buy a set of six leisure boules. Petanque America’s 6-boule set contains two 3-boule sets, one set of “smooth” boules (boules lisses) and one set of double-grooved boules. The downside of smooth boules is that if you color them, the color (since it is on the exposed surface of the boule and not protected in the grooves) tends to wear off quickly. And it can leave you with color on your hands.
When you order your boules, think about adding a couple of Obut jacks to your order. Your set of boules will include a jack, but the Obut jacks are noticeably better, and there is no extra shipping charge if you add a few to your order. Pick the color that you think will be most visible; we recommend orange or yellow.
Our recommendations for your first set of competition boules ▲
There are a number of reasons why more advanced players purchase competition boules. (A) Competition boules offer greater consistency of balance, weight and size within a set than leisure boules do. (B) You have a larger selection of choices of size, weight, groove patterns, materials, anti-rebound technology, etc. (C) You want to play in an FPUSA- or FIPJP-sanctioned competition. (D) You plan to play in Europe, where players and clubs tend to be a bit more judgmental about these things than we are in the USA. We can’t give exact prices because all of these boules are imported, and their prices may fluctuate with currency exchange rates.
For your first set of competition boules, we recommend—
- La Franc SM boules from Petanque America, because of their excellent quality and relatively low cost. La Franc SM boules are medium-soft boules, while the SB line is softer and slightly more expensive. You have a good set of options when selecting material (stainless steel or carbon steel), hardness, size, weight, and striation pattern.
- Obut “Match” boules from Petanque America are the least expensive boules from Obut, the French company that is the world’s largest and best-known manufacturer of competition boules. High quality is certain, and if you plan to play in France, playing with boules “made in France” is a good idea. Other Obut models tend to be significantly more expensive, and for that reason we don’t recommend them for beginning players. In Canada, they’re available from Canada Billiard.
- Geologic ALPHA boules from Decathlon are excellent and the least-expensive competitions boules available. Unfortunately, Geologic has closed its stores in the USA, so they are no longer available here. They may be available via Decathlon Canada.
Here are a few things to consider when selecting competition boules.
- Both carbon steel and stainless steel (inox) make fine boules. If you live in a hot, humid climate, or if you put your boules into long-term storage, you will need to take steps to protect carbon steel boules from rust, but rust is not normally a day-to-day issue even with carbon steel boules.
- Many stainless steel boules (unlike carbon steel boules) cannot be picked up with a magnetic boule lifter.
- We recommend a weight of 680g if it is available. 690g and 700g boules work well too.
- A diameter of 73mm is a good choice for the average-size male American player. If you have unusually large hands, you might consider a larger boule of 74mm or even 75mm. For players with smaller hands we recommend a diameter of 72mm, 71mm or 70.5mm. (70.5mm is the smallest size allowed for adult competition boules.)
- Striation patterns are a matter of taste.
For considerations when selecting competition boules, see our post on How to select competition boules (size, weight, etc.)
Our recommendations for a set of gift boules ▲
If you’re ordering a set of boules as a gift for someone, and want to make it something nice without breaking the bank, a set of La Franc SM or SB boules from Petanque America would be a good choice.
A good gift for a player who already has a nice set of competition boules is an umpire’s folding ruler. This kind of ruler is by far the best way to make measurements in petanque, but most players do not have one. You can see some pictures HERE.
It is possible to buy competition grade boules on eBay as long as one knows what questions to ask the seller. It is a requirement of FIPJP that competition boules have engraved on them: the trademark of the manufacturer, the model of the boules, the weight (in grams), and a unique serial number (same number on each boule set). Some brands also have the diameter engraved on them.
Knowing this, one could ask the seller to describe the markings on the boules and obviously, even if the seller does not really knows what he is selling…..You do!!
PS: If you are not familiar with which trademarks are officially approved by the FIPJP (not all are) ask a knowledgeable friend or visit the FIPJP’s webpage to find a list of approved boules.
I live in Toronto and would like to buy boules from a store in Toronto (good one)
Jules says —
In the US and Canada, the only way to buy competition boules is to buy them online. In Canada, Marcod (http://marcod.com) is a good source of Obut boules.
If you shop online, you might consider getting a set of Obut leisure boules. The Obut leisure boules are much better than the Chinese-made ones. They cost more, of course, but they’re also considerably cheaper than a set of Obut competition boules.
If you MUST buy from a store in Toronto, then Canadian Tire stores sell a set of 4 leisure boules for about CAN$ 40. Or you can visit http://www.canadiantire.ca/en/ and search for “petanque”.
Canadian vendors often sell sets consisting of one or more pairs of boules. I don’t know why— you can’t play singles or doubles with such sets. But they may meet your particular needs.
Hi, thanks for your informative site! I found it incredibly useful while researching two sets of JB boules.
I noticed you warn against buying boules in sets of two. Was there a time when quality manufacturers sold them? The sets I have are boxed, so I know they were originally sold as a set of two, but they seem to be very high quality. There are no dates on the boxes, but the graphics suggest ’70s or ’80s to me. Is there a date or decade when sets of three became standard? Thanks!
Jules says —
JB was a good company. In fact, Jean Blanc was the one who, in the late 1920’s, invented the now-standard manufacturing process for boules — stamping steel blanks into hemispheres, and then welding the hemispheres together to create a hollow sphere. JB Petanque is gone now. The company was acquired by Obut, and the “JB” line was discontinued.
Before 1959, a standard petanque game was a game of triples, with each player using two boules. And it was standard practice for manufacturers to sell boules in sets of two. It was only with the 1959 revision of the rules that singles and doubles were officially recognized, and even then (1959) the number of boules per player in singles or doubles wasn’t specified.
By 1984, the standard configurations of boules for singles (3 boules per player), doubles (3 boules), and triples (2 boules) had become part of the rules. Manufacturers continued to sell boules in sets of both two and three, but as doubles became more popular, the market for 2-boule sets gradually declined. Finally, around 2012 Obut stopped selling competition boules in sets of two.
I was visiting eBay and saw your two sets. They look to me like JB leisure boules of a fairly recent vintage. The word “Entrainement” on the box is a clue, as is the fact that the logo is painted… something that you won’t see on competition boules. The starting bid of $19.99 strikes me as just about right.
Is it possible to buy hollow plastic boules that can be filled with water or sand to increase their weight? I find that my traditional metal boules are too heavy to take on a plane to remote countries.
I don’t think so. There are plastic, water-filled boules on the market (see for example THESE). But they are completely sealed, and there is no way that they can be emptied and refilled at will. There is no way to make a cover or cap or seal that would be effective, easy to use, and could also withstand the punishment of being thrown around and hit by other balls.
The people of Obut told me that the name DOG was invented by Antoine Dupuy, a former ingeneer of Obut in the 1950s who also was one of the founders of Obut. He came always to the factory with his dog, that was a bulldog. In French a ‘bouledogue’…
Thanks, Jac! What a great story! — Jules
Just to confirm my understanding of the rules regarding competition boules and during tournaments.
A set of boules (3 balls) must meet the FIPJP criteria BUT can all 3 boules be of DIFFERENT manufacturer, weights, hardness and striation patterns ? For example – 1st boule can be plain, soft for shooting (say made by Obut), 2nd boule can be a pointer/shooting (Geologic Alpha) and the 3rd boule is a pointer ball (La Franc). All 3 boules individually meet the FIPJP requirements.
Is such a combined competition set allowed in FIPJP competitions ? I got conflicting answers here in Malaysia as no one has done this before 🙂
Yes, all of the boules can be from different sets as long as they each individually are acceptable. Again, I will refer you to the FAQs page on The Rules of Petanque site:
We have a few players that are thinking of mixing and combining our boules to create new combination sets but not run foul of the rules 😉
I can imagine a player combining boules from two different sets and then putting (say) red paint in the stripes of all of the boules in order to show that they all belong to him. If any of your players are thinking of doing that, you should first consult with your national federation on its policy for coloring boules. National federations differ on this. In the USA it would be OK, but in the Netherlands it would not. See
Playing with colored boules is allowed in the Netherlands. I’m one of the organizers of the international tournament Batavia Petanque (14th edition) and both finals (triples and doubles) will be played with colored boules (grafitty bombs, red and blue).
Hi Jac, I’m confused. You say that playing with colored boules is allowed in the Netherlands. But http://www.nlpetanque.nl/Reglementen/RPSPlus.pdf (which contains commentary by the Dutch federation rules commission) says this:
from which I get (with the help of the Google and Bing translators) something roughly like this:
That does not seem to me to allow for colored boules in an international tournament. Note that the paragraph that said that competition organizers could provide colored boules was in the commentary on the 2010 rules. It was removed and replaced in the commentary on the 2016 rules.
Also: Can you provide a good English translation for “Zo kan een boule er stroever door worden.”? I can’t get anything out of Bing or Google Translate that makes sense.
We should be careful of our wording here. Just describing a boule as “colored” isn’t enough. The pre-2016 interpretations of the Dutch rules allowed the use of colored boules if and only if the boules were not colored before the competition, and were then colored by the competition organizer. In a high-level competition, a player would never be allowed to use boules that he had colored himself. Correct?
You are right that the Dutch commentary says that colored boules are not allowed. But, it’s just the commentary on the rules and not the rule themselves! We follow the explanation of Mike Pegg, international umpire and also member of the FIPJP rules commission, who says that colored boules are allowed. So, the Dutch rules commission is wrong and I told that to them many times!
By the way, ‘stroef’ in Dutch means rough, and ‘stroever’ rougher. But that depends of the way of coloring the boules. We use matt paint (grafitti bombs), but there is also gloss paint! And also permanent markers are a bit glossy and even a bit greasy. So, to say that colored boules make them ‘stroever’ (rougher, in order to have a better grip) is nonsense…
Hi Jac — Thanks VERY much for this information. It is really useful! 🙂