While most of your pickleball gear will transition gracefully from indoor to outdoor play, pickleball balls are designed for one or the other.
Unlike a rubberized ball like a tennis ball which deforms in response to court texture, pickleballs are made of a hard plastic that responds very differently when exposed to different court textures and weather.
Much like the hard plastic of a wiffle ball that is meant to be hit off a plastic wiffleball bat, pickleball balls are designed according to the surface they bounce off (the court surface), which varies between indoor and outdoor play.
All pickleballs used in official play must meet USA Pickleball Association (USAPA) equipment standards and be listed with them as an “approved” or “certified for competition” item. The equipment standards specify everything from material and texture to dimensions and weight.
Both indoor and outdoor pickleballs must be:
- 2.87”-2.97” in diameter
- Made of a smooth material with no texture
- Any solid color
- .78-.935 ounces in weight
- Bounce 30”-34” when tested based on their concrete plate testing standards
- 26-40 circular holes used to create flight characteristics
- Be printed with the manufacturers name or logo as well as the USA Pickleball seal of approval or certification
Since indoor pickleballs are designed and constructed for play on indoor courts, they are made from a slightly softer material and generally have larger and fewer holes. Indoor pickleballs are not designed to hold up to rough court surfaces or account for wind influence during game play.
Appearance and design
Both indoor and outdoor pickleballs come in many colors but the most common are yellow, white and orange because these colors tend to be easier to see. Indoor pickleballs have larger and fewer holes tending toward the 26-hole design rather than the 40-hole design.
Indoor pickleballs are designed to be quieter as they bounce off the court.
Indoor pickleballs are made for play on indoor courts, which means gym floors or wood floors like a basketball court. Since these surfaces are more forgiving than asphalt or concrete, the balls can be softer in design and still hold up for multiple games.
Indoor pickleballs are easier to control during game play and generally allow for longer rallies. The softer material and fewer, larger holes make their trajectories more predictable. On the other hand, indoor pickleballs have less power behind them and consequently will bounce off the paddle with less force.
Outdoor pickleballs are designed to withstand the elements, rougher court surfaces, and perform consistently when influenced by more external variables.
Outdoor pickleballs are slightly heavier and larger than indoor balls although all of them will fall within the guidelines set by USAPA.
Appearance and design
Like indoor pickleballs, outdoor pickleballs come in a variety of colors and are made of a hard plastic material. When comparing indoor vs outdoor pickleballs, you will notice that outdoor pickleballs have a greater number of smaller holes.
Outdoor balls tend to crack or go out of round rather than wear out, vs indoor pickleballs which become soft.
Outdoor pickleballs are designed for play on concrete or asphalt courts. Outdoor balls do not bounce well on indoor courts and can slip, skid, or skip instead of producing a predictable bounce.
Outdoor balls move faster and interact with the court and paddle more aggressively which means you can hit them harder, but they are more difficult to control compared to indoor balls. This results in shorter rallies.
Outdoor balls are affected by the ambient temperature and become harder in cooler temperatures which can increase incidents of cracking.
Can you play indoor balls outside and vice versa?
While outdoor pickleballs don’t work well on indoor courts, picklers do sometimes elect to use indoor balls outdoors. The quieter play, increased control and longer rallies of indoor pickleballs is a draw for some outdoor players. Keep in mind, wind will have a greater effect on indoor pickleballs because they are lighter and have larger holes.
How to select pickleball balls
If you play pickleball indoors you will want to purchase indoor vs outdoor pickleballs. If you play outdoors, you'll want to purchase outdoor vs indoor pickleballs.
If you play both indoors and outdoors, the best practice is to have indoor balls for indoor play and outdoor balls for outdoor play, but if you are only going to purchase one type of ball for both play settings, indoor balls are the best option.
Whether you select indoor or outdoor pickleballs, some features to consider include longevity, price, type of material, and flight pattern.
Outdoor pickleballs last approximately 10 games or an hour of play time due to exposure to rougher surfaces and weather. Indoor pickleballs last a bit longer because they aren’t exposed to as harsh of conditions.
Most indoor and outdoor pickleballs are around 3 dollars per ball and are sold in packs ranging from 3 balls to 1000 balls.
All pickleballs are made of plastic but they vary in what type of plastic they are made from and how the material is processed. Indoor balls are made from lighter and softer plastics while outdoor balls are made of denser, stronger plastic which make them slightly heavier and more wind resistant.
The holes in pickleballs are what give them their flight pattern. Manufacturers vary in designs and many boast features like more predictable bounce and truer flight paths. This is accomplished by constructing the ball to be slightly heavier and either eliminating seams or making any seam as smooth as possible.
One last option - Practice Pickleballs
While not approved for official play, foam pickleball balls can be used if noise is a concern. They are lighter than either indoor or outdoor pickleballs and have no holes. They are about the same diameter and mimic the bounce of plastic balls well.
They are best used for drills and practice or if necessary do to noise restrictions. They do not come in indoor vs outdoor versions but can be used to play on either court.
The best practice is to use USAPA approved indoor pickleballs on indoor courts and outdoor pickleballs on outdoor courts.