If you ride a bike, you should wear a helmet. If you step into a sparring ring, you should wear the appropriate headgear. Although not all competitive martial arts allow headgear during tournaments, risking serious injury during regular training is an invitation for disaster. The sparring ring is where you are supposed to make mistakes – and learn from them – so you’re ready if/when you choose to formally compete. Head injuries are no joke, and you owe it to yourself to protect your skull.
Headgear Considerations for All Sports
Naturally, different headgear is best suited to different disciplines. When buying headgear you should consider how much damage you’ll be subjecting it to, and how long it needs to last. Are you willing to buy a cheaper product for the short term that will also need to be replaced in the short term? Do you want to buy one quality product that will last for years? Although there are benefits to each approach, more costly products often have more padding that is made from better materials.
Many companies create headgear with the same features as their most expensive products sans luxury elements such as leather. Such options are rarely the cheapest on the market, but they make for an excellent compromise between high end and low-end products.
Be sure you are buying a product, however, based on maximum coverage rather than appearance. Even if a product has leather, it might not be what you need. If a cheaper product covers more areas (the chin and jaw, for example, which are not always covered) then it’s probably a better investment.
Other things to consider include your ability to hear in your chosen gear, and how well it stays in place when sparring in the ring.
The only major exception to these rules is Jiu Jitsu, which has special demands for headgear. These are discussed in more detail below.
There are plenty of headgear options to choose from, regardless of your chosen discipline, but we’ve combed through the best brands and compiled a list of reviews to make your decision a little easier.
Headgear Categorized by Sport
Best Headgear for Boxing
Title Gel World Full-Face Training Headgear Product Review
In addition to the titular gel protection in this product, several layers of foam protect against direct hits. Specialized padding protecting cheeks, forehead, ears, chin, and the back of the head offers excellent coverage. This headgear is also made with full leather lining. Users’ comments were varied – some claiming a superior fit with lack of slips during sparring, and some claiming excessive movement when struck. The difference seems to depend more on sizing than quality. However, if you are interested in this product, you should be very careful when ordering, as many third party sites list multiple Title products under one post, and it is easy to order the wrong product by accident.
- Full-head coverage
- Genuine leather
- Few slips when properly fitted
- Confusing ordering system
- Size may be off
Check out our more detailed article on boxing headgear recommendations.
Best Headgear for Muay Thai Sparring
Fairtex HG13 Extra Vision Head Guard Product Review
The inevitable compromise between vision and protection always walks along a delicate line in combat sports. Fortunately, Fairtex has several options designed for better peripheral vision without compromising protection. Padding over the chin and over the cheeks helps protect the center of the face. The Velcro closure at the back of the head also features extra padding for 360 degrees of protection. This brand garners a lot of praise from Muay Thai enthusiasts, and the snug fit is a favorite feature among previous buyers.
- Excellent peripheral vision
- Extra padding at back of the head
- Snug fit
- Fit might be too snug
Best Headgear for MMA Sparring
Venum Challenger 2.0 Product Review
Made of artificial leather, this product is designed to limit cost while maximizing protection. Temples, chin, and cheeks are covered with triple density contoured foam. Former users praise it particularly for its performance in MMA sparring. It does not, however, offer very good nose protection due to its relatively open design. Conversely, that same design allows for a broad field of view.
- Broad field of view
- Particularly favorited by MMA fighters
- Low cost alternative with great padding but no leather
- Leaves nose somewhat vulnerable
Check out our more detailed article on the best MMA headgear.
Best Headgear for Kickboxing Sparring
Twins Full-Face Headgear Product Review
Recognized as one of the best brands in the business, Twins headgear is not to be taken lightly. With full chin, cheek, and forehead padding, this product is ready to take a punch. Varieties with or without genuine leather are available to suit every budget, and previous users’ enthusiasm is testament to the item’s value, regardless of style.
- Available with/without leather
- Highly touted brand
- Extreme brand loyalty might influence users’ response
Make sure to check our detailed article on kickboxing headgear as well.
Best Headgear for Karate Sparring
Proforce Lightning Headgear Product Review
Although it looks more like an absurd bike helmet rather than traditional headgear, this product is designed specifically for karate. Karate pads are often different from other martial arts disciplines, and while this vinyl covered foam isn’t the prettiest thing in the world, previous buyers are very happy with it. Sizing issues constitute the majority of complaints, and those interested in this product should order a size or two larger than they usually would.
- Designed for specific sport
- Highly breathable design
- Sizing issues
- Vinyl and foam construction often wears out quickly
Best Headgear for Jiu Jitsu Sparring
Cliff Keen F3 Twister Wrestling HeadGear Product Review
Headgear is not very popular among Jiu Jitsu students. Honestly, many who do wear such gear are more interested in protecting themselves against cauliflower ear than a punch. Therefore, the needs of Jiu Jitsu are dramatically different from the needs of most other martial arts disciplines. Rather than full-head coverage, most students of Jiu Jitsu are only interested in covering the ears. It’s also important to note that while stability is still important, Jiu Jitsu headgear must be considered for how well it stays on during a roll instead of how well it holds its place after a punch.
The Twister’s design keeps it light and cool, but those many holes in the casing have multiple purposes. Sweat can leak out, and sound can come in. Since Jiu Jitsu students often prefer not to wear headgear at all, it’s especially important that their headgear is as weightless as possible. It’s best if they can forget that they’re even wearing it. Fans of this brand say that the Twister is one of Cliff Keen’s most comfortable designs.
- Light and breathable design helps minimize irritation
- Reduces risk of cauliflower ear
- Multiple straps make for a highly stable design
- Straps may slightly limit ease of movement
Choosing the right headgear is crucial to performance and safety. Sparring is at the core of every martial art, and it’s important for all concerned that you come to the ring prepared. Whether you need to defend against undercuts, direct strikes, or the dangers of tumbling, carefully selecting your gear can keep you ahead of the competition, and ensure your head stays whole and un-rattled.
Remember that not all headgear will fit every head. Skulls come in different shapes and sizes, but even if a high ranking brand does not fit well, you can learn from its features and design. That information can help you find a better fitting product that offers similar protection.