Best Sparring Headgear

Updated May 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.
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How we decided

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

19 Models Considered
6 Hours Researched
1 Experts Interviewed
132 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.

Shopping guide for best sparring headgear

Last Updated May 2019

Martial artists compete under the bright lights just a few times a year, but every other day, they’re in the gym — working. The training room is where skills are truly developed, and sparring is one of the core elements to proper growth. That’s because sparring simulates a real fighting environment more accurately than drilling and studying, allowing fighters to blend techniques together and prepare for battle.

When training any striking art, you need to protect yourself. Some fighters actually do more damage to themselves by sparring recklessly than they do during actual competition, which makes equipment like sparring headgear absolutely crucial. Headgear somewhat safeguards the wearer from jarring blows, but it’s most effective at limiting cuts and bruises from practice. Proper headgear should wrap around the face, covering the forehead, cheeks, part of the jaw, and possibly the chin and nose. Some varieties, however, feature more open space to pair with larger padded gloves.

Ready to get in the ring and spar? Read our buying guide first to learn the importance of headgear, how to use it correctly, and what to look for when shopping.

When legendary boxer Jack Dempsey was an up-and-comer, he asked a local swimwear manufacturer to construct protective headgear that would stand up to 15 rounds of intense boxing training. The rest, as they say, is history.

Key considerations

Material quality

Sparring headgear is typically constructed from shaped, multilayered EVA foam covered in a leather or vinyl material. Padding levels and material quality can vary from product to product, and with that comes different levels of comfort and physical protection. Companies often tout branded terms like “impact-durashock foam” and “tri-slab max-shock foam,” but the most important thing is to peruse user reviews to determine how well they hold up under intense real training.

Coverage

Every piece of headgear looks a little bit different. Some pieces cover almost the entire face while others sport a more open design. In the end, you need to identify the type of training you’ll be involved in and find the right balance between protection, visibility, and breathability.

At a minimum, sparring headgear should cover your brow, temples, and upper jaw. These models are excellent for light sparring, where visibility and ventilation are essential. For heavy sparring, though, you may want to seek out products with heavier padding and more coverage on the cheeks and nose. But keep in mind you may sacrifice peripheral vision doing so. The strikes that hurt the worst are often those you don’t see coming, so an appropriate balance must be struck. For added safety, some headgear even includes a full face mask.

CAUTION

Wrestling headgear isn’t the same as striking headgear and shouldn’t be used in its place. Instead of protecting the facial area and brain, wrestling headgear is primarily designed to safeguard the ears from trauma with soft or hard plastic covers.

Features

Unique aesthetics

Fighting is all about expressing yourself and that applies to your training gear as well. Headgear is available in hundreds of different configurations with eye-catching designs, bright colors, and themes that you can pair with other training gear or your gym’s color scheme.

Adjustability points

The standout feature of sparring headgear is adjustability, as a proper fit is paramount to safety and comfort. Chin straps, hook and loop closures, and various adjustment points are your main options here, but we recommend avoiding Velcro tab fasteners, as they don’t hold up well to abuse over time and can tear.

Face masks

For younger martial artists or those participating in tournaments with special rules, headgear is available with full face masks. These masks either take the form of a strong steel “cage” or a fully enclosed plastic shield, both of which safeguard the face from strikes while offering outstanding peripheral vision and breathability.

DID YOU KNOW?

Sparring headgear does come with some drawbacks: Full-coverage units can reduce your field of vision, and the extra protection can create a false sense of security, which can lead to poor defensive habits.

Sparring headgear prices

Inexpensive: Sparring headgear comes in all shapes, sizes, and price points. At the lower end of the spectrum, expect to pay $15 to $20 for basic helmets with dual layers of foam padding. These are sufficient to protect your face from superficial damage, but won’t provide much in terms of adjustability.

Mid-range: For about $50, you’ll find headgear with sleeker, more contoured designs. They still have excellent shock absorption though and are more adjustable than cheaper versions.

Expensive: At the high end, priced at $100 and above, sparring headgear offers unique color schemes, lightweight construction, more flexibility, higher-quality padding, and real leather.

EXPERT TIP

A simple quality indicator for sparring headgear is to look for a U.S.A. Boxing or International Boxing Association (AIBA) certification. Though there are plenty of outstanding products without certifications, approved products are extremely well-made and reputable.


Staff  | BestReviews

Tips

  • Take time to purchase sparring headgear of the appropriate size. If it’s too small, it can clamp onto your head too tightly and cause discomfort. If it’s too big, it may roll around and spin with strikes, requiring you to stop and reset.

  • Sparring headgear offers solid protection from bruising and cuts during training, but a mouthguard is just as important to your health. Not only do they reduce the risk of dental injury, they also absorb shocks and stabilize the head and neck, which can prevent head trauma.

  • Sparring headgear is generally made from molded, multilayer foam coated in real leather, synthetic leather, or vinyl. To clean, wipe it down with warm water after use and apply a disinfecting leather cleaner or antibacterial solution occasionally. For deep cleans, add a drop of dish detergent to a bucket of water, let it soak through, and air dry.

  • It’s likely you’ll “lose” a lot of sparring sessions as you progress, and even though it can be frustrating, remember sparring is about learning, not winning. Keep that mindset as you look back on your mistakes, and consult sparring partners and spectators for advice.

  • An extremely common error newcomers make is closing their eyes or turning their back during sparring. Resist this urge at all costs. It’s impossible to block and parry strikes if you can’t see them coming, and if you can’t observe what your opponent is doing, you’re essentially defenseless.

Other products we considered

There is more sparring headgear on the market than you can throw a jab at, and considering the history and influence of martial arts, that’s no surprise. We’d like to highlight a couple that didn’t make our list, starting with Everlast’s Everfresh Headgear. This version is well-shaped with solid eye-line and cheek protection without sacrificing visibility. It’s also adjustable in several ways and treated with an antimicrobial solution to keep bacteria at bay. The MaxxMMA headgear set similarly impressed us with its build quality, but we have concerns about peripheral vision.

Headgear isn’t just used for sparring; you’ll commonly see it in amateur boxing, traditional martial arts, and point fighting competition as well. It was even used by Olympic boxers until the 2016 games, when the International Olympics Committee deemed them counterintuitive to fighter safety.

FAQ

Q. Does headgear prevent concussions?
A.
Sparring headgear is fantastic at preventing superficial damage like bruises and cuts, but contrary to popular belief, it does not necessarily prevent concussions. Yes, the headgear padding does absorb a marginal amount of force, but much of the impact is still carried through to your brain. The International Olympics Committee actually eliminated headgear requirements prior to the 2016 games, citing increase in head injuries when boxers were wearing headgear. This is because the covering makes it harder to see, presents a larger target for opponents, and often leaves the jawline exposed. That being said, the Association of Ringside Physicians does not support the removal of headgear from amateur boxing competitions. Clearly, research is still being done.

Q. What other equipment do I need to spar?
A.
Outside of sparring headgear and your workout clothing, you’ll need hand wraps, gloves, a groin protector, and a mouthpiece for boxing training. For kickboxing or mixed martial arts, consider elbow pads, shin pads, chest protectors, and possibly boots. If you need extra support on your knees and ankles, you may want to wear reinforcing sleeves. It’s also never a bad idea to throw some bandages, gauze tape, and antibiotic ointments in your workout bag, because accidents are bound to happen regardless of how careful you are.

Q. How do I know if I’m ready to spar?
A.
Never enter into any full-contact sparring unless you feel totally comfortable doing so. Feeling nervous is completely normal, but you should at minimum have a grasp of the basics. The idea of sparring is to apply your martial arts skills in a practical setting, and if you aren’t experienced or confident enough to defend yourself, you won’t be in a position to learn healthily. When in doubt, consult your instructor or a training partner you trust.

The team that worked on this review
  • Andrew
    Andrew
    Writer
  • Angela
    Angela
    Editor
  • Devangana
    Devangana
    Web Producer
  • Eliza
    Eliza
    Production Manager
  • Melinda
    Melinda
    Web Producer
  • Samantha
    Samantha
    Writer

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