Updated November 2021
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BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We only make money if you purchase a product through our links, and all opinions about the products are our own. Read more  
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.Read more 
Bottom line
Best of the Best
Venum Challenger 2.0 Headgear
Challenger 2.0 Headgear
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Trusted Brand
Bottom Line

A solid, time-tested set of gloves that have proven popular with people in training.


Additional protection for wrists and hands keeps the user's bones and joints safe. Plenty of size and color choices to fit the needs of most potential buyers. Favorite brand among boxing enthusiasts.


These fit hands very tightly, which some might find to be an advantage, but they breathe poorly.

Best Bang for the Buck
RDX Maya
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Simple Yet Solid
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Sturdy yet lightweight, this headgear trades visibility for better face protection.


Comfortable and lightweight. Shock absorbent padding. Hook and loop closure offers snug fit. Removable face mask lets you decide whether to show up at the office with a black eye or not.


Limits peripheral vision. Material is very stiff and hard to clean.

Ringside Competition Headgear with Cheeks
Competition Headgear with Cheeks
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Tough Yet Comfortable
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Snug fit and plenty of padding make this headgear great for any strike-heavy martial sport.


Excellent cushioning for full contact sports. Snug-fitting headgear with durable, comfortable leather inside and out. Approved for USA Boxing competition. Available in several patterns to fit your needs and desires.


Headgear runs small. The chinstrap might be uncomfortable.

Contender Headgear with Cheeks
Headgear with Cheeks
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No spinning
Bottom Line

Comfortable yet offers good protection, with chin strap that prevents the dreaded headgear spin after a hard hit.


Almost slip-free during full-contact sparring, reducing need to adjust mid-round. Comfortable to wear, if a bit snug. Lightweight compared to similar headgear.


Velcro fastener can tear and the chin strap is small.

Venum Elite Headgear
Elite Headgear
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Train like Pros.
Bottom Line

A top-of-the-line mesh piece with excellent shock absorption and and durability.


The semi-leather construction is tough and able to take several hits. Mesh inner material is equal parts comfortable and sturdy. Several different colors to fit your needs. Lightweight design doesn't constrict your sparring partner.


Lack of different sizes might not fit large or small heads.


We recommend these products based on an intensive research process that's designed to cut through the noise and find the top products in this space. Guided by experts, we spend hours looking into the factors that matter, to bring you these selections.

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Buying guide for best sparring headgear

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.

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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.


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.

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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.


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.

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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.

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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.


  • 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.

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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.


Q. Does headgear prevent concussions?
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?
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?
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.

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