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Depending on your gym, it may take you some time before you start sparring, maybe even a few years. But when you do get there, it’s important to protect yourself.
I’ve said it many times here – the priority when you’re training martial arts is the safety of you and your training partners, but that involves looking after yourself too.
The only way your partners can train properly is if you’ve invested in the proper protective gear so you can both get the most out of your sessions. Along with a good mouthguard, groin guard, and shin guards, a solid piece of sparring headgear might be the most important item of them all.
What to look for when buying boxing/MMA sparring headgear
Fit and comfort
This is the most important thing.
The last thing you need during a sparring session is your headgear flopping and sliding all over the place every time you get hit. You want your sparring headgear to fit snug, but not so tight that it’s uncomfortable.
Good quality materials
Either genuine leather or a faux leather like Maya hide is what you want. Something that will be soft against the skin and won’t break after a few hard sessions.
Adequate protection to suit your skill level
If you’re new to sparring, you’re probably going to get hit a lot. This means you need something that offers the max protection, most likely a headgear with a closed chin and maybe even a face bar. As you get better, you can move to an open chin headgear or even a half-headgear, which offer less protection but are more comfortable and give you better vision.
You don’t want one of those cheap headgears that are just a lump of plastic on your head.
Good headgear has as much ventilation as possible – usually around the chin, the ears, the top of the head and the back of the head. This means that even over a good 1-2 hours of training, your head shouldn’t be muggy and overheating. It also makes your headgear much easier to clean.
If you’re only sparring once a week, you don’t need the most expensive piece of headgear. A mid-range faux leather headgear should be more than enough.
On the other hand if you’re preparing for a fight and are sparring 3-4 times per week, you’ll want something that can take a beating, and may even want a second headgear so you can alternate them on consecutive sparring days.
Note: Most headgears are interchangeable between combat sports, so if you’re after the best boxing headgear, best kickboxing headgear or best MMA headgear, the items we’ve picked below should be suitable for (almost) all of them.
Best MMA/boxing headgear? Our picks:
RDX T2B Headguard with Facebar
- Maya Hide Leather Construction
- Shell-Shock Gel Padding
- G-Core Technology for Zero Impact Feel
- Face Bar for Pro Level Protection
- R-Lock Head Guard Locking System
RDX makes great gear and we recommend them often around here.
This is one of their more protective headgears, which is exceptionally well padded around the temple and forehead, plus a facebar along the front.
Facebars are not common on headgear – they’re usually made for those who are after more protection than usual. You can see it literally covers the front of your face across the nose, which most headgears leave open.
The most common reason people don’t like the facebar is because they can hinder your vision more than usual, especially beneath the eye line (body shots and low kicks etc). However that’s simply the trade-off for greater protection to the face.
Of course, there is no shame in wearing a headgear with a facebar, in fact even pro fighters wear them in the weeks before a fight to reduce the chance of injury. So this might be the best headgear for sparring if you’re new to training with contact. If you’re not yet used to having punches coming towards your head, this can give them some peace of mind and help ease you into sparring training.
- Pros: Facebar protects face, very solid padding
- Cons: Little bit pricey
RDX T1B Headgear
- Maya Hide Leather Construction
- TRI-Slab & Shell Shock Gel Lining
- Quick EZ Hook-and-Loop Closure
- Removable Face Grill y
- Compressed EVA-Lution Sheet sessions.
Over 1,000 5-star reviews can’t be wrong. We’re pretty big fans of this one too.
First, it’s one of the most affordable high-quality headgears on the market. We’re not surprised it’s been selling like crazy.
Second, it’s just a great piece of gear. Packed with RDX’s Shell Shock Gel lining, the padding provides excellent protection to all areas of the head.
Lastly, it has the most elaborate face protection of any headgear on this list. You can see from the photo below it’s actually more like a helmet than a martial arts headgear.
While the protection is fantastic, tere is one obvious downside; your vision is very limited while sparring with this on.
Normal headgear impairs your vision considerably anyway (which is why some fighters dislike training with it), but this headgear covers quite a bit more of your face than usual.
Also remember you have a mouthguard on underneath this as well, so if you’re breathing heavy it can feel a bit tight.
Still, for a beginner who isn’t confident in full contact sparring, this would be a good choice, and will give you substantially more protection than even the facebar model above.
- Pros: Lots of protection, affordable
- Cons: Blocks some vision, can feel tight
3X Professional Choice Headguard
- Built with genuine cowhide leather
- Sweat absorbing and non-slip inner lining
- Multi-layered foam padding
- Adjustable hook and loop straps
- 3X replacement warranty and guarantee
A very classic style boxing headgear, with a solid cheek and chin guard.
You might see other headgears with an open chin and open cheeks, which obviously is more comfortable but doesn’t shield as much of your face. This 3X headgear covers more of your cheeks and chin, which is more common and probably the best boxing headgear style overall. It gives you enough protection while not hindering your vision/breathing too much.
This is also made from genuine leather so after a few wears should soften up a lot and really mold to your face shape. Multi layered foam also means when you do get hit it should absorb those knocks for you pretty well.
We like this headgear a lot – nothing too fancy, just simple and well made -and think it will suit all levels of kickboxers, boxers and MMA fighters.
- Pros: Genuine leather, multi layered foam
- Cons: Lesser known brand
LEONE 1947 Boxing Headgear
- Classic boxing design
- Made from genuine leather
- WBC and WFC certified
- Open ears and top for greater breathability
- Soft chin strap for greater comfort
Probably the most clsssic boxing style headgear you’re going to see here, this is the style from the golden age of boxing where Sugar Ray and Muhammad Ali were holding up the sport. As you can see this design set the trend, and even most modern headgears still model on something similar to this.
The LEONE headgear has an open chin, and is also has open ventilation over the ears and top of the head. It’s also made from genuine leather so will break in nicely after a few weeks and surely last a good few seasons.
A little pricey so you’re mostly paying for the style, but that doesn’t mean it’s not a high quality piece. You should definitely get your money’s worth out of this and we’re happy to recommend it.
- Pros: Classic style, genuine leather, high quality craftsmanship
- Cons: Pricey
Starpro M33 Synthetic Leather Headgear
- Made from PU 5G synthetic leather.
- Padded with soft EVA foam and wool and non-slip quick-dry fabric.
- Z-Tech inner lining that wicks sweat while padding your cheeks and chin.
- Flexible chin strap for secure fit and finished with extra padding.
- 6 month warranty
This is a synthetic leather headgear which is also made with the classic solid chin and cheek padding.
Not groundbreaking in any way it does all the basic things very well and is perfect for anyone who’s after a classic, high-quality headgear at a good price.
One thing we were impressed with is how lightweight it is – being synthetic PU leather is probably where that advantage comes from. We’ve included it on our list as a quality, no-frills headgear that should be sufficient for fighters of all levels, especially if your budget is a little tight.
- Pros: Good for all levels, lightweight, affordable
- Cons: Synthetic leather (though good for the price)
Green Hill Open Face Headgear
- Made from artificial leather
- Open face style allows for better vision and breathing
- Velcro chin strap and double velcro closing at back
This is a top quality open face headgear, which means the cheeks and the chin are full exposed.
This offers less protection but also gives the fighter unhindered ability to breath and see. A lot of fighters prefer this style of headgear, because while the protection may be less, they often find themselves getting hit less due to the extra freedom and vision.
Open face headgear is definitely much more pleasant to train in, but would be recommended only to intermediate level and above.
Green Hill has been making quality combat gear for years and this is another solid item from them. For open face headgear we can happily recommend it.
- Pros: Open face, good vision, high quality
- Cons: Not really suitable for beginners
RDX Leather Headgear T1W
- Pro Head Guard with 4 way Adjustable (CE Certified Approved by SATRA)
- RDX Zero Impact G-Core Gel Integrated Technology Cow Hide Leather Head Guard
- Full padding with super shock absorbing closed cell with Gel integrated G-Core padding
- Provides Improved Ventilation and Unobstructed View
- Adjustable Chin Strap Closing and Padded Top
Probably our favourite headgear on this list and we’ll be labelling it our #1 pick.
What’s so great about it?
It’s made from real cowhide leather, which always provides the greatest comfort and durability. Their G-Core gel padding offers extremely good impact absorption and all areas of the head. The ventilation is also excellent, and the adjustable chin strap gives you as much extra freedom as possible with a headgear of this much cover.
On top of that, it’s made to RDX’s usual high standards, so if you look after it it should last you a good few seasons at least.
- Pros: Genuine leather, strong padding, good protection all over
- Cons: Pricey
Tips for taking care of your headgear
Clean it after every use!
Always wash your headgear. This usually means giving it a good wipe down with alcohol wipes or disinfectant, and then allowing it to dry fully.
The best way to dry it is to leave it in the sun, and if you can’t do that, leave it by the heater or in the hot water cupboard.
This will keep bacteria from festering in your headgear and keep it smelling fresh for as long as possible. You don’t want smelly headgear, trust me!
Always wear a mouthguard
Some people think a headgear is all the head protection you need. Absolutely not true – a mouthguard is just as important while wearing headgear.
Any time you spar or roll your mouth guard should be your first thing you put in!
Always fasten your headgear tight
Especially at my gym, there are some folks who enjoy having their chinstrap hanging lose during sparring. It’s certainly more comfortable that way but also beats the purpose of wearing headgear in the first place.
You can also get some pretty nasty eye/skin injuries when you get hit hard and your headgear isn’t fastened.
Pull your chinstrap tight – safety first is gospel in martial arts.
Use two headgears if you train a lot
It’s a good idea to alternate between two headgears if you train/spar on consecutive days.
This gives your headgear time to dry fully and will help them last longer.
It also means you can use the headgear that will suit your session – if you have a light spar, use an open face headgear, and if you’re having a full contact session, use something a bit more protective.
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Last update on 2021-04-16 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API