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If the best defense is not getting hit, the second-best is using good safety gear. Headgear is an important piece of safety gear as you begin to get serious about combat sports.
The best boxing headgear reduces the number of superficial cuts and bruises to the face during those all-important sparring sessions. Things that can quickly ruin your practice or pre-bout training!
This guide separates the cheap from the great to help you find the best options for Boxing, MMA, and Muay Thai. Whether you spar for fun or are preparing to compete, there is a headgear perfect for you.
Best for Beginners – Everlast Elite
The Everlast Elite offers one of the best balances of visibility, protection, and price. This head guard is a great choice for the casual boxer or the beginner.
The Elite has an effective design for protecting the face and nose, with a wide opening for excellent visibility.
There are no cheek pads. Instead, you get the chin and jaw protection with a steel crossbar across the chin.
At 12 ounces, the Elite is a light headgear, and the synthetic leather will last you years. You will get a lot of practice time out of this piece.
- Best for: Beginner or infrequent boxers looking for quality headgear at a good price.
The Premium Choice – Winning FG5000
The FG5000 is a “Mexican” style design made in Japan, which means it has full cheek coverage instead of a face bar. The FG5000 is the best headgear for sparring they make.
Winning gear typically has a minimalistic design, but they keep it clean to keep the gear light. Lightweight headgear is very important to improve a fighter’s ability to not get hit. Therefore there is little padding in the back and a simple chin strap instead of a heavier buckle.
The covering is not real leather, which is surprising for so expensive. But it is durable, with some fighters reporting hundreds of rounds without showing signs of wear. The cheek padding has good coverage, and while it can’t replace a full face bar, it does protect well for this style.
Is the Winning FG5000 worth the money? It is handcrafted in Japan, the padding is great, and it weighs just 15 ounces. All we can say is that if you want the best and don’t want to think too hard about it, no doubt the FG5000 is great.
- Best for: Experienced boxers looking for the ultimate headgear in both performance and quality, no matter the price.
For Competition – Everlast Amateur Competition
There are only a few models of head guards that are USA Boxing certified for official amateur competitions, and the Everlast is our top recommendation.
You will love that this guard is made of genuine leather, dense padding, and a soft lining.
Four adult sizes and a multi-strap tightening system make it one of the best-fitting headgear you can buy. Customize the fit with the lace on top and hook and loop straps under the chin and back of the head.
The USA badge is sewn into the back of the guard, so you know you’ll be compliant. The quality is great, and some even call this the “thrifty alternative to the Winning FG2900. High praise indeed.
- Best for: This is THE headgear of choice for anyone intending to compete as an amateur.
Gel Padding for Sparring – TITLE Gel World
The TITLE Gel World is a solid option for sparring and can double as a Muay Thai head guard. It features all real leather construction, with layered padding inside. There are outer foam layers and an inner gel layer for better force distribution and dissipation than the traditional all-foam designs.
If you currently have an all-foam head guard, you should notice a nice difference with a gel model.
There is no chin strap, but you snug up the fit with the large Velcro strap on the rear of the gear. This is how they can get away with just two sizes, Regular and Large.
The chin bar in place of the buckle offers minimal protection, but it is certainly better than nothing. The cheek pads are medium-sized, so your nose may be more exposed than if you had a full-face head guard.
There are cheaper gel models with similar coverage, but lack enhanced gel padding. Overall the TITLE Gel is a good headgear for the money and is durable enough to withstand the punishment of hard sparring and kickboxing.
- Pros: Dispersive gel padding with full face protection.
- Cons: Only two sizes, some people fall in between a perfect fit.
- Best for: Boxers who prefer the feel of gel padding when full sparring.
Lightweight Protection – Ringside Apex
If you are looking for the lightest headgear for boxing, the 10-ounce Ringside Apex is a great option.
Several other aspects of the design are intriguing, like the way they incorporated all the tightening points into one set of strings. This makes fitting and tightening an easier proposition.
Ringside has engineered flexible sections at strategic positions to help conform the fit to your head even further. The Dome Air pockets are a nice feature for protection around the ears.
The Apex also looks fantastic. The textured synthetic leather with contrasting colors will set you apart in the gym.
- Best for: Boxers who value lightweight over maximum padding and protection.
Most Affordable – Sanabul Essential
When you are just getting into boxing, spending big bucks on gear doesn’t make a lot of sense when you don’t even know what you’ll like.
For headgear, you just need something comfortable and protective to start learning. The Sanabul Essential is exactly that.
At 21 ounces, this is not the lightest headgear, but at this point in your journey, that is not so important.
What is important is the cheek pads and a chin bar plus substantial padding around the head and temples. The full coverage is suitable for any martial art as well as boxing.
- Best for: Those looking for the best cheap boxing headgear to get started on a tight budget.
For MMA Training – Venum Elite
Venum makes popular MMA and Muay Thai gear directly in Thailand, and the Elite Headgear is no exception.
The Venum Elite is made of premium Skintex synthetic leather and has a soft liner. Some think the liner is rough at first and tends to break in after a few sweaty sparring sessions.
The Elite is open in the back, with nice-sized forehead padding, a wide berth for good vision, low sitting cheek pads, and an under chin pad to protect the jaw. There are also nice ear cups that sometimes get overlooked in Thai boxing.
Overall, the main points that make the Venum Elite a good buy are the excellent padding, wide eye window, and the secure fit thanks to that chin bar and big strap on the back.
- Best for: All types of MMA training and sparring with a high level of protection.
For MMA Grappling – Cliff Keen F5 Tornado
When you are practicing your grappling, full-size headgear doesn’t make sense.
It’s too bulky to practice escaping holds and impedes the vision on the mat. For that reason, many fighters carry both a sparring head guard and a grappling guard.
The F5 Tornado is a wrestling head guard, but many people use it for MMA and BJJ. It provides good ear protection yet has plenty of breathability with an air vent system.
This headgear straps to the head via three straps. Once you size the top straps for your head shape, all you do is snug the chin strap.
The shell around the ears is hard but has just enough flex to give a little when applying pressure. That goes a long way to making it a good option for you and your training partner. This makes the F5 one of the lightest and best grappling protection guards.
- Best for: Minimalist headgear for training on the mat working on grappling skills.
For Muay Tai Sparring – Fairtex Super HG10
Fairtex is another Muay Thai brand, and the Super Sparring Head Guard is also made by hand directly in Thailand.
The HG10 looks quite similar to the Venum Elite, but there are also some key differences. While the shape is very similar to the Elite, the chin bar sits slightly higher, the front of the chin rather than under.
The main differences are the materials and how it is secured to the head.
The Supper Sparring HG10 is made of real leather and has a soft inside. Then on the top, you have loops and lace to tighten the top, which some fighters prefer.
It’s a little lighter that way yet it still gets the gear tight. Whatever your preference, the Fairtex Super Sparring model is a very solid choice for Muay Thai kickboxing.
- Best for: Sparring at all experience levels of Muay Thai training.
What Type of Headgear Do I Need?
Some gyms have community headgear for anyone to strap on. That may work in a pinch but think about all the baked-in sweat and blood in those things, and it’s gross!
This should be reason enough to invest in your own headgear. Depending on your sport, headgear has different aspects, and each style is outlined below.
Competition headgear is any model certified by USA Boxing or AIBA, which you can tell by the approved label stamped onto the padding. Many amateur organizations require the use of headgear. Make sure to know the rules!
Competition headgear has more streamlined padding and less cheek padding. This design helps keep your head as mobile as possible and allows more vision. The punch you can see coming is a punch you can react to and reduce its impact.
In the same respect, lighter headgear allows you to move quicker, slipping punches that might otherwise catch your chin or cheeks.
Sparring headgear, sometimes called a “Face Saver,” features thicker padding and padded cross bars protecting the nose or chin.
Headgear protecting the nose can decrease visibility; some people find this annoying. Some headgear has the bar positioned lower to protect the chin, which benefits an improved field of vision.
Muay Thai (Kickboxing)
Thai kickboxing headgear is much like boxing headgear; in many cases, it can be used interchangeably.
Often the only difference is the brand (Boxing brand vs. Muay Thai brands), but you can be sure they perform similarly.
Thai boxing does not involve wrestling like MMA, but it involves knee and elbow strikes and high kicks. Thai-style headgear commonly has chin protection because of the variety of strikes.
The main difference between boxing and MMA headgear is the shape and size of the design. MMA involves grappling, so it borrows design aspects from wrestling.
Boxers don’t have to contend with holds and ground wrestling, so that they can afford thicker, softer padding. For that reason, good MMA headgear tends to have thinner, firmer padding.
Factors We Used to Evaluate Headgear
Choosing the best headgear depends on what type and features are most important to you.
Most Important Features
Unlike many mixed martial arts gear, there isn’t a single “best” feature for headgear. Some trade-offs have real implications when a fighter steps into the ring or octagon.
Your gym or trainer will set some of these criteria, while others will be a personal preference. Here is a breakdown of the key aspects to consider before buying.
If you plan to box in amateur competitions, you need USA Boxing Certified headgear.
How do you know if the headgear is certified? It will have a white rectangular patch sewn onto the padding somewhere, or the description online will explicitly call out the certification if it’s not visible in the photos.
Even if you don’t want to box competitively, the certification should give you confidence in the quality of the headgear.
Secure & Comfortable Fit
It is critical to have properly fitting headgear to get the best performance and safety from wearing it.
Headgear that is too loose can slide around during sparring, impeding your vision and increasing the chances of taking a hard hit.
Utilize the sizing charts from each manufacturer, and make sure they have good laces and chin straps.
Remember that headgear needs to be broken in just like any other piece of gear, which is why proper fit from the start is so important.
Another important aspect of headgear fit and comfort is the liner. Vinyl, Suede, and Microfiber are the most common liner materials.
- Smooth vinyl lining can become very slimy and slippery when drenched with sweat.
- Suede and Microfiber linings absorb moisture better but do gross some people out because of how it feels when damp.
A loose-fitting and slippery headgear can shift and twist on a fighter’s head. It’s another way ill-fitting gear impairs the ability to see and slip punches.
Chin Straps – Laces vs. Velcro
A buckle-style chin strap is far more secure than a Velcro strap. The hook and loop style straps can stretch and work themselves loose during use, whereas a buckle isn’t going to budge.
The same principle goes for the top closure. Headgear with lace-up tops is far more secure than a hook and loop closure. Slipping or stretching straps puts the fighter at risk if the headgear slips or settles down, which affects the match.
Padding Coverage vs. Visibility
This is one of the biggest questions that need answering before buying headgear. More padding means better protection of your face, eyes, and nose but it comes at the expense of your vision.
As said before, the best defense is not getting hit, and more padding does not help. Therefore competition headgear has smaller cheek pads and usually no nose or chin pad.
Even if you take a punch, you can at least partially evade a direct blow when you see the punch coming.
This is especially true when considering hooks and uppercuts. With a jab, you can see it coming directly in front of you, but a hook or uppercut originates in your peripheral vision, whereas bulky padding can impede it.
Foam vs. Gel Padding
Gel padding is a popular alternative to foam in hand wraps, shin guards, MMA gloves, and boxing gloves.
Gel doesn’t experience compression set after repeated impacts. It is also supposedly more effective at dissipating the impact force from a punch or kick.
Some fighters swear by gel padding, saying when they switch to gel, the soreness from using flattened foam disappeared and allowed them to continue training.
Size and Weight
Thicker padding makes for a larger target and is heavier for the fighter to move and avoid punches. So, this is again another tradeoff a boxer has to make.
Thinner padding provides less cushion but can make you feel lighter and nimbler and give you the confidence you need to train.
Likewise, headgear with nose bars or mouth bars usually weighs more at the expense of extra protection. Much of this is a personal preference, but the higher-quality headgear is usually lighter.
Headgear for Women
The best boxing headgear for women will follow all the same guidelines as men. Pick quality gear if you can afford it, and don’t look back.
Amateur boxer Lisa Creech Bledsoe suggests that female boxers avoid anything with face cages, nose bars, or mouth bars if they can help.
Some gyms will require one type or another. Just know you will have to learn to spar with some blind spots in your vision.
She recommends you test out headgear by borrowing the community gear from the gym first, then moves up to cheap headgear.
Then you can shell out a little more cash for the good stuff with lace-up backs, buckle chinstraps, and USA Boxing certification.
Which Headgear is the Right Choice?
Sparring – For the most popular style of headgear, we recommend the Everlast Elite or Ringside Apex for most people, and the Winning FG500 if price is no options, it really is best headgear for boxing.
For most other people who simply want to try out headgear and need a good cheap option, go with the Sanabul Essential. The price is right and has tons of positive reviews.
Boxing Competition – For certified competition use, the Everlast Competition Headgear is an excellent choice. It is certified for use in competition and has a proven track record.
MMA – The Venum Elite the top choice for full coverage MMA style headgear. If you want better protection for grappling training, the Cliff Keen F5 Tornado is the best option. It is designed more like wrestling headgear that can also be used for MMA.
Muay Thai Kickboxing – Kickboxing is like boxing, but you have the added knee, elbow, and kicks to watch out for. The Fairtex HG10 Super Sparring combine good padding with good visibility for protection during kickboxing sparring matches.
*Last updated 2022-09-28 at 23:36 / Product Links & Images from Amazon Product Advertising API