My thoughts on the best headgear for sparring (with pictures)

In both kickboxing and boxing, the head is a major striking target. Indeed, a well timed blow can result in a knock-out, bringing a bout to a dramatic conclusion. This is partly why these sports can be so exciting to watch: fortunes can change dramatically as a result of a single punch.


With such high stakes, it’s important that any training for these sports, is kept as close to contest conditions as possible. If you train in too much of a protected environment, then you’re in for a rude awakening if you ever decide to take your journey to the next level and enter an actual bout with an opponent who’s trying to knock you out.


However, there’s a balancing act to play here. The face is a very delicate part of the body. The flesh of the cheeks, eyebrows and lips and all prone to splitting and being cut when struck. The nose is particularly weak with only a thin piece of cartilage maintaining its shape; a solid punch and it’s easily broken. The ears too, whilst not a specific target, do get hit; repeated blows can lead to the development of cauliflower ears.


Why wear headgear when sparring?


If you don’t have some kind of protection for your head when you train, then you’ll end up looking like a battered piece of meat before too long.


Even though your sparring partner won’t be trying to knock you out, being repeatedly hit isn’t going to do your training any good, especially if you have to spend time off because you have to wait for various cuts and bruises to recover.


Most people also have a day job outside of training that they have to turn up to looking at least half way repectible. Repeatedly arriving to work with black eyes and a swollen face is going to at least raise an eyebrow or two from colleagues and supervisors alike.


What is boxing headgear?


Boxing headgear sits snugly on the head rather like a helmet. They typically provide protection to the soft vulnerable areas of the face. As we’ll see later, the degree of protection varies significantly between styles of helmets.


They are made either from leather or a tough, durable synthetic material and are filled either with foam or, more recently, with gel. I’ve found that the latter tends to return to its original shape more easily than foam, which can become compressed and more rigid with time.


Types of boxing headgear


When looking at the type of headgear that might be suitable, it’s very easy to say that you want the one that provides the most protection possible. However, it’s worth bearing in mind, this can result in reduced visibility as there is typically a greater amount of padding around the eye area.


Highly protective headgear is also significantly heavier than other designs. I certainly find sparring in this type of headgear awkward and strange. It actually affects my whole movement and I feel it makes me an easier target.


What type of headgear are you looking for?


Boxing Headgear for Beginners


I feel that as a beginner, you need a greater amount of protection than you would if you were a more experienced practitioner.


Until you’ve learned how to block effectively, and to duck and weave, then you’re going to be hit – a lot!


You need a level of protection that will give you confidence to actually stand toe to toe with your sparring partner without feeling too intimidated. The following recommendation is a sparring headgear with a face shield for the ultimate in protection.


RDX Head Guard


I’ve seen a number of people start off training with this headguard and all comment on how comfortable it is.

best headgear for sparringclip from YouTube

It features a full face grill that provides maximum protection for the nose, chin and ears. This does somewhat reduce the visibility slightly but this may be a sacrifice beginners are willing to make in order to save their looks.


It uses both foam and gel in the padding that is securing bound in a durable faux leather. The use of foam and the faux leather helps to keep the cost of the headgear within the realm that most beginners can afford. The inclusion of gel into the design is a surprising bonus.


The design comes in sizes suitable for children and RDX recommend that the small and medium sizes are suitable for children up to 14 years of age. This makes it suitable boxing headgear for juniors.


I have heard that the inside of the headgear tends to absorb sweat whilst you train so if you have to put in on again later in the same training session, it can feel a little cold and clammy. It’s also important to clean the headgear once you’re back home (more on this later).


You can see this headgear in action here:



This is a very reasonably priced piece of kit; you can see the price here on Amazon.


Best Boxing Headgear for Eye Protection


If you’re looking for headgear specifically designed to protect the cheek and eye area, then I’d recommend the following:


Cleto Reyes Headgear

It features two large padded areas that extend to cover the sides of the face. The eyes are effectively surrounded by a thick area of latex foam cushioning but it is designed in such a way that visibility isn’t significantly hampered. You’re still able to see upper cuts – which can be a problem for some designs of headgear.


The nose area is slightly exposed so that if you receive a straight punch to the face, the tip of the nose may be pushed in slightly. This is actually quite good feedback and no one I talked to has felt like their nose was going to break.


Colleagues have commented on how comfortable this particular headgear is. It’s manufactured from cow hide and feels like a genuinely quality product; certainly better than some of the headgear that is loaned out in most boxing gyms.


You can see the headgear close up here:


The headgear comes in three sizes: S = up to 21″; M = 22″-23″; L = 23″ and up. The price is very reasonable; see here on Amazon.


Best Boxing Headgear for Nose Protection


If you are worried about your nose being damaged, then I’d recommend purchasing boxing headgear with a face bar, such as the one below:

Cleto Reyes Headgear with Face Bar


This headgear is hand made in Mexico using natural leather and is well padded, providing a very high level of protection.


The face bar actually covers the nose and mouth area when worn, but it does not significantly impede visibility when worn. It’s also far enough away so that it doesn’t actually touch the nose which could be distracting and uncomfortable mid-sparring session.


Nose bars aren’t allowed in boxing competitions but for those looking for a high level of protection for their face when sparring, this is a good option.


You can see a full video here:


It is a little more expensive than other head-guards but, when it’s protecting your most valuable asset, in my view, it’s worth the cost. You can see the price here on Amazon.


It comes in one size with adjustable straps to accommodate most head shapes.


Boxing Headgear with Open Face


Title USA Headgear

Some people cannot get on with any form of padding around the cheeks. Often they feel that their visibility is hampered or they just feel claustrophobic.


This is an open faced head-guard. As I mentioned before, there is always a compromise between the degree of protection and the level of visibility.


Despite the lack of protection covering the front of the face, the forehead and sides of the head areas feature multi-layered foam padding with high and low density layers for increased shock absorption and impact resistance.


The headgear is made from high quality leather making it durable and hard wearing. The users I’ve spoken to say it’s comfortable to wear and features a soft cloth interior which wicks away sweat.


Given the open faced nature of this head-guard, it’s really only suitable for more experienced trainees. This is opinion is further confirmed by the fact that the head-guard is USA Boxing approved for all amateur boxing competitions.


The price is very reasonable as can be seen on Amazon here.


Boxing Headgear for Competition


At some point, after you’ve been training for some time, you may decide to enter a boxing competition.


If this is you, you’ll want to select headgear that is suitable and most importantly, is USA Boxing approved. The head-guard featured above is a good example but the open faced design may not be suitable for everyone.


For those looking for usa boxing approved headgear with cheek guards, you may want to consider the following:


Title Boxing Aerovent USA Boxing Competition Headgear

As you can see, it has a striking design but it’s effectiveness is more than just skin deep. It is both USA Boxing and Golden Gloves Approved!


The cheek protectors are designed not to sacrifice visibility and the adjustable straps allow for a snug, yet comfortable fit.


As you’d expect from a quality product, it’s made from genuine full-grain leather making it hard wearing and able to take years of abuse.


The special lining wicks away sweat whilst hot air release channels are designed to keep you cool as the pressure mounts in the ring.


Given the high specifications of this headgear, the price is very surprising. See the price here on Amazon.



Hopefully, the headgear outlined above give you a number of options to pursue as you continue on your boxing journey.


How to care for your headgear


Once you’ve purchased your headgear, it’s important that you look after it. If you do, it’ll reward you with many years of service.


The two main enemies of this type of protective gear, apart from the constant pummelling they receive, are sunlight and continuous exposure to moisture.


Sunlight – if you constantly leave your headgear exposed to sunlight, then the leather, even faux leather, will begin to fade and crack. Sunlight, or more specifically, UV rays have an amazing ability to break down just about anything given enough time. Therefore, try not to leave your headgear lying outside in the open for too long.


Moisture – continually being exposed to moisture can cause your headgear to rot or go mouldy. At the very least, it’ll start to smell if left in the wet for too long. This is why it’s important to allow your headgear to air properly after a training session so that it full dries out.


I always give my headgear a wipe with a damp, microfibre cloth after I’ve used it. This removes all the sweat and the salt (from the sweat) that has accumulated on it. I then hang it up to fully dry out of direct sunlight, before putting it away.


I also use this as an opportunity to check on the condition of the headgear. Has it developed any cracks or rips? Is the foam still spongy? Are the straps still in good condition?


This takes a few seconds after each training session, but given the importance of the thing it’s protecting (your head!) it’s worth taking the time to do.


What to consider when purchasing boxing headgear


There are a number of things to think about when purchasing headgear for the first time.




This one of the most important considerations to bear in mind. You should ensure the headgear fits snuggly: if it’s too loose then it’ll easily be dislodged from its correct position at the first solid strike it receives.  


This is not only a matter of selecting the correct size of headgear but also of ensuring that there are an adequate number of straps and ties on it to allow you to make small adjustments to enable a good fit. 


All the headguards I’ve recommended have good fitting mechanisms allowing for a tight, secure fit.


If your head guard is uncomfortable then it can become a huge distraction when it comes to sparring.  Your mind will be focussed on the source of the discomfort rather than your opponent.


Level of protection v visibility


As I’ve mentioned previously, the greater the level of protection, the more likely it is that your visibility will be impaired.


This is because the padding on the head guard gets in the way of your peripheral vision.  This is important when it comes to seeing, and reacting to, incoming hooks and upper cuts.


For instance, having headgear with a bar across to protect the nose helps to ensure that you don’t end up with a broken nose following your sparring session, but it also prevents you from seeing incoming upper cuts.


The compromise between visibility and protection is to some degree  inevitable, although the designs I’ve mentioned in this article limit this to a certain degree.



I think it’s important to buy from a reputable brand that has some form of established history in the sport.  They’ve then had experience of manufacturing the equipment and have been able to test different designs to see what works and what doesn’t.  


I’ve mentioned a number of brands in this article:




Established in 1999 in Manchester (UK) this company produces high-quality, technologically sound and affordable products in the lines of Fitness, Boxing, MMA, BJJ, and Muay-Thai.  It has grown rapidly and now have over 200 million customers.


Cleto Reyes


This Mexican company has over 70 years of experience in producing the best worldwide boxing equipment which are exported to five different continents with the approval of the main world boxing organizations.




Established in 1998, this company initially focussed on boxing equipment before expanding into martial arts in 2007.  With over 20 years of experience, they know how to make a quality product.


Are you looking to compete


Whether or not you want to compete is another consideration to think about when purchasing your headgear.  


Boxing is a highly regulated sport and some designs of headgear are simply not allowed by the governing bodies.  


If you’re looking to compete, it’s important to check whether the headgear is approved by the relevant governing body.  I’ve mentioned two such products in this article.



Hopefully, this article has given you some ideas on what headgear might be suitable and how to look after it once you’ve bought it.


Happy training!!