Do you need a headgear for Muay Thai sparring?
For the majority of people who train Muay Thai casually, no, you don’t need headgear. The chances of sustaining head injuries during Muay Thai sparring is statistically much lesser -than boxing- since there is an even distribution of head blows, body shots and low kicks. This is unlike boxing where there is a lot more focus on hitting the face or the head.
However, accidents DO happen from time to time and I have seen several black eyes and mild concussions in my Muay Thai sparring sessions. I’m just glad to not have been on the receiving end of one of those. While a head guard is not a standard Muay Thai gear, wearing one can afford an added level of protection and reducing injury risks or prevent aggravation of existing conditions.
If there is a tendency to spar hard in your gym or if you do a mix of western boxing and Thai boxing, head traumas do add up in the long term. Facial injuries like cuts, black eyes or broken noses can cause inconvenience if there is an important business or social appointment following the training. Some gyms also have a practice of sparring hard leading up to fights, to mentally prep new or inexperienced fighters. In such cases, it is wise to consider wearing a headgear for shock absorption and head/facial protection to minimize injuries.
How to Choose the Right Head Guard
As always, before we dive straight into the actual recommendations, it is helpful to know some of the various characteristics and differences. This helps you to choose the best head guard for your sparring. There is no perfect headgear but only one that suits you (or your head, rather) the most. Often times, it is a matter and balance of compromise between the different characteristics. Here are the factors to consider when choosing the right head gear:
Protection vs Weight
Generally speaking, the heavier the weight, the more protection it offers -due to thicker padding- and vice versa. While a headgear that covers and weighs more (due to the extra padding) can provide better protection against blows to the head, it can work against your favor and impede your reaction against evading strikes. And evasion is definitely the best way to avoid head injuries.
Coverage vs Visibility
The less protection coverage a headgear offers, the better the visibility and vice versa. An open-faced headgear offers a wider field of vision but leaves more area of your face susceptible to being hit. On the other hand, having more coverage can potentially obstruct your peripheral vision (to the sides and bottom) and especially affect your reaction to kicks. Attacks can come from anywhere in Muay Thai, and if you can’t see them coming, you can’t react timely.
Real Leather vs Synthetic Leather
Genuine leather lasts longer and is always favored over the stiffer synthetic leather. The quality of synthetic material has improved tremendously over the years but good quality real leather will always feel softer, more comfortable and breathable. That said, the ethically-inclined will favor animal-free synthetics over real leather.
Lace-up vs Velcro (Hook-n-loop)
For the most secure fit, lace-up is always the better choice as the degree of snugness conforms to the contours of your head. The downside is that it takes longer to put on but this is just a tiny hitch since you will not be removing the headgear much -if at all- during sparring or competition.
Comparison of Headgear Styles
Broadly speaking, there are 3 styles of headgear: full face with bar, the cheek-protector and the open face designs. Here’s a comparison of the 3 styles by Title Boxing:
|Full-Face w/ Face Bar||Cheek Protector||Open-Face|
You can make a few observations from the comparison above. The full-face design offers the maximum protection that will always leave you unscathed from sparring. The takeaway is that it offers the least visibility. The open-face headgear is used for competitions and as such, it is the best choice for mobility. The open design also allows for the best field of vision among the 3 styles. The compromise of course, is that it offers the lowest degree of protection and you remain vulnerable to busted noses or lip cuts. Additionally, competition headgears are less-padded, which means a head blow can feel more intense.
The cheek-protector design offers a good balance between protection coverage and visibility. Your nose remains unprotected and for that, you will need a full face protector design. But the cheek pads will take away some of the impact. For the best of both worlds (protection vs visibility), the cheek protector design is highly recommended.
|A Note about Competition Headgears|
If you are inclined to take part in amateur competitions, you are sometimes required to bring your own headgear. Unlike professional fights, head guard is a mandatory protective gear in many amateur competitions -for both men and women- around the world. In many cases, regular or competition shin guards are also part of the requirement. This is mandated for safety of the fighters to reduce serious injuries. If you are planning to compete, it is practical to have your own headgear that fits you best.Competition headgears have a few requirements and so most brands will make them under the similar guidelines: 1) Open-faced design with no chin protection/padding. There should be a chinstrap in place. 2) Lighter with less padding and weighs between 10-12 oz. Competition headgears feel less overbearing to wear and will not hinder your movements and reactions as such. Some competition headgears come with a bit of cheek protection while others are fully open faced. The latter being the best option for visibility.
Tips on Trying Headgear for Size
As with gloves and shin guards, it is recommended to try on a few different models when shopping for a headgear to find one that fits and feels right. This is especially important with headgears since the discomfort can be really pronounced, when they aren’t the most comfortable thing to wear in the first place. Unfortunately, unlike gloves or shin guards, you will be hard-pressed to find one being used in the Muay Thai gym by your peers. Here are a few things to take note when trying on headgears:
Tip 1 – If you train at a mma fight gym, there will surely be some headgears for you to try out. These are typically reserved for the competition team’s boxing sparring or intra-gym competitions. Many Muay Thai gyms train western boxing on the side so there will be headgears lying around.
Tip 2 – Your local fight store is another good place to try on some headgears. If there is a friendly store in town, your request to try on some headgears for size will rarely be rejected. If the prices are reasonable, then hey! Forming a good relationship with your local fight store can lead to future discounts and first dibs on sales. More importantly, nothing beats feeling/trying out the gears in real life and rubbing shoulders with fellow fight enthusiasts.
Tip 3 – Make sure that your upper field of vision is unobstructed when you keep your chin tucked down since that is the right stance that you will be taking most of the time. If the padding across your forehead is too thick or wide, it can block your vision, so do check for that.
Tip 4 – An uncomfortable headgear will affect your performance, so a headgear with a comfortable fit is crucial. If a headgear compresses your head uncomfortably, be it the sides, or front/back, then it’s clearly not the right size or model for you.
Best Headgear for Muay Thai Sparring
The beauty about buying headgear is that they are produced by almost every full-contact martial arts and so you have a really great range of options to choose from. I have rounded up some of the most widely recommended or best-selling headgears amongst the hundreds of choices. Read on and find out which are the ones most suitable for Muay Thai sparring.
Fairtex Super Sparring Head Guard HG10
- Full Head Coverage. Focus on Diagonal Vision, so, this headguard provides perfect clear vision. Completely safe with head cover to protect axe kick, elbow and knee Hard outside but soft inside for...
- Size M - Head Circumference 52cm +/-2.5cm
- Size L - Head Circumference 54cm +/- 2.5cm
This is a classic cheek protector style headgear. As its name suggests, the super sparring head guard is designed for sparring -not competition. It is equipped with ample of padding for protection and extensive cheek and chin coverage to protect much of the face. These features ensure the safety of the user in Muay Thai and boxing alike. Save for your nose, your face is pretty much covered and protected.
The HG10 is Fairtex’s most popular headgear with a good balance in design in terms of features and like all Fairtex products, these are constructed with durable leather and strong stitching -and lots of love- to withstand the adverse nature of full contact sparring. However, some users have commented on the padding to be a bit hard which is inline with their gloves. For those who prefer a soft padding (see Twins HGL-3 below), Fairtex may not be the brand but for most folks, it remains a trustworthy option.
|– “Excellent product and great visibility with lightweight, however be careful with the size, it fits small so if you hesitate, buy bigger size.”|
– “Design on headgear is great, will not fade or crack etc. I feel like a gladiator.“
Twins Special Head Guard HGL-3
- The model HGL-3 is the most comfortable model. It has chin & cheek protection for full contact sparring also provides increased face coverage.
- Size S - Head Circumference 19.0-20.5 inches
- Size M - Head Circumference 21.0-22.0 inches
As another top Muay Thai brand, Twins is another go-to brand for all kinds of Muay Thai essentials. The HGL-3 is Twins’ answer to anyone looking for sparring headguards. Handmade with 100% cow skin leather, and crafted from decades of experience, this is one tough headgear.
The HGL-3 strikes a good balance between its features and provides a reasonable degree of protection. The excellent visibility and lightweight translates to better mobility for better evasion. And as mentioned, evasion is certainly the best way to avoid head injuries. These were used at my gym’s intra-gym competition team tryouts recently and as far as I know, everyone went back without any head or facial injuries that night. For that, it deserves a spot on the list. Also compared to the Fairtex headguard, the HGL-3 offers more padding, which makes it a superior option.
|– “Everything on this headgear is perfect it’s comfortable good protection.”|
– “Headgear is great for protecting my pretty face.“
Winning Head Gear FG2900
- Medium(Japanese Size): 21.0-23.0inch / 54-59cm
- Large(Japanese Size): 22.5-24.5 inch / 57-62cm
- very light headgear 9.5oz
Winning is the brand that many professional boxers turn to for the best training gear. Although Winning head gears cost a lot more than other brands, you are paying for first class protection for your head and that in itself is worth the investment. Excellent comfort, super fine craftsmanship, and great overall protection without sacrificing visibility. It is made with synthetic leather and is very light for the thick padding that it offers. It uses a full lace-up design for ultra secure fastening.
This is made for pure boxing sparring so it’s designed to absorb head blows more effectively. If you are going to get punched in the face a lot, get this. Top boxers like Manny Pacquiao and Floyd Mayweather use Winning head gears for sparring, so it has to be worth something. If you have any intention to practise martial arts for a long time, this will be a solid investment. Proudly made in Japan.
|– “You almost forget you have headgear on because of how light it is.”|
– “ The comfort level alone separates this piece of equipment from anything else on the market.“
RDX Maya Hide Protector Headgear
- RDX Head Guard is contrived with Maya Hide Leather material that refuse to split, fray or tear. The material reassures resistance against tapping out on performance. Ideal for MMA, Boxing, Kickboxing,...
- Tri slabs of impact attenuating foam padding. It guards your head by delivering robust shock absorption.
- Quick-EZ hook and loop strap offers a protected and adjustable fit reducing chances of head protector of slipping off. Unique Quick EZ-Strap provides steady closure while stabilizing it solidly.
If you are in a job where looks matter, then you certainly need to take extra precaution against facial injuries. Look no further. The RDX Maya Hide Protector headgear is your ultimate solution. The only way you are going to hurt in the face is if your opponent removes his gloves and poke your face with his fingers. This is a very clever design as it offers full face protection while not compromising excessively on visibility. Little wonder that this is one of the best selling headgears on Amazon.
On days where you are craving a little more danger or ready to up the ante, you’ll be glad to know that the mask is removable so you also look less like a NFL player. The headgear uses velcros on the back for fastening so . In case you wondered, Maya Hide is a synthetic leather that is used on many of RDX’s products. It is a more breathable and softer alternative to vinyl and PU leather. At its price, it will surely fit all budgets. Overall, this is my top recommendation for beginners and youths.
|– “With this on I can go all out without it resulting in a busted lip, broken nose, or black eyes.”|
– “Item fit perfectly. Plenty of padding. Only issue is limited vision“
Ringside Competition Headgear w/o Cheeks
- Not approved for competition by USA Boxing
- The Ringside headgear has a sleek contoured design with the latest protective advancements
- Made of durable leather construction to ensure lasting dexterity and performance with top quality laminated foam system that disperses impact so you can focus safely on sparring and fighting
As an prolific amateur fights organizer, you know you can count on Ringside to come up with the right competition-style headgears. If you are looking for the best visibility, then the open face design without cheeks is still the number one option. The better you see, the faster you can react and evade. No matter how good a design, cheek protectors on headgears will impede some visibility. So this cheekless design will allow you to observe your opponents’ feet movement clearly. The guard weighs at 12oz which is within the required weight range for amateur competitions and this makes it a lightweight option for best mobility.
For a leather construct, this headgear is a steal. Definitely one of the best open face headgears you can get for this price. For technical sparring, this is a great protector to have for guarding against head-related accidents. Some users have commented on the snugness of the headgear so do check the manufacturer’s sizing chart for measurements.
|– “Not so much protection but i got it so i wont have tunnel vision so perfect..”|
– “My son used this in his first sanctioned USA BOXING event and he WON!!!“
Venum Challenger 2.0 Headgear
- Ultra lightweight
- Triple density contoured foam
- Flexible two way Velcro closure
[NOTE: Currently sold-out]
The first thing you need to know about Venum headgears is that they come in one size. To be honest, I’m surprised by the amount of positive reviews this headgear is getting. Human heads come in different shapes and sizes. Not oddly shaped, of course, but still different enough to warrant different sizes. That’s why they make gears and hats in different sizes. So logically speaking, a one-size-fits-all headgear is unlikely to be a good option.
They do look great. And I never doubt the quality of Venum’s products. IF they do fit, the wide open design around the eyes allow for some of the best visibility in headgears and venum gears have excellent padding. The headgear is fastened with two broad velcro straps across and one down from the top which would ensure a secure fit. But the lack of a chin fastener means that it could be wobbly around the jaw area. This is more likely for those of you with smaller heads as experienced by some users. For Venum loyalists with average-sized heads, this is definitely worth considering.
|– “Good impact absorption. Very good visibility.”|
– “The fit for the average cranium is nice and tight without being suffocating“
Even when you make it a point to spar light, accidents can happen in the heat of the moment. That’s why they are called accidents. Do what you must to protect yourselves, so that you can spar with the least of worries. Train hard, train safe, and always remember to keep your chin tucked.