In the majority of gyms, sparring is done almost exclusively with shin protectors. Your shins are one of the most sensitive bones and it’s not practical to get injured during training. There are far safer and better ways to condition your shins with heavy bag training. If you are planning to do any sparring in Muay Thai, you are definitely going to need shin guards.
There is a growing demand for synthetic leather shin guards due to the increasing converts to veganism even in the fighting circles. As technology improves, synthetic leather is matching up to the durability of real leather and providing quality fight gear at more affordable prices. If you are open to more ethically friendly gear options, read on. (See related article: “Vegan Muay Thai”)
How to Choose the Best Shin Guards
In order to choose the best shin guards for your sparring, it is helpful to know some of their basic characteristics.
Protection Vs Mobility
Technically speaking, the wider the shin guards, the more protective they are since they cover a larger area of your legs. The compromise is that they are bulkier and will slow down your movements to a certain degree. Inversely, the narrower the shin guards, the lighter they are and your movements will be faster. The downside is that you are more likely to get bruises on your legs.
Sizing and Fit
Shin guards typically come in general sizing of small/medium/large/X-large. Obviously, the bigger your calves are, the bigger size you will need. If your shin guards are too big, they will shift a lot during sparring and you will need to readjust them frequently. If they are too small, they might not offer enough protection, fit too tightly and are uncomfortable to wear.
The fit of shin guards also varies from brand to brand. For the same size, Brand X might fit wider than Brand Y. At the same time, some will cover even the knees while some will not. If you want shin guards that fit you exactly the way you want, it is imperative that you try on a few brands to find one that you like.
Muay Thai Shin Guards Vs MMA Grappling Shin Guards
MMA shin guards are designed with grappling in mind so they are usually less bulky compared to Muay Thai shin guards. MMA guards usually come in neoprene sleeves to keep the guards in place during intensive scrambling and rolling on the floor. Muay Thai guards held with straps are not practical under such conditions. Consequently, due to this compromise for mobility, MMA guards do not protect as much as Muay Thai guards. There is a lot more focus on striking especially with legs in Muay Thai and you need adequate protection when you block and check your sparring partner’s kicks.
Real Leather Vs Synthetic Leather
As with boxing gloves, genuine leather is still the most popular choice when it comes to buying shin guards. In most cases, they last longer than other materials such as synthetics. However, high quality synthetic leather can sometimes match up to the durability of real leather. Additionally, you get more options with synthetics in terms of flashier designs and range of colors. Very importantly, synthetic leather is a vegan’s best choice.
How to try Shin Guards for Size/Fit
Tip – Ask your gym mates if you can try out their shin guards to check the fitting. There will be a myriad of brands and models being worn at your gym so you can try them all out. It’s also a good way to make friends if you are new to the gym.
Tip – If your gym is of a decent quality, it is likely that they carry their own line of fight gear or even a few of the more popular brands. The best thing about buying from your gym is that you get to try them on first and you will often get a discount as a member. Prices, however, are usually higher than what you can find online for the same items.
Tip – There’s a good chance that you can find at least one fight store in your town or city. If you don’t feel shy about it, you should head down to check the selection and try them on for size before committing to a purchase online. Due to rental and other operating costs of a brick-and-mortar retail store, the prices will usually be higher than online retail price tags. However, if you are able to maintain a good relationship with your local fight store, you may be able to get some good deals or discounts. Nothing beats feeling/trying out the gears in real life and rubbing shoulders with fellow fight enthusiasts.
Synthetic Leather Shin Guards Recommendations
There is a good selection of high quality synthetic shin guards out in the market. We understand that it can be tedious to source the best synthetic leather shin guards among a sea of real- and faux- leather Muay Thai and MMA gear. So we have taken the liberty to do the hard work for you because we are nice like that. Here are our top choices:
Fairtex Muay Thai Shin Guards SP7
- Constructed of syntex leather
- Detachable shin protector and foot protector to adjust to fit user the most and for various purposes of use.
- Shin protector can be twited 90 degree from foot protector to follow your movement for maximum comfort and natural felling.
As far as leg protection goes in sparring, this is as good as it gets. The SP7 covers as much of your lower legs as is possible without restricting your Muay Thai kicks. Your feet, shin, knees and ankles are all padded up for maximum protection. My Thai trainers swear by these and recommend them for all pad-holders.
These are very comfortable in all ways and the detachable shin and foot design allows for the most natural range of leg movements. The super thick padding are excellent and will withstand even the hardest of kicks. As synthetic gear, these hold up against to any other genuine leather shin guards in the market and lives up to the reputation of the brand name. Our top choice for the best overall protection.
Fairtex Neoprene Shin Guards SP6
The SP6 was designed for MMA and grappling, but can also be used for Muay Thai sparring. There are some distinct pros and cons for this style of shin protectors. These guards differs from the usual Muay Thai guards basically in the way they are worn. They are worn over your calves like sleeves instead of the usual hook and loop velcro straps. Such a design makes them less likely to shift during sparring and is a welcome advantage.
The sizing runs a little small so this also makes them a little harder to put on or take off compared to the usual velcro straps. The other major disadvantage is that the padding just adequately covers the shins, leaving a sizeable area of the inner and outer sides of the calves and the ankles unprotected.
Fairtex Pro Style Shin Guards SP3
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These were my very first pair of shin guards and I bought them based on their price point. In terms of aesthetics, these are really plain and simple. They cover till under the knees. The coverage is also not wide enough and shifts during sparring so I have gotten bruises on the inside of the legs as a result. The narrow straps and buckles are not particularly comfortable when you secure them tightly.
As with all Fairtex gear, these are high quality and durable and I only got them replaced because they just weren’t giving me the kind of protection I needed. If you are fine with minimal protection and want something less bulky, these will do just fine.
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Hayabusa T3 Striking Shin Guards
In terms of overall protection, these Hayabusas are right up there with the best. The straps are wide and comfortable and there is a non-slip inner lining for added security against shifting during intensive spars. The instep padding covering the feet can be a little excessive and long/big. If you have small feet, they can feel a bit awkward.
The foam padding is thick on both the shin and the foot padding and you will feel indestructible during your bouts with your sparring partners. The padding works great at absorbing all the sparring impact but retains the secured support needed without sacrificing any of the mobility.
Venum Elite Standup Shin Guards
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If loud colors are your thing, then Venum is our top recommendation. Venum are known for their eye-catching aesthetics, but they make pretty darn good fight gear too.
Like the popular Venum Elite boxing gloves, these shin guards are proudly made in Thailand for the best assured quality. The lightweight provides unrestricted mobility while the dense foam padding offers protection against the hardest knocks. There is also padding on the foot to protect against being stepped on.
The extra wide straps provide a good fit, although a hook and loop design would have offered added security. Like Hayabusa, they are priced on the higher side but you will get what you pay for. As an added advantage, your sparring partners may just get blinded by the flashy neons and won’t see your kicks coming.
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A pair of good shin guards will go a long way in minimizing sparring injuries. Trust me when I say that the physical pain of getting injured is not as unbearable as the emotional pain of not being able to train due to injury. The synthetic leather shin guards recommendations here offer you the necessary protection while avoiding the unnecessary need for using animal derivative products. Train hard, train safe, train in peace.
(For the ethically-inclined, remember to also check out the companion article: “Synthetic Muay Thai Gloves Review”)