Competition headgear includes less padding than the kind of helmet you would use in your sparring sessions. This makes it lighter in weight, less bulky, and less of an impediment to your field of view.
Most sanctioning bodies require that competition headgear is of open-face design, although many allow headgear with some cheek safety. Competition headgear should be certified by USA Boxing or AIBA and it must have a tag on it indicating this certification.
Masters Competition headgear comes in as a special sub-category. Amateur fighters aged 35+ are eligible to fight in the Masters class of competitions (fighters aged 40+ can only fight in Masters class). The required headgear for the Masters includes thicker padding and larger cheek protects than the standard version.
Sparring headgear includes quite much every other kind of headgear out there. These helmets tend to have thicker padding and therefore be heavier than the competition styles. They can also consist of a number of protective features that we will get into later. You will want to select a set of sparring headgear that meets the needs of the kind of sparring you do.
The basic design of the headgear, with protection only around the top of your head, would be considered an open-face design. From here, most manufacturers and designers offer additional options for increased protection.
Cheek guards provide the simplest form of additional protection. As the name suggests, cheek guards bump out from the side of the helmet to cover the fighter’s cheeks. This padding can save your face some impact but could limit your vision depending on the size and thickness of the guard.
A Face Bar expands on the protection offered by the cheek guards by extending all the way across the face, protecting the nose as well.
The Mouth/Chin Bar provides protection for the bottom of the face. Similar to the face bar, the mouth bar is a single piece that extends all the way across the face covering the mouth and chin.
A Full Face headgear incorporates both the mouth bar and either cheek guards or a face bar.
Some headgear also includes a Face Cage or plastic face shield to provide 100% coverage of your face. In most cases for boxers, this will prove unnecessary.
When choosing between these different options, always remember that you are making a trade-off between different performance aspects. Any additional protective feature you add will also add weight and potential to reduce your field of vision. While it’s important to protect your face and head from repeated impact, the number one best way to avoid injury is to not get hit in the first place.
You ultimately have the choice of whether or not to wear headgear during sparring sessions. I personally believe headgear is a necessity, especially if you’re a sparring beginner. If you choose to spar hard, headgear can be very beneficial to give you an extra layer of brain protection. Remember, just because you or your partner choose to wear headgear it doesn’t give you an excuse to punch or kick harder. Headgear doesn’t necessarily justify harder shots, it simply is there to lessen the damage caused by hard shots.
Headgear isn’t always necessary for sparring sessions, especially if it’s a light spar or if you and your partner are just focusing on the basics. Boxing headgear is more appropriate when sparring partners don’t hold back, or when sparring partners are known to have a lack of self-control.