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The late winter-early spring period is a wonderful time for parents for a number of reasons, among them … youth baseball gets started! And for the more “seasoned” parents ~ that is, moms and dads who already survived at least a full youth baseball season ~ it’s a time to review their kids’ gear.
Today we’re talking about the single position in all of the major sports that commands a lot of equipment: catcher. We decided to take a deep look into the tools of ignorance, and forward to you the best youth catchers gear for 2024 and beyond.
Note that this is a review of catcher’s gear sets ~ of at least a mask, chest protector, and leg guards. The products outlined below come as sets, offered by various manufacturers, and many offer different features for little players to choose from. (Reviews of individual pieces of these sets are planned for a future review article).
Summary of the Best Catchers Gear
- Atop our list is the Under Armour PTH Victory Series Catching Kit, which offers everything a little catcher needs, with a professional look and reasonable price.
- Kids who want to stand apart from the crowd, without sacrificing quality, should consider the All-Star System7 Axis Baseball Catchers Set, a fine offering by an up-and-coming manufacturer.
- Those looking for a set of catcher’s equipment that will last, take a peek at the Wilson C1K Catcher’s Gear Kit.
- Some kids just want to look good, and for them we present the Easton ELITE X Baseball Catcher’s Equipment Box Set.
- If improving performance is the top consideration, then we suggest the Mizuno Samurai Adult Baseball Boxed Catcher’s Gear Set.
- The Rawlings Velo 2.0 Baseball Catcher’s Set is our recommendation for parents who insist on the most protection possible.
In all honesty, brand new players probably don’t have to worry about catcher’s gear. Most youth baseball leagues provide the younger-aged divisions with a “team” set of a catcher’s mask, chest protector, and shin guards. Some even might toss in a protective cup into the coach’s gear bag.
Of course, anyone who plays the position of catcher in baseball needs catcher’s gear. It is not possible to play the position without significant protection. Catchers in the developmental years of baseball, in the second half of the 1800s, played without all the equipment. They did not play in the same location as today’s catchers ~ and throws did not travel as fast as today.
At the beginning of Major League Baseball, pitchers threw underhanded; and the catcher stood (actually kind of bent forward a little, but not squatting) several feet behind home plate. Basically, early catchers were not as prone to taking baseballs off their body parts, because they were back far enough to react to the pitch.
Then the MLB allowed overhand pitching, and hurlers began to really huck the baseball, and catchers were forced to move up closer to the plate ~ as players learned the strategic value of bunting and base stealing.
From that point on, catchers’ gear was developed in response to a consistent problem. Shots to the face, groin, or any bone could knock a catcher from a game immediately ~ and just like today, new catchers are not always easy to find.
Hard foul-tips to the chest caused cracked ribs, or even heart-injury concerns, hence the chest protector. And it doesn’t take much imagination to understand why someone started wearing a mask over their face.
In later years the protective cup was invented to protect a player’s private parts, and many years after that other protection devices were introduced including the neck guard, and behind-the-knee pads to help “save” the knee joints. Individual catchers found or devised all kinds of things to protect body parts including the fingers, wrists, forearms, upper shoulders, and feet (notably, the toes).
(See the end of this article for tips on what to look for when purchasing catchers’ gear for young baseball players).
Top Catchers’ Gear for 2024 ~ Our Recommendations
1. Best Catcher’s Gear for Baseball Overall ~ Under Armour PTH Victory Series Catching Kit
Topping our list is the Under Armour PTH Victory Series Catching Kit, with everything you’d expect in a full catcher’s equipment set, at a reasonable price. The pieces all meet sports equipment standards, and the set comes with a throat guard and warranty. The hockey-style catcher’s mask is eye-catching cool, and comfort is all but guaranteed from this manufacturer. That Under Armour catcher’s gear is seen on many Major League Baseball catchers says much, and the model’s user reviews are very solid.
- Items: Mask/helmet, chest protector, leg guards, throat guard
- Weight(s): 7 lbs.
- Primary Materials: Nylon, foam, plastic
- Special: Unique padding in leg guards for comfort
What We Like
- Reasonable pricing
- 1-year warranty
- Design elements for comfort
2. Best Up-and-Coming Catcher’s Gear Manufacturer ~ All-Star System7 Axis Baseball Catchers Set
Not far off the top spot is the System7 Axis Baseball Catchers Set from All-Star, a rising star in production of catcher-safety gear. Among all the catchers sets we reviewed, this model had the most positive reviews by users ~ so word is spreading. Aside from the comfort and safety features, check out the huge selection in color schemes! Note: All Star offers System 7 sets for young adults as well as intermediate ages (e.g. 12-15), and for this list they are identical in value. Make sure to check models for recommended ages.
- Items: Hockey-style catcher’s helmet, chest protector, leg guards, throat guard
- Weight(s): 8 lbs.
- Primary Materials: Nylon, foam
- Special: I-bar visitation steel cage mask style; removable groin protector
What We Like
- 13 color schemes
- Motocross-inspired LINQ pivoting hinge on leg guards
- 1-year warranty
3. Best Catcher’s Gear for Durability ~ Wilson C1K Catcher’s Gear Kit
Another catchers gear set with superb user ratings is the Wilson C1K Catcher’s Gear Kit. This manufacturer produces a lot of equipment for youth baseball, so having a solid offering here is no surprise whatsoever. As with the Under Armour model above, you’ll see plenty of Wilson-logo’d gear on MLB catchers, which youngsters will appreciate. That this was modeled after the Wilson Pro Stock Catcher’s Gear tells us this model is plenty sturdy, yet with a cool pro-style feel.
- Items: Helmet/mask, chest protector, leg guards
- Weight(s): 8 lbs.
- Primary Materials: ABS plastic
- Special: Removable items, like leg guard inner knee pads for washing, or shoulder caps to boost mobility
What We Like
- Excellent brand history for baseball protective gear
- Removable and washable parts
- 1-year limited warranty
4. Best Catcher’s Gear for Style ~ Easton ELITE X Baseball Catcher’s Equipment Box Set
The manufacturer is known more for its softball gear lineup, but the Easton ELITE X Baseball Catcher’s Equipment Box Set fares quite well in our comparison process. Easton carries a good reputation for delivering equipment that looks good on diamonds, and this set is no exception with the matte finish on the futuristic hockey-style helmet, or the space-age design on the chest protector’s front. Bonus: available in 12 colors/color combos ~ including the stars and stripes motif.
- Items: Catcher’s helmet/mask, chest protector, leg guards
- Weight(s): 12 lbs.
- Primary Materials: Blend
- Special: Attention to interior and interior details to enhance comfort
What We Like
- 1-year limited warranty
- Style: Easton’s matte finish helmets, accents on chest protector, secondary-colored side flaps on leg guards
- 13 colors including not always typical maroon, green, and Carolina blue; plus stars and stripes pattern
5. Best Catcher’s Gear for Innovation ~ Mizuno Samurai Adult Baseball Boxed Catcher’s Gear Set
Ever since Mizuno cracked the American market in the early 1980s, the Japanese manufacturer has focused greatly on enhancing performance. And there is much to like in that realm with the Mizuno Samurai Adult Baseball Boxed Catcher’s Gear Set. As examples we point to the low-rebound foam, and gripped front surface, of the chest protector to keep balls in front; or the triple-knee cup construction in the leg guards. Add to that comfort inside the helmet with a strategic ventilation system, and 3-layer EVA foam padding, and you have a quality set of gear.
- Items: Chest protector, shin guards, helmet/mask.
- Weight(s): 13.7 lbs.
- Primary Materials: EVA foam, plastic
- Special: Patented K-Pad on the inside of the leg guards
What We Like
- Mizuno’s application of innovations
- Snug helmet and leg-guard comfort
- 1-year limited warranty
6. Best Catcher’s Gear for Protection ~ Rawlings | Velo 2.0 Baseball Catcher’s Set
No list of the top catcher’s gear would be complete without making a suggestion for the most protection possible. For that we tap a mainstay manufacturer of baseball equipment, and direct you to the Rawlings Velo 2.0 Baseball Catcher’s Set. Impact-absorbing foam behind the chest protector, the patented Supertoe at the bottom of the leg guards for optimal instep protection, impact-resistant and recessed helmet cage ~ this set has a lot of features to keep your little catcher safe back there.
- Items: Chest protector, shin guards, hockey-style helmet/mask
- Weight(s): 9 lbs.
- Primary Materials: Plastic
- Special: Arc Reactor Core technology in the foam behind the chest protector
What We Like
- Super-enhanced leg guards, ultra-padded chest protector
- Attention to ventilation and air flow, as well as light weight, to boost comfort
For youth baseball, early players will spend at least a season trying the position out, to see if he or she likes it. Once a player is committed to catching, parents might want to individualize their little player, or provide equipment that’s better-looking and more protective, than the well-used gear provided by leagues.
People looking for their own new catchers’ gear can take the following into consideration when perusing models.
Perhaps the most important piece of catchers’ equipment, since it prevents hard balls traveling at excessive speeds from smashing faces and teeth. Modern masks are often built into helmets, a trick borrowed from hockey goalies starting in the 1980s.
Young players will want a face mask/helmet that is snug, and not loose or the mask could slip to the side and impair vision. Also look for quality padding inside, especially on the forehead, and chin. Players will not want their mouth right on a pad, if possible, so this is a fitting detail to pay attention to.
Some face masks also have protruding thick wires laterally beyond the ears, offering more protection there. And, as outlined more below, some helmet-masks are designed with chin protection extending downward to block the neck.
Comfort and weight are probably the biggest things to look for, followed by look and style.
These are the long half-tubes strapped to the front side of a player’s shins, which come with hinged extensions to cover the knee caps, and usually the top of the shoes. Some have little extensions outward laterally to protect the upper-ankles; and still others might have more hinged extensions to protect more of the foot, or upper thigh.
They have grown in length over the years; what once were “shin guards” are now leg guards.
Fit and comfort are important here, as too-long leg guards make it hard to play. Catchers do have to run in all that gear now and then, and running in shin guards can take some getting used to.
With chest protectors, look for those that cover the most area, and are not too heavy. Foul-tips or bounced pitches off the upper chest are more shocking than painful, and getting hit in the belly area even more so. Some chest protectors have hinged extensions that cover the shoulder joint of the throwing arm, a key part of a catchers’ body.
Still others have very thick padded edges in strategic areas like around the neck, or even straight down the middle vertically to protect the sternum. As with chin guards, chest protectors should fit snugly, and they are easily adjustable so parents don’t have to worry about buying a new one every year.
Not every set we mention below comes with the same accessories ~ if any at all. Some sets come with a neck or throat guard, an elongated piece of plastic that is tied to the bottom chin of a face mask so it hangs down in front of the Adam’s Apple area of the neck.
A lot of newfangled masks are designed with extended chins or other design elements to automatically provide the same type of protection as the old hanging guards. Additionally, chest protectors often come with thick strips of padding around the collar to protect the lower neck better.
Old-school dads might be shocked to see today’s catcher’s gear for kids, with all the color schemes, and space-age-looking mask-helmets. Even modern shin guards come with flairs at the bottom to protect the ankles.
For many years, youth catchers’ gear looked pretty much the same. No longer. Consider these details:
- Team Colors. Today it’s easy to find chest protectors, shin guards, and helmet-masks that match in color. Also, many sets are offered in a number of color schemes, including even a Stars ‘n’ Stripes design for those Independence Day tournaments!
- Personalized Helmets. As most catchers shifted to the face mask built-in to a helmet, designers began eyeing the space on the outside of those helmets not just for protection, but to make them look cool. Think of those early hockey goalie masks that were painted in a vicious tiger’s face to scare away approaching opponents. The exterior of baseball catcher’s helmets can have flames, the team logo, polka dots, or whatever design the player wants.
For our list we assume each product is certified or approved for youth baseball play by the top authorities. The main stamp to look for is NOCSAE approval. There also are SEI-certifications, particularly for helmet/masks, which stands for Safety Equipment Institute.
It is suggested that parents learn about the equipment requirements of the league their children will be playing in. The NOCSAE is a national standard required of most youth baseball leagues; but some leagues could tack on further safety testing requirements.
Cather’s Gear Insight
Each piece of catcher’s equipment has its own preferred cleaning and maintenance practices. Here is a general run-down.
Mitts are leather and after games should be wiped with a clean towel dipped in water. Do not use chemicals to clean the mitts, although after wiping away dirt and perspiration, feel free to add glove oil to keep the leather moist. Except for the breaking-in period with new mitts, do not immerse them entirely in water. It will hurt the leather long-term.
Almost all catcher’s masks or mask-helmet combos can be cleaned with water. A very wet clean rag can be used to wipe away debris on the mask; or dip the entire thing in a bucket of water if needed.
Same with helmets, except be careful with the padding inside. Some padding is quite covered with vinyl and can tolerate very wet wiping. But some padding might be hardly protected foam, and this should not be dipped in water at all. These should be wiped carefully, using just water.
Some chest protectors can be machine washed, so look closely at models’ details or tags. If not, once again, very wet clean cloth towels can be used to wipe away grime. After a pretty decent wetting and wiping, try to ensure the protector is air-dried well, preferably outside. Of all the items used in catching, the chest protector is most prone to stains and odors.
Chest protectors have foam sewn into rib-like tubes for padding, and try not to leave the padding too wet. We recommend air drying outdoors. Basically, carefully follow the directions on the particular model used.
Same as the mask or helmet, very wet towels should do fine wiping away grime. Most leg guards can be completely immersed in water to start the process.
At the youth levels of baseball play, especially for the younger divisions, most leagues provide enough gear to get a catcher into games. However, in modern times, past the age of 8, once it is determined that the child enjoys catching and will do more in the future, most parents look into getting their own gear even if a single item at a time.
Few leagues require players to have their own catcher’s gear. However, from the teen-age levels on up, most every catcher has his own gear. League-provided catcher’s gear can tend to be pretty out-dated, beat up, or both.
Try shopping around and buy a piece at a time when good low-priced deals are found. Also, sometimes used gear for sale can be found, especially at the younger ages where kids decide they don’t like being behind the plate after all.
Overall with baseball gear, understand how demand can drive up price. The best deals probably will be found off-season. Of course, with youth baseball today that might only mean November and December, in which case buy gear in early November to avoid holiday price increases.
In general, try to avoid purchasing new catcher’s gear once seasons start, like after February for regular seasons, after April for All-Star play, or after Labor Day for fall- or winter-ball play.
Question: How often should catcher’s gear be replaced?
Answer: Typically it’s every year, although with good maintenance (and not overused) some equipment pieces can last longer. Helmets with face masks can last quite long; plus players often get used to the feel inside and keep trying to squeeze more innings from it. Chin guards get quite scratched up. But the biggest issue with leg guards and chest protectors is players grow out of them; and adults tend to beat up on the gear pretty hard due to their higher weight.
Q.: What gear do MLB catchers use?
A.: Most-used brands are Nike, All-Star, Rawlings, Easton, and Force 3. From top-down, most catchers prefer Force 3 masks or mask-helmet combos; more than half go with Nike for chest protectors and/or leg guards; and Rawlings by far is the preferred brand for catcher’s mitts.
Q.: Do professional catchers use knee savers?
A.: Yes. At the highest levels of baseball, some catchers might not like anything further that might get in the way, or dislike the loose feel behind the knees. But knee-savers can be seen on catchers of all levels.
Q.: Do youth kits come with throat guards?
A.: It depends on the kit, so know what’s included in your package before buying. Some do not come with throat guards because the helmet provided has a mask with an extension down over the upper-neck area. Not all catcher’s like a separate dangling item down there.
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