As the cold weather blows in and we put away our baseball equipment for another season, our attention and focus turns towards 2017 and the best equipment for next season. We will focus specifically on catcher’s gear for both baseball and fastpitch softball.
Catcher’s gear generally has a pretty good shelf life, especially if you purchased something of good quality. Still, advances in technology translate to newer and better products each season, and the offseason is a good a time as any to check out what is available in the marketplace.
What Type Of Equipment Do I Need To Purchase?
If you’ve been around the game playing the catcher’s position for a bit, you’ll know that there are three main pieces of equipment that every catcher should be equipped with: helmet, chest protector, and leg guards.
Buying a good sturdy helmet is likely the most important piece of equipment you will ever purchase. Much like for bikers on the road, helmets save lives for catchers too. You never know when a fastball that gets away or a foul tip will strike you square in the head, and having a good helmet will help prevent long-term injuries. The catcher position (along with home plate umpire) is actually the position most likely to sustain a concussion, mostly due to all the foul tips.
Let’s be clear: no helmet alone will make you 100% safe from concussions, but a good helmet will make a serious difference. A full-faced helmet with complete face guard mask will earn its keep in protecting you from these serious risks and many others. If you play hockey, you’ll notice many similarities between a baseball catcher’s mask with a hockey goalie’s mask. The type of protection needed in baseball is just as important as what a hockey goalie faces each game.
Secondly you’ll need to get yourself a solid chest protector. The biggest decision here is the tradeoff between getting something that is weighted and reinforced versus maintaining flexibility and agility. You should aim to have a chest protector that is moderately thick to offer enough protection, but not too much so that it inhibits your ability to move behind the plate. The chest protector should not only cover your chest, but also your the majority of your torso including shoulders if possible.
Finally, the last piece of equipment to consider are leg guards. Catchers spend a lot of time down on their knees, so you’ll want something that can move as much as you move back there. Finding leg guards with multi-flex points will make a big difference in both comfort and performance.
What About Reconditioning?
Some helmets and equipment can be reconditioned, which basically means that you can take it to an equipment expert to inspect and repair for any cracks, dents, broken parts, etc. There are licensed people who can work on repurposing equipment; do not trust anyone who is unlicensed to work on your gear.
Other Optional Accessories
Some other items that you should consider:
- Throat guard: some helmets have removable throat guards; if yours does not come with one, you can consider purchasing one separately.
- Knee reinforcements: offer increased protection and guards beyond just leg guards.
- Wrist guards: helps the catcher better brace for hard pitches.
- Cup: all players at higher levels should consider wearing a cup behind the plate for protection.
What Things Should I Consider In My Purchase?
Let’s look at some catchers gear sets to keep your eye on next season.
- Correct fit and sizing: Particularly important when choosing a helmet, as you will want something that does not sit too high or too low.
- Flexibility: Try to find equipment that does not restrict range of motion.
- Safety: Find equipment that does the job in keeping you safe, even if it ends up costing you more money.
- Labels: Check all labels on your equipment to see if it can be reconditioned, etc. Some helmets will have an expiry date as well; make sure you read all labels carefully.
- Warranties: Be sure to consider the manufacturer’s warranty on all your equipment.
Product Reviews - Which Is Right For You?
Below are 5 choices for the best catcher’s gear sets for 2017:
Louisville Slugger: “PG 7” Series
LS is up first with the PG 7 Series adult catcher’s set, which showcases the precision pad designed chest protector that provides a much more comfortable fit. Very reasonably priced, this is a good intermediate catcher’s set that doesn’t break the bank.
- NOCSAE approved helmet includes a chin pad that wicks away moisture, keeping you dry during the game
- Chest protector features a Precision Pad design along with memory foam padding
- Leg guards have a tri-knee design with adjustable and removable reinforced padding to allow for quicker movements and improved flexibility
- Suitable for players at varying levels, from beginner to intermediate level players
- Good durability and toughness
- Priced very fairly
- Memory foam padding weighs heavier than your average chest protector
Nice offering from LS as a midway entry into the catcher’s gear set market; this will be more than fine for your average recreational ballplayer.
All Star: “System 7” Series
All Star’s System 7 Pro gear set is a 3-piece package that comes with a hockey style helmet, a chest protector with wraparound adjustable sides and two sturdy leg guards. It is the lightest in weight out of all the 5 sets featured in this list, and is a common choice for more competitive players.
- Overall one of the lightest sets you can purchase today (chest protector at 22.4oz weighs lighter than any of the other options)
- Good protection with some customizable sizing
- Helmet has a hard shell but is still fairly light in weight
- Chest protector features a wedge shape that provides extra cushioning when hit by baseballs, while also serving to deaden the ball
- Leg guards feature reinforced shin guards to give better protection
- Better suited for more competitive and serious players
- Price point may dissuade some shoppers
A terrific choice from All Star for the more serious athlete or collegiate level player. Customizable and lightweight, this gear set is sure to be a hit on the diamond.
Easton: “M10” Series
Easton always comes to the market ready to play, and the M10 series is no exception to that fact. A terrific option for players of all abilities with the hallmark Easton durability and warranty. This set also features leg guards with the TruBlock design which prevents rolling when going down to your knees.
- Helmet has a cap on the back that enables it to be removed quickly; also includes 18 different vents to provide circulation and ventilation
- Leg guards fit very snugly with a good solid knee cap giving maximum protection through different range of motions
- Chest protector fits very well while not sacrificing mobility or restricting movement
- Available in a variety of color combinations
- Some players commented that the sizing did not fit well for smaller players
- Leg guards can be stuffy and may need more adequate ventilation
Great option for competitive players to take their game to the next level. Easton has made a reputation with high quality products, and the M10 series falls right in line.
Mizuno: “Samurai” Series
Mizuno steps up to the plate with their Samurai gear set, a newly updated offering which is highlighted by the AirMesh chest protector that promises better ventilation without sacrificing comfort or protection.
- Helmet gives decent ventilation while still offering good protection
- Chest protector features a silhouette that aids the catcher in identifying correct angle to take when blocking; shoulder padding is curved to offer less restriction to mobility
- AirMesh technology gives the back much better ventilation and breathability
- Wings can detach via snaps to enable you to adjust the fitting to your custom needs
- Although the chest protector is new, both the helmet and leg guards are from prior Samurai generations
A nice choice from Mizuno, though we would have liked to see enhancements and updates to the helmet and leg guards. Still, a good option for players who are fans of Mizuno’s strong product offerings.
Rawlings: “Velo” Series
Last but not least we have Rawlings and the Velo series, a slick graphite gear set with patented Rawlings technology at every turn to give the catcher increased comfort and ventilation, especially useful on those long, hot August afternoons under the boiling sun.
- NOCSAE approved helmet that has a COOLFLO technology to provide better ventilation in and out of the helmet
- Chest protector features Dynamic Fit System which enables better range of motion
- Lightweight leg guards that are fairly comfortable, even in hot weather; includes Supertoe which gives additional protection
- Although leg guards have reinforced foam in the knees, still feels a bit hard when dropping down quickly to block balls
The Rawlings Velo series is an incredibly comfortable choice that has truly focused on giving good airflow and ventilation in all three pieces of equipment. Thankfully, it does not appear that any protection or overall durability was lost, and the end result is a high quality, lightweight catcher’s set.
Which Catcher’s Set Reigns Supreme?
All 5 choices are excellent and will be suitable for the 2017 season, but my personal favourite is Easton’s M10 series. Another in a long line of quality Easton products, the M10 overall hits all the marks for what competitive ballplayers should be looking for in a catcher’s gear set this season.