So your kid is going to don the 'tools of ignorance'? While this idea can be both exciting and nerve wracking for parents it also comes with a whole new set of logistical issues to take care of. Not the least of which is purchasing catcher's gear for your young Yadier Molina or Buster Posey. We will run down some of the best options for youth catcher's gear, what pieces you need, and how to know if they'll fit.
Pieces of Youth Catcher's Gear
Youth Catcher's gear sets come with 3 main pieces; the helmet/mask, chest protector, and leg guards. The price of the catcher's gear will be driven by the quality of the materials. Higher priced sets will feature lighter but more protective padding and a larger focus on comfort of the gear. See our discussion on custom catcher's gear sets.
Youth Catcher's Gear Headgear
When choosing a set look at the quality and style of the helmet. There are two basic types of catcher's headgear; traditional and hockey style. Traditional style refers to a ear-less helmet worn backwards with a mask. Almost every set you find for youth will be hockey style, as most baseball associations do not allow the traditional style for younger players. If you or your catcher wants the traditional style, I recommend checking with the associations in which they'll be playing first.
Another feature you will want to consider when choosing a set of catcher's gear is the quality/thickness of the padding inside the helmet and whether it's washable or replaceable if needed. Some headgear offers more breath-ability and moisture wicking padding.
You will also want to consider and pay special attention to the actual mask of the headgear and the visibility that it offers. Take into consideration the field of view from inside the helmet. While most brands have pretty similar FOV, Under Armour gets high marks in this area.
The chest protector also has a couple different styles to look for; with a groin protector piece, without a groin protector piece, and a groin protector piece that can be removed if unwanted.
In higher priced sets you'll find the protector has been lined with harder materials for more protection, while still being made to be lighter weight. Some sets also have removable shoulder pads. Sets on the lower end of the price range will tend to be a little bulkier and heavier though still completely functional.
The leg guards are going to look very similar, but the differences in them will be in comfort and padding. Look for leg guards that have extra padding behind the knee for added protection when your catcher is blocking balls in the dirt.
Some sets you will find come with triple knee pads adding extra protection and comfort, especially for indoor workouts and training. Leg guards also come with different style straps to help stay in place or connect in back with padding.
Youth Catcher's Gear Sizing
How do you know which size to get? You're going to have to take some measurements of your catcher and follow the guidelines the manufacturers have provided.
Easton, Rawlings, All Star, Mizuno, and Wilson all offer variety in sizing (including Tee Ball sizes), and Wilson offers Small/Medium and Large/Extra Large sets. Rawlings offers a junior youth size. The Tee Ball and Junior sizes will be for players mostly under 8 years or so in age, depending on the size of the player.
All the manufacturers offer a youth size which is recommended between the ages of 9-12. These sets will generally be adjustable enough to fit almost any player between those ages. You do want everything to fit nice and tight so it doesn't shift and get in the way of the player or leave them vulnerable to injury because it's out of place. This size fits all the catchers on our 11U team from one of our smallest kids to some of our bigger boys. This is the size I would recommend even for a 12 year old unless he was really above average for his age.
The other size for youth players is intermediate size. These sets are intended for players between the ages of 12-15. If you have an 11 year old that's on the larger size of things like we do, you may be tempted to go with intermediate size and most of it will probably be useable. However, we ran into a problem with the leg guards. Our player is about 5'3" and 105 pounds. We ordered both a youth size set and an intermediate set hoping the intermediate would fit and get more years of use out of it. We were happy with the fit of the helmet and chest protector but the leg guards were far too long for him to use.
Side note, check with the sites or stores return policy before you order as you may end up paying a "restocking fee" like we did when we had to return the larger size.
Youth Catcher's Gear Pricing
Just like much of the equipment we buy for baseball, the price range can vary greatly. Youth catcher's gear sets can be found for a little as $100 per set to upwards of $400. The sets on the lower end of the price range aren't going to have some of the nicer features like extra knee padding, triple knee guards, more breathable fabrics, and lighter weight materials. However, it is possible to get a good set with many if not all of those features for between $150-$200.
See Gear Set Pricing.
It pays off to spend a little time to shop around online for the best deals, just remember to heed the return policy. Some sets will even come with a catcher's bag to carry all the new gear in which will save you some expense. However, the bags we found that came with the sets were not of the wheeled variety.
Top Brands of Youth Catcher's Gear
There are a handful of trusted catcher's gear manufacturers and with those discussed below there really is no wrong choice. When it comes down to choosing which gear to buy it's usually a matter of choosing which options you want on your gear and which color combinations work best.
All Star Youth Catcher's Gear
All Star is a well respected name and you can count on quality in their sets and all the options you are looking for in the moderate to higher end sets. All Star offers sets from around $130-$350. All Star also offers a large variety of color combinations and even different patterns to choose from including the always popular camo. It is also one of the companies with which you can get a catcher's bag included in certain sets. Look to spend around $300 for a set with all the bells and whistles. All Star Youth Catcher's Gear Pricing.
Rawlings Youth Catcher's Gear
Rawlings is best known for their gloves, but they also have quality catcher's gear. Rawlings offers sets from the $100 range all the way up to almost $400. They have less color options than some of the other brands, but still enough that you should be able to find what you're looking for. Their high end set also comes with a catcher's bag. A Rawlings set with the extra options will be around $160 or more. Rawlings' catcher's gear pricing.
Easton Youth Catcher's Gear
Easton has sets ranging from $100 up to almost $300 for their better sets of gear. As with other manufacturers the higher priced sets get lighter materials, more padding where needed and triple knee guards. Also you have to get to around $150 for more color options, with their top set having tons of color combos. Easton sets with all or most of the options will start around $180. Easton youth catcher's gear price check.
Mizuno Youth Catcher's Gear
Mizuno has basic sets that start around $150 and go up to $250 range. The Mizuno Samurai sets are complete sets with all the bonus features like extra padding and triple knee guards. This is the set we went with for our 11 year old catcher, partly because the groin protector and shoulder protectors were removable if he didn't like them, but also because he liked the style and color choices. Expect to spend around $200 for a set with all the features. Mizuno catcher's gear youth set pricing.
Under Armour Youth Catcher's Gear
Under Armour is a name your player will definitely identify with and may want this set based on name recognition. Under Armour offers less variety in the number of sets to choose from but what they do have in the youth market gets high praise, particularly for their helmet. Under Armour's catching mask offers a slightly different style of mask which allows the player a little more visibility than other masks. Another bonus is some big box stores carry Under Armour sets on hand and you may be able to try on sizes there. Their youth set will cost you about $200 with a few color options. Under Armour youth catcher's gear sets.
Other Youth Catcher's Gear Brands
There are also some other manufacturers out there that just might be the right choice for you. Wilson has a slightly wider range of sizes. Diamond's higher end sets compete with any of the others, but start in intermediate sizes. And Louisville Slugger has only a couple sets to choose from, but they are priced very competitively.
Purchasing Pieces Separately
You always have the option to purchase the pieces of catcher's gear separately. This is a great route to go if you know your player needs a larger or smaller chest protector or helmet but needs the regular size leg guards. I wouldn't recommend this route if you are planning on buying all the pieces at the same time and need all youth sizes, it will end up costing just as much and probably more than purchasing as a set. You can see our conversation on matching and custom catcher's gear sets here.
Youth Catcher's Gear Bag
See our conversation on baseball bat bats that covers catcher's bags.
Your son or daughter's normal bat pack isn't going to cut it for transporting catcher's gear. Even if they have a roller bag already, it may not be big enough to hold all their catcher's gear plus other equipment. We currently use an older Mizuno bag left over from our slowpitch softball use. It is big enough to carry all of the gear but doesn't leave much room for much else so he ends up carrying a bat pack too. If you want a top of the line catchers' gear bag look no further than No Errors bags. You will pay for the quality, but they are very good.
You could also purchase roller bags of another brand (either designed for catcher's gear or general use) but make sure it's large enough for all the equipment and has a pocket long enough for the leg guards. You could also use a large duffel bag but keep in mind that without rollers it may be awfully heavy for a younger player to carry, especially on those longer walks from the back of the crowded parking lot to the back fields. For that matter it may be awfully heavy for you to carry, and we know we don't always want to lug a catcher's bag everywhere.
Youth Catcher's Gear Accessories
We know no ballplayer is complete without all the little things that go along with baseball, catcher's are no different. Knee savers are useful and fairly reasonably priced. Thumb guards are helpful if your catcher is catching particularly hard throwers. Other accessories to consider are a visor for those bright days behind the plate, a wrist protector, and a throat guard. Most of these can be bought relatively inexpensively.
What Youth Catcher's Gear to Buy?
So many options to choose from right? While that can be overwhelming it's also a good thing. With all of these options you'll be able to decide what features are important to you. Then search for a manufacturer that offers them in the style and colors you like and a price you're willing to pay. When deciding on your price range, don't forget to factor in the cost of accessories and a bag to lug it all around in.