One of the most essential pieces of equipment for umpires is the chest protector. These protectors come in a wide range of sizes and offer varying levels of protection. Importantly, they safeguard vital organs, including the heart, underscoring their importance.

Interestingly, the term “umpire chest protector” might more accurately be called a “shoulder, chest, and rib protector,” given its comprehensive coverage. In some cases, it even provides added protection to areas like the biceps and stomach.

Selecting the right chest protector tailored to your size and officiating level ensures confidence and safety while umpiring. In the following sections, we’ll guide you on choosing the ideal umpire chest protector.

Should You Wear It Inside or Outside?

It is important to know that umpire chest protectors are designed to be worn on the inside. To help keep your chest protector fit comfortably, an adjustable harness will be placed over your neck, then it will slide down to your back. And finally, it will be latched to the side of your body.

Umpire shirts are designed in such a way that they can fit while wearing your chest protector. Furthermore, it is created from tough fabric so that it can handle protrusions, hard plastic, and any other stressors.

Additionally, the previous balloon-style models are hand-held, oversized, and more challenging when handling umpiring tasks. In fact, most umpires have considered them out-of-style. Nevertheless, they can still be used by volunteer umpires who do not have their own chest protectors.

Find Out About Its Coverage

Typically, umpire chest protectors cover from the base of your neck down to your belly button. As an umpire, selecting the correct size and adjusting the harness properly is crucial. Doing so ensures protection for both your ribs and collarbone.

Some umpire chest protectors offer additional features, like bicep protection or removable extensions for added coverage around the stomach area. It’s important to note that the chest protector doesn’t shield your throat. However, attaching an extension to your helmet or umpire mask can safeguard you from direct balls and those rising from the ground.

How About Its Protection Level?

Before selecting an umpire chest protector, determine the level of protection you need. You have the option of chest protectors with either a soft shell or a hard shell exterior. Under all hard shells, there’s an added layer of soft padding, whereas soft shells may incorporate hard plastic inserts.

Certainly, a hard shell provides greater protection. It disperses more initial energy upon impact and usually offers more coverage than its soft shell counterpart, regardless of whether it includes hard plastic inserts. However, the soft shell version is cooler, lighter, more comfortable, and often more affordable.

Fortunately, modern hard shell umpire chest protectors are crafted from lighter materials and typically contour better to the body than older designs, ensuring a more comfortable fit. Due to these safety considerations, umpires across various levels often opt for a hard-shell chest protector.

How to Choose the Right Size

Apart from the soft vs. hard shell, outside vs. inside, you also need to consider the size when it comes to choosing the appropriate umpire chest protector for you. For example, if you are much shorter or taller, then some chest protectors might work better for you, while others might not work at all.

When you measure the length of your chest protector, start at your neck, then move on to the bottom, where you want the chest protector to be placed. Once you have your new umpire chest protector, stand in front of the mirror and try to check if it offers coverage from the neck down to the ribs.

What Are Soft Shell Umpire Chest Protectors?

Umpire chest protectors with soft shells have greatly evolved, and most of them can even provide more protection. Aside from being lightweight, they also have a variety of options for any height, offer more perspiration management, and are commonly less expensive.

Soft shells greatly vary depending on whether or not there are multiple options available, whether they include extra extensions for the biceps, or whether they provide additional protection through plastic plates inserted within the chest protector.

Take note that there are some chest protectors that are soft-shell-only that are available in the market today and they come in a ribbed style and do not include extra hard-plastic plates, in contrast to what catchers are wearing. However, umpires are discouraged from wearing soft-shell-only styles and just let the catchers wear them. Instead, umpires should wear umpire chest protectors that include some type of hard shell coverage and hard shell plate inserts.

Also, please bear in mind that there is a huge discrepancy between skill levels in any age group, specifically those between 12 to 15 years old. That is why we would not recommend which chest protector is ideal for which age group. But we would advise that you should go one level lower than those recommended by manufacturers.

We also admire veteran umpires, who have been wearing both soft and hard shell types and highly recommend using an umpire chest protector that includes a hard shell.

What are Umpire Chest Protectors with a Hard Shell?

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Veteran umpires often recommend opting for a chest protector with a hard shell across all levels, from major and minor leagues to college levels. While many umpires using soft shell chest protectors, with or without inserts, may go years without issues, some have faced painful hits resulting in bruises, wishing they’d chosen more robust protection.

In the past, obtaining a new hard shell was primarily through Wilson due to the patented design by MLB umpire Joe West. His design featured Velcro attaching hard plates to foam padding, positioning football shoulder pads at the front-facing hard shell for enhanced coverage down the body, rather than across the back.

However, as time has progressed and the patent has expired, manufacturers have introduced alternative designs. These newer options include versions that utilize rivets to attach hard plates, offering umpires a wider range of sizes and price points to choose from.

What are Its Great Benefits?

With hard shells, you benefit from increased coverage, especially in the upper torso and shoulders, due to the no-gap protection and inclusion of hard shell plates.

Many chest protectors only offer increased length, but some now provide added width for enhanced coverage and a more tailored fit as the length extends.

These protectors provide a contoured fit with multiple breaks for flexibility.

Further advancements feature lower-profile padding made of memory foam, which not only offers a sleeker appearance but also molds to your body over time.

Instead of the traditional Y harness, some modern designs incorporate a neoprene center, ensuring a snug, non-slip fit.

Many umpires now favor side fasteners, with buckles positioned on the side. This design facilitates easier dressing and undressing and reduces the risk of the buckles catching or protruding when wearing an umpire shirt.

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