Headgear. Where to even begin with the many preferences and designs of headgear? The first thing that you need to know is that they all serve their own purposes. Just because you see your buddy using a certain kind of headgear definitely does not mean that it is "good" or "right" for you. If you are an amateur fighter with USA boxing, you should start with becoming familiar about the regulations on headgear. Some competitions, at the Elite Male level, are allowed to decide whether or not headgear is required. A great place to start is right here in the USA Boxing rule handbook. Headgear regulations can be found on page 35. Your coach should be familiar with these rules and be able to help you if he or she has any personal recommendations. Note that in this handbook it is required to wear the same color headgear as your designated corner (for example, in the red corner you need to wear red headgear), I have never actually seen this practiced, but I want to be clear that this is technically a USA Boxing regulation.
I have lined up three different levels of headgear for easy comparison. They are ordered from least protection to the most. The one on the far right is called Ringside Face Saver for a reason. It is what is referred to as "training" headgear, and would not be allowed inside any competition ring. This is, however, exactly what you would want to wear if you were a heavyweight sparring other heavyweights, if you have a job where it is completely out of the question to be coming in regularly with any sign of your outside passion, or if you have an upcoming competition and need to heal a cut or other injury before that competition but truly can't afford to take the time off sparring.
However, unless you are the first or last reason, I really would never recommend wearing this much protection every time you spar. Look, we all have jobs (except me anymore I suppose) where it's not acceptable to come in looking like you just got in a bar fight. I understand. Try being a victim advocate for women who are suffering abuse or sexual assault and regularly coming in with bruises or black eyes (for tips on this check out my Lionesses United blog on covering black eyes). But it takes getting used to being hit to not react. If you are always practicing in a different headgear than you compete in, it's honestly leaving you open for a lot of problems inside the ring.
That is why my best recommendation is for this headgear: Ringside Competition Sparring Headgear with Cheeks. For one thing, it's exactly the same as what I would have my amateurs compete in, so they know everywhere that's vulnerable or open and exactly how much pain is coming. The other reason is visibility. I am a little crazy, so in reality I personally would just much prefer to go without headgear altogether and to take a little more pain sometimes in order to have full visibility -- it's the punch you don't see coming that will knock you out. If you take on this line of thinking like I do, then the Ringside without cheek protectors is probably the way to go for you.
I won't lie to you though, believe it or not, there is a HUGE difference in the level of protection between the two. For one thing, my nose is just completely out there in the open when I wear mine without cheeks. We had a running joke because it wasn't sparring until Lucy was gushing blood. I also happened to have a problem with leading with my face back then, and have since corrected it.
If you aren't planning on going pro (where headgear isn't allowed), I would recommend the cheeks. You truly will lose a significant visibility factor, but honestly, with practice, you learn to compensate, and it is your brain under all of that after all.
To help myself learn how to use the cheeks and not get mad about my loss of visibility, I started practicing with my headgear on more often. Using a double end bag or drilling is a great way to train your vision. Your eyes and brain work together, so you have to have both.
The last thing that you really want to make sure of before you purchase is fit. Most head gear is adjustable in three places. The top of the head, at the back of the head, and under the chin. If you'll notice, The TITLE cheek protection headgear has Velcro under the chin. The others have buckles. I would strongly suggest buckles under here. Headgear gets as sweaty and dirty as any of our equipment, and then is thrown into a sweaty and dirty bag, with other sweaty and dirty equipment. Even if you take yours home and clean everything every single night, the sheer number of hours of practice combined with those drives to and from practice add up to ruining Velcro. While Velcro does the job on the back of the head, for something that comes on and off every single time like the chin strap, it gets worn out pretty fast.
This same TITLE headgear that is pictured does not adjust on the top of the head. This is true for a lot of headgear brands besides the big name ones. You may not realize it, but this is an important adjustment as it helps to place your ears in the right spot, make sure your forehead isn't over or underexposed. It also assists in keeping the chinstrap tightly on your head. This top adjustment and the back of the head adjustment aren't going to be adjusted very often unless you're sharing headgear with someone, so don't worry about how easy it is to adjust alone, only be concerned with how well it does the job once it's properly adjusted.
I have included Ringside's size chart for headgear. You want to make sure that the fit is proper above all else, so if your gym has headgear there or if you have friends who already own headgear that you could try before ordering I would strongly recommend it.
Ringside Competition Boxing Sparring Head Protection Headgear without Cheeks
Ringside Competition Boxing Sparring Head Protection Headgear with Cheeks
Ringside Deluxe Face Saver Boxing Headgear
TITLE Aerovent Elite Amateur Competition Headgear
TITLE Platinum Primetime Headgear
TITLE Universal No-Contact Headgear