Umpire Chest Protector Buying Guide

Jan 3rd, 2016

Note: the new force3 V2 umpire chest protector is not discussed in the buying guide. To be updated soon. Our apologies.

The Basics

Umpire chest protectors are perhaps your most involved gear choice. There is a large range of protection levels and size options, not to mention, protecting your vital body parts of heart and other organs makes it worthy of extra thought.

In reality, umpire chest protectors should be called chest, shoulder and rib protectors as there is protection available for all of these areas as well; and in some cases, even the less important stomach area or biceps can be protected.

Choosing the right umpire chest protector for your level and size, along with proper mechanics on positioning, should keep you as confident and safe as possible behind the plate. Let's dive in and see if we can help you pick the one right for you.

WEAR INSIDE OR OUTSIDE

First of all, umpire chest protectors are meant to worn on the inside. An adjustable harness will slide over your neck, down your back and latch to either side of your body to keep your chest protector snug. Umpire shirts are sized to fit over your chest protector and have fabric that is tough enough to handle the hard protrusions from the buckles, hard plastic and other stressors of your chest protector.

Older balloon-style models are over-sized, hand-held and more cumbersome when having to handle your umpiring tasks. They are considered out-of-style although still available at some outlets.

COVERAGE

As a rule, umpire chest protectors should cover from the bottom of your neck down to at least your belly button or just above your belly button. In a typical stance as an umpire, as long as you have picked the proper size and your harness is adjusted properly, you should be in a position where both your collar bone and your ribs are covered and anything below your belly button should not be exposed.

As an option, some umpire chest protectors come with removable extensions to cover more of your stomach and some come with bicep protection. We'll discuss these features in more detail below.

Note that the chest protector will not protect your throat. See the the mask buying guide when talking about throat protection.

Protection Level: Hard vs. Soft Shell Overview

Second, when choosing an umpire chest protector, you must first choose the level of protection needed. Chest protectors come in either a hard shell on the outside or a soft-shell on the outside. All hard shells have an extra layer of soft padding underneath. Soft shells come with with or without hard plastic inserts.

Obviously, you will get more protection from the hard shell. It disperses more initial energy on impact and usually has more coverage than a soft shell whether it has the hard plastic inserts or not. However, the soft shell variety will be lighter, cooler, relatively more comfortable and typically less expensive.

The hard shell umpire chest protectors are now made with lighter materials than ever and generally do contour better to the body than older styles for a more comfortable fit. For these reasons and the concern of protection, more umpires at all levels choose a hard shell chest protector.

Sizes and Sizing

Besides inside vs. outside, hard vs. soft shell, there are sizing considerations as a matter of choosing the right umpire chest protector for you. For instance, if you are a taller (or shorter) umpire, some chest protectors will work better for you and some not at all. 

When measuring for chest protector length, measure from your neck down to where you want the bottom of the chest protector to be positioned (over ribs, just at or above the belly button). When checking your new umpire chest protector, get in your stance and look in a mirror to check for that neck-to-ribs coverage.

IN-DEPTH

Let's work our way up in protection and talk soft-shells before moving to hard-shells. If you know you are not a fan of soft-shells, sklp this section and look below.

SOFT SHELL UMPIRE CHEST PROTECTORS

The soft shell umpire chest protectors have come a long way as most provide more protection than in the past. Besides being lightweight, all provide more perspiration management, have options for all heights and are typically less expensive.

Soft shells vary on whether or not they have additional extensions for the biceps, whether multiple sizing options are available and whether or not they offer added protection through plastic plates embedded within the chest protector itself.

Soft-Shell Only: There are some soft-shell-only chest protectors on the market in a ribbed-style without additional hard-plastic plates, not unlike what catchers wear. However, we encourage umpires to leave the soft-shell only styles to catchers and wear umpire chest protectors with at least some type of hard shell or hard shell coverage or embedded hard shell plates. Our selection reflects that.

Soft-Shell with Some Hard Shell Coverage: The Wilson Guardian is a another ribbed-style chest protector. However, it is unique in that it offers additional hard shell protection on the upper chest and shoulders. It's styling is more modern compared to the basic ribbed style chest protectors. However its sizes are limited to those who are smaller with 11" and 13" options. This chest protector should also be used only at lower youth levels.


(In the photo) The Diamond Lite 15.5" is a ribbed, soft-shell only (no longer available here) compared to the Wilson Guardian 13". The Wilson appears as long, but the shorter length at the sides where the ribs would be covered is part of the neck-to-bottom calculation instead of the longer middle section.

Soft-Shells with Embedded Hard Plastic Inserts: The two most popular soft-shells with inserts each year are the Champro Pro-Plus and Diamond iX3. They provide for a higher level of protection than predominant ribbed foam-only soft shells. These umpire chest protectors provide adequate protection for youth baseball levels, especially the recreation levels through age 12. Some baseball umpires wear these through JV and some softball umpires through the varsity level. 

The Champro Pro-Plus is less expensive, provides more overall coverage throuhout the upper and left chest and hard-shell shoulder protection. The iX3 is more streamlined and does include additional bicep protection and a stomach extension as part of the same price.


(Bicep and stomach extensions are not shown here.)

A Word of Caution: Please be aware that large discrepancies exist in skill level at any age, especially in the 12 to 15 year old range. In general, we often hesitate to suggest which chest protector is best for which age group. Actually, we tend to suggest one level lower than those suggested by manufacturers. Yes, we are a little protective.

We tend also to side with veteran umpires, who have used both hard and soft shell types and recommend an umpire chest protector with a hard shell if at all possible. Keep reading, and we'll talk about those next.

Hard Shell Umpire Chest Protectors

Seasoned umpires will tell you to get the hard shell chest protector for any and all levels. This is especially true at the college, minor and major league levels.

Most of those who wear soft shell chest protectors, with or without inserts, don't have any problems, perhaps for years. Then, maybe, they'll take that one hit that leaves a nasty bruise or wishing they had gotten a higher level of protection.

In the past, if you wanted a new hard shell, you could only get them from Wilson due to MLB umpire Joe West's patented design of using Velcro to attach hard plates to foam padding. Joe's design was ingenious - to take football shoulder pads and position them to where the hard shell faced frontwards and covered farther down the body where it was needed rather than across the back.

As you'll read below, manufacturers got around the patent, through alternative designs, such as using rivets to attach the hard plates. This opened umpires up to more options, sizes and price points.

Let's start by discussing the 3 Wilson models, arguably the highest in protection of hard shells, before we dive into the others.

Wilson Models: Wilson has 3 styles, 2 higher end models (Gold and Platinum) and a lower end - but great value - Charcoal one.

All Wilson models come with the following pros:

  • Maximum Coverage with hard shell plates and no-gap protection
  • Contoured Fit (except for the Charcoal model)

The following limitations:

  • Smaller Sizes ranging from 11" to 13" - great for shorter umpires
  • Standard Harness

And the following "it-depends-on-your-preference":

  • Thicker Padding - More protective but not a sleeker, low profile
  • Metal Buckles that are easily attached in the front but that can rust over time (as opposed to plastic Tifco-style buckles)

Specifcially, The Gold offers the highest level of protection of any hard shell model and best fit with a few caveats. First the pros. It has the thickest padding, offers more protection around the shoulders, has a great contoured fit with breaks in all the right places and is contoured tighter in the neck area to protect the collar bones very well. However, some larger frame individuals might feel the contour in the neck is a little too tight. Taller umpires, those 6' 1" and above, may also find the Gold's longest option of 12.75" not long enough to cover the ribs.

The Gold also comes in 3 sizes that vary based on height increase giving you the most custom fit (if your ribs are covered). See the fitting room article on chest protectors for more details.

The Platinum. also has thick padding, good shoulder protection and a contoured fit. However, be aware its neck opening is larger and best suited for larger frame individuals. Smaller frame individuals should gravitate to the Gold or spend time adjusting the harness properly or if unsuccessful in their adjustement, to refit it with a harness such as All-Star's DeltaFlex to provide greater tightness in the collar bone area.

The Charcoal is very similar to the Platinum, but does not have its streamlined appearance or fit. However, it does offer a lower price point and an extra feature of bicep protection if you want that. Some don't. It's your preference and the bicep protection is removable if you decide it's not your thing.

The number #1 downside to the Wilson umpire chest protectors is the limited size options for taller umpires. With, at most a 13" long neck-to-bottom, size, that leaves some taller umpires a little more exposed in the ribs and stomach. The stomach is not as essential to protect, but it's hard to yell "STRIKE THREE" with a cracked rib. So, if you are looking for a top of the line chest protector and can get by with the sizes offered by Wilson, then Wilson is always your first consideration.

If Wilson is not right for you or your mind is open to other possibilities, here are other hard shell chest protectors judged by Wilson's pros, cons and your preferences.

Hard Shells with the Most Contoured Fit: This includes having multiple hard-shell break points in the chest region along with some pre-curvature (in order):

  1. Champion P2
    5 total breaks plus pre-curvature and use of soft padding on the sides instead of hard-shell; widths increase as sizes/lengths increase offering the possibility of a better fit
  2. Wilson Gold
    5 total chest region breaks plus pre-curvature; widths increase as sizes/lengths increase offering the possibility of a better fit
  3. Champro Pro-Plus Plate Armor
    6 total breaks plus pre-curvature and soft padding on the sides under the armpits; widths increase as sizes/lengths increase offering the possibility of a better fit. By design for ventilation purposes, the shape of the Pro-Plus is not meant to contour perfectly to the body.
  4. Wilson Platinum
    4 breaks. It's a little stiffer out-of-the-box in the shoulder area which requires some manual adjustment and time (some have suggested heateing this area with a hair dryer).

Some could make an argument for others. For instance, the +POS Zero Gravity (4 breaks) has hard-shell plates that are more moldable - bendy, if you will - and therefore, could with time, be made to have a more contoured fit. The All-Star System Seven (3 breaks) and Douglas (2-3 breaks depending on size) also have an advantage of pre-curved shoulders and less bulk in a lower-profile but the fewer breaks in the upper and lower chest region keep these out of the top half on contoured fit.

Hard Shells with Lower Profile Padding: The one big difference between Wilson models and those made by others are that most others are considered lower in profile. In general, this means that the padding underneath is less thick. Overall, this results in pluses of less weight, less cost and a fitter look while umpiring. However, you sacrifice some protection at the expense of the lowest-in-profile chest protectors.

The Top 3 Lowest Profile Umpire chest protectors are here (listed in order of lowest to highest)

  1. Champion P2
    While being the lowest profile, its design makes it the least protective of all hard shell umpire chest protectors. Its riveted design attaches differently than other riveted designed chest protectors by pinching padding inward in such a way to create shell-only in all places where it is riveted.
  2. Champro Pro-Plus Plate Armor
  3. Douglas

Honorable mention:

  1. All-Star System Seven
    With a slightly thicker hard shell and excellent coverage, especially in the shoulders, it's the lowest profile that provides the highest degree of protection.
  2. The Schutt XV
    More 
    profile-ish. It is low profile in all areas except it does have a double layer of foam in the chest area, where protection is needed and additional curvature by design, that results in greater protection and ventilation but in a look not as low profile as others.

Best Hard Shells for Taller Umpires: If you are a taller umpire, say 6' 1" or 6' 2" or taller and you want your ribs covered, some umpire chest protectors, due to their smaller size range, just will not do. In general, all Wilson chest protectors have sizes 13" or lower. Most likely a 14", 15" or perhaps more would be needed for taller umpires.


(The Champion P2 17" is 4" longer than the 13" Wilson Charcoal)

Below are the 5 umpire chest protectors options for taller umpires in a hard shell:

For value, the Champro and Champion give you the additional length you are looking for at a much lower cost than the Douglas or All-Star.

Harnesses: The standard harness connects elastic from each shoulder to each bottom side of the chest protector and is connected in some way in the middle. The most basic harnesses are offered on Wilson models plus:

Top 3 Umpire Chest Protectors with Harness Upgrades (in order of favorites):

  1. All-Star System Seven
    The DeltaFlex harness, with its triangular elastic design in the middle is by far the best design for comfort and snugness (if that's a word).


  2. Champro Pro-Plus Plate Armor
    Contains straps that are thicker but also more elastic than those found on typical harnesses, making it not only easy to adjust to a more snug and secure fit but also very easy to slide your umpire chest protector on and off while buckled.


  3. Schutt XV
    Harnesss has padding around the shoulder straps for greater comfort and a quick-slide buckle that makes it easier to adjust the harness vertically.



Metal Buckles or Plastic Buckles? Metal ones can rust after a few years. Plastic ones can break. However, the metal ones can be sanded and re-painted. The plastic ones on all models here are on the side and should be safely out of the way of the force of a baseball or softball but still slightly more vulnerale than metal. Besides Wilson hard shells, the following styles have metal buckles:

The others (and all soft-shells) have plastic.


(The Champion P2's metal buckle and insert along side the Champro Pro-Plus Armor Plate plastic buckle and insert.)

More Details

A Word on Sizing Plates

Sizing plates, we feel, are a misnomer. With all the size options available on most umpire chest protectors that are compatible with sizing plates, you should find what you need size-wise to cover your ribs without needing one - in most cases.

More often than not, sizing plates are used to extend coverage to cover some or all of your stomach. Therefore, we prefer calling these "chest protector extensions". Whatever you call them, they attach to your chest protector with Velcro. Unless they are used for sizing, they are completely optional and usually not preferred by veteran umpires.

The umpire chest protectors that are compatible with extensions are as follows (photo below is in same order as bullets):

  • Champro Pro-Plus Plate Armor and Pro-Plus Soft-Shell
    Purchased separately and soft-shell only.
  • Diamond iX3
    There are two bonuses to this extension. For one, it is included at no additional cost. Two, it is more substantial than the others on the market as it contains hard plastic inserts, thus offering more protection.
  • Schutt XV
    Included in the price and is soft-shell only. The Schutt XV extension is the thinnest and longest of the options.

BICEP PROTECTION

Most umpires opt out of bicep protection. But if you do want this protection - and that is perfectly fine for those who might bruise more easily or umpire in youth leagues were pitchers and catchers are a little more unsteady - here are 4 options along with their benefits:

  • Wilson Charcoal (right below)
    Hard-shell that comes with them hard-shell protectors included but removable. The Charcoal provides a Wilson hard-shell at a lower price point than other Wilson CPs but only comes in a 13" size option.
  • Diamond iX3 (top left below)
    The Diamond iX3 is the only umpire chest protector that comes with both removable bicep protection and an extension at one price. The bicep protection is consistent with the chest protector itself with soft-shell over hard plastic plates.
  • Chamrpo Pro-Plus Plate Armor and Pro-Plus Soft-Shell (lower left below)
    Hard-shell bicep protection can be purchased separately and attached. 

Comparison Charts

Hard Shell Comparison WeightSizes
(neck to bottom)
FeaturesBiceps ProtectionSizing Plate
Wilson Gold 3.6 lbs
(13" Size)
11"
12"
13"
Neck Opening Contoured for Small-to-Medium Frames,
Plates Attached with Velcro,
Contured Fit,
Widths Increase as Sizes/Lengths Increase,
Thick Padding,
Metal buckles in Front for Easy Attachment,
Standard Harness,
Black with Gold W and MLB Logo on Chest
No No
Wilson Platinum 3.6 lbs
(12" Size)
10.75"
12"
Neck Opening Contoured for Medium-to-Large Frames, 
Plates Attached with Velcro,
Contoured Fit,
Thick Padding,
Metbal buckles in Front for Easy Attachment,
Standard Harness,

Grey with Gold W and MLB Logo on Chest
No No
Wilson Charcoal 4.0 lbs 13" Plates Attached with Velcro,
Thick Padding,
Metal buckles in Front for Easy Attachment,
Grey-on-Black with Gold W and MLB Logo on Chest
Yes
Hard-Shell
Included and Removable
No
All-Star System Seven

3.6 lbs
(12" Size)

4.4 lbs
(15" Size)

12"
15"
 Low Profile,
Pre-curved Shoulders,
Removable, Washable Padding,
Plastic Buckles at Side,
DeltaFlex Harness,
Black with White All-Star and System Seven Logos on Chest
No No
Douglas 3.2 lbs
(13" Size)
12"
13"
15"
 Low Profile,
Contoured Fit,
Qualux Foam,
Plastic Buckles at Side,
Grey-on-Navy with White Douglas Logo,
Made in USA
No No
Champro Pro-Plus Plate Armor 2.6 lbs
(14" Size)
12.5"
14"
15"
Low Profile,
Contours create space between body and protector for ventilation and comfort,
Widths Increase as Sizes/Lengths Increase,
Moisture Management Liner,
Microbial Treated Padding,
Plastic Buckles at Side,
Standard Harness
Yes
Hard-Shell
Sold Separately
Yes
5"
Sold Separately
Champion P2

2.2 lbs
(13" Size)

2.6 lbs
(15" Size)

2.85 lbs
(17" Size)

13"
15"
17"
 Hard Shell Attached with Rivets,
Low Profile,
Contoured Fit,
Widths Increase as Sizes/Lengths Increase,
Metal buckles in Front for Easy Attachment,
Black with White Champion Logo on Chest
No No
Schutt XV 2.6 lbs
(without sizing plate)
11"
13"
Hard Shell Attached with Rivets,
Low Profile,
Metal buckles in Front for Easy Attachment, 
Padded Y-Back Harness,
Black on Black/Orange with White Schutt Logo
No Yes
Included and Removable

 

Soft Shell Comparison WeightSizes
(neck to bottom)
Moisture ManagementEmbedded Plastic PlatesBiceps ProtectionSizing Plate
Diamond iX3 2.75 lbs
(with sizing plate)
14"*
*(18 1/2" with sizing plate )
Yes
(Coolmax)
Yes Yes
Soft-Shell
Included

Yes
4.5"
Included

Champro Pro-Plus 2.4 lbs
(14" Size)
M - 13"
L - 14"
XL - 15"
Yes
(Dri-Gear)
Yes Yes
Hard-Shell
Sold Separtely
Yes
5"
Sold Separtely
Wilson Guardian 2 lbs
(11" Size)
11"
13"
Yes
(Aegis)
No
Does have hard shell over upper chest
No No

 

BEST SELLERS

At Ump-Attire.com, while in any category, find "Sort By", then select "Most Popular". This will provide you with which umpire chest protectors other umpires have purchased more (or less of) within the past 12 months.

We'll give you a shortcut here if you want to take a look: Most Popular Umpire Chest Protectors

TOP REVIEWED

Another nice feature is to "Sort By: Reviews: Highest-to-Lowest". As of this writing, we have over 115 reviews from fellow umpires on their chest protectors.

Another shortcut: Highest Reviewed Umpire Chest Protectors 

Want to Know More?

Each umpire chest protector product page provides detailed information, sizing options, related blog posts and additional images including chest protectors worn front and back, something you'll only find here at Ump-Attire.com.

A Word on CHEST PROTECTOR CARE

First of all, extend your chest protector's life by wiping any moisture off after each game.

Secondly, don’t throw your whole chest protector in the washing machine. Use a mild soap instead, and wash by hand without immersing into water. The All-Star System Seven's inner torso padding is fully removable for machine washing, however.

Third, if any metal buckles show signs of rust, remove them, sand them and spray paint them with a rust-preventing paint (e.g. Rustoleum).

Lastly, check your straps periodically for wear. It may lose its elasticity over time. If you find yourself adjusting it often or your chest protector no longer covers your collar bone in your chance, a new chest protector harness will likely provide a fix.

About the Author

Picture of Jim Kirk

President/CEO of Score 451 Sports, LLC and Ump-Attire.com Jim Kirk

Jim has had a passion for sports since he can remember. After playing baseball at Centre College, he worked as a high school umpire in Southeastern Kentucky - during the Elbeco shirt years - as a way to make ends meet. He became involved in E-Commerce while working on an MBA in the early 2000s and eventually bought Ump-Attire.com in 2006. Jim is proud of Ump-Attire.com's success, staff and sponsorship of various groups including Minor League Baseball Umpires, Minor League Baseball Umpire Training Academy and UMPS CARE, the charity of MLB umpires. He currently serves on their board of directors and was named their 2015 Ambassador Award recipient. Jim has also coached youth baseball many years and currently coaches middle school baseball at Christian Academy of Louisville. He lives in Louisville with his wife Lori, daughter Lydia and son Ben.