Definitive Guide to Muay Thai Gear
One of the first questions new students ask when they begin Muay Thai training is "what gear should I get?" At a minimum you will need the following:
Later in your training you will also need:
In general you can't go wrong with Fairtex, Twins, or Windy products. All 3 are very reputable brands that make excellent protective gear. We recommend that you do not purchase your gear from a local sporting goods store such as Academy or Dick's because the gear they sell is low-end and will not last long. The brands and models that we recommend are more expensive up front, but they will last much longer, offer much better protection, and will actually be cheaper in the long run.
The rest of this article describes more specific recommendations for each piece of gear. Note that there are many great options for each item and this list is far from comprehensive. These are just brands and models that Ambush Muay Thai coaches and teammates have used and approve as great high-quality and affordable selections. See below for more details, but in a nutshell we recommend:
- Handwraps: 180" Mexican style (any brand)
- Bags/pads gloves: Fairtex BGV9 (10oz or 12oz)
- Sparring gloves: Twins Specials (16oz)
- Shin guards: Windy pro, traditional, or deluxe; or Fairtex pro or traditional
- Cup: Windy or Twins Thai steel cup
- Head gear: Fairtex sparring, competition, or open face
- Mouth guard: SISU 2.4 Max guard or Damage Control custom guard
- Elbow pads: Venum Kontact or Nationman
Our pick: 180" Mexican Style Handwraps
Handwraps primarily come in two styles (traditional & Mexican) and three lengths (180", 120", & 108"). The difference between traditional and Mexican is the material that they are made of; traditional are generally cotton while Mexican are an elastic cotton or a spandex cotton. The elasticity of the Mexican style helps the wraps cling to your hands much better while the traditional style tend to slip, loosen, or bunch up. Similarly traditional wraps tend to get crinkly and difficult to wrap after washing, while Mexican wraps do not have this problem. Everyone we have ever trained with who knows the difference strongly prefers Mexican style.
Regarding length, we recommend 180" because the shorter lengths aren't enough to effectively wrap the hands and the knuckles. The longer length provides more options to provide extra padding and support where you feel you need it most (generally the knuckles or the wrist).
Handwraps are one piece of gear where the brand does not really matter, all 180" Mexican style handwraps are more or less the same. Also note that we strongly recommend handwraps over slip-on wrap gloves, gel wraps, etc. While they appear to serve the same purpose, these alternatives do not provide the same level of support as a traditional-style hand wrap. Their only real benefit is that they're quicker to put on. Once you have developed your power the extra protection is well worth the marginal amount of extra time it takes to wrap your hands.
Our pick (bags/pads): Fairtex BGV9 (10oz or 12oz)
Our pick (sparring): Twins Specials (16oz)
When you first start training you only need a pair of gloves for bags/pads. Once you start sparring you will also need to get a separate pair of gloves specifically for sparring. The reason is that gloves for these scenarios have different features that fit different functions. For hitting bags and pads, you want a glove that's designed to protect your hand from the continual impact of full-power striking. Ideally this means gloves that are constructed with a dense layer of padding over the knuckles. For sparring you want a glove that's designed to protect your partner from taking unnecessary damage from training. Ideally this means gloves that are constructed with a thick layer of soft cushioning.
Sometimes people ask if they can just buy sparring gloves and also use that for bags/pads. The answer is no, if you are using your sparring gloves for bags/pads, the full impact will wear the cushioning down and make them less effective. It is best to keep two pairs of gloves, one specifically designed for each style of training.
For bags/pads we recommend the Fairtex BGV9 model gloves. These are also referred to as a Mexican style glove, or "Heavy Hitters". They feature a thick, dense layer of padding over the knuckles. Inside the glove they have a grip at the fingertips that allow you to really grab the inner glove and make a tight fist. They also feature a wide wrist wrap that fits tightly to support the wrist well. In many ways they are similar to Cleto Reyes gloves, which are also outstanding bags/pads gloves, but are quite a bit more expensive than the Fairtex BGV9s. You can order these gloves directly from Fairtex, but you can also find them on Amazon, usually for much cheaper.
For sparring we recommend the Twins Specials gloves. These gloves are soft and cushiony. They actually feel like big marshmallows on your hands. These qualities make them ideal for sparring because if you hit your partner with a solid strike, they are not going to feel the same type of hard impact that they would with a more compact glove.
Note that while we recommend the conventional 16oz size for sparring gloves, we prefer a smaller 10oz or 12oz size for bags/pads. The reason for this is that competition size is generally 10oz, and we prefer that a higher percentage of our training reps be closer to this competition size so that we can drill more frequently at full speed.
Our pick: Fairtex pro or traditional; or Windy pro, traditional, or deluxe
A common misconception with shin guards (also referred to as insteps) is that the primary intent of shin guards is to protect your shins. As a result, some students with less sensitive shins may try to train with cloth shin guards or even no shin guards at all. While training without shin guards has its place, it is important to understand that the purpose of good shin guards is the same as that for good sparring gloves: they are there to protect your partners.
To properly protect your partners you will want shin guards with a generous amount of padding over the striking portion of the shin. Furthermore the length of the shin guard is important. You want the shin guard to extend all the way up to the bottom of the kneecap, so it is important to order the correct size. Also look for shin guards that offer protection over your instep as this is a common injury in Muay Thai training.
We recommend the Windy pro, traditional, or deluxe insteps. Alternatively the Fairtex pro or traditional shin guards are also good choices. All models are around the same price with the exception of the Windy deluxe insteps which cost a little more. However, the Windy deluxe shin guards have the distinction of offering exceptional protection over the instep.
Our pick: Windy or Twins Thai steel cup
When it comes to protective cups we highly recommend Thai steel cups to plastic cups, particularly the Windy or Twins steel cups. There are many stories of plastic cups shattering from the force of poorly placed knees. This is something that will not happen with a steel cup. Given that a better alternative to plastic cup exists, we recommend not leaving this to chance.
A common objection to the traditional Thai-style steel cup is the way that it ties, which many initially find awkward or uncomfortable. One alternative is the Windy steel cup with an accompanying harness.
Another option is to consider alternative methods for tying the Thai steel cup, as described in this video from our friends at another Texas Muay Thai camp Revolution Dojo.
Our pick: Fairtex sparring, competition, or open face
Head gear can help mitigate some of the impact that you take in sparring. Its primary purpose however is to prevent cuts, particularly in Muay Thai sparring that allows elbows. Another consideration is that amateur Muay Thai competitions often require head gear, so if you intend to compete it is import to get comfortable training and sparring with head gear.
There are a few things to consider when selecting head gear. First, you want a model that's going to fit comfortably. Two things that can help determine comfortable fit are adjust-ability in the chin strap and on top of the head gear. For example, students will often think that a head gear is the wrong size for them only to find that tightening the top makes the head gear fit very comfortably. Another factor to consider is what the head gear covers. Forehead and sides of the head are common, cheeks may or may not be covered (favor cheek coverage if you're sparring with elbows), and the same with the chin (generally amateur competition does not allow chin coverage). Lastly you want a head gear that provides a good amount of visibility. Generally visibility is inversely proportional to protection (particularly around the forehead and cheeks), so find the balance that is best for you.
We have found that Fairtex head gear models provide a good balance of comfort, visibility, and protection. The sparring model offers cheek and chin protection while still providing a good amount of visibility. The competition model is comparable to what most amateur competition organizations use. The open face model is great for people who don't like head gear as it provides a lot of visibility but trades off cheek and chin protection.
Our pick: SISU 2.4 Max guard or Damage Control custom guard
Mouth guards are the piece of equipment where you will see the biggest disparity in price. Mouth guards can range from simple $5 boil-and-bites to $200+ custom guards. If money is no issue a custom mouth guard will be the best option. Custom guards will always have the better fit; they're molded specifically to your teeth and will therefore always stay in place.
There are many options for custom mouth guards, but one easy and high-quality option is by Damage Control. They provide an easy process (as seen in the animated video below) for creating a custom mouth guard by ordering an impression kit, creating an impression of your teeth, shipping the impression to them, and then receiving your custom guard. They also provide a variety of options for personalizing your mouth guard such as custom text, custom graphics, custom designs, etc.
For a more economical option, the SISU 2.4 Max Guard is our favorite. The SISU guards are made from a thermoplastic material that has much more tensile strength yet is also thinner than comparable mouth guards. It's comfortable to wear and easy to breathe, talk, and drink while wearing it.
Our pick: Venum Kontact or Nationman
Historically elbows were not allowed in amateur Muay Thai competition, however in recent years it has become increasingly common to allow elbows with elbow pads. As a result, elbow pads have become another important piece of training gear, especially with competitive fighters.
Our top pick is the Venum Kontact elbow pads. They have a good amount of padding for training and have a good fit. They also have velcro straps that help secure the pads in place so that they don't slip up and down during training, a common problem with many other elbow pads.
Another great option is the Nationman elbow pads. These are a common choice for amateur competitions and fit well for many people. The padding in the Nationman is smaller though, so it is not as good of an option as Venum for training. Nationman pads are better suited for light training or training with head gear.