Gearfest: What you need to know
As a muay Thai trainer I get a lot of questions about which gear is needed, what brand is the best, etc.
True, I'm biased and have opinions on brand, color, and almost any other aspect of the equipment we use but there's one fundamental truth when gear shopping: buy the best you can at that moment.
If I've said it once I've said it a million times – good gear is rarely cheap, and cheap gear is rarely good. Shell out the dough to get equipment that will last you a while, and that will protect both you and your training partner(s).
So what should be in my gear bag? It's pretty simple, at least for beginners: Thai trunks, a jump rope, hand wraps, gloves, shin pads, a mouthpiece, and a cup. Don't overlook the bag it goes in – a garbage bag, grocery sack, or other form of disposable containment from your favorite clothing store is not a good choice. Get something that you can zip shut (to keep what's inside actually inside), that breathes (so your gear can dry after use), and that you can carry easily (handles and/or a shoulder strap). As you begin to advance to sparring your bag should also have headgear in it. There are many accessories you can add to your inventory though many are non-essential, like liniment oil for example – nice to have, makes the gym smell good, but unless you have muscle strains there's not much need for it.
THE BASIC BAG:
These are a staple in muay Thai and every student should have a pair. These will have to be ordered from a martial arts supplier unless you have access to a seller with a storefront. Make sure you pay attention to the sizing – not all brands are sized using American standards. There is usually a size chart available – pay attention to it when ordering. Look for trunks with a notch on the thigh – a V cut in to the fabric. This notch will allow more freedom for kicks, knees, and general movement – it's the equivalent to the neoprene panels in the crotch of MMA shorts. There are many styles to choose from – choose the colors and patterns that make sense to you. Have fun with the designs – you'll spend a lot of time in them so you should get something you enjoy seeing
Hand wraps are made of cloth, have a thumb loop on one end, and a Velcro closure on the other. Some are made with elastic in the material to allow them to stretch and form fit to your hand, others are simply the cotton cloth with no give whatsoever. Ideally, the longer the better. If you have medium to large-sized hands you'll benefit from wraps 144 in length, or longer. The longer the cloth the more padding you can create on your knuckles and the more times you can go around the wrist for support, etc.
These are most likely best ordered than picked up at the local sporting goods store. There you'll find one brand of short wraps (120), and the price won't be any better than an online vendor. These wraps will work, I'm not suggesting they won't, but they're made for the average person who hung a bag in the basement and is learning from YouTube videos. Look for brands like Fairtex, Windy, Twins, Title Boxing/MMA, etc. There are also speed wraps that look like fingerless gloves which will work, too.
This is an area that I have a lot of opinion on, because of how much kicking is involved in muay Thai. While I prefer amateurs compete in the thinnest pair they can find (thank you TKD and Karate equipment manufacturers.) I prefer all athletes train in something heavy enough to protect the training partner. This is a piece of equipment worn for both you and your partner – it protects you from a kick blocked with a kneecap or an elbow, protects the small bones in your foot if you mis-hit, and it also softens the blow for your partner when your kicks land to the legs/body/head. This is a piece of gear worth spending money on. And understand that gear made for MMA isn't made for the rigor of muay Thai, especially the shin pads. The neoprene sleeves with the hard, thin plastic shin cover are a bad choice for muay Thai sparring, especially if sparring is of moderate-to-hard intensity. Yokkao makes one of the best shin pads on the market, and you get everything you pay for. They're thick and well-padded up and down the shin and the foot cover extends past the toes to protect against a partner who likes to check kicks with a knee or block with an elbow. Expect to spend $50-75 for a good pair though you can catch good shinnies on sale if you're looking.
It seems like the catalogs, websites, and sporting goods stores have a million different brands of gloves. Truth be told, most are garbage. Like shin pads, you get what you pay for here. If you spend $30 on the popular-name gloves at your local discount or sporting goods store you can expect them to last months rather than years. They're fine for beginners learning to hit the bag or Thai pads but you don't want to spar in them – the padding is cheap, it's generally in the wrong part of the glove, and you'll wear them out even faster. For starter kits, get 14-16oz – you can use them on the bag, the Thai pads, and sparring. Like my recommendation of shin pads, I think the gloves Yokkao makes are solid - they form-fit to your hand as you break them in, they don't break down quickly, and they will last quite a while (years vs. months). That said, Fairtex makes a fine glove as do Windy and Twins. Title has good gloves if you buy the right ones, and Everlast, despite being the brand of choice at discount stores, has some good top-end models available. Expect to spend $75-100-plus for a good pair though good gloves go on sale from time to time. If your budget allows, buy two pairs – one for bag and pad work, the other for sparring.
Not much to this purchase – buy one that's long enough, light or heavy enough that you can get the rope moving easily but that you don't have to work to control (the classic beaded ropes work well – go to Thailand, that's all you'll see; thanks to Joe Mueller we have several at our Fenton school), and one that can be adjusted to fit your height.
Boil and bites are fine, whether you're just starting out or advancing through training. Ideally, spend the money on a custom-fit shield, especially if you're sparring or competing a lot. Your teeth will thank you for the extra spend. This, a jump rope, and a cup are about the only things I'll suggest buying at your local sporting goods store.
Get one that fits in to a jock strap, or the compression shorts with the cup pocket. If available, get a steel cup – your future children will thank you for doing so.
WHAT'S IN PATRICK'S BAG?*
Yokkao gloves; 16oz, orange
Hyenda Hybrid Gear gloves; 16 oz, red
Yokkao shin pads; XL, orange
Fairtex shin pads; XL, black
Fairtex, Title Boxing, Fighters-Inc. hand wraps
Fighting Sports gel glove wraps (sometimes I get lazy and don't want to wrap my hands)
Title Boxing and Twins headgear
Shock Doctor mouthpieces
*not including thai pads, focus mitts, belly pads, thigh pads, and kick shields
Realistically, expect to spend $150-200+ as you enter the sport. That's a fairly good chunk of change but most gyms have loaner gear to use until you acquire your own, assuming that you intend to acquire your own. Keep in mind the gym's gear is most likely a donation from someone who replaced something, so you're using older equipment – you won't want it to be a long-term solution.
Net/Net: Buy the best gear your budget allows, even if it means borrowing the gym's or a teammate's until you can purchase quality equipment. Take care of what you buy and it will take care of you (and your training partners). In my time in the sport I've purchased several new sets of gloves, shin pads, mouth pieces, and shorts but the first pair of Windy gloves I bought are still in use today, somewhere in Missouri. I still have, and use, a pair of Fairtex shin pads I brought back from Thailand in 2007. Good gear, has served me well. I opted to spend the money on my equipment up front, so I didn't have to replace things monthly or annually – I would recommend you do the same if your budget allows.
Patrick Christie is the Muay Thai trainer for The Art of Eight Muay Thai, the Muay Thai program of Vaghi Martial Arts and St. Charles Mixed Martial Arts. You can contact Patrick at email@example.com. Please visit teamvaghi.com and stcharlesmma.com