Many first year umpires are intimidated by the high initial investment for equipment. Some try to "get by" with old catcher's gear and soon regret the decision . Others buy cheap package deals from big box stores or on line and find that they overpaid.
As a general rule cheap means less protection. For an umpire in the upper levels, less protection can mean work-prohibiting injury and/or pain. Higher level umpires gravitate to more pro-style protection for comfort and protection. However, many, many umpires do not work beyond 14u games. For these umpires pro-style expensive protection may be over-kill. These umpires are more budget conscious, so for those umpires I offer the following recommendations:
The first consideration in purchasing budget umpire equipment is to consider tax and shipping. On line is generally your best bet for quality gear at inexpensive prices, so no tax and free shipping is the first objective.
Speaking of taxes, be sure to save your receipts as the equipment you purchase is tax deductable as a business expense.
Second, hard shell protectors offer the best protection, but will cost over $100. For our budget-minded umpire I recommend the Pro Nine Chest Protector (CPU-B). This protector can be had for under $60. I know umpires that wear this protector for high school games and have no trouble. It weighs only a little more than two pounds and is made of lightweight, breathable mesh. By all reports it is a light, comfortable protector that does well in sub-high school levels.
Third, for a mask I would recommend finding a deal on a Diamond Featherweight DFM-UMP, about $60, or a Wilson Dyna Lite West Vest A3019, priced around $40. Personally I like the Diamond and highly recommend it. The Diamond is one of the lightest on the market, although the Wilson A3019 is just a few ounces heavier. Both are very durable masks.
Fourth, for leg guards I recommend Diamond DLG-UXS. These shin guards come in 15" or 17" lengths. They can be had for around $30.00.
Fifth, buy a Richardson hat. A six stitch hat will fit under your mask and can be used in the field. If you are persistent these hats can be found for as low as $8 on the internet. Richardson is great quality and you really can't beat the price for the quality.
Sixth, Dalco Athletic makes a good cheap shirt for around $25. The big box stores seem to like Dalco. The shirts are 100% polyester "mini mesh" with an extended tail and over-sized across chest to fit your chest protector (FYI, you generally don't need a plate shirt and a bases shirt - most umpire shirts are made a little big through the chest to accommodate the protector). The shirts also have a left breast pocket. Dalco is a good, solid shirt.
Seventh, I really can't recommend a pant that sells for much less than $50. Gerry Davis and Honigs make a combo pant that is wide enough to accommodate your shin guards, but not so wide that you look like a clown on the bases. Spend $50 and buy a quality combo pant.
Eighth, now you need to round out your gear with a 1 3/4" belt ($15); a ball bag ($10); an indicator ($4); and a plate brush ($4).
Purchasing the above items will cost around $250. That's cheaper than Compare that to umpire "starter packages" offered Honig's for $288.75 or Gerry Davis for $353.50. I have yet to find one that offers the same quality and price as I outline here. Good luck with your equipment hunt and I will see you on the field!