Friday, January 22, 2010

Low Profile Leg Guard Comparison

Last summer I attended the Mid-American Umpire Clinic in Springfield, Missouri. During the clinic I received an evaluation of my plate work and the first thing out of the instructor's mouth was, “Get some real plate pants!”

Well, the criticism was spot-on. I was wearing a pair of Gerry Davis combo pants during a college scrimmage and my Honig’s shin guards were clearly visible when I was in my plate stance. Later, I noticed how my large Honig’s shin guards were also visible while wearing my Honig’s poly-wool plate pants. So I set out to find a low-profile shin guard that would not be as bulky and visible as my Honig’s.

Several different manufacturers advertise "low-profile" shin guards. I chose five different shin guards to compare:

1. Diamond Featherweight Shin Guards
2. Champro Pro-Plus Leg Guards
3. CCM Referee Shin Guards
4. Gerry Davis DaviShins Shin Guards
5. All-Star LGU313

My review criteria are: (1) comfort; (2) protection; (3) dimensions; and (4) weight. The goal is to find the lowest profile design while still offering adequate protection. Before I start, I want to thank Brad Jurga from All-Star, Ryan Hunt from Champro, and Jim Kirk from Ump-Attire who all donated gear for this review.

First the objective criteria: weight, length and circumference. My leg measures 17" at the calf and 17" at the knee. All measurements were taken at those points. My Honig's Poly Wool plate pants measure 25" in circumference at the knee.

Click on any picture to enlarge for a better look. Special thanks to my loving wife who took the photographs (and complained about it the whole time!)

All Star LGU313

One of the best things about umpire shin guards is that they are worn under the pants and not seen. I know many umpires who have worn their shin guards for years (and years and years). Some look old and crusty, but the aesthetics really don’t matter. If we were judging a beauty contest, the All Star LGU313 would come in dead last because they look like guards a little league catcher would wear. I must admit, when I took them out of the box, I was disappointed in the amateurish look.

However, this test is about functionality, not appearance. It turns out that the All Star has some nice features. First, it is the second lightest shin guards in the test, weighing in at barely over a pound. They are also the lowest-profile shin guards in this group and measure 18” in circumference at the shin and 19” in circumference at the knee.

The All Star has ankle protection, but no metatarsal protection. Most umpires wear plate shoes and do not require or want foot protection from a shin guard. A separate cap just under the knee adds protection where it is needed the most. The All Star uses four straps with metal buckles. One strap is placed behind the knee and there is no wrap-around padding. I suggest wearing tights with this shin guard to protect against strap irritation.

The LGU313 features an Ultra Cool ventilation system and Aegis Microbe Shield. Say what? Translation: the LGU313 padding is treated to reduce odor and has small ventilation holes to keep your legs cooler.

The All Star LGU313 is available only in light gray and size 17” length. I measure a size 16” shin guard, and wear a mid-cut plate shoe, but these 17” guards fit me fine.

The All Star LGU313 Low Profile Shin guards can be found at many retailers including:
Lesters Upstate Sports for $65.
Anaconda’ s UmpStore for $49.90
Hit Run Score for $49.99
Epic Sports for $59.29

Bottom line: the All Star LGU313 is a solid shin guard. It is not flashy or impressive in appearance. I trust this shin guard because of its traditional design and extra protection just below the knee. The guards stay in place and do not turn thanks to the extended side ankle protection. I do not like the light gray color that tends to show at the ankle while in my plate stance.

CCM SG100 Referee Shin Guards

There are two things that really intrigue me about hockey referee shin guards: first, the wrap around style: and second, the proven protection. Let’s face it, if hockey referees wear this guard to stop a hockey puck, it will protect an umpire from a baseball just fine.

The CCM SG100 Referee Shin Guards are the third lightest shin guard at 18 ounces. The circumferences are the largest tested at 22” in circumference at the shin and 21.5” at the knee. This is due to the added wrap-around protection.

The SG100 are really, really comfortable. The knee cap is moved forward, away from the knee and is separated by a layer of padding. At the shin there are two smaller pads that separate the shin from the main padding. There is one bottom strap and plastic connector that clips on the side. The design and wrap-around padding prevents the guard from rotating. While the bottom strap is not noticeable at all, there is an awkward elastic band that velcros around your lower thigh just above the knee. This strap is potentially irritating, so I recommend wearing tights. The SG100 is available in 14”, 15”, or 16” lengths. I tested a 16” and it fit comfortably.

The SG100 sits high on the ankle and offers no side ankle protection. I wear midcut plate shoes, so the lack of protection around the ankle bone does not worry me. However, I tried these guards with my low cut base shoes and felt exposed around the ankle because of the gap in protection.

The CCM SG100 sells for $39.99 at several retailers including:
Hockey Giant
Hockey Monkey

Bottom line: These are the lowest priced shin guards and are terrific as a beginning set. They offer great side protection around the calf and have proven stopping power, but lack adequate ankle protection, especially when wearing a low cut plate shoe. The CCM SG100 are also the largest shin guards of the group.

Diamond DLG-LITE Featherweight Shin Guards

The Diamond DLG-LITE Featherweight Shin Guards are new this year and are the lightest guards tested at 13.5 ounces (14.5 ounces while wearing a small Velcro-attached metatarsal protector). Since these shin guards are very light, I expected them to be the smallest circumference measurements. Not so. The measurement at the shin is 18” in circumference and the 20” at the knee.

The DLG-LITE shin guards use two straps around the calf secured by plastic buckles. That’s it! No strap anywhere near your knee which means no strap irritation if you only wear tall socks.

The knee cap is deep and recessed, so your knee fits comfortably in the space. There is a small gap between the guard and your knee while in a typical box stance. The Diamond features small air holes in the “grid tech foam” for ventilation.

Diamond's are available at 15” or 17” from Ump-Attire for $49.99, Epic Sports for $32.09 and $34.59, and Baseball Rampage for $29.99.

Bottom line: the Diamond DLG-LITE Featherweight Shin Guards are light and small. They lack side protection, but that is generally not an issue for a plate umpire. The small size also looks good under the plate pants.

Champro Pro-Plus Leg Guards

I am a big fan of the Champro FM-58 PRO-PLUS Gold Super-Xtreme Lightweight Face Mask made of magnesium alloy. The new Champro Pro-Plus Leg Guards are also very impressive. It is very apparent that Champro spent considerable time in the design of these umpire shin guards.

First, these guards are triple knee, so there is protection up the thigh. Champro has secured the guards with two straps around the shin and two straps at the thigh, so there is no strap behind the knee.

However, this added protection increases the weight of the guard, and are the heaviest guards tested. The circumference size is an impressive 18” in circumference at the shin and 21” at the knee. The Pro-Plus Leg Guards have extended padding on the sides for protection and comfort. The guards also feature a deep-cut ankle bone protection with plastic plates. Two metal screws hold a detachable metatarsal plate in place.

The Champro Pro-Plus Leg Guards are constructed with a Dri-Gear moisture wick lining and ventilation slits cut into both the padding and plastic plate. This ventilation design has been used in catcher’s gear for a number of years and is effective at keeping your legs cooler.

Champro chose metal J-hooks to secure the straps. I personally preferred the plastic buckles, as featured on my old Honig’s shin guards, until a foul ball in a high school game shattered the buckle. I was unable to replace the buckle without a major operation to the shin guard. Now I prefer the tried-and-true metal J-hook.

The pro-Plus Leg guards are available in three sizes: 15.5", 17" and 18.5", and are offered by the following retailers:
The Official’s Supply for $47.50
Epic Sports for $41.89

Bottom line: The Champro Pro-Plus Leg Guards are a superior combination of protection, comfort, price, and features. While the triple knee design prevents them from being considered the best low-profile guards, I can't help but wonder if the outcome would be different if I cut off two of the upper plates!

Wilson DaviShins Shin Guards

The Wilson DaviShins Shin guard is the winner of the 2009 Umpire Merchandise Product of the Year in the shin guard category. This shin guard is a tank. Sleek, shiny and smooth, these guards look like like something a Star Wars storm trooper would wear!

The weight of the DaviShins is on the heavy side for this test at 23 ounces, and the circumference at the shin is 20.5” and at the knee 21.5”. Keep in mind that these guards are not advertised as "low-profile." These guards are worn by Major League umpires wearing tailored umpire pants.

There are two plastic connectors that clip the DaviShin straps in place. There are no metal buckles, and nothing for a foul ball to break. There are only two straps around the calf and knee bone protector plates that prevents any rotation of the guard. The DaviShins also feature superior side protection with plastic plates to stop errant foul balls.

Wilson DaviShins are available in 15" and 17.5" and are the most expensive leg guards tested:

Home Run Monkey for $84.99
Lester’s Upstate Sports for $79.00
Gerry Davis for $79.90

The bottom line: the Wilson DaviShins are terrific protection, especially from the side, but that protection comes with a price. The cost of the DaviSihins is twice as much as other guards included in this test. The weight is also heavier than other guards. Finally, the bulk of the DaviShins is noticeable under the plate pants.

The Winner

This test was all about finding the best low-profile shin guards. Two of the tested guards were obviously too big to fit a "low profile" description: the CCM SG100 Referee Shin Guards and the Wilson DaviShins. While both offering excellent features and protection, both guards looked bulky under the plate pants.

The Champro are terrific shin guards, but the triple knee was also very visible under the plate pants.

The Diamond DLG-LITE Featherweight Shin Guards and All Star LGU313 are the clear favorites. These guards are both the "lowest profile" and the lightest guards. Although the All Star LGU313 looks better under the plate pants, the Diamond is more comfortable and lacks a strap behind the knee. My choice is the Diamond DLG-LITE Featherweight Shin Guards for best low profile shin guards.

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