Sunday, January 31, 2010

Umpire Chest Protector Comparison

On February 2, 2009, Midwest Ump posted its first umpire equipment review, an evaluation of the Nutty Buddy protective cup. Since that time I have been fortunate enough to review many protective items. However, the most important aspect of protective equipment is its protective qualities and, up to now, I have been unable to conduct any testing to measure these protective qualities.

Gary Considine, president Garri Productions and noted television executive producer, writer, and director, has generously donated a Herman Trainer & Sensor Set to Midwest Ump for testing umpire equipment. The Herman Trainer is essentially an affordable accelerometer ($99.95), which measures G force impacts. The Herman Trainer is widely used in martial arts training and boxing, but is also useful for measuring forces in baseball and softball, football, golf, soccer, and tennis. This device is very versatile and useful to any athlete (or curious umpire) that needs to measure impact forces. My many thanks to Mr. Considine for his generous contribution to the pursuit of umpire safety!

For the first test of the Herman Trainer and Sensor, I conducted a drop test of hard shell umpire chest protectors. The test subjects were: Wilson Platinum, Champion P210, Schutt AiR Flex, and the Champro Pro Plus Gold. The test was conducted by dropping a 10 pound weight from a height of seven feet and the sensor was duct taped to the back of the chest protector which was laid on bare ground. For you science guys, this experiment attempts to recreate the same kinetic energy of a 81 mph fastball. The impacts were made at the center of the chest plate.

The measurements of the impact forces (displayed as twice the G force on the Herman Trainer) were the following:

Schutt - 40
Champro - 41
Champion - 42
Wilson - 45
After inspecting the CPs, the impact of the dropped ten pound weight was clearly visible. A dent was left on the Champion and Champro. The Wilson was scratched, but not dented. Only the Schutt plate actually cracked. In fairness, the Schutt Company has expressed that it is still developing the AiR Flex for public distribution*. Hopefully the final version can withstand such impacts.

* I found two retailers on-line offering the Schutt AiR Flex CP for sale.

Of course, measuring the G forces is only part of the story. Below is a brief overview and review of each chest protector.

Schutt AiR Flex Umpire Chest Protector
The Schutt AiR Flex is the most comfortable protector and the most breathable of the chest protectors included in this testing. The AiR Flex is based on Schutt's popular AiR Flex Shoulder Pads introduced to football in 2008, and uses a cushion technology called Brock Beads in its AiR Flex padding. Brock Beads are polyurethane foam beads that were first used in the medical field for wheel chair cushions and mattresses. When the Brock Foam is impacted, each bead moves the adjacent beads laterally and diffuses the impact again and again and again over the beads. Brock Bead technology is also used in hockey and lacrosse pads.

The Brock Foam is permeable so airflow actively circulates around the beads accelerating evaporation and keeping the body cooler. In order to enhance air circulation and aid in moisture evaporation, Schutt has placed 5 mm ventilation holes on the plastic plates and covered the Brock Foam with a polyester mesh.

Large hard plastic plates act as the protector's first line of defense and diffuse ball impacts. The epaulet style shoulder caps are connected with Velcro and are adjustable for a more custom fit. The AiR Flex is available in M/L and XL/XXL sizes. The M/L fits 38” – 44” chest sizes and the XL/XXL fits 46” to 52” chest sizes.

Schutt sent me a M/L AiR Flex to test. My chest measures 46", so the M/L was a little snug, comfortable. The adjustable shoulder caps enhanced the fit. The AiR Flex is advertised as 14.5” long for the XL/XXL, and 13.5" for the M/L. My measurement from the collar to the bottom of the protector was 12.5”.

The front plates are very substantial and measure 11.5" long. The two large plates are attached with Velcro for cleaning. The padding and plate measure about 1 inch, although the plates are raised at points.

While I have a mild concern for the exposure outisde the plates at the ribs where the only protection is the Brock Foam, I have serious concerns for the protection around the clavicle. I put on a traditional mask and used a baseball to check its clavicle protection. I believe a ball could get past the plates and I doubt the Brock Foam's ability to protect the collar bone from a foul baseball. A softball, however, should not get past the plates to the collar bone.

The Schutt AiR Flex Umpire Chest Protector is advertised as available for purchase from the following retailers:

Online Sports for $121.95

Hit Run Score for $128.99

BOTTOM LINE: There are many things to like about the Schutt AiR Flex Umpire Chest Protector. It is light, highly breathable, available in different sizes, and is adjustable for a custom fit. However, the lack of clavicle protection really bothers me and, of course, the AiR Flex cracked during the drop test (although it scored highest in the G force measurement). Schutt is on the right track, but they need to finish the race.

Wilson Platinum
The Wilson Platinum scored worst in the drop test which is not surprising considering the tight, low-profile design and 1.25 inch thickness of padding and plastic plate. The Platinum has several plastic plates connected by rivets. I have been using this protector for two seasons and the drop test barely produced a scratch on the plastic plates.

The Wilson Platinum has the best clavicle protection. I don't understand why other chest protectors don't move their plates closer to the clavicle. It is not uncomfortable. The Wilson Platinum also sports additional breast plate protection.

The only criticism of the Platinum is that it tends to "droop" at times. While an adjustment in the straps will largely correct this issue, it doesn't fully solve the problem.

My Wilson Platinum measures 12.5" from the collar to bottom of the protector.

The Wilson Platinum Umpire Chest Protector is available from many retailers, including:

HQ4Sports for $139.95 with free shipping.

BOTTOM LINE: As Tina sang it, "You're simply the best. Better than all the rest. . ." I bet it annoys the other manufacturers to chase the Wilson Platinum year after year. It remains the best on the market, although the technology is getting a little dated. Note that it also performed worst in the drop test.

Champro Pro Plus Gold Chest Protector
The good folks at Champro sent me the Pro Plus Gold Chest Protector last summer to test and provide feedback. I now see that it is being offered to the public, so I included it in my current testing.

The Pro Plus Gold is the thickest protector in the test at 1.75 inches (padding and plate). As a result of the thick padding, it is quite bulky and not very breathable. On the other hand, I tested this CP in August heat in Missouri and I didn't find it any hotter than my Wilson Platinum.

The Pro Plus Gold has a stiff foam padding around the clavicle. It also features plastic buckles that beg to be broken by ball impacts. At 15" long it covers the ribs sufficiently and offers good protection around the abdomen.

The Champro Pro Plus Gold Umpire Chest Protector is available at:

Pro-Ref for $109.00

BOTTOM LINE: The Champro Pro Plus Gold Chest Protector is bulky and should be redesigned for less padding. The plastic plates held up and the protector performed well during the drop test. I have found the Champro to be a very savvy company with a keen eye for detail. While I think very highly of several of Champro's products, I think it has missed the mark with this hard shell chest protector.

Champion P210 Chest Protector
I REALLY LIKE the Champion P210 Chest Protector! Champion offers this CP in three lengths: the P200 at 17"; the P210 at 15"; and the P220 at 13". My Champion P210 measures an accurate 15".

The thickness of the Champion is 1.4". It is not bulky, however it retains a very substantial feel. It performed well during the drop test and withstood the impact.

The clavicle protection could be better. The plates are unnecessarily a little far from the collar bone, and could be relocated closer. That is the only criticism I have of this fantastic chest protector.

The Champion P Series Chest Protectors are available from:

Sport About Equipment for $40.95 (where I bought mine)

THE BOTTOM LINE: I highly recommend this CP for beginner and advanced umpires. It is serviceable at upper levels and I know of one umpire who wears it during D-I college games. The price is just unbeatable and the protection is very good.


Warren said...

Another great review and post. I was very interested in reading about the Schutt. I think the premise of vented plates and Brock beads is promising and hopefully they/somebody can perfect it.


Arik said...

I agree that this was very well done. However I would have liked to see the Honigs K1 or the new Honigs CP reviewed here as well as the WV Gold as the other protectors are of a very similar type.

Just my two cents. But keep up the good work.

KyleJT said...

A straight shot to the center of the CP is not where you get hurt. It's the hard, glancing pop over the heart, lower ribs, or collarbone that rings your bell. Plus, you laid it flat on the ground. I'm not built like that.

Next time, cowboy up, and get in the batting cage. Me, I'll keep using the baseball at the end of a graphite golf shaft for my testing.

Pete Reiser said...

Thanks for the encouragement!

Warren, I agree the AiR Flex design IS promising. It is very comfortable and is adjustable for a custom fit.

Arik, I invited several manufacturers to participate in this test. In the future I hope to have the opportunity to test CPs from Honigs, Gerry Davis, and CPs with foam covered plates.

Kyle JT, the goal of this first experiment was to measure the forces of a straight chest shot. The center of my chest is flat, not round, which is why I opted for laying the CP on the ground rather than strapping it to a test subject.

My equipment limitations forced some compromises. I have access to a piching machine, but no radar gun to guage speed for a controlled experiment. Gravity, on the other hand, is constant. In the future I hope to have more equipment and different experiments.

KyleJT said...


First, I REALLY appriciate the data. No one else, aside from the insane Gerry Davis test, is doing this.

A suggestion: Instead of laying a CP flat on a concrete floor (of course you're going to dent and crack plastic) strap these things to a punching bag to simulate a human body. And instead of dropping a weight straight at it, swing it from a pendulum above the bag.

I hope I don't come off as too negative, as I really REALLY appriciate the time you took to test these rigs. It saved me a C note on the Schutt, which looked like it had promise.

Anonymous said...

The Wilson CPs do offer tank like protection but the problem of slippage (particularly in the Platinum) and their shortness prompted me to explore the Honig's Zero Gravity in spite of significant skepticism in the online umpire community. Here are my initial reflections The fit is excellent, the mesh vest harness keeps the CP snug and secure, no slipping and sliding here. The vertical breaks do in fact help the CP conform to the body. While unbelievably light. It is bulkier than I thought it would be, particularly around the shoulders but it feels like great coverage in that area. The shoulders seem to have been tweaked forward similar to the WV Gold. The extra plate over the sternum provides another layer of hard plastic and padding which both adds protection and increases bulk in the chest area. The availability of a torso extension provides additional coverage that the Wilson's do not.They did upgrade to a harder material for the plastic plates in this years models (Zero Gravity and K1) but it will be interesting to see the effect of the Vertical breaks in the Zero gravity (which add to the fit) on impact dispersibility. I'll just have to see how it performs over the season.
Ray Hernandez

Anonymous said...

I will say, however, given the fact that perception is so often treated as reality (and many will not see the ZG as a hard shell protector), that Honig's was not wise in making the price point so high.

Ray Hernandez

Joe B said...

I have used the Wilson grey, the Douglas (my preferred CP) and the Champion which I use for lower level games. All 3 have served me well. I have occasionally used the Champion for college level summer softball and it did the job. For new umpire looking for great protection I would absolutely recommend the Champion, especially at under $50.00. But whatever you choose make sure you feel comfortable with the amount of protection.