Staff, Courtesy of VICIS
For parents of football athletes, back to school means buying a lot more than school supplies—and can be a huge expense. Growing kids will likely need new equipment—helmets, visors, and mouthguards—and shopping for them can be a daunting task to navigate. But fear not, as we’ve done all the legwork to suss out top-rated options on the market for all these must-haves, no matter your budget. Read on for our recommendations, plus advice on the most important things to consider before shopping for each item.
What to Consider
It goes without saying that safety is the number-one consideration when shopping for contact sport protective equipment—especially football. No helmet can prevent a concussion but wearing one certainly diminishes risk of injury. The most important factors when shopping for a football helmet are fit, weight, and overall comfort. You’ll want to consult specific guidelines from the Center of Disease Control and look for helmets that meet certain standards for safety from the National Operating Committee on Standards for Athletic Equipment (more on that below).
For visors (also called sunshields), most attach to helmets with clips—some better than others—and are listed as having a universal fit, but keep in mind that it may not hold true for all helmets brands or sizes, particularly those that are small or extra-small. You’ll want a visor with anti-scratch and anti-glare coating, along with protection from UV rays.
Although mouthpieces target specific age groups, like 10 and under or 8 to 16 years old, shopping for one involves personal preference and it may take some trial and error to find the right one. That said, most require boiling or heating up in advance for first-time use, which helps to get a good fit off the bat, plus there are options for kids with braces and flavored mouthpieces for those who can’t stand the taste of rubber or silicone. There are also models that can be worn attached to helmets or worn strapless.
How We Chose
We consulted several top sources for our football helmet research, comparing rankings and studying standards and guidelines, to make our selection. The CDC offers guidelines for helmet safety and there are standards set by NOCSAE, though the organization has yet to develop youth football helmet standards. Virginia Tech is a highly respected source for helmet safety, and publishes yearly laboratory testing result reports for youth and varsity helmets. The National Football League does the same for professional helmets.
Each visor and mouthguard we write about has ratings of 4 stars or more, and during our research we read through countless customer reviews to narrow down our choices. We offer options across multiple price points for every product category we feature below, and highlight the most notable features for each.
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Riddell Youth SpeedFlex Football Helmet
The Speedflex is well-suited for young players—a great entry-level helmet for a reasonable price with an impressive lineup of features, plus a sharp-looking, streamline design.
One of its major highlights is comfort and stability, thanks to a five-inflation-point air fit liner for extra protection, along with a value lock to keep the liner close to the ABS plastic shell.
There’s also a quick-release stainless steel face mask that’s thinner than some other brands for better sight lines. Although it’s recommended for youth and junior high school players, the helmet weighs 4 pounds, which may feel too heavy for smaller athletes.
- Well-rounded features
- Thinner mask good for visibility
Xenith Youth X2E+ Football Helmet
The Xenith Youth X2E+ weighs slightly less than the Riddell Speedflex at 3.8 pounds and also offers top-notch features—plus a budget friendly price point. It’s one of brand’s most popular youth models, with a lightweight ABS plastic shell, two layers of padding for comfort and protection, and a custom-fit design with an ergonomic inner band that conforms to the head’s crown. It’s also designed with a shock absorbing and suspension system to perform against a range of impacts.
- Value-added features
- Lighter weight than some other helmets
- Overall design is slightly bulky looking
Xenith Shadow XR Youth
This helmet, also from Xenith, features an energy-absorbing polymer shell and an innovative protective material that intelligently responds and adapts to points of impact. Its geometric cellular structure provides cushioning for soft impact and strength for intense ones.
It also does a first-rate job of evenly distributing weight and pulling down on the chin strap gives you an even more of a custom fit. The only potential drawback is that unlike the Xenith Youth X2E+, the helmet weighs 4.5 pounds, so may not be appropriate for smaller players.
- Innovative technology for impacts
- Proprietary polymer shell
Vicis Zero1 Youth Football Helmet
Vicis makes several sought after football helmets for players of all ages, and this Zero1 consistently ranks high, featuring four layers of protection. (Its price tag doesn’t deter buyers either, as the helmet can be tough to find in stock.) The helmet has a deformable outer shell made of soft thermoplastic and a second layer’s column construction moves in all directions upon impact to reduce rotational and linear forces.
A thin third layer ensures a proper fit and connects to the final layer of waterproof memory foam for comfort and weight distribution. Overall, it offers advanced technology and high marks across the board, though it does weigh 4 pounds, which may be too heavy for very young players.
- Consistently high-ranking performance
- Excellent design overall
Barnett Clear Visor
This clear eyeshield is fog- and scratch-resistant, plus it has an anti-glare UV coating to cut down on blue light to shield eyes on sunny days and under the lights at night games. It features a two-clip system that makes it easy to attach and remove from the helmet, with a universal fit for youth and adult helmets. The eyeshield is also approved by youth and high school leagues. It gets an average 4.6 stars from more than 1,300 customers.
- Great price for solid features
- Offers blue-light protection
- Some customers have issues with fit and attachment
EliteTek Clear Vision Visor
All of EliteTek’s visors are constructed with durable 3mm-thick polycarbonate plastic to withstand impact, plus a UV coating to protect against the sun’s rays and significantly reduce glare. The clear eyeshield features a two-clip attachment system and is approved for youth, high school, and college games.
It’s also made in the U.S. and comes with a 100 percent money-back guarantee. Keep in mind that while it’s said to have a universal fit, it may be more difficult to attach to youth small and extra-small helmets.
- Thick and durable construction
- Comes with a 100 percent money-back guarantee
- Not as compatible with small and extra-small helmets
Under Armour Youth Football Helmet Visor
This durable visor, made of strong but lightweight polycarbonate, receives high marks from customers, with an average 4.7 stars from more than $750 buyers.
It features anti-scratch coating like other visors to keep it looking new and extend longevity of performance, and quick-release clips for easy installation. But it’s an especially smart pick for players with sensitive eyes, with good anti-glare coating, plus protection from harmful UV rays and glare from blue lights at the stadium. It’s also approved by American Youth Football.
- Lightweight construction and easy-to-use clips
- Great for players sensitive to light intensity
Vettex Youth Football Mouthguard, Black
Designed for players ages 8 to 16 years—and for those who may easily lose equipment—this mouthguard is an excellent choice all around for quality and its price point. There’s an adjustable strap that attaches to the helmet when they’re on the bench, and it’s also easy to slide out while still fully suited up with gloves.
The thermal rubber mouthguard offers great protection for players in positions with more impact and provides good airflow, but it isn’t as easy to speak with in comparison to some other options.
- Good protection for players who take more hits
- Handy attachment to helmet
- Harder to speak with while wearing
Best for Braces
Shock Doctor Double Braces Mouth Guard
Shock Doctor is a top brand for mouthguards, and while there are options on the market that tout compatibility with braces, this model is specifically made for kids who have them on upper and lower teeth.
The mouthguard provides maximum protection and comfort though no lip protection, and doesn’t need to be boiled in advance to get a good fit. They’re also lightweight and won’t break down if your athlete tends to chew on their mouthguard during play.
- Made specifically for upper and lower braces
- Superb fit and comfort
Shock Doctor Gel Max Youth Mouth Guard
Here’s another mouthguard from Shock Doctor that’s ultra-popular, which comes in a host of fruit-flavored options. There are also unflavored choices, which are just as worthy of attention, considering it’s incredibly well-constructed and protects teeth from all sides.
Another major highlight is the convertible rope to use with a strap or wear strapless, plus it only requires soaking in warm water (as opposed to boiling) for a first-time fit. Overall, it’s comfortable and easy to wear, though not as easy to clean.
- Can be worn with or without strap
- Easy to get a good fit
- Can be tough to clean in crevices
Shock Doctor Airflow Mouth and Lip Guard (2 Pack)
This mouthguard consistently ranks high for players of all ages, and it’s particularly well-suited for young athletes, as it comes sized for kids 10 and under. It’s made of soft silicone that’s comfortable to wear, with a low profile that easily slides in and out, plus it provides lip protection—a big plus that other mouthguards lack.
You can use it strapped or strapless, it’s latex-, BPA-, and phthalate-free, plus you can’t beat the price of this value two-pack. It also works for playing multiple positions. The only drawback—though likely not a dealbreaker—is that it doesn’t come with a protective case.
- Sizing specifically for kids 10 and under
- Superb price for top quality
- Appropriate for multiple position.
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