New Umpires – What do you need to know about Umpire Equipment and Uniforms
So you’ve decided to become a softball official! Congratulations! Now it’s important to get proper fitting umpire equipment along with a sharp-looking uniform so you feel good and look good. Read this article to find tricks of the trade to help you along your new journey.
Looking “like an umpire” goes a long way in being accepted by coaches, players, and fans. You will take less heat on close calls or confrontations if you appear professional.
What umpire equipment is needed
Your gear is an investment in your safety! If you’re not sure yet if umpiring will be an everlasting passion, you are likely looking for the most economical way to get umpire equipment. Continue reading for hints on how to get what you need, on a budget.
Most umpire programs/softball leagues have loaner umpire equipment/uniforms for new umpires to use when first starting. Ask about this and see what’s available. You may only need to buy equipment if the loaner equipment doesn’t meet your needs. Uniforms are harder to make available for new umpires on a loaner basis as there are many more sizes for uniforms.
A great starter pack can be mail ordered from Pro Image in Vancouver which has most everything you need to start.
While there is a Softball Canada official uniform (available at Kahunaverse [Formerly HomeRun Sports]), for local league play the official uniform is not required as long as you follow the colour scheme.
The acceptable colour schemes are Powder Blue Shirt with Navy Blue Pants, or a Dark Blue Shirt with Heather Grey Pants. Note that once you reach a Provincial Level tournament, you will be required to have the official uniform.
Equipment/Uniform from Top to Bottom
Dark Navy Blue Cap – Must be able to fit under your Mask. Make sure it is a tight fit to your head so it won’t easily come off when removing the mask.
Umpire caps are:
- Fitted – [no stretch, measured by head circumference within 1/8″]
- Stretch-to-fit – [Small/Medium/Large]
- Adjustable – [Strap at the back which can be adjusted to size]
Fitted caps offer the sharpest look and are best for taking off your mask, while stretch-to-fit can offer the most comfort and wiggle room if unsure of your size.
Cap lengths are based on the number of stitches on the bill. For bases, wear either a 6 or 8-stitch. For the plate, while you can use the 6-stitch under most masks, the 4-stitch offers the best look and ease of use.
As a new umpire, get a hat acceptable for plate games first. Note your hats WILL need cleaning. They are the first part of the uniform that shows sweat stains. See the Cleaning Tips below for hints on this.
Your Mask is a very important part of your equipment. You need to be comfortable and be able to see clearly at the same time. You will be removing the mask numerous times a game so you want one that you can easily manage.
This piece of equipment is a “get what you pay for” type of spending. Of all the items you will purchase, this is the first one you may want to splurge on. The more you pay, the better quality and light-weight the mask will be. Also instead of leather, the elite masks come with comfortable memory foam which doesn’t get as sweaty.
Your mask MUST have an extended frame or throat protector.
When wearing a mask, you want to keep the straps loose which allows for easier removal when the ball is in play (without your hat falling off). Loosen it until it sits on your hat bill. Tight enough so it stays put and doesn’t slip down or of when you move your head. If you have it on correctly and look down at your toes, it should come about an inch off your chin, but not come off.
Optionally available are Umpire rated Goalie-Style helmets (black only). These are typically more expensive and cumbersome to use/carry. They do provide better protection than a mask, but most umpires use a mask – the protection is great as long as you keep your eyes forward and on the ball. A hat is optional under a helmet.
A Short-sleeved, collared shirt. Most shirts have a small “V” with three buttons. Don’t button the top button…
You will want a shirt that is large enough to go OVER your check protector and still be able to tuck into your pants.
Also, most umpires wear a short-sleeved undershirt under their chest protector to help wick the sweat away and prevent chaffing. It is also a lot more comfortable, which is important on those long days in the hot sun! Any athletic type form-fitting shirt will work well in wicking away the sweat instead of trapping it in. See SportCheck or WalMart for ideas.
If you are working with another umpire, it is ideal to match the colour of both the uniform shirt and the undershirt. White, Red, Navy Blue, or Light Blue are acceptable. Ideally, your undershirt should match one of the colours on your uniform.
It’s not a matter of IF you get hit by a ball, it’s when. All of the chest protectors out there will adequately protect you. Some are more comfortable, and some offer better protection. In this case, the more you spend the more protection you will get.
As a new umpire, additional protection isn’t as important (i.e. stomach area, bicep). The additional protection isn’t really required until you advance to a higher level of ball.
As a rule, umpire chest protectors should cover from the bottom of your neck down to at least your belly button or just above your belly button. If you have picked the proper size and your harness is adjusted properly, you should be in a position where both your collarbone and your ribs are covered and anything below your belly button should not be exposed when properly crouched.
If your protector is too long (shorter torso), you can have it cut and stitched by a shoe cobbler, as you don’t want the protector extending past your belt.
Note that the chest protector will not protect your throat. It is up to your Mask to protect this area.
Your Shin Guards will be worn UNDER your Pants, so you will want to make sure the legs are large enough to accommodate this. Your pants will also require belt loops so you can wear a belt and your ball bag.
Shorts are NOT allowed when umpiring Fastball.
If you buy a new pair of the official pants, they are purchased UN-HEMMED. You will need to get these properly hemmed to the right height.
Hem your pants too short, and you are left with an unprofessional “high waters” look. Too long and the hem of your pants drag on the ground and/or get caught under your shoes. This may make your pants dirty and causes fraying and ripping at the hem. This seriously decreases the longevity of your umpire pants.
Whether talking about dress pants or umpire base pants, the rule of thumb is the same. The back of the pants should almost touch the ground. Always measure the hem of your plate pants WHILE WEARING your shin guards.
Black or Navy belt. If you look around, you may find belts which “ratchet” and adjust.
If you keep up with umpiring, it is almost guaranteed that your waist size will change through the season.
Many “Starter” sets of equipment gear come with a ball bag, indicator, and a plate brush. Please be cautious that the bag is large enough. Many are quite small and better suited for Baseball and won’t work well with larger balls.
When putting on the ball bag, you’ll want to have one belt loop between the two spots the belt goes through (bag, loop, bag – with the belt)
Most Leg Guards provide adequate basic protection. They will fit under your pants. Many umpires will wear something (tights) under their shin guards, just like under their chest protector, to wick away the sweat and prevent chaffing.
Many guards also offer ankle (mandatory) and toe protection (optional). If you are wearing steel toed shoes (highly recommended), then the toe protection won’t be needed.
Shin Guards shouldn’t be moving around too much when umpiring. It is important that they fit properly and are properly tightened. If you have problems with moving up/down try crossing the top two straps behind the knee.
A comprehensive article by Ump-Attire outlines all the things to consider when purchasing Shin Protectors, but in general as a starting umpire comfort is the most important.
Ideally, your shoes should be polish-able (not patent leather), with a hard [steel] toe. Black is the only colour allowed. White logos/stripes are allowed but not white soles.
Always start a game with clean, polished shoes. It tells the players/coaches that you care about your appearance and leaves a good impression.
Your shoes WILL take a beating over time. When finished a game, make sure you do what you can to get rid of any moisture (the worst enemy for shoes and your feet). Use a spray deodorant or leave them in the sun for a while. Also, don’t be afraid to insert some comfort soles into your shoes. Your feet will thank you after a long tournament.
Also, invest in a good pair of black socks. Get synthetic socks that wick moisture. Cotton socks are the worst to use as they gather the moisture, and you will end up getting blisters on your feet [epsom salt soak will be the solution]
Where to buy/borrow
- Buy and Sell (Used/New) (Kijiji) (Facebook Marketplace) (Facebook Buy/Sell Groups) (Varagesale)
- Other officials – Ask at tournaments
- Mail order from the U.S. – See UmpAttire for a great buying guide Note: Watch out for Exchange Rate and Higher shipping costs. Also, Duty may be charged at the border instead of by shipper.
- Sponsored/Official Stores in Canada – / Uniform / Gear / Locations
How do I keep my equipment clean?
How to maintain
Moisture is the worst enemy of your umpire gear. If you leave your moist equipment in your umpire gear bag it will develop smells you couldn’t imagine. Do your catcher a favour and don’t show up to your game with smelly gear. Make sure you give your equipment a proper environment to dry. Some umpires have racks they hang their equipment on overnight.
The below video outlines ideas for proper equipment cleaning when you’ve neglected your equipment…
What if I have problems
- What if I bought the wrong size?
All online retailers AND the official supplier Kahunaverse understand that umpiring comfort and sizing is important. They typically allow for an exchange/refund on all equipment/uniforms within a period of time after the purchase. If you mail-order from Kahunaverse you may return the item to a local store.
Please note: This article is for new umpires and may differ from official guidance - The Softball Canada Official level manuals take prescedence where this guidance may differ.
This article will continue to be updated with recommendations as more people come up with suggestions. Please feel free to ask questions below and we will update this article. Please share this article with your new umpires..