New Umpires – What do you need to know about Umpire Equipment and Uniforms
So you’ve decided to become a baseball umpire! 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 received by coaches, players, and fans. You will take less heat on close calls or confrontations if you appear professional in addition to applying the rules of baseball correctly.
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 joy, 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 or get the BEST in gear because your safety comes first.
Most umpire programs or baseball leagues have a loaner umpire equipment or uniform program 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 monetary loan or loaner basis as there are many more sizes for uniforms.
The required color schemes are High School Black Shirt, but the secondary color is High School Light Blue Shirt with Black trimming. 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
Hat: Plate, Base, or Combo?
BLACK TASO HATS -- 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.
Umpire cap or hat lengths for baseball or softball 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 "combo" of look and ease of taking.
Umpire caps are fitted, stretch-to-fit (FlexFit or System5) and adjustable. 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.
Match your umpire cap or hat color with any navy or black color on your umpire shirt or jacket.
Mask or Helmet?
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.
There are more options in umpire masks and hockey style helmets than ever before for baseball and fast-pitch softball umpires working youth to the MLB level. Popular today are masks with advanced lightweight metal frame technology (e.g. aluminum & magnesium) and memory foam. Find more brands and exclusives here.
Learn more in the Umpire Masks & Helmets Buying Guide on the best in protection, weight, comfort, vision and value.
Shirts: Black or Blue?
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 chest 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, but I highly recommended the Under Armor Heat Gear during the hot games & Under Armor Cold Gear during the cold games in addition to your windbreaker jacket or thermal jacket plus gloves.
If you are working with another umpire, you must match the color of both the uniform shirt, the undershirt, and the jacket. A black jacket that is approved are the only acceptable models for games played. Your undershirt should be black or white, preferably black.
Shop umpire shirts for baseball and softball in traditional and new pro styles in a variety of colors and options. Smitty and Majestic umpire shirts are featured in short and long sleeves. Majestic shirts are worn by MLB umpires. Smitty shirts are worn by Minor League and College World Series umpires. Both are worn at the youth, high school and college levels.
If new to umpiring, best practices are to wear what your group or league requires or simply match your partner in color and style. When umpiring in cold weather, we recommend a long sleeve shirt on the plate and a jacket on the bases.
Jackets v. Pullovers
Umpire jackets & pullovers are for any climate from lightweight convertible jackets to traditional mid-range jackets to heavy weight thermal jackets for colder conditions in multiple color and trim combinations.
While your warmth is the most important consideration, generally, umpire jackets with elastic around the bottom are used for the bases while those with an open-bottom (and long sleeve umpire shirts) are typically worn behind-the-plate.
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.
As umpire chest protectors cover your vital organs, whether a baseball or fast-pitch softball umpire, youth or MLB umpire, you want the most protection you can afford. Now offering 8 brands, you'll find what you need here based on your level, size and desired features.
While MLB-endorsed Wilson styles continue to be the standard and while some amateur umpires prefer lightweight soft-shell Diamond or Champro umpire chest protector models, the current trend is toward hard shells with contoured and lower profile styles that also have greater size ranges for taller umpires - all found in Champro, Diamond, and Schutt models.
For more details, read the Umpire Chest Protector Buying Guide.
Pants: Plate, Base, & Combos?
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 BASEBALL.
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.
The standard baseball umpire pants are pleated in heather gray or darker charcoal gray. Navy and flat front umpire pants as well as shorts are typically reserved for softball. Look for 2-inch expander waistband in several polyester and charcoal grey poly spandex pants or true-to-size poly wool or poly spandex pants.
We recommend a separate plate and base pants for the best on-field look. However, to save money, you may consider a combo pant that is a hybrid plate/base pant with features of a plate pant with a narrower fit in the lower legs than plate pants but wider than base.
Umpire belts are special because of their height and thickness to support the weight of baseballs or softballs in your ball bag without the belt folding over while working the plate. Any umpire that cares about his appearance knows that everyday belts are not acceptable on-field.
A patent leather belt is the choice of seasoned veterans and amateurs alike today due to its crisp, stylish uniform look. The best dressed umpires match their belt with their shoes. Patent leather is a best match for New Balance plate shoes.
We suggest a 1 3/4 inch belt at the plate and a 1 1/2 inch or larger belt on the bases.
BLACK BELTS ONLY. 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.
BLACK BALL BAGS ONLY. 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.
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)
Umpiring with a vinyl umpire ball bag (the ones with pouches on the outside but hold very few balls) will show your inexperience. Instead, wear professional umpire ball bags with cloth exteriors found here.
The Smitty Pro Style Ball Bag provides pro features - including pouches on the inside of the bag - at a value price. Upgrade to bags with waterproof lining that keep your sweat off baseballs or softballs. Those include the Force3 Dry-Lo Bags, with or without inside pouches, and the Smitty Deluxe XL. Of the waterproof options, the Smitty XL expands to hold the most baseballs or softballs.
On color, it is best practice to match your ball bag color with your cap color. This makes black the most popular choices.
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.
Umpire shin guards should be called umpire leg guards as they provide protection to shins plus knees, ankles and even the thighs on some models.
Whether a fast-pitch softball or baseball umpire, from youth to the MLB level, you will find the right umpire shin guards for you with the largest selection and most information and photos available. Also see the most comprehensive umpire shin guard buying guide.
Plate vs. Base Shoes
Ideally, your shoes should be polish-able (not patent leather), with a hard [steel] toe. Black is the only color allowed. White logos/stripes are allowed.
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 like Gold Toe and cotton socks. Get synthetic socks that wick moisture. Cotton socks are best to use when you change socks after 2 games. A FRESH pair of cotton socks is the best feeling. But if you use on a an all-day basis, then cotton socks will gather the moisture, and you may end up getting blisters on your feet [epsom salt soak will be the solution] if used for more than 2 games.
For plate and base shoes, 3n2 and New Balance have more width options for standard or wide feet plus more low and mid-cut styles. New Balance, the official umpire shoe of MLB umpires, has all-black plus popular black & white colors. 3n2 and Smitty is available in all-black.
And if you are new to umpiring, yes, plate shoes are a must.
Umpire Equipment Providers
Brush Country Shop Section by clicking here for local chapter gear:
Epic Sports │ Baseball
Hudson 51 Sportswear
Buy gear at the State Meetings & some Regional Clinics near you:
Other officials -- Ask at tournaments
Comprehensive list of umpire gear & equipment list
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 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 a retailer, you may return the item to a local store.