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Cliff Keen Headgear Review for BJJ

Cliff Keen is the standard for headgear in wrestling, but how good is it for Brazilian jiu jitsu practitioners?

In this post we will provide our full review after testing the Cliff Keen Signature on the mat as well as how it compares to other headgear for bjj.

Key Takeaway: Cliff Keen is the standard for wrestling headgear for good reason. However, the thick foam padding may get in the way of Brazilian jiu jitsu training. Specifically, by being a bit uncomfortable for your training partners or getting in the way when defending strangles.

Our Review

If you do choose to go with Cliff Keen headgear we strongly recommend buying a chin cup as well.

+ Pros / – Cons
+ Very solid protection
+ Doesn’t move during training
+ / – Difficult to adjust (but only needs to be done once*)
– Harder foam padding
– Can be pretty uncomfortable in certain positions

My Personal Experience: The Cliff Keen Signature headgear does a great job at protecting you from cauliflower ear during bjj, but I found the thick padding around the ear to get in the way and be a bit uncomfortable for both me and my training partners. For Brazilian jiu jitsu, I prefer softer headgear like those from ROAR, Gold BJJ or Matman

Overall, I think if you are used to wearing Cliff Keen headgear from previous wrestling experience it may be a good option for bjj, but if you aren’t, a softer headgear may be a better option (like those from Gold BJJ or Matman)

Pros and Cons


  • Protection: Offers great protection to your head/ears.
  • Durability: There’s a reason why Cliff Keen headgear are the standard they are tough and just last


  • Fit Adjustment: Adjusting it to fit your head can be pretty annoying but, luckily, it only needs to be done once
  • Comfort: I found it not to be the most comfortable to train in especially when trying to escape certain strangles. Not to mention, my training partners may have found it a bit annoying when I am pressuring in with my head.

Harder vs Softer Headgear for Brazilian jiu jitsu?

Harder head gear is much more common in wrestling (like those from Cliff Keen). While softer head gear may offer slightly less protection, they are strongly preferred for jiu jitsu, however, this will, of course, come down to preference.

FeatureHard Headgear (like Cliff Keen)Soft Headgear (like Gold BJJ)
MaterialHard plastic outer shellSoft, flexible materials
ProtectionHigh impact resistanceCushions against impacts
AdjustabilityAdjustable straps for fitElastic material for snug fit and velcro straps
ComfortMay feel bulkierGenerally more comfortable
Ear ProtectionRigid protection for earsSoft cushioning for ears
Usage in BJJLess common due to rigidity but still sometimes usedMore common, less restrictive
IBJJF ComplianceTypically not allowedAlso not allowed
DurabilityVery durableMay be less durable than harder headgear
AestheticsMore noticeable, bulkier lookSleeker, less noticeable

Cost Comparison

The Cliff Keen Signature is about average when it comes to cost verses other headgear for bjj and wrestling with other Cliff Keen models being a bit more expensive.

Here is a quick comparison table:

Headgear ModelPrice (USD)
ASICS Restrained$$
Gold BJJ$$
Cliff Keen Signature$$
Cliff Keen Two-Tone Signature$$$
Cliff Keen Fusion$$$

Design and Comfort

When evaluating the design and comfort of Cliff Keen Headgear, attention is given to the material quality, adjustability, and fit and stability, which all contribute to the overall experience for both wrestlers and Brazilian Jiu Jitsu practitioners.

Material Quality

Cliff Keen headgear is renowned for employing high-quality materials that offer durability and comfort. The use of sturdy plastics and soft foam enhances protection while maintaining a lightweight profile. Additionally, the outer surfaces are often equipped with a smooth finish to prevent mat burns and provide comfort to both the wearer and their training partner.


The headgear is designed with adjustable straps, which allows for a customized fit. The adjustability parameter of Cliff Keen headgear ensures that it can accommodate different head sizes with ease, and modifications can usually be made without removing the headgear, which is particularly advantageous during training sessions.

Fit and Stability

A secure fit is critical in wrestling and BJJ to prevent the headgear from shifting during intense movement. Cliff Keen headgear typically features a four-strap design that ensures the headgear remains snug and stable. This design minimizes shifting, thereby allowing athletes to focus on their sport without the distraction of ill-fitting equipment. The headgear’s ability to stay in place during grapples contributes significantly to the athlete’s comfort and performance.

Protection and Safety

In the world of combat sports, the significance of protective gear is paramount, with headgear standing at the fore to prevent injuries such as cauliflower ear. Cliff Keen’s headgear is specifically engineered to offer optimal protection without compromising on comfort and performance.

Ear Guard Effectiveness

Cliff Keen headgear is designed with ear guard effectiveness in mind, featuring:

  • Ample padding: To cushion blows and mitigate the risk of skin damage or tearing.
  • Secure fit: Adjustable straps ensure the ear guards stay in position during vigorous training and competition, covering the ears adequately.

Shock Absorption

The capacity of Cliff Keen headgear to absorb and disperse shock is critical for athlete safety. Key points are:

  • High-quality material: Foam or similar impact-resistant materials are used to construct the interior.
  • Shell design: The exterior is crafted to endure the direct impact and spread the force away from sensitive areas like the ear and temple.

Performance in Wrestling

Cliff Keen has a longstanding reputation for producing headgear that offers robust protection and comfort during wrestling matches. This section evaluates the on-mat experiences and the durability of their headgear, underscoring its significance in competitive wrestling.

On-Mat Experience

Wrestlers using Cliff Keen headgear report a comfortable fit that remains secure throughout training. The Cliff Keen Signature headgear, in particular, is frequently mentioned for its adaptable design, which conforms to a variety of head shapes. This is crucial for maintaining focus during matches, as constant readjusting can be distracting. Furthermore, the ear guards are designed to provide ample protection without compromising hearing, which is essential for wrestlers to respond to coaches and referees.

Durability and Longevity

The resilience of Cliff Keen’s wrestling headgear is a common highlight among users. Constructed from high-quality materials, the headgear withstands the wear and tear of frequent training and competition. The Signature series, as an example, uses a strong strap system that is not only easily adjusted but also known for its ability to retain elasticity and not wear out quickly.

Performance in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu

Cliff Keen headgear is known for its durability and protection, but it may not be the best option for bjj practitioners.

Comparison to Other BJJ Headgear

When comparing Cliff Keen to other BJJ headgear on the market, several features stand out:

  • Protection: The padding and shell design are geared towards absorbing impact, providing robust ear protection, which is vital for preventing conditions like cauliflower ear common in grappling sports.
  • Durability: The headgear lasts – I have some training partners that still use their Cliff Keen headgear from high school

Again, overall, I prefer softer headgear for comfort during bjj training for both me and my sparring partners.

Adaptability to BJJ Movements

Cliff Keen headgear’s design takes into account the dynamic movements of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu:

  • Flexibility: This headgear offers a snug fit without restricting movement, allowing users to transition between positions fluidly.
  • Security: It remains securely in place during rolls and takedowns, critical for continuous protection without the need for constant readjustment during active sparring or drilling sessions.

Maintenance and Care

Longevity in Cliff Keen headgear relates directly to proper care and cleaning. Regular washing is not only recommended to maintain the product’s quality but also to prevent possible issues like skin infections common in close-contact sports.

  • Washing: The headgear can generally be washed by hand, allowing users to maintain hygiene without damaging the material.
  • Material Integrity: Despite frequent usage and washes, users find that Cliff Keen headgear generally maintain their shape and functionality over time.

Final Thoughts

Cliff Keen’s headgear is probably the most popular wrestling headgear brand out there, and while some bjj athletes choose to wear it for jiu jitsu, others may find it a bit uncomfortable when compared to softer headgear options.

For bjj, if you want more protection and don’t mind the harder foam shell, Cliff Keen headgear may be a good option for you.

Frequently Asked Questions

Is Headgear Allowed in BJJ?

Yes, headgear is allowed in Brazilian jiu jitsu but is not a requirement for training or competition. Largely, it will come down to personal preference.

Can You Wear Headgear in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu Competitions?

No, most organizations like the IBJJF and ADCC do not allow you to wear headgear in competition.

What should be considered when selecting headgear for wrestling or martial arts?

When choosing headgear for wrestling or martial arts, one should consider the fit, coverage, comfort, ventilation, and its capacity to stay in place during dynamic movements. Proper headgear should offer a balance of these elements to ensure maximum protection and minimal distraction.

How does the durability of Cliff Keen headgear products generally rate among competitors?

Cliff Keen headgear is generally well-regarded for its durability among competitors. Their products often feature robust materials and construction techniques that endure the demands of repetitive training and competitive matches.

Are there specific advantages to choosing Cliff Keen headgear for martial arts training?

Cliff Keen headgear is favored for martial arts training due to its reliable protection, customizable fit, and long-lasting wear. Additionally, options like custom vinyl wraps increase both the aesthetic appeal and the resilience of the headgear to the wear and tear of martial arts training.