Your protective gear is an important part to life in the motorsport world. The key part is using the correct protective gear. Some people use the wrong protective gear for karting and not only is this dangerous, but you won’t be allowed to race with it.
Here are the 7 items of protective gear that kids need for karting:
- Fire-Resistant Underwear
- Rib Protector
- Neck Brace
We will go into some more detail on each later on. All of these elements are crucial to staying safe in motorsport, and it is vital that you buy quality products when it comes to safety gear. I have raced karts for many years (up to National Championship standard), and will provide recommendations for the best gear in each category.
How To Determine Safety Rating
Firstly, lets discuss how you can know if the safety gear that you are planning on buying has a good ‘safety rating’ for motorsport. I have two rules that I generally go by when it comes to looking for safety gear, but there are a lot of elements to look at.
The first is how commonly used is this brand within the motorsport sphere. What I mean by this is where do you see this brand used? If you are seeing it in Formula 1 and IndyCar, then it’s a pretty safe bet. These top-flight motorsports leagues have a huge focus on safety, and if a brand can’t pass Formula 1 homologation, it most likely isn’t the best.
That being said, if a brand isn’t found in Formula 1, that doesn’t mean it’s bad. If you can still see the brand being used in lower leagues like the Karting World Championships or the Super Nats, or even Formula 4, it is still good.
The next one is just as obvious, is the brand building their equipment specifically for karting or cars? I have seen tons of people who go out in their kart with a motorcycle helmet on. It is still a helmet, but it does not serve exactly the same purpose as a car helmet does. It is important to get the right equipment that is built for the job.
If you are going into detail about the safety rating of your racewear, you can take a look at the homologation of the gear. You are looking for CIK/FIA certification (CIK for karting, FIA for cars). This is essentially the governing body of karting putting their stamp of approval on the gear in question.
Finally, you will want to look at the date of the certification. You might find a race suit that was certified by the FIA in 2005, but regulations and technology have come a long way since then, and ideally you will want the latest certification, and no older than around 10 years.
These are just some small details to look for when you are shopping for safety gear, but they are important to take note of. If you are planning on racing for example, most professional racing leagues won’t accept a race suit that hasn’t been homologated by the CIK/FIA.
The 7 Items Of Protective Gear That Kids Need For Karting
1. Fire Resistant Underwear
These are not essential when it comes to karting, but it is certainly more comfortable for the driver and it definitely makes you look more professional. Racing underwear includes long pants and a long sleeve shirt made of thin material. You can order summer or winter type, which will be either more breathable or warmer depending on which you choose.
Balaclavas and socks are essential items though. Socks will be different to ones that you wear every day. They will keep your feet from getting blisters caused by karting boots and the constant movement required. Balaclavas add a fire-resistant element to the helmet, and they help to keep sweat out of the driver’s eyes.
I can highly recommend both Sparco and Alpinestars in this category. They both have a wide variety when it comes to karting underwear and they are of really high quality. These can also be found in racing leagues all around the world even in Formula 1. OMP is another honorable mention, as they also seem to be popular amongst karting drivers.
Karting boots are quite special. They are extremely light and have a very thin sole. This means that the driver is able to feel the pedals under their feet easily. They offer a lot of protection when it comes to karting since your feet are mostly exposed in a kart.
You can also find something called overshoes, which are rubber layers that goes over your shoes in the case of rain. Karting shoes can become drenched on the inside in the rain, so it can be useful to have if you know that the weather can be unpredictable.
Again, here I can highly recommend Alpinestars, although they are the most expensive brand available when it comes to karting. OMP and Sparco have similar prices, but all of the brands have different kinds of boots all ranging at different prices. Any boots from these brands will be good; find a design that your child likes that fits your budget.
The overalls or race suit is probably the most important (aside from your helmet) piece of racewear that we are going to discuss. The race suit will be checked by scrutineering before every race. They’ll be looking for two things. The first is the condition of the race suit: whether it is still in good condition and can withstand contact, fire and damage.
The second factor they will be looking for is the homologation and the certification date. Each racing league will be different, but generally if your race suit is in good condition you might be able to get away with a suit that is up to 10 years old. You can find your homologation specifications on the back of the neck collar of your race suit.
What is great about the race suit is that it gives you a chance to show off your colors (or your brand). You can make this match with your kart, or match with your helmet. Karting is great because drivers have so much customization available on their race suits.
Due to the open nature of a karting cockpit, drivers have become creative with their race suits, putting their names on their leg, or their sponsors or racing numbers on their back. The beauty of this is that it is your race suit and you can customise it anyway that you like. This is your chance to be creative with it.
Many drivers use their race suit to display their sponsors, others keep it plain and some use it to show off their team or brand. This is something that you don’t really find anywhere else in the world of motorsport which makes it so unique.
There are a lot of different brands out there for karting overalls, some are of course better than others. Once again, the best options to choose from are Alpinestars, Sparco and OMP, and most of their race suits are within the same price range.
The key thing to look out for here is the CIK/FIA certification though. As long as your race suit has that you will be good to go. Take your time to find your favourite race suit design and really try to make it your own.
4. Rib Protector
A rib protector is not an essential item in karting. However, I do highly recommend using one. Not only from a safety aspect, but also from a comfort aspect. If you get into a Rotax kart, the first thing you will notice (especially in fast corners) is the lack of comfortable seating.
It’s not uncommon to walk away from a day of karting with some bruised and sore ribs even if you haven’t been in an accident. Rib protectors were designed for karting drivers because there is no comfort or padding in the seating. This is especially true in younger drivers who may be a bit looser in their seat.
In this case, the rib protector will not only protect the driver, but also help you to fill out that gap in the seat a little bit. In terms of how tight your seating should be, you should be able to fit a thumb’s width in between the seat and the driver.
I can’t stress enough how crucial a rib protector can be in karting. However, in this case you don’t necessarily need the most expensive one on the market. Since they are not essential safety items, you have a bit of leeway when it comes to choosing rib protectors.
I would highly recommend Tillett rib protectors here. They are really comfortable and Tillett is the best brand when it comes to this type of equipment. The usual karting brands such as OMP, Sparco, and Alpinestars also make rib protectors, and really in this case you can go for the cheapest available option as they are all good quality and will help your comfort levels in the kart.
Gloves are important to your race gear. They take the strain off your hands while driving, as well as providing padding and safety in case of an accident. With karts being open, the first point of contact is usually your hands since you will be using those to try and protect yourself. This is why it is important to get good quality gloves.
Gloves can add an extra splash of color to your racing outfit. We see this often in sports like Formula 1 where drivers use their gloves to differentiate from their teammates. For example, Bottas uses blue gloves and Hamilton uses white gloves.
Gloves will keep your hands safe, but also keep them comfortable and help you to keep a firm grip on the steering wheel. Karts do not have any kind of power steering, and so a few karting sessions can be tough on the hands.
I would highly recommend Alpinestars gloves, however they are the most expensive in this category. Sparco and OMP are more affordable and still very good quality. You can find some interesting designs and colors and try to match them to your race suit, or go with something completely different and offset your gear.
6. Neck Brace
There is some controversy that comes with them, but I felt that I had to include this since they are required in some karting leagues, especially those with younger drivers.
I would highly recommend avoiding the foam donut type neck braces that you commonly see. They are much cheaper, but from my research I have seen that in most cases they can cause more harm than good.
I would recommend to rather go for anything that resembles more of a HANS device as these are based on the highly successfully and FIA tested safety device. They also keep the neck and spine more in place and prevent sever whiplash.
For neck braces I would recommend the EVS Sports R4, and the Valhalla Racing 360 plus. Both are a bit pricey, but they are great quality and highly recommended worldwide. The difference between the two is that the Valhalla allows for more range of motion and better visibility, but the EVS I would say is the safest device because of the structure that protects the back of the neck.
Helmets are the expression of a racing driver’s personality. Throughout a driver’s career, this is the one item of racing gear that they have the most control over. There’s a lot of ways you can personalise it, from the shape to the colors and the designs.
Firstly, let’s cover the safety elements though. It is important to get the right helmet for karting. Motorcycle helmets aren’t always strong enough for karting, and they serve a different purpose. Generally, the same brands that provide helmets for series like F1 and IndyCar are the best brands to go to for karting helmets.
Always make sure you get the right brand of helmet, and not a rip-off version. Scrutineering will most likely also check your helmet to see if it has been homologated by the CIK/FIA, and you can find this on the inside of the helmet under the padding.
Always make sure that the helmet is the right fit. It does need to be quite a tight fit on your head, and generally it will push your cheeks in slightly at first, but it’s like new shoes and the padding will shape around your facial structure with more use.
Your helmet will most likely be a white shell when you buy it, although some of them do come with a generic design and color variations available (check the Stilo and Bell brands). From there you can either create your own design or get a graphic designer to create a design for you. Then you take it into a paint workshop or a helmet artist and get them to paint it for you.
Custom helmet designs make you stand out from the crowd. It can become an iconic look for you as a driver or it can be used to help promote your sponsors. A driver’s helmet is their own. Whether you base it on your hero driver’s helmet or create something totally unique, it becomes your own.
The two main brands that I would recommend when it comes to helmets are Arai and Bell. These helmets are often found even in the highest levels of motorsport. Arai creates the SK-6 which is designed specifically for karting. If you are looking for a helmet to stay with you throughout your career, the GP-7 is an Arai helmet that is allowed for cars and karts.
Other helmets that can also be used for karting are Stilo, Sparco, OMP, and Simpson. However, I would highly recommend rather looking at Arai and Bell over these as they are more popular and have much better-quality helmets.
How to Get Kids Excited About Safety in Motorsport
Kids might not enjoy all of the safety gear required for racing. So, the difficult part is trying to get them excited about it. I think the key here is allowing them to be involved in choosing the kit that they are going to wear.
Let them choose the designs and the colors that they want on their kit. They might have a specific preference when it comes to gloves, or they might want something completely black and plain. It is important to make them feel like it is something that they chose for themselves to express themselves as a driver.
Furthermore, you can use your child’s favorite driver as inspiration for their race gear. For example, Sebastian Vettel in his Red Bull-days was my favorite driver, and my kit and helmet designs were always based on that. If you try to imitate their favorite driver in terms of design choices, it might help them to become more excited about their safety kit.
When I used to wear my Alpinestars race suit and Vettel-inspired helmet, it got me excited to get into my kart because it made me feel like a Formula 1 driver. Encourage your kids and tell them how cool their gear looks when they are in the kart and make them feel comfortable in it.
If a kid hears that they look like a Formula 1 driver, then they get excited about wearing their safety gear and they become more serious about it. They will try even more to replicate what Formula 1 drivers do.
Safety gear in karting is important, but it can be overwhelming since there is so much gear to look at and go through. On top of that, you don’t always know which items are essential, and what is just an extra. I hope this article has simplified your process somewhat, and helped you with some product recommendations.