Long races are something that people will likely dread if they don’t own a rib protector. Otherwise you’ll deal with bruising and fatigue like you wouldn’t believe! I’ll be looking at the best of the best in rib protection to help you make the right decision when buying one for yourself.
The 5 best karting rib protectors are:
- Bengio Bumper Carbon Kevlar
- Tillet Ribtec P1 Rib Protector
- Sparco Rib Pro K-7
- OMP KS Body Protection
- Ribtect 4 Karting Vest
You might know the best rib protectors now, but there’s a lot more to consider when buying a new one! How should you choose the best rib protector for you? And what should you look for when buying? Before I review each one, these questions need to be answered above all else.
How To Choose A Karting Rib Protector
The biggest thing to remember when picking out gear for karting is that the process will have a certain amount of personal relevance. There are a few things that I’d consider to be cardinal buying rules, but otherwise, it all depends on your personal budget and preferences.
Probably the misconception I hear the most from new kart drivers is that rib guards from other sports will ‘do the job’. People really want to believe this fact, because a lacrosse rib protector is way cheaper than a karting-specific one, as an example, but they really aren’t comparable.
For karting in the United States, equipment should always be developed to the SFI certificated standard. In Europe, however, you should look for CE certification. The purpose is the same; these certifications are designed to show that the quality of safety equipment has been tested and reaches a required quality assurance.
There are some products that reach SFI guidelines within dirt biking and other such sports, but they usually operate with different guidelines and quality assurances.
Beyond the required safety certification, it’s also important to remember that karting safety vests are worn underneath a race suit. Because of that, plastic armor simply isn’t practical.
Rib and chest protectors that are made of softer, lighter material with high impact protection are used due to the comfort of wearing them beneath a suit, while also keeping the driver lightweight for optimal race performance.
If you’re just getting started in karting and don’t have the cash to blow on a full kart-ready rib protector, using an old lacrosse guard or roost guard is fine as a stop-gap, but you definitely won’t be able to enter karting races with these bits of equipment!
SFI certification is more than a quality assurance; it also dictates which safety gear is deemed acceptable and safe enough for usage in Internationally-recognized kart racing.
Aside from making sure that the rib protector you buy meets these standards for safety, you should also remember the different styles of protector that are out there on the market!
I’d recommend spending some time in a local kart gear store trying on different rib protectors in varying styles. You can choose from a full vest variety or a rib/kidney protector with differing armor levels. Some protectors are stiffer than others, and these provide more protection but some racers find them obtrusive.
After doing your research to figure out which kind of rib protector would work best for you, you’ll be in a much better position to buy with confidence. As long as you choose something that’s SFI or CE certificated, you’ll be laughing all the way to the finish line!
What To Look For In A Karting Rib Protector
When buying any gear for karting as a motorsport, it’s important to have a semblance of budget in mind. You need a lot of stuff that’s in good shape, after all, for both safety and a racing edge! And the amount of choice that’s out there can be pretty daunting. How can you ever know what makes a rib protector objectively good?
While each bit of gear out there works better for different people, there are a few key things you absolutely need to have in your rib protector:
- SFI or CE certification
- Lightweight materials
- Impact absorption
The first key aspect to look for in a rib protector relates to all-important safety regulations. I’ve gone over this in more detail above, but it really can’t be overstated! If your rib guard doesn’t have the proper certification, you can’t guarantee that it’s safe to race with and you might be denied the ability to wear it on the track.
Having lightweight gear in karting is an absolute must. Because it’s a motorsport that is so stripped back in a lot of ways, with lightweight chassis and components, the driver being lighter than the competition can be a real edge during races.
More than that, in terms of comfort, the last thing you want is a rib protector that feels heavy on your upper body. It’s supposed to reduce your fatigue, after all, not make it worse! It’s important to find one that fits well, doesn’t obstruct your driving, and isn’t a huge weight to carry around.
Staying cool during kart races can be taken in a lot of ways, but on the literal side of things, let me tell you now that there’s nothing worse than being too hot. There isn’t much you can do in that situation! To avoid getting overheated while driving, it’s important to choose gear carefully, and a rib protector is no exception.
Make sure that parts of it allow for breathable materials so that you don’t find yourself getting too hot and bothered in the midst of races. This feeds into the protector being lightweight, too, because this really helps cut down weight that could otherwise make you sweat.
Finding the right fit and style of rib protector all come back to making sure you’re comfortable while wearing it. Padding on the inside of it, too, will make wearing it all the more relieving when you get shunted around in your seat. You’re wearing a rib protector to cut down fatigue and bruising, after all!
When browsing for a rib guard, it’s important to find out what the inner lining is made of and how it will help with enhancing your overall comfort in the driver’s seat.
Now comes a really important factor to consider when scouting for a rib protector! How does it deal with dispersing impact so that you don’t wake up the next morning with bruised, battered ribs?
Of course, a large part of this is the outer guard material and what properties it has. Does it have a hardened plate of sorts around the ribs? Is the inner lining a material which absorbs impact, too? These sorts of things are crucial to learn about, considering that you’re spending extra money on safety gear which isn’t entirely required.
If the outer guard is made of a hardened compound, it’s important that it doesn’t feel weighty or uncomfortable while you’re driving. And you should definitely look for a rib protector that has a nice, padded interior as an extra safeguard.
The 5 Best Karting Rib Protectors
1. Bengio Bumper Carbon Kevlar
It should be of no surprise that the most renowned rib protection brand has secured a top spot on this list! In terms of absolute comfort and safety, there isn’t anything better than Bengio’s products; especially not their latest development, the Bumper Carbon Kevlar.
For years, Bengio have been designing rib protectors for automotive racers at the top of their game. Formula One drivers wear their products, as one example, to lessen the impact of their demanding motorsport. It goes without saying, therefore, that their latest product innovation is definitely the best that money can buy.
Let’s start on the outside, where the big guns are located which disperse all of the impact thrown at the driver. As you can likely guess from the name alone, this Bumper comes equipped with a special composite in the side panels made of carbon-Kevlar. The blending of these hardened yet lightweight materials come together for very high protection.
It is bonded to a fiberglass base in multiple thin layers, keeping the whole rib guard feeling manageable in terms of weight without compromising on the strength of these protection areas.
This way of making the ‘shell’ areas on the outside also completely eliminates the risk of splinters forming; a typical worry when involving fiberglass or carbon into a design process.
On the interior of the famously named Bumper, you’ll find a very comfortable, plush lining that has been made with shock absorbing foam. Having it composed as such checks the comfort and impact absorption boxes in a big way, that’s for sure.
It is specifically made of closed cell foam, 8mm thick and 100kg/mc density. All of this technical specification translates to very springy, light foam that performs at the highest level. The foam’s high density will protect the driver from all vibrations; no matter the frequency.
Overall, the rib protector is ergonomically designed to comfortably fit underneath a race suit without feeling bulky or obtrusive to the driver. You’ll be getting the ultimate protective materials and armored feeling without being weighed down or otherwise being uncomfortable while you race.
One of my personal favorite features of this Bumper is the back shield that comes as standard. It’s a soft, padded interior that cushions a driver’s back, while retaining a firm shape to help with posture. Not only that, but it is constructed with the same dense foam used in the lining and is covered by a perforated fabric to add breathability to the whole guard.
As the cherry on the metaphorical cake, every Bumper is hand-made! When visiting Bengio’s website you will fill out an order form which contains all of your required measurements, and you’ll receive a personalized Bumper. Because of this, the prices are variable, but you can expect to pay around $250 for the Carbon Kevlar model.
Bumpers not only last a lifetime, but they’re rigorously tested to meet SFI and CE certifications while providing the pinnacle of safety for the wearer.
- Carbon-Kevlar composite material for the shell is strong and gives high-level protection
- Padded foam interior adds extra impact absorption while keeping whole Bumper lightweight
- Price is definitely on the higher side
2. Tillet Ribtec P1 Rib Protector
If you’ve purchased your own kart before, I’m sure you’ll have heard of Tillet. And if not, they’re a pretty big brand! They specialize in making seats for go-karts, so it makes sense that a new direction for them was to delve into developing rib protectors. You know, since they were so familiar with the seats that drivers sit in.
All of that aside, Tillet is a well-respected brand whose Ribtec P1 is a great safety product!
Starting with the overall goal they had when making this rib protector, Tillet wanted to make something which would protect drivers from fatigue and rib bruising without diminishing the feel of the chassis.
Go-karting is a sport in which drivers value ‘feel’ from their vehicle, since the person behind the wheel is oftentimes just as important as the engine powering it. With such stripped-back parts of the kart, there’s a lot of times where the driver needs to feel how their vehicle is performing through their feet or body for the best inputs at the time.
With that in mind, let’s look at the exterior of this protector!
Tillet have used a rigid composite to construct the outer ‘shell’ area, a very common choice in rib protection garments, choosing a plastic outer skin covered with suede. The plastic is layered in order to provide the desired effect of dispersing impact from the seat without adding weight.
Plastic is a very under-utilized material, which is strange when looking at how lightweight it is. If you use proper layering, as seen in the Ribtec P1, it is very durable and doesn’t feel cheap.
The interior of the rib protector is also covered with suede, but has thin layers of foam padding to provide comfort while wearing the guard.
You’ll also find a large selection of sizes in the Ribtec P1; from child, up to XL in adult sizes. On Tillet’s website they have provided a set of measurements for each size to make it clear what will fit, so you can accurately make a decision from the comfort of your own home.
Not only that, but the rear angle of the rib protector is entirely adjustable in order to better fit different body shapes. The harnesses, too, are adjustable and secure the whole garment in place as well as the stretchy front strap which has Velcro in place to fasten it.
If you’re a fan of the half-vest rib protector style and don’t want something with notably hard outer shells, the P1 might be the product for you! It costs $225 in total and promises a lifetime of good usage, so you’ll be able to continue performing at your best without worrying about bruising or fatigue.
- Lightweight, slim-lined rib protector
- Adjustable rear angle makes it fit better no matter your body shape
- Padding on the inside is lacking compared to the Bengio
- Plastic composition doesn’t entirely stop vibrations reaching the driver
3. Sparco Rib Pro K-7
One of my personal favorite brands in the karting world, Sparco has been around for years designing and making kart-specific and motorsport products that are repeatedly in the top percentile of performance.
The K-7 rib protector has seen many iterations over the years, and the latest model has seen a host of improvements and refinements since its earlier versions. Its overall goal is to provide maximum protection for the driver against injury/ discomfort at an affordable price, without compromising on material quality.
Externally, the rib guard has been made from hand-layered fiberglass to make up the shell part of the garment. This layering process keeps the overall build lightweight, and also provides a high level of impact absorption.
On the interior of the garment, Sparco have laid two different layers of padded material to provide comfort and even more impact absorption capability. The first layer is comprised of 4mm thick EDPM, a special compound of soft, foamy rubber, and the second layer consists of 6mm thick PU rubber which does most of the hard work absorbing impact/vibrations.
On a more general level of how the garment fits, the K-7 has been ergonomically designed to fit many different builds and body shapes. There is a high level of adjustability in the harness straps to change how the rib protector sits upon the torso, and an entirely elasticated front strap allows you to secure it as tight or loose as you wish.
All of the outer shell edges have been capped off with soft, pliable rubber; a very big deal indeed, as hardened rib protectors often come with the hazard of scratching and tearing on the inside of your race suit. The rubber present smooths all of these otherwise hardened edges.
You’ll also find ventilation on all sides of the protector to keep you cool, even during the hottest of races. There are small slit-like holes present on the back and each side which perforates through and allows proper airflow, even under your race suit.
The back portion of the K-7 is just the right mix of structured and soft, cradling this area and simultaneously encouraging good posture throughout a race.
For the very reasonable price, you’ll be buying one of the best rib protectors on the market today. It has the perfect blend of hardcore protection and comfort, making it a great contender to check every buyer’s boxes. Although the materials are certainly of a high quality, compared to Bengio it can seem a bit cheap.
- Affordable excellence encapsulated; no compromise on quality
- Comfortable and has high impact absorption to reduce fatigue and bruising
- Compared to the luxury brands such as Bengio, the materials used feel cheap
- Outer shell has a high rise on the ribs; can be obstructive dependent on the wearer’s height
4. OMP KS Body Protection
Another karting gear manufacturer that you’ll likely see everywhere, OMP has been making all kinds of race attire and accessories for a very long time. They’ve known for their wide range of excellent products at all kinds of price points, making them a favorite of experts and beginners alike!
One such thing they’ve made as of late is the KS Body Protection rib guard.
Just a single look at the design of this garment will tell you that it means business! It’s certainly one of the more heavy-duty products in this list of the best rib protectors, making it ideal for those of you out there who really want high levels of protection from rib bruising/injury.
Outwardly, the shell/ armored portion of the KS Body Protection half-vest is made of a composite, polycarbonate material. It has noticeable ridges that protrude from the sides slightly, adding another layer of protection as there is more surface area for impact to be dispersed and absorbed.
There is a rubber coating on the edges of the shell, eliminating the risk of tearing the insides of your race suit. It also makes the whole garment sit better on the driver’s frame without discomfort.
Compared to other garments of this nature, you’ll notice that the back portion is a lot longer than the rest. This adds extra protection to the whole spine area. The outer part of this back protector is the same rubber-like material, too, so you won’t have to deal with armor rattling on the back of your seat.
The interior of this half-vest is made from a soft rubber-like material which provides comfort and adds yet more impact-absorption features.
Harnesses fit over the shoulders to provide an element of support and are fully adjustable to ensure that the rib protector fits as you want it to. This is completed with an adjustable strap on the front featuring a hook-and-loop fastening mechanism; easy to secure and release.
Everything about this high-quality product has been made to protect against even the harshest track conditions, as you can see from the sturdy polycarbonate covering the outer shell.
You can find the price on OMP’s American website, and they have a full sizing guide available there for you to accurately measure what size you need. In terms of raw impact protection of the heavy-duty nature, there is no better product!
However, the toughened ridges that protrude from the garment on the outside are rather unforgiving and obstruct the driver. It certainly feels more like wearing a toughened garment of armor as opposed to something ergonomic.
- Highly armored, ridged shell offers excellent impact protection
- Long back protection insert protects the whole spine from injury
- Ridges on the sides are hard and uncomfortable; interfere with driving
- Shell feels plasticky/cheap compared to other brands
5. Ribtect 4 Karting Vest
And last, but certainly not least, we have the latest rendition of Ribtect’s purpose-made rib protection vests. As you can likely tell from the manufacturer’s name, Ribtect have dedicated themselves to making high-quality protection garments for drivers in their many years of experience with designing such products.
While I’m personally not somebody who likes the feel of a rib protection vest on a personal level of preference, I have to admit that Ribtect’s garments are the exception I’d easily make.
The outer protection panels are found over each side, accurately covering and protecting all of the ribs without compromise. They have been improved since the release of the previous Ribtect vest, the 3rd version, and are currently the best panel that the company has ever developed.
This is due to the composite material and layering of many individual sheets of hardened, thin material to create the panels. How do Ribtect test the hardness of their protection panels, I hear you ask? They spend a whole lot of time hammering on it with different weighted hammers!
They used every previous hammer test they’ve ever done and took it to the Ribtect 4, which showed no sign of even cracking under the pressure of repeated whacking.
The vest itself is made of a thin material which truly feels as if it’s weightless on your upper body when you’ve put it on. On the inside, there is soft padding which provides the comfort you should be looking for. Overall, the whole vest was designed to absorb additional impacts from sitting in the driver’s seat before dispersing it without discomfort.
This is thanks to the high-density yet lightweight foam on the interior layers of the vest. It absorbs all impact and shock encountered with ease!
It is specifically made from polypropylene, a compound famous for its ability to mold its shape. The vest, therefore, will feel tailor-made after you put it on as the polypropylene molds to fit your upper body.
The Ribtect 4 is fastened into place at the back using buckles for security, and these have been improved to be more durable.
If you’ve previously worn half-vests and disliked how they feel, I can’t recommend the Ribtect vest highly enough. It offers full torso protection without feeling obstructive, making it worth every penny! Everything about the vest was manufactured in the United States with care.
One of the biggest issues with this product, however, is the lack of ventilation which makes it quite hot and stuffy to wear. There isn’t a back-protection panel, either, and the buckles are located here which can actually be more painful than beneficial as the seat will rattle the fastenings against your spine.
- Lightweight, fully-protective vest for the whole torso
- Molds to the driver’s body shape perfectly due to polypropylene compounds
- No ventilation in the vest; makes it cloying to wear
- No panel on the back for protection; fastenings are located here and become uncomfortable
There you have it, fellow kart enthusiasts and racers out there!
You can’t go wrong with any of the rib protectors on this list and, even if they aren’t for you, I’m sure you can use the tips I shared to try and find the one that’ll work with your gear. No matter what you choose, enjoy those kart rib protectors and get to racing!