This is a weird question I get from time to time from the newbies. The question usually takes the form of, "Do we need those thingies? The blade thingies? You know..." Yes, I know, and if you've invested in a pair of skates worth more than $100, then you should just pony up the additional $12 or whatever for some Blade Thingies. Protect the investment, if nothing else to retain some resale value. The less you sharpen them, the more they stay worth, and guards lengthen the time between sharpenings. Also, Guards protect you, the Skate Mom or Dad. Little kids are incredibly clumsy with their feet (this isn't an insult, it's just true) so adding a steel blade at face level while you try to lace them, when kid is wriggling and turning and playing with their friends can turn into an act of death defiance. I've seen several moms coming away from lacing up their kids, bloodied and battered. Better to take the blunt end of a guard to the face or sandaled foot than a toepick.
There's a few kinds of guards out there, and by observation I've seen that some are more of a pain in the ass than others.
First up, Soakers are not guards. Especially the cutesy animal soakers. Nothing is more disturbing than a six year old girl walking through the lobby with decapitated kitties on her feet. Soakers are for storage only, and even then you still have to give the blades a quick wipedown with a cloth to nix all excess snow before you put them on. Otherwise too much moisture will build up within the fabric and they will mildew. That's just gross and defeats the purpose of the soaker. Soakers are to catch condensation while the blade is still cold, not to soak up the Slurpee you dragged after you when you left the rink. Having said that, you can escape soakers entirely by laying a towel down on the bottom of your skate bag. That's what I did for Stitch for the first year, and it worked beautifully. (But now we have Bunny Soakers and I want to jab a toepick in my eye every time I accidentally hit one and it goes "boing! boing! boing!" and Stitch is nowhere so I look foolish. Again.)
Guards seem to be a personal preference thing. I like the Guard Dog hard guards, the kind where you get the four pieces and you cut off and assemble to fit the blade. Yes, this does mean that you need to buy new guards whenever you upgrade blade size, but we've had the red guards for a few months now and they are absolutely disgusting. It wouldn't be so bad if I wasn't handling them every time I'm at the rink, but I always end up carting them around for at least a half hour and I always think I'm going to get leprosy or something. Worse, Coach is now using them as teaching aides every so often, and I've seen other Coaches use them as Relay Race batons. New ones with every blade set doesn't sound so bad.
You, however, should purchase the other kind, the one with the top that goes over the toepick and a hook over the back end of the blade. While I have seen that this variety is more of a pain in the rear, what with me hunting those hooks all during ice show because they chronically fell off and Other Mom was having a hissy fit, these are easier for me to swipe from the Lost and Found in event that Stitch loses his. All joking aside, I would not buy this kind. I have spent countless hours with small children hunting down and replacing those stupid hooks, and since the guards themselves are poorly marked, I can never tell where they had been placed to begin with. Terrible, terrible, flawed design.
What about this kind? You know what, hey, if you've got that kind of cash and don't mind dropping $25.00 on something that gets lost as quickly as your sanity, go right ahead. But if Sparkle Queen is passing on the LED Seizure Inducer Guards, that's saying something.
Be as religious as possible with the guards. I've recently seen a Coach call a pair of new (expensive) blades "destroyed" because Mom never put the guards on and little kid was always running rampant in the lobby with skates on his feet. If Kid is in skates but off the ice for more than ten minutes (longer than a Zamboni pass), get the guards. There are blade mawing holes in that rubber flooring, just waiting for your kid to try an off-ice spin. Just don't forget to remind small children that they've got them on. Nothing more embarassing than getting on the rink and taking a dive in front of the other kids, but they usually only do it once. On the plus side, you look a little more professional with plain hard guards than you would sliding on your butt with the decapitated kitties.