We’re used to keeping our head and knees protected, but if you’re riding technical terrain you’ll want to also make sure you’ve got the best elbow pads for mountain biking because if you do go down, this is another bit of the body that will probably take a hit.
Luckily, not only are there lots of excellent elbow guards available on the market using the same tech as the best mountain bike knee pads, but they also come with plenty of different levels of protection. So if you just want some flexible impact-absorption for trail riding, you could opt for something like the Fox Launch D30 pads which are great for all-day adventures. If you’re getting air and landing harder, something like the 100% Fortis Guard provides more robust protection from big hits.
Overall, our favorite elbow guard was the Troy Lee Raid Elbow Guards, which provide a combination of flexible, breathable but effective D30 protection in a pull-on sleeve-style design.
Scroll down for the best knee pads you can buy today, or skip to the bottom to find out how to pick the best elbow pads for mountain biking.
Best elbow pads for mountain biking
These pull-on sleeve-style elbow guards from Troy Lee Designs are brilliant all-round arm protection.
The sleeve itself is a combination of stretchy neoprene fabric on the outer side of the arm which sits snugly against the skin, moving easily as you move your arm without rubbing or chaffing. The inner part of the sleeve is a breathable mesh that is effective at helping regulate temperature and allows sweat to evaporate, particularly from the inner elbow area.
There’s no adjustable velcro tab at the top or the bottom. Instead, the guards rely on getting a close fit in the sleeve itself combined with silicone gripper dots on elastic cuffs. Get the size right and they stay in place perfectly, but the sizing does come a bit small and there’s a gap where a size S/M should be in the range.
Protection comes in the form of a flexible D30 foam pad that flexes while you ride, especially once it’s warmed up with body heat, but hardens immediately upon impact. A tough abrasion-resistant outer covering on the pad helps keep everything protected.
All-in-all, it’s a great choice for the all-mountain, enduro or trail rider who rides hard up as well as down, puts hours in on a ride and needs the right blend of comfort, breathability and protection.
The most useful pad is the one that you’re wearing, and the Singletrack Lite from Endura is a budget sleeve-style protector that won’t break the bank and is comfy enough for all-day use.
The lycra sleeve stretches and moves with you as you ride, and the mesh backing allows moisture to wick out. However, we did find that the lycra and pad can end up rotating around the arm with some overgarments, meaning we had to tug it back into position. It wasn’t a huge issue, but something to be aware of.
Non-adjustable elastic cuffs keep the guards in place though riders with thin upper arms may find that the S/M size doesn’t go small enough for the pads to stay in place.
A perforated foam pad provides the protection, flexing as you ride but stiffening up with impact. These are also designed to provide a little side protection, and the tough outer cover on the pad adds an additional layer of protection.
If you want a pull-on pad that isn’t bulky and works for all-day riding, but you want a bit more protection than most of the elbow sleeves on the market, then you can’t beat the Fox Launch D30.
In addition to the main pad there are several smaller peripheral pads that provide good protection all around the elbow as well as straight on. The D30 foam these are constructed from stays nice and flexible while you ride, moving with you, then firming up on impact to provide good protection.
The sleeves pull on and are secured with a wrap-around elastic strap at both ends, which allows the fit to be tailored to the rider. The neoprene itself is perforated to make it more breathable, and there is a ventilation gap at the inner elbow too. However, they can still feel quite hot when riding in warm weather and aren’t as breathable as some other options.
If your riding style is all about downhill, jumps and racing, and if you tend to hit the deck hard fairly frequently, you should consider a chunkier, bulkier guard that provides the protection you’ll need.
The Fortis Elbow Guards from 100% do just that. In addition to a chunky foam and plastic pad, and with plenty of protection for the sides and top so the whole joint is protected, an outer layer of smooth plastic means that the pad won’t catch and stop if you crash. Allowing the pad to slip over the surface of the ground means impact forces are dissipated, and there’s less chance of your arm getting caught on the ground and pulled the wrong way.
The pull-on sleeve combines perforated neoprene that grips the arm comfortably and moves with you, with both an internal ventilation gap at the inner elbow and a stretch mesh inner which helps with breathability and moisture-wicking.
Cuffs are adjustable elastic and velcro, and the upper cuff in particular is wide which helps reduce the chances of hot spots and chafing, and also provides additional support for the arm.
The POC Joint VPD guard is much shorter in length than others on test. While it offers a similar level of coverage over the elbow joint, particularly with a wrap-around style that covers the side as well as the main outer elbow joint, the sleeve portion is quite short at either end which is good news for riders with shorter arms.
VPD refers to the 3D molded pad that POC has used. It performs in a similar fashion to D30; warmed up with body heat it will flex and form to the body, allowing it to sit more comfortably and flex as you ride. Upon impact, the foam stiffens up to absorb impact forces.
The pad sits in a sleeve with velcro and elastic straps at the top and bottom which help ensure the guard stays in place while riding, and in the event of a crash.
The sleeve is a comfortable lycra, with a mesh insert at the inner elbow to allow moisture and heat to wick more efficiently. A tough cordura outer over the pad provides additional protection.
Everything you need to know about the best elbow pads for mountain biking
While most riders are used to wearing helmets and kneepads, elbow pads are a little less common. However, they’re a really good idea if you want to avoid the kind of injury that can put you out of action if you ride or race downhill or enduro. Even a cut to the elbow can result in days of pain since it’s a joint we use so much, and lets not get started on sprains and breaks. A good pair of elbow pads will help significantly reduce the chances of this happening, so here’s what to look for when you’re trying to find the right ones for you.
Should I wear pads when mountain biking?
A simple way of looking at it is the higher the likelihood of crashing, and of that crash being a heavy or hard one that’ll do damage, the more protection you want in your elbow pads.
Most pads will either consist of a low-profile impact-absorbing pad in a sleeve, or a chunkier pad with or without a plastic outer shell. The first are flexible and offer a low level of protection that’s perfect for general trail riding and exploring; enough to take the edge off a hit and prevent grazes and cuts. The second is for when you’re riding more technical terrain, ground that’s likely to hurt when you hit it, or bigger jumps or drops and faster speeds.
There are trade-offs for both of course, such as the fact that bulkier pads aren’t going to move with you as comfortably, and also tend to be hotter.
Do elbow pads get hot?
The chunkier the pad, the less breathable the whole guard will feel, but most manufacturers now take steps to allow the elbow guards to be as breathable as it’s possible to be. Look out for ventilation gaps, mesh on the inner side of the pad and perforation in both the sleeve fabric and the pad itself; this won’t affect the protection offered by the pad, but will help reduce the chances of super-sweaty elbows.
While it can be tempting to always go for the most protective pad, it won’t be any good if you don’t end up wearing it because you get too hot in it, so as ever there’s a trade-off here between protection and comfort.
What size elbow pads should I get?
This is one of the most important aspects of pad performance and comfort. Too loose and they’ll fall down and be ineffective, too tight and they’ll affect blood flow and chafe. In either case, they won’t be doing the right job, so getting the right fit is important. And yet there is no standardization across brands so a medium in one brand may not fit anything like a medium in another. This is another reason why velcro straps at the top and bottom of pads can be an advantage, allowing you to tailor the fit.
Do elbow pads need velcro straps?
Some guards, usually the ones with a thinner protective pad and aimed at trail riding, consist of a pull-on sleeve with simple elastic cuffs at the top and bottom. It’s the fit of the sleeve, the fabric type and the elastic that’s relied on to keep the guard in place and prevent it slipping down the arm, plus a few silicone gripper dots.
Chunkier guards tend to favor a sleeve made of a stiffer fabric like neoprene that helps ensure the pad stays in place while riding and in the case of a crash, plus cuffs consisting of elastic and velcro which allows them to be tightened to fit.