Skip to content
Home » Bike Gear » Elbow Pads » How to Choose the Right MTB Elbow Pads

How to Choose the Right MTB Elbow Pads

Choosing the right mtb elbow pads

This page contains affiliate links, and I may earn a commission if you use them. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.

Choosing the right mountain bike elbow pads is one of the most important decisions you can make for safety gear. They protect your elbows from bumps against trees and scrapes if you fall.

There are a lot of choices when it comes to MTB elbow pads. Beyond how to get one that fits you, even more importantly is one that will protect you properly. MTB elbow pads and sleeves come in different lengths from just padding the elbow to full-length that cover most of the arm. There are also different levels of padding from lightweight cross country-type pads to heavy-duty downhill pads.

As you can see, there are lots of things to learn so that you can choose the right MTB elbow pads for you.

Determine Your Riding Style and Needs

The first step is determining what you actually need. There are a few things to look at that will steer you towards the pads you need:

  • What type of riding you do (enduro, xc, downhill)
  • How difficult the trails and what type of environment. Trees and shrubs lining the trails make it more likely you clip a tree limb
  • How fast you ride
  • How likely you are to crash and how hard would that crash be

Once you know all of that, you can then look at what the appropriate padding you need is and how much coverage of your arms.

For example, if you do singletrack riding with wide open fields next to it, a crash isn’t too likely and you would only need normal padding for it. If you ride dangerous downhill courses, you go fairly fast and a crash is pretty severe. For downhill you would want more coverage and much thicker padding (as well as advanced protection materials such as D30 or VPD).

If you ride multiple types such as sometimes you do fast enduro and other times simple trail riding, get padding for the more dangerous type of riding or get two different sets. Luckily the newer materials are fairly lightweight much of time so often you can find elbow pads like Fox Enduro D30 elbow pads that are comfortable to wear and yet providing amazing protection.

Make Sure They Fit Properly

Getting the MTB elbow pads in the right size for you is really important to say the least. They need to stay in place or else they can’t protect you properly.

Every elbow pad fits differently and it’s important to check the sizing chart for each manufacturer.

The first step is to measure your arms around the bicep and around the forearm so you can pick the right size. You can round off measurements to the nearest half-inch, and I’d round them down if in doubt because it’s better to have elbow pads fit just a little too tight than too loose.

So once you have your bicep and forearm measurements, you can consult the charts for the particular manufacturer to pick the right size. I can’t stress it enough to check the manufacturer’s elbow sizing chart because each can be different.

For instance, if your bicep is 12.5 inches and forearm is 11 inches, for a POC Joint VPD 2.0 elbow pad you would require a medium, but for a Fox Enduro D30 elbow pad you would require a large.

So make sure to measure carefully and to reference the manufacturer so that you can pick a MTB elbow pad that fits you and that you look forward to wearing. Afterall, wearing is the only way they protect your elbows.

Materials and Construction

MTB elbow pads come in a variety of styles but there are a lot of similarities in how they are constructed. The largest difference is the type of riding and impact they are designed to handle.

MTB elbow pads use a wide range of different materials depending on the brand or manufacturer. The largest difference is usually in the impact material. More traditional type elbow pads used impact foam which is thicker and will compressed to absorb the crash. some of the newer elbow pads use non-Newtonian compound like D30 used in Fox Racing in G-Form Pro X3 elbow pads as well as VPD used in POC Joint VPD elbow pads.

What makes these newer compounds really amazing is that they are thin and lightweight and very flexible, but upon impact they harden like a plate. Very cool stuff  and not as much more money than traditional as you would think.

The other different thing is what the sleeve material is made of. Many are made of a synthetic blend of some sort (such as Neoprene) that breathe well so that your arms don’t get too sweaty, but the materials durable enough that if it snags on a branch it won’t tear.

Most of the elbow pads have silicone grippers on the inside to keep them in place and keep them from sliding while you’re actively moving around on the trails. Basically, there are silicone bands on the inside that actually become grippier when they get wet so that they won’t move when you sweat.

Generally speaking I would steer towards getting the MTB elbow pads that use the newer and more advanced compounds because you’ll find it easier to move while riding and they’re not that much more expensive than the more traditional style. The only exception I can think of is that if you do some big downhill riding with the more extreme jumps and drops that you may want to consider impact foam padding that are very thick because of the speed and dangerous nature of that type of riding.

Compare What The Brands Are Offering

Once you know everything above, the next thing is to look at what each of the brands is offering for their elbow pads. Each one is geared towards a certain type of rider which then dictates the design such as the size of the pads, the sleeve material, and the closures such as velcro fasteners or grippers.

Certain pads are much shorter and cover basically just the elbow and those are great for average trail riding or BMX. Other ones are full length that cover most of the arm that are designed for riding through overgrown trails where you are likely to hit branches and thorns and you need to protect your arms.

One of the biggest differences is how are they held on. Certain ones only have the silicone grippers, while others may have a velcro strap in order to pull them a little bit tighter. I myself like to have the ones where you can use the strap to make them just a little bit tighter so it doesn’t have to be as tight on your arms initially to make it easier to put them on and remove them if you’ve been sweating.

How critical the features are depends on the type of riding that you do. If you just basically ride country roads, then virtually any of the elbow pads will work for you. If you are riding very active downhill trails and hitting jumps and such then you want one of the best elbow pads that will have a good closure so it stays in place while you’re moving around a lot. 

Finally, make sure you read the description by the brand. Often they’ll let you know the intended usage and what makes theirs better, which is a great way to find out if they are a possibility for you.

Costs Vs Needs

The better an elbow pad is made, and the more protection it provides, the more expensive it’s going to be. However, how strong of an elbow pad you need depends on the type of riding that you do. It’s important to weigh the cost against your needs since you are obviously going to have other equipment to purchase.

If you only ride occasionally and you ride fairly mild trails, then you can probably get by with a pair of $30 elbow pads which will provide more than enough protection most times. If you do hardcore riding with more dangerous terrain, then you’re going to need one of the stronger elbow pads that’s closer to $100.

You’ll also want to look at how long they will last so that you can see how long until you need to buy another pair. That’s where the manufacturing quality from a brand really comes into play. As part of this of course is taking care of your elbow pads properly will give you the most lifetime regardless of who makes them.

Just make sure when you’re comparing elbow pads for quality and price, that you compare ones that provide the same level of protection. Also be realistic about the type of riding that you do.  If you only do lightweight riding, then you don’t want those big heavy bulky elbow pads because you won’t need that level of protection. That level of bulkiness will actually make the lighter riding more difficult and less fun because it can restrict your arm movements.


Finding the ideal mountain biking elbow pads requires looking at multiple things such as the fit, materials and construction, what level of protection you need, and the cost.

First start by determining what type of riding you do, which dictates what level of elbow protection you will need.  Then take a look at the more popular brands to see how the closures keep it on your arm, what type of sleep material they are made of, and how much are they.

Check out reviews and see what people are saying about them and if they have the quality and durability to make them worth the price.  Beyond that, look at the other equipment you need to purchase so you know your budget you are working within.

Proper fitting MTB elbow pads will stay in place throughout your ride and they should feel so comfortable that you don’t even realize you have them on. That’s actually the goal … they should provide protection but you shouldn’t even be thinking about them during your ride if they are the right ones for you.

The last tip of course is to make sure you measure your elbow, forearm, and bicep properly so that when you go to order them you can look at the manufacturer sizing charts and pick the correct one. The goal is for them to be slightly snug to stay in place but not so tight that it’s distracting.

About the Author

Tony K

Senior Technical Writer,

Tony K is a technical editor at He has a focus on downhill bike riding but still loves xc bikes too.

With more than ten years of mountain biking experience and more than 5 years testing mountain bikes, Tony has ridden and tested hundreds of different bikes and products, everything from XC to enduro bikes. Tony regularly competes in mountain bike races while seeing how long those compontents can hold up which gives me a lot of insight.

When he isn't shredding down a mountain or camping out, he is writing reviews for Mountain Bike Experience.

Rides: Surly Lowside, Canyon Exceed