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Materials and Technologies in MTB Elbow Pads

Materials and Technologies in MTB elbow pads

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Mountain biking can be a very adventurous but at times dangerous sport. On the more exciting trails riders can fall at high speeds on rocks or they may catch a branch with their elbow.

MTB elbow pads is the most important gear to protect a riders elbows and forearms from accidents. Choosing high quality elbow pads made with the right materials can make all the difference between a slightly sore arm and a trip to the emergency room.

Advanced Vs Traditional Impact Materials

One of the first choices you’re going to have to make is whether you want to get a pair of elbow pads with the advanced non-Newtonian impact padding or you want to go with traditional elbow pads with polyurethane foam. It’s a big choice to make, so let’s look at them more now.

Advanced Impact Materials

Virtually all of the major brands in fairly recent years are offering advanced elbow pads with a cutting-edge material that is amazing to say the least. Elbow pads like Fox Racing D30 and G-Form Pro X3, as well as POC VPD elbow pads, have this type of impact material which is flexible for easy riding but upon impact instantly harden to provide a hard shell for your arm. 

It’s very cool stuff to say the least but it’s about 40% higher in cost than the traditional elbow pads with the thicker foam.

One of the advantages of the advanced material is that you aren’t riding with this really thick foam on your arm in hot weather, which holds in the heat. So the advanced ones are more comfortable to wear but at the potential cost of being a little more expensive.

Traditional Impact Materials

The traditional impact materials that you find in elbow pads over the past few decades is one of the first designs and it has a polyurethane foam which is thick padding which just absorbs impacts. Much the same way you would see them on a hockey player or any other type of padding that’s been around for a lot of years, they are tried-and-true and you can’t go wrong with them. 

They are cheaper but you also have the thicker material which limits your movement a little bit and in hot weather it holds in the heat a bit on your arm even with the sleeves that breathe well. So there is a trade-off that your budget and needs will dictate which you need.

Breathability and Ventilation

After you talk about how much protection elbow pads provide, how comfortable they are to wear is always the next topic. How well they breathe so that your arms don’t get all sweaty is always the next question. Different mountain bike elbow pads help with cooling in different ways but it’s something they all take seriously and have put a lot of research into.

Some manufacturers choose to use a mesh fabric for the sleeve which has tons of openings and allows a lot of air to come in and cool your arms. Other manufacturers use neoprene which has tiny little holes in it’s also lets in air. Others like Fox Racing use Cordura which is a synthetic blend but lets in air a little better than neoprene.

Many of the sleeves from the best manufacturers are fairly comparable. However, the area around where the impact padding itself is is often the area that gets a little bit warm due to lack of air flow. That’s where advanced impact padding like D30 and VPD work well. Because it’s thinner than impact foam and it doesn’t hold in heat as well, they are usually more comfortable to wear when riding in the hot summertime.

Fit For All-Day Comfort

Mountain biking elbow pads need to fit properly so that they are comfortable to wear all day. If they’re not comfortable then you’re not going to wear them, which would defeat the whole purpose. So fit is among the most important things.

There are three factors for elbow pads that make them comfortable to wear for hours.

The first factor is that it fits the shape of your arm. Regardless of whether they’re advanced or traditional in design, well-designed elbow pads will fit the shape of your arm so that they feel like a second skin.

The second factor is that they don’t restrict your arm movement while you’re riding. The goal is to wear them without even thinking that you’re wearing them. You need to focus on the trail. While the more advanced materials tend to be more flexible when wearing them, the traditional elbow pads like the ones from 7iDP fit well enough that you can ride without them being a restriction. They key is to get well-made elbow pads.

The third factor is that they stay in place. Many of them have silicon grippers in there that will keep them in place even while you’re sweating. A few of them even have velcro closures to get that little extra tightness when you need them. In either case you need them to stay in place for them to be effective.

Take Care Of Your MTB Elbow Pads

Taking care of your mountain bike elbow pads will help them last as long as possible. Some things like getting caught on a branch, there’s only so much you can do. But cleaning them up at the end of your ride can go very long way to helping them last.

Think about it this way. You’re riding and sweating in those things nonstop. Even if you let them dry out after every ride,  they’re just going to get multiple layers of sweat over the months and potentially years.

Wiping them down after every ride and washing them every few rides and letting them fully dry out will help them smell good and not get any mildew in them.

Some MTB elbow pads even have a removable insert that you can take out and you might even be able to throw some of them in the washer to make it even easier. You really need to look at what the manufacturers suggest but taking care of them.

Like all of your gear, taking care of them will help you get the most out of them. Afterall, you took the time to choose the right MTB elbow pads for you. It only makes sense to make them last as long as you can.


At first it may look like MTB elbow pads are all the same, but as you can see from this article there are lots of differences. Some have advanced protection materials while others have more traditional impact materials. The elbow sleeves themselves are made differently and some breathe better than others. There’s as many differences between all these different elbow pads as there are between cars.

But within all of those different options,  there is the perfect elbow pad for your riding style and needs. With the right knowledge you’ll be able to choose the correct pair for you.

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