Versatile shoulder pads fit any position on the football field, including linebacker, quarterback, receiver, and more. V-cut ensures that players have plenty of room to move their heads while playing. Prevents heat and moisture from interfering with performance.
Sizes can be bigger than expected.
Designed for all positions. Sized for youth. Shock-resistant technology dissipates hits and impacts. Sternum plate provides important protection. Shock cord connection allows independent plate movement.
The sizing may run small.
Classic low-profile flat pads. Air management liner system dissipates hits and promotes breathability. Fit is customizable thanks to removable channels and swivel front. STAC system channels impacts from the shoulder.
Sizes only go from S to XL.
For both offensive and defensive linemen. Optimized for aggressive play. Contoured chest plate designed for increased range of motion for arms and hands while in action. Sized from S to 3XL.
A little pricey.
Low-profile flat pads encourage range of motion. Epaulet design promotes arm movement. Breathable air management liner. STAC system directs energy away from shoulder joints. Features half-inch-thick open-cell foam for comfort.
Some believe their sizes run small.
We recommend these products based on an intensive research process that's designed to cut through the noise and find the top products in this space. Guided by experts, we spend hours looking into the factors that matter, to bring you these selections.
Finding the best football shoulder pads is a far different experience now than it was a couple of decades ago. Older shoulder pads were large and bulky. Today’s have a tighter fit and come in multiple designs that work well for players in different positions. They’re also smaller to allow maximum movement.
However, when purchasing football shoulder pads, fit and freedom of movement aren’t the only considerations. After all, their primary purpose is to protect the player’s upper body while blocking and tackling. These shoulder pads combine hard plastic, buckles, and padding to protect the chest, upper back, and shoulders.
Because the player’s jersey covers the pads, color and style aren’t as important as they would be for other types of athletic gear. Instead, you want to focus on the fit and protective features when shopping for football shoulder pads. Whether you're choosing a set of pads for yourself or helping your child get started playing football for the first time, we have the information you need to choose the right pads.
Measure your upper chest and shoulders to get an idea of what size shoulder pads you need. It’s easier if you have someone to help you take these measurements.
Wrap a flexible tape measure around your chest just under the armpits. Then measure the width of your shoulders across the back of the neck. Use these guidelines to find the best size for you. There are even larger sizes available for larger players.
Child XS/S: Chest diameter 22 to 28 inches; shoulder width 10 to 13 inches
Child M/L: Chest diameter 28 to 34 inches; shoulder width 13 to 15 inches
Child XL: Chest diameter 34 to 38 inches; shoulder width 15 to 17 inches
Adult S/M: Chest diameter 38 to 44 inches; shoulder width 17 to 19 inches
Adult L/XL: Chest diameter 44 to 50 inches; shoulder width 19 to 21 inches
Adult XXL/XXXL: Chest diameter 50 to 56 inches; shoulder width 21 to 23 inches
Football players who collide with players on every play need bulkier shoulder pads for maximum protection. Players who rely on quickness and the ability to move their arms freely need smaller, more flexible pads.
Quarterbacks, kickers, receivers: Players who throw, kick, and catch the ball but rarely block at the line of scrimmage can wear lightweight shoulder pads with a flexible shell.
Running backs, linebackers, and defensive backs: These players need both flexibility and protection. Extra padding is common on these shoulder pads to protect against more powerful collisions.
Linemen: These players endure collisions on every play, so they need the maximum level of protection and padding from heavy-duty shoulder pads that cover more of the body.
No organization currently sets safety standards for shoulder pads. However, the National Operating Committee on Standards for Athletic Equipment (NOCSAE) is considering issuing standards like it does for football helmets.
Different types of padding are available in these shoulder pads. Some are more flexible than others. Some manufacturers use thermoplastic urethane (TPU) to provide the greatest durability, flexibility and cushioning. Less expensive football shoulder pads might use a simple open-cell or closed-cell foam. This foam will break down more quickly, however.
The exterior of the football shoulder pads is a hard plastic shell. This plastic is made to stand up to repeated hits in practice and games, but it can eventually wear out and crack after a few years of use.
The thickness of the plastic affects the weight and bulkiness of the pads. For example, shoulder pads made for linemen have thicker plastic than pads made for quarterbacks because linemen experience many more collisions in practice and games.
Shoulder pads cover a large portion of the upper body. Players need to wear a T-shirt under the pads and a football jersey over them, which restricts airflow to the shoulders and chest. Some shoulder pads have ventilation holes in the plastic shell to help keep the player a little cooler than solid plastic pads. These holes are small so they don’t affect the integrity of the shell.
Football shoulder pads have laces in the front and straps and buckles along the sides so the player can tighten or loosen the fit of the pads as desired.
Some shoulder pads have a section that allows the connection of a neck roll. This extra piece of hard plastic and padding fits at the top of the pads on the back and supports the neck. It prevents the head from snapping back in collisions with other players or the ground.
If you have concerns about hits to the lower back, you can connect this plate to the bottom of the back of the shoulder pads. This pad made of plastic and padding fits under the jersey and helps absorb impact during collisions.
Rib pads (or guards), like back plates, hang from the bottom of the shoulder pads and protect the ribs and abdomen.
Some players, especially quarterbacks (or players who have a rib injury), wear a flak jacket, or core guard, that connects to the shoulder pads and wraps around the abdomen and lower back. It provides maximum protection for this area but limits movement.
The least expensive shoulder pads cost $25 to $100. These are primarily for youth and don’t protect against significant force when tackling and blocking.
These shoulder pads cost $100 to $250. They have a little less padding, a simpler shell design, and are less flexible than more expensive models, but they provide a high level of protection.
The most expensive football shoulder pads cost $250 to $500. These have the latest designs to give players as much flexibility as possible. These designs also have the most effective padding, so they’re lightweight and provide excellent protection.
Bike, Douglas, Gear Pro-Tec, Riddell, Schutt, Xenith, and XTech are the primary manufacturers of football shoulder pads.
A. If you’re playing tackle football in an official league, the rules require that players wear official shoulder pads. However, shoulder pads aren’t necessary for pickup games in the local park or flag football leagues.
A. Dirt and sweat will accumulate in the foam and nylon in the pads. You can wipe off sweat and grime with a microfiber cloth a couple of times a week. On some pads, you can disconnect the foam from the plastic and wash the pads separately.
A. Football shoulder pads distribute the force of any collision. The hard plastic shell protects muscles from direct blows, preventing bruising and soft tissue injury. Players could even suffer broken bones without the protection of shoulder pads.
A. No. Most players can wear the same shoulder pads for practice and games during the season. A set of football shoulder pads should last at least a couple of years.