Downhill mountain biking can take a toll on riders. Injuries are fairly frequent and can have very high consequences. It is worthwhile investing in good gear that is going to keep you riding for as long as possible. Having the best elbow pads for downhill mountain biking will help set you up for a long, happy mountain bike ride!
Downhill mountain bike riders tend to care less about ventilation and the weight of their protective gear, and more about the protectiveness and functionality of their gear. In this article, we will look at what makes the best elbow pads for downhill mountain biking, as well as which pads are the best set of elbow pads for you.
What Makes the Best Elbow Pads for Downhill Mountain Biking?
While there is a heap of factors contributing to the best elbow pads for downhill mountain biking, we have kept this simple so you can get a good idea of how to choose the best pads for you.
For more on how to choose MTB elbow pads, see here.
Obviously, protection is key for a mountain biker. New technologies, such as D30, Poron XRD and VPD are great advances in protection for the sporting world. These materials are thin and flexible for riding but harden on impact. They can absorb large, high-energy impacts far better than any layer of plastic.
Some elbow guards actually have a layer of plastic too. This is to prevent sharp and hard objects from harming your elbow (as opposed to absorbing impact energy).
It goes without saying that you do NOT want to be spending your time pulling up elbow pads while riding. More importantly, you don’t want the pads sliding down in a crash, exposing your elbow to the elements. You want the sleeve to have a snug fit, without being too tight that it cuts off blood supply, nor too loose that it slides down easily.
Some downhill elbow pads have a pre-curved design, which means your arms are in a comfortable position before you start. It does, however, mean that the elbow pad is less flexible (otherwise why bother putting it in a pre-curved shape) and difficult to straighten the arm if needed.
Similar to the fit, the fastening mechanism of the pad needs to work for you. Elbow pads are held up in one of three ways- velcro straps, elastic, silicone grippers.
For downhill elbow pads, which are usually a bit heavier than your standard pads, you will want a velcro strap holding the elbow guard in place. The velcro strap also allows you to get the most secure fit as you can tighten and loosen as required.
You will often find a combination of these fastening mechanisms too.
Best Elbow Pads for Downhill Mountain Biking
Now we know what to look for, let’s find you one of the best elbow pads for downhill mountain biking.
Fox Launch Pro D30 Elbow Guards
- Very Protective
- Plastic Outer Covering
The Launch Pro D3O elbow guards are exceptionally protective. Designed purely for your downhill rider who is going to leave it all on the trails. Come off and hit a sharp, hard rock? No problem for the Launch Pro D3O elbow pads!
The outer plastic shell prevents hits from hard objects from getting through to your skin, while the inner D3O absorbs the impact. The plastic shell covers only the bend in the elbow, while the D3O covers either side of the elbow towards the forearm and triceps.
The elbow pad is held up with a large velcro strap at the top around the upper arm. The large strap means no pressure points, and very securely holds the pad in place even if you take a tumble. The sleeve material is not thin but is breathable and comfortable. It will still protect you in a slide across the ground from abrasions.
While you won’t find the Launch Pro D3O cheaply, it is one of the most protective and well-designed elbow pads you are going to find. If you ride gnarly terrain and don’t want to come out of the park with an injured elbow, you may consider these a worthwhile investment!
Race Face Ambush Stealth
- Great Value for money
- D3O Protection
- Super Comfortable
- Not too long
- Very Durable
- Not as protective as the Fox Launch Pro D3O elbow guard
The Race Face Ambush Stealth is another one of those pads sporting the D3O material. This makes it super light and yet still super protective. The outside of the pad is covered with a tough polyester coating, making the Ambush Stealth a super durable elbow pad.
Race Face has put in that extra bit of effort to make elbow pads a little more desirable to wear for the mountain bike rider. They are secured by a velcro strap at the top of the arm, and as well as an elastic at the forearm. This prevents it from moving around while you ride, and more importantly when you crash.
Mesh fabric on the inside of the elbow helps with breathability and makes the elbow guard a little more pleasant to wear. There is a little padding between the skin and the D3O material, which makes it more comfortable to ride with and crash with!
In all, the Race Face Ambush Stealth is a super comfortable pad, that isn’t super bulky but provides a very decent amount of protection. Great for downhill riders who want a comfortable, protective elbow pad.
IXS Carve Evo +
- X-matter impact absorbtion
- Soft and comfortable
- Anti-bacterial lining
- Moisture Wicking Material
- Not bulky
- No outer shell protection for sharp hard objects
The IXS Carve EVO + is an extra layer you won’t notice is there until it’s needed. The ergonomic design makes it comfortable for all-day riding- whether that’s shuttle laps or a big day out on the mountain bike.
The X-matter impact protection covers the elbow as well as a decent portion above and below the joint. Despite all this padding, it isn’t a bulky pad at all, and will seamlessly fit underneath your biking jersey. The IXS Carve Evo + isn’t prone to sliding around either. The velcro at the top and bottom, as well as the silicone gripper at the top, puts a stop to any unwanted movement!
It is lightweight and breathable, with an anti-bacterial layer to prevent the build-up of smells. The inside of the arm has breathable mesh, which is reinforced so it won’t tear if you happen to catch it on something.
A solid option for a downhill rider not wanting something bulky or uncomfortable. The IXS Carve Evo+ is a slimline, highly protective, yet super comfortable elbow guard that you can happily wear all day!
Fox Launch D30
Best Value for Money
- Great forearm protection
- D3O Material
- Stays up
- Not very breathable
The Fox Launch D3O differs slightly from the Pro Version (reviewed above). It is a fair bit less bulky due to no longer having the hard plastic outer shell, but it is still a highly protective downhill elbow guard.
The inside of the elbow has a cut out to improve the ventilation- which it needs, given the entire sleeve is made of perforated neoprene. It is never going to be the most breathable sleeve on the market, but the neoprene sleeve will mean you are more protected in a crash, and it is a very durable sleeve!
The elbow guard is held in place with a velcro strap at the top and bottom. The actual guard is made of D3O, so it is soft and easy to ride in and will protect you from hard knocks when needed. There is some softer foam padding on either side of the elbow too, which stops knocks to sides of the elbow joint.
The Fox Launch D3O is great value for money. They are a very protective set of pads, covering more of the elbow and arm than your standard pads, but are a bit less expensive than the Pro version.
POC Joint VPD Air Elbow Guards
Best ‘Minimalist’ Downhill Pads
- Covers less of your arm
- Stick in place
- Lightweight Pad
- Doesn’t protect as much skin
If you aren’t completely sold on the idea of wearing elbow guards, the POC Joint VPD Air Elbow guard may be a good middle ground. While they don’t cover as much skin as the other pads above, the VPD Air still allows for great protection and you would barely notice they are there!
They are designed in two halves, which allows the pads to be flexible as you ride. With silicone grippers, velcro straps at the bottom and elastic at the top, there is no way that these pads are going to slip down on you (given you get the right size!).
VPD is an impact protection system, fairly similar to the D3O material in the pads above. They are super lightweight and low profile. This allows you to easily slip them under clothing if you wanted.
These are a great set of pads if you just want a minimalistic design that will still keep your elbows safe and sound from impacts. They aren’t as protective as the likes of the Fox Launch D3O pro, due to no hard outer protection, and less coverage of the upper and lower arm- but they are a heck of a lot more comfortable!
So if you are wanting something that isn’t just a small step up from a glorified arm warmer, these are the pads for you. They might not be the slimmest, most breathable elbow guards on the market, but they will keep your elbow out of harm’s way.
For maximum protection, you can’t go past the Fox Launch Pro D3O. The combination of impact protection, and hard shell for knocks, as well as decent coverage, makes for an all-around great elbow pad.
However, they do come with a relatively high price tag, and any of the other pads will still keep you well protected in a crash. My personal favorite is the Race Face Ambush Stealth, with a low profile, plenty of protection, and great mobility while wearing them.
Essentially, the choice is yours and will depend on what you prioritize in your protective gear and your style of riding. Mountain Bike elbow pads are such an essential piece of protective equipment and are a worthwhile investment if you want to keep riding day in and day out!