Shoulder pads are the defining piece of gear for the football player silhouette. Without them it would be totally ineffective to try things like tackling or breaking hits, but it also would leave the player prone to severe injury. Anyone who plays or watches the game knows this. However, just any old equipment can leave you just as exposed, you need the best football shoulder pads out there.
It’s such a crucial piece of gear that find the best football shoulder pads available has to be a priority for players. From a young age, learning how to hit and take hits properly is a key part of training and practice. Having the best protection for your upper body is necessary for youth and adults to keep you on your feet and moving on the gridiron.
We’re here to help you pick out the football shoulder pads that are going to improve and protect your game. We rounded up a list of the best youth and adult football pads to narrow what would be a very broad search for you. We’ve also taken the time to breakdown some important info about features and benefits, as well as how to pick out your gear based on position and preferences.
15 Best Football Shoulder Pads Review
Here we take a look at the Best Football Shoulder Pads on the market. We have them organized by Youth and Adult sections, but please keep in mind that many high school athletes will fit in Adult sizes so that might broaden your options. However, Kids football shoulder pads are frequently cheaper so make sure to compare costs.
Best All Purpose Youth Football Shoulder Pads
These are the Best Multi-Position Youth football shoulder pads available to your student athletes. Schutt shoulder pads are all high quality, and are frequently a brand pursued by schools and teams for gear. This particular set of kids shoulder pads will be perfect for players who are experimenting in new positions in order to better see where they fit on the field. They are more ideal for those with some experience, versus a beginner- which makes them great for players looking to take the game a bit more seriously. They are easily the best youth football pads on the market.
Riddell is a popular company for protective gear in all sports, and with their constant upgrades and research on football safety standards they keep their gear at a top level. The Z-Pad attachment on the Rival Youth Shoulder Pads (formerly known as Warrion IIx) makes getting ready for the game faster, and helps keep the pads secure throughout game play. These Riddell shoulder pads are also incredibly light which boosts speed and agility for players in the QB and RB positions.
These shoulder pads were built to help protect parts of the body that are more prone to injury due to lack of natural protection, such as the collar bone. Those parts of the pads were constructed with extra closed cell foam for advanced protection. They also have different ways of securing the pads on their larger sizes, which can make a big difference for the variety of players that end up using them.
Safest Youth Shoulder Pads
These pads get our pick for Safest Youth Shoulder Pads available. Wilson has developed this set to accommodate new tackling and blocking techniques that are now being taught to help prevent brain or other serious injuries. They are lightweight, and feature contoured pads in order to provide superior protection.
Best Position-Based Youth Shoulder Pads
These are by far the Best Youth Shoulder Pads available to Quarterback and Wide Receivers. They are designed to minimize weight, and don’t sit as low on the torso as to maximize movement and speed. Schutt makes the lightest varsity shoulder pads that still guarantee maximum protection and meet safety standards. As far as Youth Quarterback shoulder pads go, you should look no further.
It’s pretty much the same story for these lineman shoulder pads that are designed to still minimize weight while offering a bit more padding. They extend down the sternum further and are also made with wider shoulders for great collision protection.
Bonus Review- Extend the Protection
Getting a back plate to add to shoulder pads is a great way to extend protection for players without purchasing bulkier pads. The Schutt Sports Youth Back Plate adds back support to any Schutt shoulder pads for youth- and they also attach to most competitors gear as well.
This breathable attachment helps to prevent rib injury, and is commonly used by players who still need mobility but take more hits at the waist than others. These can be worn with detachable harness, or it can be secured directly to most youth shoulder pads.
Best Adult All Purpose Shoulder Pads
Xenith Shoulder Pads are very common among collegiate and adult football players. They are extremely high quality, with unmatchable flexibility. The plates are all attached in such a way that they move independently. While Xenith shoulder pads do come in a variety of position specific designs, their Multi-Position shoulder pads are unrivaled.
These adult football shoulder pads come in sizes Small to XXXLarge and are made with a low-profile design to decrease bulkiness. The way that the padding is designed makes them incredibly light, but they are reinforced to add longevity and defense from hard hits.
Safest Adult Football Shoulder Pads
Another All-Purpose model, Schutt Sports Air Maxx Flex 2.0 provides construction with an open cell foam that essentially is composed of small chambers that trap air, making them much more effective to take hits. They also make a Skills Position model that is constructed with the same protective technology, and are the best football pads for running and jumping.
Best Position Based Adult Shoulder Pads
There’s a reason Schutt has made our list more than any other brand, they just know how to make quality protective gear for the gridiron. There’s no exception with these XV Flex pads are the best shoulder pads for Quarterbacks and Wide Receivers. They come with an attached back plate, and the arms are designed with a unique arch that allows full range of motion for throwing and catching.
Ideal for QB’s and WR’s as well, this is our pick for Shoulder Pads for Defensive Backs. Like the other shoulder pads we’ve reviewed for you, TAG shoulder pads always use the latest technologies to insure lightness and protection together. The one thing we love about these is the shock-absorbing cushioning that doesn’t lose its potent protection even after numerous hard hits. Even thought we recommend them for defensive backs, this pick is still one of the best wide receiver shoulder pads as well.
Gear Pro-Tec has put together these shoulder pads recommended for the Offensive and Defensive Line, including Tight Ends. They are lightweight and low profile but tough as nails. Pro-Tec made them with their Pro-Loc design that is made for the “arms-up” motion of lineman blocks. It’s easy to see why we recommend these as the best lineman shoulder pads available.
TAG has another model in our position based list that is worth a nod. The ALT II 850 are the perfect shoulder pads for Running Backs, Full Backs, and Line Backers. They will stay secure during the roughest of blocks and breakthroughs, and feature double-layered padding to protect against blows to the shoulders and chest.
Football Shoulder Pads Features and Benefits
There are a few things that should be considered before you make a commitment to purchase a set of shoulder pads. Educating yourself on the features and benefits of gear is important to making your decision because pads can be designed specifically for certain positions.
For example, Lineman shoulder pads will provide better protection with more weight and coverage. Whereas quarterback shoulder pads are lighter and allow more movement, while still protecting against hard hits from blitzing defenders.
Here’s a more in-depth look at what to look for:
- Multi-Position- If you have a child that is still trying out multiple positions, or is playing both sides of the field it’s best to look for Multi-Position pads. Often these are provided by school teams but if it’s a club sport or private training find a high quality pair of youth football shoulder pads is crucial. Often these pads are medium-weight and don’t go very far down the sternum to allow for movement. They are going to be heavier and thicker on top of the shoulders to allow hitting.
- Quarterback/Receiver- Movement is crucial for both of these positions, so look for pads with proper construction. These pads will be designed with less plastic, and have contoured plates so that protection isn’t sacrificed in order to allow movement.
- Running Back/Defensive Back(s)- These positions are all high-impact AND require the maximum amount of mobility. This sometimes means paying a higher price for technology, but it’s worth it. These pads often have more protection on the sternum because players in these positions take more direct hits.
- Lineman/Tight Ends- Positions on the line take the most repetitive hits and impacts. Shoulders and sternum are the most reinforced areas on lineman shoulder pads, but they are designed to allow for the “arms-up” motion required by players in this position.
If you buy football shoulder pads based on the position you or your child are playing, then weight will factor in based on that. If you shop simply for generic or multi-position pads, then make sure you check out the weight of the pads and compare them to others. If a brand or model advertises durability and strength, they might not be focused on making sure they don’t drag the player down.
Pads that are advertised as lightweight should motivate you to read reviews to see if the pads have held up after multiple uses and hard hits. As mentioned before, if you want both lightweight and durable pads they are going to cost you more but it’s worth it in the long run.
Sizing plays into this, as well. If you are wondering how Youth football pad sizes are supposed to fit on your child, you can check out more information here.
Weight obviously ties into this, as does position pads. Having protection without mobility can leave any football player just as prone to injury because it will force you to move in unnatural ways. If the safer movement is not possible in the pads, then it’s time to look for a different set.
While we refer to this particular gear as Shoulder Pads, Torso Pads might be a better moniker. Back pads are frequently sold separately to add protection to players who land on their back from getting hit straight on. Some are even built in. Extended Sternum protection is necessary for those giving hits from the front repeatedly. There are also attachments to give extra protection to the ribcage, as well as compression sleeves and shirts designed to reinforce protection to shoulders and clavicles.
Whether you’re an adult or collegiate player looking for high quality pads for high-impact games, or a parent/coach/trainer seeking protection for a student athlete, health and injury is constantly on the mind. One wrong hit or one piece of faulty gear can be life altering. This is why many parents choose to purchase gear for their children even when there are some provided for the team. Generic brands can lack technological advances that prevent injury, and used gear could have structural damage that isn’t noticeable to the untrained eye. Finding the best football shoulder pads is important for so many reasons- do the research, read reviews, and get the best results on the field without consequences off of it!