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What are your best options when it comes to mountain bike protection?

© Chris Laue/Leatt
We break down all the kit you need for protection out on the trails, and why it's important.
By James McKnightPublished on
If you're new to mountain biking, you'll probably have noticed a few things. Mountain biking is fun. It's addictive. Turns are great. Jumps are amazing. The ground is hard.
While many more experienced riders tend to pare down on the protective kit – you’ll notice most folk rocking simply knee pads, gloves and a decent helmet – an upward learning curve warrants, and indeed necessitates, protecting yourself from head to toe.
We've selected a few of our favourites items of protection for each body area below. These aren't in any way the best in terms of budget, but if you value your health and would prefer to get back on that horse once it's bucked, we recommend looking at these or equivalents from other established brands.

Ankles

661's Race Brace Pro ankle supports are the stuff of legend among those with wiry pins. They're great if you're carrying an old injury, and these can also be found on the feet of many top freeriders – the supreme support helps them deal with nagging injuries and massive jumps.
There are few other ankle guards available, but if you're after something lightweight, then G-Form's Pro Ankle Guard will deflect stray rocks and the like.

Knees

Scott Grenade Evo kneepads
Scott Grenade Evo
Scott's Grenade knee pads are simply unbeatable in terms of their protection and comfort. They manage maximum coverage and deflection whilst maintaining a high level of flexibility. Many hard-shelled (less flexible) pads simply push off the knee upon impact, leaving bare skin to ground.
Full-length (knee and shin) pads are a bit out of fashion for modern mountain bikers, as they can be a bit restrictive and hot for pedalling, but if gravity is your thing, look to Leatt's Hybrid EXT for something all-protecting.
At the other end of the spectrum, for those carpark skill sessions, stash a knee pad or two under your jeans, such as G-Form's Pro-X lightweight, highly flexible pads.

Hips and upper legs

Front and back product shots of the Alpinestars Sequence Pro shorts.
Alpinestars Sequence Pro shorts
There are plenty of very comfortable protective undershorts on the market, and Alpinestars' Sequence Pro Short ticks all the boxes, providing great coverage while remaining slim and flexible enough. Thighs, hips and coccyx are covered and you'll forget you're wearing them – until that unexpected backflip.

Back and upper body

Product shot of the Bliss ARG Comp top upper body MTB protection.
Bliss ARG Comp top
Full upper body armour can be quite restrictive for all day pedalling, but if you're serious about keeping yourself on the trail, then a vest with good chest, spine and shoulder padding is a no-brainer. Bliss Protection's ARG Comp is up there with the best: a flexible and slim profile meets decent spine, chest and shoulder coverage. It's a little heavy, but you’ll get used to it and thank yourself when shoulder-barging the ground or a tree.
For something stripped back, Dainese's Trailknit Pro-Armor Tee is essentially a base layer with spine and shoulder pads, which is great for summertime trail rides.

Elbows

Elbow pads are a tricky area to protect. While it seems essential to cover them up, there are few manufacturers who've managed to make a pad that covers the elbows well and actually stays on them. Some that do stay put can be restrictive around the forearm, which can lead to sore arms on longer descents.
Product shot of the Alpinestars Sequence elbow protector.
Alpinestars Sequence elbow protector
Alpinestars' Sequence Pads seem to strike a good balance. They offer great coverage, a high level of protection and extend higher on the upper-arm, which means they tend to stay in place longer than most.

Gloves

Product shot of the 661 Evo glove.
Notice the protective layer it adds around your knuckles
Wide handlebars lead to great bike control and, well, sore knuckles from the closer proximity to trees. If you want to avoid one of mountain biking's most prolific injuries – the crushed pinky – 661's EVO II Gloves pack D30 (a supple protective material that hardens on impact) on the knuckle area. Trees beware.

Neck

Leatt 3.5 neck brace 2018 on display.
Leatt do a range of neck braces, such as the award winning DBX 3.5
First things first, neck braces only work with full-face helmets. They aim to reduce the risk of serious neck injury by lowering forces transferred through the neck when performing that surprise headstand dismount. Leatt were the pioneers and remain the experts in neck braces for mountain bikers, with the DBX 6.5 Carbon option weighing in at just 600g. You'll hardly know you’re wearing it. Just ignore jokes about wearing a kids' potty around your neck.

Head

Of course, none of the above comes anywhere near the importance of a good helmet. You should never leave home without one, and always replace a lid that's taken even a mild blow. There are many great mountain bike helmets on the market, and of utmost importance is finding one with a comfortable shape for your head, fits securely and ticks several safety boxes.
Martin Söderstrom poses for a portrait during the filming of Field Trippin' 2016, project.
Check helmet safety ratings
Make sure it conforms to European safety (CE) standards (all major manufacturers' lids of course do) and think about spending a bit extra for added MIPS – a patented system that many helmet manufacturers lease for good reason. The MIPS system, a thin layer between the helmet shell and your bonce, essentially allows the helmet body to rotate slightly on 'angled' impacts, slowing deceleration and hopefully reducing brain injuries.
661's EVO AM lid is MIPS-equipped, plus it boasts a BOA retention system that allows for perfect fit. If you're looking for full face coverage, Giro's Switchblade is also MIPS-equipped and has a removable chinguard too – great if you pedal up to get your downhill thrills.