The 8 Best Football Shoulder Pads of 2021

Protective gear for players of all levels

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Our Top Picks
The pads strike the ideal balance between mobility and protection, making them a great lightweight option for all positions.
A great all-purpose option from a leading brand that won't break the bank.
Offers optimal fit and maximum chest protection with a contoured chest plate designed just for linemen.
Made with breathable mesh and arch vents to help players cool off in high temperatures.
Riddell's STAC Shoulder System offers AC joint protection to keep skill positions protected from hard hits.
Offers a maximum range of motion without minimizing protection—perfect for skill players.
Provides a high level of coverage with a maximum range of flexibility and range of motion.
Uses a longer arch to accommodate a wider range of positions on the field with extra body cushioning to protect new players.

Given how common injuries can be for football players, finding the right protective gear is crucial regardless of age and position. This high injury risk also means that players should be proactive about selecting the right gear to avoid complications in the first place.

When it comes to shoulder pads and protective gear in general, players will want to identify products that properly protect their bodies while still allowing freedom of movement throughout the game. While children are typically provided gear at school, adults playing recreationally may need to purchase their own equipment.

Here are the best football shoulder pads on the market.

Best Overall: Xenith Varsity Element Hybrid Shoulder Pads

Xenith Varsity Element Hybrid Shoulder Pads
Pros
  • Lightweight

  • Moisture-wicking

  • Customizable fit

Cons
  • Not position specific

  • Expensive

The Xenith Element Hybrid delivers as an all-around top choice for those in the market for new football shoulder pads. This shoulder pad strikes the ideal balance of mobility and protection because it's made for speed with a lightweight, low-profile design.

Players of all positions can use these shoulder pads to stay protected on the field given the increased coverage.

Size Range: Small to extra-extra-extra-large | Position Types: All positions

Best Budget: Schutt Sports XV HD Shoulder Pads

Schutt XV HD Shoulder Pads
Pros
  • Manages moisture and heat

  • Adjustable padding

  • High density EVA foam

Cons
  • May run small

Football shoulder pads for adults are typically an investment, but the Sports Varsity XV HD Shoulder Pad from Schutt (one of the leading brands on the market) is a great product at a really fair price point. This is an all-purpose model, making it a great choice for any player looking to get on the field as it broadly covers all styles of play.

However, if you are slightly more advanced or have a specific position in mind, this shoulder pad is also offered specifically for skill positions, quarterback, wide receiver, and offensive or defensive lineman.

Size Range: Small to extra-extra-extra-large | Position Types: All positions

Best for Linemen: Xenith Varsity Element Lineman Shoulder Pads

Xenith Varsity Element Lineman Shoulder Pads
Pros
  • Maximum mobility

  • Increased coverage

  • Easy to wear

Cons
  • Position specific

  • Expensive

Given their high-contact role on the field, linemen should focus mainly on chest protection from their gear. The Xenith Varsity Element series delivers with these shoulder pads specifically built for linemen, which offer a large surface area and maximum protection.

Designed for hard-hitting offensive and defensive positions, these pads feature a long, contoured chest plate that allows full range of motion—ideal for arm and hand positioning without restriction.

Size Range: Small to extra-extra-extra-large | Position Types: Offensive and defensive linemen

Best for Running Backs: Schutt Sports Varsity FLEX 4.0 All Purpose Shoulder Pads

Schutt Sports Varsity FLEX 4.0 All Purpose Shoulder Pads
Pros
  • Affordable

  • Breathable

  • Deeper arch cut

Cons
  • No added cushioning or cell foam

The Schutt Sports Varsity Flex 4.0 All Purpose shoulder pads are made to fit most players on the field but are a great option for a running back to consider. These pads are designed with a perforated body cushion and breathable mesh with arch vents that create superior breathability as players often face high temps during play.

Schutt offers them in a range of sizes and at a budget-friendly price point.

Size Range: Small to extra-extra-large | Position Types: All positions

Best for Wide Receivers: Riddell Varsity SPX QB/WR Shoulder Pads

Riddell Varsity SPX QB/WR Shoulder Pads
Pros
  • Manufacturer limited warranty

  • Low profile

  • Air management cushioning

Cons
  • Expensive

  • Designed for limited positions

A skill position such as a wide receiver will likely go for equipment on the smaller side as they typically have smaller frames. However, skill positions can take a lot of hard hits, so the pads should have a significant amount of hit absorbing technology to keep them protected.

For optimal AC joint (a joint in the shoulder where two bones meet) protection, the Riddell Varsity SPX QB/WR shoulder pads strike the balance between a low profile design and a supportive shoulder system. The Air Management Cushioning in these pads also helps by dispersing energy upon impact. The low-profile design is ideal for a wide receiver with swim-cut arches that enable maximum movement without sacrificing protection.

Size Range: Extra-small to extra-extra-large | Position Types: Quarterback and wide receiver

Best for Skill Positions: Xenith Varsity Element Skill Shoulder Pads

Xenith Varsity Element Skill Shoulder Pads
Pros
  • Easy to clean

  • Durable design

  • Lightweight

Cons
  • Expensive

  • Skill position specific

The Xenith Varsity Element Skill shoulder pads are a great option for any skill position that requires a large range of motion. They have a short chest plate and include an integrated backplate which means they will allow players to move freely and catch the ball at any angle without their shoulder pads getting in the way.

Despite the low profile, the pads provide significant protection and coverage from possible hits or tough tackles.

Size Range: Small to extra-extra-extra-large | Position Types: Wide receiver, halfback, defensive back, quarterback, and kicker

Best for Quarterbacks: Schutt Sports AiR MAXX Hybrid All Purpose Shoulder Pads

Schutt Sports AiR MAXX Hybrid All Purpose Shoulder Pads
Pros
  • Attached back plate

  • Maximum flexibility

  • Well-ventilated

Cons
  • Expensive

Quarterbacks have a unique role on the field, meaning they need the proper equipment to keep them safe throughout the game. The Schutt Varsity Air MAXX Hybrid shoulder pads are a great option for quarterbacks who may fend off tough hits to their midsection that other players don’t encounter.

Schutt provides a high level of coverage with performance stitching in the shoulders—creating a close fit to the body while still allowing maximum flexibility and range of motion. The attached backplate and smaller arch cut still provide optimal protection, and the swivel front connection enhances that mobility a quarterback needs on the field. The high-density SD molded EVA offers ventilation and helps spread the force of impact.

Size Range: Small to extra-extra-extra-large | Position Types: All positions

Best for Youth Football: Schutt Sports Youth Flex 5.2 Shoulder Pads

Schutt Sports Youth Flex 5.2 Shoulder Pads
Pros
  • Extended body cushions

  • Added protection

  • Affordable

Cons
  • Not position specific

  • Minimal adjustments

For solid protection as they learn the game, the Schutt Youth Flex 5.2 Football shoulder pads are a great option for kids to consider. As Kyle Williams, former Division 3 college football player, explains, “Children are learning to hit differently and avoid the head and helmet which means they focus on the body." This means that finding proper protective gear is of the utmost importance.

These youth shoulder pads from Schutt have a longer arch which accommodates a wide range of positions on the field. There are extended body cushions for both the front and back enhancing protection against hard tackles or hits.

Size Range: Extra-small to extra-large | Position Types: All positions

Final Verdict

The Xenith Varsity Element Hybrid (view at Amazon) is an ideal option for adult football players looking for solid equipment that provides the optimal combination of coverage on the field and ease of mobility. These pads are lightweight and breathable, which is needed as players endure intense gameplay.

However, if you’re just getting started or hoping to save on this typically expensive gear, you cannot go wrong with the Schutt Sports Varsity XV HD Shoulder Pad (view at Amazon). Schutt, a leading brand in football equipment, delivers with this shoulder pad by offering an all-purpose option for any player on the field.

What to Look for in Football Shoulder Pads

Coverage

As Williams, points out, “The most important things to look for are protection and flexibility. While mobility is crucial in the game, given the high level of contact throughout all positions, a solid layer of protection is key.” Take a look at the materials used in the shoulder pads, the level of cushioning, and whether they offer additional equipment, such as an extra backplate, to ensure you are properly covered based on your position. 

Style

Many brands offer versions of their shoulder pads in an all-purpose style versus positions specific. Typically the difference between these options is based upon the different roles on the field, need for mobility, and style of hit typically encountered. "Players may select different shoulder pads based on their position, for example, skill positions often look for less real estate in their pads, but, proper coverage is necessary regardless of cut," says Williams.

Adjustments

Being able to make adjustments to the equipment itself is helpful if you need to transition to another position or if your body encounters changes. Shoulder pads often feature laces, straps, and buckles for you to tighten and close the equipment. Regardless of your position, being able to adjust the equipment to suit your body and really meet your needs on the field is important for ensuring proper protection. Additionally, most brands offer a wide range of sizes so you can cross-reference your measurements to their sizing chart as you aim for optimal fit.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • How should football shoulder pads fit?

    Upon receiving your shoulder pads, it’s important to make sure they properly cover your body. Put on your shoulder pads and strap in any laces or buckles to get them secured. Once in place, take a moment to see if anything seems off (too tight or loose) or is pinching when standing still or moving around.

    The shoulder pads should sit comfortably on your shoulders with about an inch of padding extending out. The pads should provide full coverage but still allow mobility even when your arms are lifted in the air, so make sure to practice a few movements to double-check.

  • How to measure shoulder width for football pads?

    Shoulder width is a key stat when determining the correct size for your shoulder pads. The way to measure this is to have someone measure over your shoulders beginning at the tip of the left humerus, then ending at the tip of the right humerus. Another important measurement is your chest circumference.

    Again, have someone measure around the upper torso, beginning and ending at the center of your chest. When in doubt and to be extra careful, most shoulder pads come with specific instructions for making sure you pick the proper size and fit, so be sure to check the packaging.

  • How to clean football shoulder pads?

    Keeping football shoulder pads clean and dry after play is crucial. The best way to maintain them throughout the season is to wipe them down after play. Check with the manufacturer about any products to avoid, but often water, regular dish soap, or disinfectant wipes will work followed by a wet cloth. Then be sure to let everything air out and dry completely. Be sure to clean the inside cushioning as well as the outside.

    Some manufacturers offer their own cleaning products, which might be worth considering given the price of this equipment. Once you’ve finished a season, your pads can be professionally reconditioned and sanitized, which ensures they’re as clean as possible.

  • How to take off football shoulder pads?

    First, you will need to undo any straps, laces, or buckles that are holding your pads securely in place. Then, typically, once undone you’ll be able to pull the pads over your head to remove them.

  • Do football shoulder pads expire?

    It is recommended that you recondition your shoulder pads between seasons. This process will help you avoid cracks or damages to your gear. For specific expiration dates, it’s worth checking with the manufacturer directly about timelines for usage and care of their products. You definitely want to stay as safe as possible on the field!

Why Trust Verywell Fit?

A health and wellness enthusiast, researcher, and writer, Melissa Forrester is careful to only recommend products that actually work to her readers. Melissa understands the importance of selecting and investing in proper equipment to help elevate your performance and achieve your fitness goals.

To help you stay injury-free and at the top of your game, Melissa suggests reviewing the manufacturer’s website and considering getting properly fitted for football shoulder pads.

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Article Sources
Verywell Fit uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Gibbs DB, Lynch TS, Nuber ED, Nuber GW. Common shoulder injuries in american football athletesCurrent Sports Medicine Reports. 2015;14(5):413-419.