Ice Hockey Shoulder Pads
Ice Hockey has a well-earned reputation for being incredibly physical. When you get out on the ice, you need to know your pads will protect you—if your shoulder pads don’t fit right, it could spell serious trouble. How should ice hockey shoulder pads fit, though?
Ice hockey shoulder pads fit well if:
- The shoulder caps sit flat and don’t slide off easily
- There is little to no gap between the bicep pads and elbow pads
- The bottom of the torso pad covers the ribcage, but doesn’t overlap excessively
Having shoulder pads that are very well fitted is extremely important for your protection. That’s a basic answer, but you should understand precisely what makes a good fit. We’ll go into more detail about that below, as well as show you how to spot ill-fitting pads, look for common points of discomfort, and how finding the right pads for you goes beyond just a simple measurement.
Ice hockey pads have come a long way since the 20th century. In order to take advantage of all that advancement, though, you have to make sure the pads actually fit. There are several key points to look for when fitting ice hockey shoulder pads. We’ll cover them in detail below (as well as a couple of other extra pointers).
The shoulder caps are the pieces that actually cover the player’s shoulders to provide cushion. They’re the first place you should look for an ill-fit. The shoulder caps should rest flat against the shoulders and should not slide excessively when pushed.
Here’s a quick rundown of how to check for a good shoulder cap fit:
- Step back a few paces and look in the mirror. If the shoulder caps are laying relatively flat against your shoulders, then great! It’s a good fit. If they angle upward, then that means the shoulder length is too short, and the pads are too small.
- Ideally, get a friend to push on the shoulder caps. Have them push towards the back, then go around and push towards the front. If the caps move an excessive amount when pushed, then it means the pads are too big, and there’s too much slack in them. (You can also do this yourself, it’s just more difficult)
Obviously, both of these consequences of ill-fitted shoulder caps have an effect on your safety. Caps that are angled upward won’t fully protect your shoulders and could bruise heavily if the edge gets slammed into your skin. Caps that slip around have the potential to slip off your shoulder and leave you totally exposed to big hits.
In general, you should make sure the shoulder caps lay flat and don’t slip more than a small amount.
Once the shoulder caps look good, it’s time to move to the more subtle points of a good fit. Or, at least, subtle to an outside viewer. As many players can attest, a tight neck on your shoulder pads gets uncomfortable fast.
In order to do a quick spot check on the fit at the neck, look for these two things:
- If the neck is pressing too hard onto your collarbone or skin in general, it’s too small. Having a neckpiece cut into your skin during a game is a surefire way to end up with bruising or a rash.
- If you can slide the neckpiece to the side and expose part or all of your shoulder, it’s too big. Similarly, if the neckline is too low and exposes your collarbone, it’s also too big. A broken collarbone is a severe injury, and you need to make sure it has adequate protection.
The next place to check is how the pads intersect with your ribcage and hockey pants. Full body coverage is a key point of a well-fitted set of hockey pads.
The two areas to check are where the bottom of your ribcage and the top of your hockey pants. There are a couple of ways this could be an issue:
- If the pads are too big, then they’re going to overlap the hockey pants. Firstly, this is just going to be uncomfortable and look sloppy. Second, and more importantly, it’s going to limit your range of motion. Not being able to bend and twist properly is a huge negative on the rink (not to mention the safety concerns).
- If the pads are too small, there will be a gap between the protection of the pads and the bottom of your ribcage. Depending on your build and just how small the pads are, the gap could be relatively small or very big. Obviously, any gap in protection is a safety concern. Even a tiny gap can be an issue because all it takes is an unfortunately aimed puck, and you’ll be nursing a wicked bruise for weeks!
Put simply, ill-fitting pads will either overlap the hockey pants too much or they’ll leave a gap between the bottom of your ribcage and your torso protection. Neither is ideal, but if you’re between sizes, then go for the larger—overlapping your stomach slightly is better than not having your ribcage fully protected.
Shoulder pads include some amount of bicep protection for your upper arms. While it looks like a minor portion of the overall protection, it’s actually essential to have proper protection on your biceps, triceps, and other upper arm muscles. Bruising a muscle is very painful and can limit mobility while it heals.
Making sure the bicep protection fits well is very similar to the process for torso selection:
- Bicep pads that overlap the elbow pads are too large and are likely to impact mobility and generally turn out to be a distracting nuisance
- If there is a significant gap between the bicep pads and the elbow pads, however, it means they are too small and opens you up to the danger of injury
Also, remember that the pads are going to slide around as you lift your arms up and down. Make sure they fit across a broad range of movement. The bicep pads should neither leave a gap between nor excessively overlap the elbow pads.
Any type of sports protection isn’t meant to sit still—you need to move around and see how they interact with you. We touched on this briefly in the section about bicep pads, but it’s worth explaining in more detail because of its importance.
In order to make sure the shoulder pads actually fit correctly, you need to go through a range of motion tests with them on. If possible, bring your other pads along for the fitting process. A good range of motion test doesn’t have to be complicated, but it should be thorough.
Here’s how to conduct a simple range of motion tests:
- If you have your helmet, put it on. If you don’t, ask the shop to borrow one for fitting purposes. With the shoulder pads on, move your head left, right, up, and down as far as you can. If the helmet makes too much contact with the shoulder pads and has a noticeable impact on your neck mobility, it might be wise to choose another set.
- With your elbow pads on, bend your arms and see if the bicep pads catch too much on the elbow pads and limit mobility. The last thing you need is your pads to get caught up on each other while you’re trying to make a move.
- Raise your arms over your head as far as you can. The torso protection is going to move some, but make sure it doesn’t totally ride up and expose your stomach.
- Holding a stick, twist and bend your torso in as many directions as you can. This one isn’t as straightforward, but look for any discomfort or ways in which the pads limit your mobility.
How much mobility you are willing to lose or protection you are ready to sacrifice comes down to your personal preference, but these are useful simple tests to make sure your new shoulder pads won’t be limiting you too much.
One last thing to remember is that not all pads are built the same. While there are general industry standards, different brands make their pads in slightly different ways.
If you know your pads are sized correctly and they fit well in every way except one, that can be a frustrating experience. Before you give up and try to deal with the piece you don’t like, try on another brand in the same size. You might find that they construct their pads in a way that better suits your proportions! You could even try a different model from the same manufacturer.
We’ve talked a lot about how to make sure your ice hockey shoulder pads actually fit, but how do you actually choose a size to try in the first place? The answer is surprisingly, quite simple.
There are two basic measurements that most manufacturers use to size their pads:
- The circumference of the chest below the armpits
- The overall height of a player
These two figures can give a good general size for you to work off of. Each manufacturer is going to have different sizing charts, so don’t assume you’ll be the same size in all brands. Some brands, like Bauer, will also use the weight of a player when sizing pads appropriately.
There are a few things you should keep in mind when taking a measurement to ensure you get an accurate one. Your measurement isn’t the most essential thing in the process, but it will just waste your time as you move forward if you take a bad one. When measuring your chest, make sure you:
- Don’t pull up around the chest when measuring,
- Breath normally
- Pause halfway through your breath to measure
Ideally, of course, you should have someone else doing it for you—but if that’s not possible, you should try to get as close as you can.
You’ll want to use a flexible measuring tape to do this. Don’t use a construction measuring tape! As silly as that might sound, some people try it that way, and it just doesn’t work. It’s too stiff. Use a flexible clothing measuring tape.
The second tip to an excellent measurement also revolves around not thinking too hard. It’s tempting to stand up stiff and straight, puff your chest, and roll your shoulders back like you were a manakin. The other extreme is to slouch or hunch over like you would when skating hard.
This won’t get you a useful measurement because it’s just not how a human actually stands. Instead, just stand precisely as you usually do! You don’t have to do anything special. In fact, standing in your natural pose is the best way to make sure the pads you choose will actually fit you in a practical way.
Even if your pads fit perfectly, you could still have hotspots, pinches, or other areas that mildly irritate you. Luckily, there are ways to address this. However, there are two things to touch on before we talk about that.
First, recognize that all new shoulder pads are going to be stiff at first. This could lead to temporary hot spots as they break-in. This period could take a week to a month, depending on how often you practice and how the pad was built.
Second is that any protective padding is going to come with downsides, and there’s just no way around that. It won’t ever be 100% comfortable or give you the full range of motion you would have without padding at all. However, the technology and designs get better and better every year. Modern shoulder pad designs can be very comfortable and very mobile.
A hot spot refers to a point on the pads where it rubs or presses against your skin and causes irritation and discomfort. As we said, all pads are going to have these in the beginning as they break-in. However, if it’s been several weeks of consistent wear and there’s still spots causing significant irritation, try these remedies:
- Apply pressure to the foam. Depending on the density and type of foam used in the construction, you may be able to reshape the foam permanently just by indenting it by forcing it with your hand or another round, blunt object. Make small adjustments at a time! Reshaping the foam significantly could make it much less effective at absorbing shocks, and therefore make it less safe.
- If pressure doesn’t work, the next step is to shave the foam down with a tool. Ideally, this would be sandpaper or a file—something abrasive that gives you fine control over how much you’re removing. The same warning applies as with the first option—make small adjustments and don’t remove too much.
Be aware that either of these options could potentially lead to a reduction in the protection the pads offer and likely void any manufacturer warranty if you purchased them new. However, suppose you love your new pads and just have a spot or two that bother you. In that case, a careful application of these methods can potentially solve your issues.
This problem is essentially the reverse of the first one. Instead of your pads being too tight in some areas, they might be perfect everywhere and just slipping around the neck or other spots. If there aren’t any other models of shoulder pads that fit better, or it’s too late to return your pads, then there might be ways you can help.
The best option is to add extra material on top in order to fill the void and prevent slipping. This could be foam, tape, or any other type of padding. Luckily, this is also easy to test before making a permanent modification.
- First, pinpoint the exact areas where the slipping is occurring and where you might be able to add padding to stop it. The best way to get a sense of this is just to pay attention during practise or training sessions. Is the slipping occurring at the shoulders? The neck? You need to actually track down the source, as a slip in one spot could make other areas slip, and you need to address the root cause.
- Take some padding, ideally foam of some sort, and tape it in place temporarily. Duct tape works well for this.
- Practice some more and confirm that it solved the problem. If your shoulder pads are still slipping, add some more foam or reconsider where you are adding it. If they are too constricted, remove some of the foam you added and try again.
- Once you’ve got the right place and right amount of foam, it’s time to secure it permanently. For some situations, this means just taping it down really well. In other cases, like when you don’t want tape rubbing against your skin, you may need to use a foam-safe glue to keep them in place.
If you know how to sew correctly or have a friend who does, then all the better! Just figure out where the slipping is happening and let them know. A good tailor should hopefully be able to permanently secure the extra padding in place with fabric (or even insert it inside the pads themselves).
We’ll only cover this briefly since it’s typically common knowledge, but there may be some who don’t realize or weren’t told.
If you cannot get your ice hockey shoulder pads to fit right, try lifting up areas of the pads (like the shoulder caps). Nearly every single set of modern hockey pads has adjustability built-in. It’s almost certain that you’ll find some Velcro or other straps you can adjust. You could also look up your pads online to see where the adjustable points are.
While you’re shopping for new pads, here’s a few other things that are really nice features to look for in your new pads.
This is more of a technical aspect rather than a comfort or aesthetic one. A good set of shoulder pads should be made from a couple of different types of foam. Foam has all sorts of different properties which can vary, such as:
- Density (which affects how squishy it is)
- Sponginess (which affects how quickly it bounces back, if at all)
- Flexibility (which affects how mobile the pads will be)
By adjusting the different properties of a foam, manufacturers can create different foams for various applications. Ideally, a good set of ice hockey shoulder pads will have a mixture— for example, high-density shock foams where big hits are likely and softer, spongier foams where breathability is more of a concern.
Old ice hockey shoulder pads were leather. You can probably imagine how hot, smelly, and wet those pads got after an intense game. Thankfully, modern designs feature breathable and moisture-wicking materials to help keep you comfortable and cool.
However, not all designs are made equal! Look for designs with great airflow channels underneath the areas where sweat is most likely to be a significant issue, such as:
- The back padding
- The chest, especially at the bottom of the ribcage
- The top of the shoulders
If there isn’t any attention paid to airflow in those areas, then it’s best to look for a different design.
Additionally, look for shoulder pads that advertise their moisture-wicking ability. They are made using hydrophobic materials that help to wick the sweat away from your skin and keep you from being absolutely drenched after a long practice session.
Any ice hockey player who’s sniffed their gear bag after a practice session can tell you: odour can be a knockout problem. Ok, so maybe it’s not going to affect your performance in the rink— but still, having pads that stay clean longer is a great thing (both for you and your loved ones!).
Look for pads that advertise features that prevent the buildup of odour, causing bacteria. They can do this in several ways, and some are more effective than others.
Just don’t expect a miracle. Your shoulder pads are still going to stink, but this feature can make the difference between “my pads smell gross” and “I have to keep these things in a bag in the far corner of the garage!”
One part of finding a set of well-fitting ice hockey shoulder pads is to realize that not all pads are going to be constructed the same or even made for the same purpose.
This isn’t the apparent difference between, say, goalie pads and regular shoulder pads. Instead, we’re talking about the difference in the critical niche each pad is built to fulfill. Not all hockey players have the same priorities for their shoulder pads. Companies have branched into several different lines to address this.
Here are the two major groups:
|Type of Pad||Main Focus||They Are Ideal For|
|Protection Oriented Pads||The highest level of protection at the expense of less mobility and higher weight||Beginners, younger players, players who intend to take a beating|
|Mobility Oriented Pads||Less protection in exchange for increased range of motion and lower weight||Experienced players who want to move and strike fast, players who don’t play extremely physical|
We’ve covered a lot of information today, so let’s go back and summarize it all up quickly.
Remember that ice hockey shoulder pads fit well if:
- The shoulder caps sit flat and don’t slide off
- There is little to no gap between the bicep pads and elbow pads
- The bottom of the torso pad covers the ribcage, but doesn’t overlap excessively
Additionally, here’s a quick cheat sheet to help you identify ill-fitting pads and the cause:
|Too tight||Too loose|
|Shoulder caps angle upwards, or pinch neck when a player raises their arms||Shoulder caps droop off the side, don’t fully cover the shoulder top, or slip easily|
|The neckline pinches the player||The neckline doesn’t fully cover the collarbone|
|There is a significant gap between bicep guards and elbow pads||Bicep guards overlap elbow pads and catch on them|
|Torso protection doesn’t fully cover ribcage||Torso protection droops significantly below ribcage and impacts mobility (especially bending over)|
With all of that in mind, you’re ready to make sure that you find the best fitting ice hockey shoulder pads for yourself or a loved one to ensure their safety and enjoyment of a fantastic game! We hope that the information we provided today will help you make an informed decision.