5 Mountain Bike Elbow Pads, Trail Tested

Mountain bike elbow pads

I will be honest: I never bothered using elbow pads for mountain biking because thankfully I never had a bad crash where I ended up needing them. But wearing the elbow pads in this review roundup helped me realized as how important they can be. As we all know, mountain biking can be a dangerous sport and injury can happen to even the best of us. Protection pads are replaceable, our body, not so much. I have seen riders out for recovery from a crash for weeks or event months. I think the point is to ride safe and ride as much as you can possibly squeeze in every week. Protect your joints so you can keep riding all season long.

This summer I tried five pairs of MTB elbow pads, and here’s what I found. And if you’re looking for knee pads, be sure to check out our 2022 MTB knee pad roundup.

IXS Carve Evo+ elbow pads

The IXS Carve Evo+ MTB elbow pads are lightweight with extra added protection. These are oriented more for aggressive trails, but not quite for enduro riding.  Built from an AeroMesh material that stretches and breathes well during long rides, these elbow pads stay in place thanks to the silicone stopper at the upper arm area and two LoopLock velcro closures. 

When riding, I like how the elbow molds into the removable Xmatter protection foam. But I do wish the foam had a bit more coverage at the sides of the elbow. IXS places an extra foam pad above the elbow coverage, why not add two more to each side?

I also have a gripe about their sizing. On their website, their sizing chart only displays up to a size XL, which gives the impression that it is their biggest size. Based on my bicep measurement of 34cm, their chart indicates that my size sits right in between a large and XL. So, I went with the XL with extra room in mind.  Unfortunately, when I tried them on, they very obviously ran small and immediately felt snug and tight at the bicep, making these not quick or easy to put on. 

Their sizing chart does not display a size XXL, but if you go to their dropdown menu to purchase, a size XXL appears there, which is a bit confusing. Based on their sizing chart I shouldn’t need a size XXL, but after trying on the XL, I believe a size XXL would feel less restricting on my arm. 

I really wanted to like these because I like a lightweight set of elbow pads with a bit of extra protection. However, they felt so constricting when wearing them and overall uncomfortable while riding. Other elbow pads in this round up had better fitment. If you find yourselves buying these, I’d recommend trying out two sizes. Overall for what they offer, I would like to see the price around $70-$80 for these elbow pads.

If they fit, these lightweight, well ventilated, pads with removable protection foam should keep you riding for hours. 

Winner of my “Aw, I wish I got the bigger size” award. 

Leatt Airflex elbow pads

The Leatt AirFlex Elbow Pads fit under the category of lightweight, sleeve-style pads. Aimed at light trail riding or XC riding, these elbow pads are meant to be put on and forgotten. 

The AirFlex impact gel covers the elbow joint well but I didn’t feel it molded onto my elbow. I appreciate a molding style foam pad that aligns with the elbow joint anatomy, and would like to see this incorporated in future Leatt elbow pads to provide more comfort for riders.

I went with a size XL based on their sizing chart, and found them to fit well. I have no complaints about tightness or restrictions with these because the stretch material articulates well with arm motion. Although I haven’t had them slip down during a ride, it feels like they would ride down on a crash. Here, I would like to see some small velcro strap at both ends to keep them in place, aligned with a second silicone non-slip cuff at the forearm to keep them more secure.

My favorite thing about these pads is the MoistureCool and AirMesh wicking fabrics. They are the most cool and breathable set of pads from this roundup! You can actually feel the cooling effect when putting them on. I really like these pads for those easy XC rides on hot days. 

I know inflation has taken a hit on many products in the industry, but I would like to see the price of these around $50-$65. At $89.99 you might be able to justify them, but you can get more bang for your buck elsewhere. If you find them on sale, snag a pair for sure!

Winner of my “Did someone turn on the AC?, oh, it’s just my MoistureCool kicking in” award. 

Ninja Hooligan elbow pads

The Ninja Hooligan MTB elbow pads were created with DH trails and exposed terrain in mind. If you like to get rowdy on the trails, these elbow pads are a great option for you. 

Like I mentioned, I prefer protection pads that conform to the joint and its movement. These do just that. The removable, thick pads are large and cover the elbow area pretty well. I always appreciate the extra quad lateral foam pads on the sides that offer wider impact protection. These side foam pads are well placed and don’t get in the way when moving my arm. 

The breathable fabric helps these “big” pads keep cool. The singular silicone strip at the bicep prevents them from sliding down. The pads stayed right where I placed them before each ride. 

Moving on the sizing, I’m glad to mention that Ninja’s sizing chart is accurate. Following their sizing chart, I went with a size XL. If you land on a size but feel like you may want some extra room, you should consider sizing up, though it all comes down to your preference. The bigger size will give you a bit more room but the adjustable velcro strap will allow you to adjust them to keep them in place. My bicep measures 14in, right at the max of an XL, but right in between an XXL.

The impact area has Kevlar material to help with heavy abrasions during exposure to the trail elements. 

The easy on and off, great articulation, removable foam pad, and the 12-month limited warranty make these pads an easy choice if you want great protection for under $70. 

Winner of my “I can’t believe I get this much foam padding for this price” award. 

  • Price: $74.99 (on sale for $69.99)
  • Buy from Ninja or Amazon.

Ninja Speed King MTB elbow pads

The Speed King MTB elbow pads are flow trail and XC-oriented pads. Made of a lightweight, stretchy, and breathable material, these long sleeve style pads are great for those riding days where you just don’t plan on riding as hard but want to have protection in case you OTB because your friend up front decided to hit the brakes hard. There’s more to like than hate on these pads. 

The padding covers the elbow joint down to the radius and ulna bones for some protection there as well. At the elbow joint, the foam wraps around the side a bit to protect from side impacts as well. 

I found that the foam was thoughtfully placed where it actually matters, which is a nice bonus for such lightweight elbow pads. They even placed a silicone rubber stopper at the forearm end to prevent them from slipping.  

Riding with these on, I couldn’t even tell that I was wearing them! The Kevlar material is a nice touch on this type of elbow pad. I feel confident on my singletrack rides, while also not feeling like I overdid it in protection pads. These should fit under a loose MTB long sleeve jersey no problem. 

They are easy to put on, and pro-tip: make sure you roll up the silicone pads first to facilitate the process even more. Once on, the removable foam molds to the elbow as I’d expect a set of protection pads should. It’s all about human anatomy and its joint articulations!

Following their sizing chart, I went with a size L/XL. These have a similar feel to the Leatt Airflex Elbow Pads from this roundup. Though, I will say these fit better and in fact, these have exactly what I would want from a sleeve style, lightweight elbow pad. 

The Ninja Speed King MTB elbow pads are very well built elbow sleeve pads with lots of ventilation and protection where it matters. With a 12-month limited warranty and great protection in a lightweight package, these are bang for your buck pads you don’t want to pass up on. 

Winner of my “I send it at the flow trail” award. 

  • Price: $64.99 (on sale for $59.99)
  • Buy from Ninja or Amazon.

Troy Lee Speed Sleeve elbow pads

The Troy Lee Speed Sleeves might be the sleekest of the bunch tested. When you want the most minimal, out of the way protection, these pads come into play. Accidents can happen even on the easy rides, and as they say, always use protection!

The TL Speed elbow pads will keep you riding confidently, and if you do fall, you won’t scrape yourself up. The D3O 4mm ultra lightweight and flexible pad is at the heart of this pair, offering some shock absorption on your elbows when you can’t clip out and end up tipping over your side. Or am I the only one? The breathable material all around the sleeve breathes really well, keeping you cool and dry on those hot riding days. I had no issues with chafing. If you care for looks and happen to wear a black short sleeve jersey, these will blend in perfectly. 

These elbow pads offer a great range of motion, and the padding covers the critical areas of the elbow. I am a big fan of these pads, but I wish the padding was thicker, maybe 8mm instead of 4mm. But the 4mm thickness makes it super easy to wear under almost any long sleeve jersey. I don’t think it can get any more minimal than these pads.

I went with a size XL/2X and these fit like a glove. These were the most comfortable sleeves out of the bunch. I feel like I can wear these all day if I needed to. They are on the long side but I actually didn’t mind this at all. They cover almost the length of my arm. 

There is definitely a need for these in everyone’s closet, more so for XC riders or those needing elbow protection in hot climates. They could even be a good choice for gravel riders looking for lightweight, out of the way protection. I’ve definitely seen some scraped up elbows on gravel riders.  At under $50, these are an easy buy. 

Winner of my “I can’t believe I didn’t notice I’m still wearing these sleeves while shopping at Trader Joes” award. 

  • Price: $49
  • Buy from REI.