How to Buy Hockey Shoulder Pads

The type of shoulder pads you wear on the ice will depend on your skill level, age and position.

Hockey is a sport that is hard hitting, fast paced and full of action. Players need to be strapped into all the right protective gear before they take the ice. And one of the most important pieces of equipment hockey players wear are their shoulder pads.

Hockey shoulder pads help provide essential security for players at every level of play. While they might be called shoulder pads, they’re actually designed to help protect the collarbone, chest, back and upper arms, in addition to the shoulders.


Shoulder pads are made of four main parts: shoulder caps, chest protector, back protector and bicep pads. All shoulder pads are similarly constructed, but can differ in the density, size and shape of the protective coverage.

Players at the mite and squirt levels, as well as non-contact leagues, can usually get by with shoulder pads that come with soft sternum and back pads. But if you’re playing for a more advanced travel team or at the high school level, it can be better to invest in pads with a denser foam.

Your position can also determine what you look for in pads:

  • Forwards might look for lightweight pads that allow for more freedom of movement.
  • Defensemen might prefer larger, more protective pads that can help with shot blocking.

Some shoulder pads will come with additional distinct features. This may include removable abdominal and rib pads or an adjustable belly guard, which offers additional protection for the torso. (The latter is a personal preference, though, as some players like the extra padding, while others feel it hinders their mobility.)

Some shoulder pads aim to boost bicep protection with dual-segmented guards, too. This additional foam and plastic can help increase the level of protection without restricting mobility.

Lastly, other options can come with a high-density sternum protector. Many mid- to high-level models come with this built-in additional layer of thick padding on the sternum to help offer extra protection for the chest.


The size pads you’ll need comes down to your body type. To find the right size, wrap a tape measure around your chest, just below the armpits, to determine the circumference of your chest. You’ll then match your chest measurement to a corresponding shoulder pad size. Remember: sizing can vary from brand to brand.

A player’s height is used as a secondary guide. Shoulder pads come in styles for senior, junior and youth players. Sizes can often vary from brand to brand and from model to model. Always check the manufacturer’s sizing charts to help find the proper size for you.

The best way to make sure you’re finding the right size is to try the pads on in-store. When you’re trying on shoulder pads, grab a stick and pretend you’re shooting to see how they feel and to make sure you have full mobility.

There should be no gaps between your shoulder pads and the other protective gear you wear on the ice. A gap could leave space for a puck to make contact. Shoulder pads and elbow pads should touch and the back of the shoulder pads should meet where the pants end. If you’re trying on pads in-store, consider trying on a pair of pants at the same time to make sure there’s no gap.

While shoulder pads should fit snugly, they should still allow for mobility, too. If pads are too small, they can restrict movement and leave gaps in protection. Shoulder pads that are too large can limit a player’s range of motion and slip out of place while playing.

Finding the right protective gear that fits well and meets your needs can help you leave your worries behind when stepping onto the ice. So leave doubt in the penalty box and concentrate on having an MVP season with the right shoulder pads for you.