Saturday, August 29, 2020

Saftey Gear Buyer's Guide

I’ve written a lot about pads on this blog, but I’ve never done any reviews of what’s available. The question comes up so often on various Facebook groups that such a post is long overdue. This post focuses on kneepads. Elbow, wrist guards, and helmets are all touched-upon, but not as extensively as knee pads.

Disclaimer: I have not owned every single pad on the market. Nor do I intend to. Hence, there are some gaps in my direct knowledge. If there is something I have not directly dealt with, I state that. Any comments about those products are based on friend’s reviews of them, or other research I’ve done. Agreed, none of that is as good as direct experience, but it will help provide some context, and it is better than no information at all. I also know there are some brands I didn’t even touch upon (Paincheeters is one example). To be clear, this post is NOT meant to be an exhaustive review of every single pad on the market. It is, however, both (a) an overview of the pads you are mostly likely to run across, and (b) a starting point for your own research. Last, I will continually update this post if/when my knowledge base on this subject increases. Ready to go? Let’s dive in.   

 

My ass about to get saved by my pads.

KNEE PADS

First Consideration: What level of protection are you looking for? Do want something just to prevent small-scale abrasions and light impact injury? Are you going to skate mini ramps, and are thus looking for a bit more impact protection? Are you hitting bigger bowls, and vert ramps? Do you have any preexisting conditions that might mandate something more protective? Do want something that could reasonable be used on almost any terrain? The answer to any one of these questions will have significant impact (pun intended) on what pads you should be considering.

Second Consideration: How much do you want to spend? If you are looking for minimal protection, then you don’t have to drop big money. Pads are certainly ones of those things that you get what you pay for. But suppose you are looking for serious protection. Then what? I always tell to people ask themselves this question: Assume that your kneecap is shattered, and you could not walk. How much would you be willing to pay to have that ability back again? Most people would pay far, far, far more for the ability to walk than they would for the cost of very top-end pads. Well, those pads might be what allows you to continue walking in the future. Think hard about that. Moreover, what is the cost of your insurance deductible, or a trip to the ER? I bet that deductible is close to same price as a good set of pads. You do not want to be in a position where you drop hard to your knees, thinking your pads are going to save you, only to find they do not. Moreover, pads are not just about saving your knees and elbows, they can indirectly save you from twists and tears, as can be seen here.

The point I am trying to make here is that if you are actually looking for pads that provide actual protection, do not go the cheap route. You might pay dearly for it (in more ways than one) down the line. Remember, we don’t heal as fast as we used to anymore.    

Other Considerations: Do you want custom sizing? The ability to recap them? Is color and style a consideration? Slip-on or open back? What type of strapping systems? Fit? There is a lot more to getting pads than you may first realize.

                                                            LOW-END PADS

The typical brands in the low-end category are Pro-Tec, Bullet, and Triple 8 (note that Triple 8 also makes a higher-end pad). Pads in the ”very low end” grouping all cost about $25-$30 a set. That is cheap (notice I did not use the word inexpensive). These pads will not offer you any serious impact protection, even if worn with a padded knee gasket. If you drop hard to your knees with any of these pads on, I guarantee you will feel it. I would not really want to knee slide very low-end pands. However, if you are street skating, and want a low-profile pad to protect against some minor impact injuries/scrapes/abrasions/etc., these will absolutely work. That said, they just may not last long, for they are indeed cheap. Quality and craftsmanship at this level in minimal. Stitching isn’t very strong. Looking at pads at this price point, you get the feeling the pads might “break” before they even get “broken in.” With those considerations, let’s take a look at few specific brands and models.

Pro-tec Street Knee: I have owned a set of these. Very low profile (e.g. not bulky). Slip-on (e.g. have to take shoes off to get them on). Velcro straps. Relatively comfortable. Very minimal padding. Cannot be re-capped once plastic cap is worn out, but whatever, they are $25 for a new set. Material and stitching seems like it would quickly fall apart with regular use. Pro-tec used to make a higher end pad called the “Drop In”. It does not appear as if those are in production anymore, and I know nothing about them.

Bullet Knee Pads: I have not owned these, but have seen them in person. In every respect they are very similar to Pro-tec Street knee pads. Slip-ons. Strapping system is almost exactly the same as Pro-tec. Will not offer serious impact protections.

Triple 8 Street Knee Pads: The Triple 8 “street pads” are slightly better than strapping a single serve packet of Splenda to your knee. Slightly. I would advise anyone to avoid these, as they are just cheap-made junk. The retail for $30 bucks. A local shop had them on sale for $22, so I figured I’d buy a set just so I could review them.

They feature and open back/butterfly design, with additional lock-down straps. The padding is incredibly thin. The stitching seems shoddy. The plastic on the knee cap felt…weird (more on this in a bit). Just handling these, everything seems to say, “These will last 6 weeks, if that.”

Fit-wise, they are also bad. I am pretty skinny guy. I don’t have huge legs or anything. I wore these (size med, which is what I should wear according to mfg specs) with knee gaskets. The top velcro strapping was way too short, and I could barely get the strap to fit around my leg. The bottom one was sufficient, but also a tad short. The lock-down straps seemed too long. In some places the side paneling was loose. In other places it was tight. So, horrible fit.

Next time I went skating I at my local park, the first thing I did was a “knee slide drop-in” on the mini ramp (e.g. just drop-in to a knee slide from the coping). I wanted to do this to (a) see how the pads slid, (b) see how secure they felt, and (c) get some sense of how much protection they provided. Well, I ended up getting pitched forward onto my hands, and almost hit my face on the flat bottom. Why? Because these pads do not slide, instead they STICK. Oh, I was on a metal ramp, too—which usually slide very fast. Remember what I said about the plastic feeling weird? I think it’s a super soft plastic, which just does not lend itself to sliding. Worse, one the pads started to slip down off my knee. I tried this a few more times, knowing that I had lean way back on the slide, and the exact same thing happened almost every time.

After that I just cruised around the street area for a bit with them, and skated the smaller 1/4 pipes. They certainly fit weird, and were not comfortable.  At one point a bailed some trick and fell slightly onto the side of my knee. The pad slipped down, and the nylon siding ripped-open. And at that point I took them off. After I took the photos below, I threw them in the trash. Pretty much any pad in the $30 range is going to be exactly like this; trashy-worthy. Oh, and this should be obvious, the caps on these are not replaceable.  

Last, I was blown away when I compared these (size-wise) to my Boneless Pro Slim pads (which I love). Yeah, the Boneless pads "stick out" more (because, well, they actually have padding),but otherwise they are almost the exact same size. See photo below.

Where it ripped.

The backside.

187 Street Knee (left), Boneless Pro Slim (right)


MEDIUM & UPPER MEDIUM RANGE PADS

The low to medium range pads usually cost between $50 and $75 a set. These start to offer some impact protection, and don’t feel like they will fall apart after six weeks of use.

Killer 187 Fly Pads: These run about $50, and they are certainly a step-up in terms of quality and protection from the “very low end” pads mentioned above. Slip-on. Cannot be recapped. I am not a fan of the bottom strap on these. Instead of using a typical Velcro strap, they have this weird lace-through thing. If you don’t double lace it, you end up with a large section of the strap flapping around. Dumb. They should have just used a Velcro strap like everyone else does (or a lace through that Velcros in place after tightened). 


All 187 pads stick out in top front part of your knee. This is because they are ergonomically designed to fit the best when you are actually in the knee slide position. Hence, they stick-out in a manner unlike most other pads. Viewed from the side, they have a distinct "scalene triangle" profile, as can be seen here on a 187 Fly Pad. 

 

This design also causes some pressure points at the top and bottom of the pad when you are standing (which is less noticeable with a gasket underneath). They can be a little uncomfortable when in any position other than a full-on knee slide (or sitting in a chair). This design also makes them hardest pads to get on and off. The 187 Flys are a little thin for hard knee drops, but for $50, they are decent product (I would not want to do any serious impact/transition/knee sliding on these...they are more for avoiding some basic bumps and bruises). These tend to run a tad on the small size. Look at 187s sizing guidelines, but considering ordering a size larger

Triple 8 KP Pads: I have not seen these. They run $37 - $40 a set. Butterfly backing. They are certainly a step-up from the Triple 8 “street pads,” but just from looking at them on-line I can tell they wouldn’t offer serious impact protections. Considering the price, I’d assume these are comparable to the Killer 187 Fly knee pads.  

Smith Scabs: I have never seen these up close. So, again, that grain of salt. I crowd sourced some info on there, and watched several review videos. The Scabs are low-mid pad that run about $40. At that price point, I’d expect them to be on par with the 187 Fly pads or the Triple 8 KP pads mentioned above. These can be recapped, which is nice (and I believe they the only pad in the $40 rage which can be recapped). Butterfly backing. They also have a more color options at this price point any of the other manufactures. A note on Smith Products...these seem to have been in very limited production over the last several years (even pre-dating Covid suppy issues). You may have a very hard, if next to impossible, time finding size/color you want.

Smith Scabs Elite/Elite II: The Elite and Elite II are step-up from the Scabs. These run about $65-$70 for a set. My understanding is that the only difference between the Elite and Elite II is that the Elite II has a replaceable cap. There is no price difference between the Elite and the Elite II. The padding itself can also be removed from the pad shell for washing. With most other pads, you can just throw the entire thing in the washing without having to remove anything (see manufacture specs). Butterfly backing. Lots of color options.  

Some people have complained that padding on Smith Elite pads does not extend far enough around to the side of the knee, which can cause some problems. Apparently some additional side padding was added to the Elite II. The Smith Elites and Elite II both have a slightly lower profile than the 187 Pro, but they also have less padding as a result.

An on-line shop had Elites on sale, so I grabbed them out of curiosity...and promptly sent them back. There were four stand-out "problems" with these. First, as I said above I do not like butterfly-backed pads (e.g. I am not free of bias). The Elites have a rather involved closure system. To get them properly adjusted took longer than it would just my shoe off use slip-on pads (my preferred style). I felt this was way more complex and time consuming than slip-on pads, and I was never really comfortable with how they fit...they always seemed loose, even though they were snug. Second, holy hell do these things stick out in a really obtuse and strange way. The side profile on these things looks like a large tumor is growing directly out of your kneecap. Super weird. I wish I had taken a photo of them (on me) before I sent them back to illustrate this. Third, relative to other pads, they have a smaller, and rounder "cap."Te rounder part was a weird one. I got into a knee slide position with these on (on a rug), and I had a "hard" time "balancing" on them--because of how round the caps were,and how much the pads "stuck out." It felt like I was trying to balance my knees on a ball or something. I imagine this might get real weird during actual knee slides. Last, was they did indeed has less padding on the sides of the knees (as mentioned above). They did seem to have a good amount of padding over the knee cap area for impact protection...but these were just not the pads for me. As as said above, the supply issue. Good luck.
 

Triple 8 KP Pro:  These also fall into the medium to upper-end range. I have also not seen these. They run $65 - $70 a set. Butterfly backing. When you look at the profile of the KP Pro, they also have that that distinct “scalene triangle” design like 187, but they don’t seem to stick out as much as the 187 Pros.

Killer 187 Slim Knee Pad: These are new-ish product from 187. They run about $65-$75 a set. Slip on. Velcro straps, which IMHO, is a much better option than the bottom lace-style strap on the Fly and the Pro (see pics above). These appear to be a mid-range pad that falls between the Fly and Pro. The ergonomics are the same, so everything mentioned above about that issue should hold true for these, too.  I have never seen these in person, or heard any reviews of them.

2022 UPDATE / Destroyer A Series Knee Pads: I recently picked-up a set of these. For $55 these are a great option. I'll post a longer review once I've had them for awhile, but first impressions of therm are great. MUCH better than ANYTHING in this price range. Butterfly backing. Replaceable caps. Lot of padding. Not too bulky (but certainly much thicker/more padding than anything else in this group). They remind me a bit the Boneless Pro Slim pads (see below). There is, however, one thing about them that I don't like. Take a look at this photo. Boneless Pro slim on far left, Destroyer in the middle, Pro-Designed Mini ramp on far right. 

 


The design, and fit, of the Destroyer pad is a bit more long and narrow. The Boneless and Pro-Designed pads have a better width/height ratios. This is actually has some performance ramifications. While knee sliding on the Destroyer pads, I almost fell over to the side a few times. Wile going to an extreme to illuminate the point, it was as if knee sliding on tight-rope. If you were not perfect, you could easily tip to one side. Again, I am going to an extreme with that analogy. That said, Destroyer pads do have a less "stable" knee slide than either the Boneless or the Pro-Designed, but the problem is not enough to be a deal breaker. I only skated these on mini ramps. I feel like with a lot more speed, height, and forced (e.g. bigger ramps and bowl), that "stability" issue might become more evident, but I am just speculating on that.

For $55, these are great pads, and they are quite comfortable, too. If you are looking for real protection at this price point, give these hard look.    

 






HIGH-END PADS

Killer 187 Pros: These are good, protective pads. I like these, a lot. They run about $110 a set. Butterfly backing. The Pro version has a lot more padding than Fly version, hence they stick out even more in the front due to that scalene triangle profile. All high-end pads are going to be bulky in some way (e.g. because they have lots of padding). There is no such thing as a highly-protective “low profile” pad. The two are mutually exclusive, as they should be for the obvious reasons.  

These pads are "trending" right now, but I think that this because they are among the few "high end" commercially available pads out there (with some big-name endorsements). But they might also be trending because they are a damn good product, too. If you want good protection, these are a great option. One thing to note, I have seen many complaints about these pads slipping down a lot...and others saying they have no issue with slippage. I just got a new pair of these, so more info on that coming soon (so far, no problems). Unlike the 187 Fly pads (which run small), the Pros seem to run true to sizing. I take a medium in the Pros, and a large in Flys (had to order a size up, as medium in the Flys was too small for me).

S-ONE: Good pads. $100 for a pair. Butterfly backing. More info on these coming soon.


Pro-Designed: PDs have been around forever. Wild Bill has been hand-making pads for skateboarders since the 1980s. A small independent business at out Texas. Custom sizing at no extra cost. He makes a number of different versions from them from smaller ones to full-on mega ramp type shit. Different color options, and strapping options. Expensive. A bit bulky, and can take a long time to get (he always has a large back-log of orders), but an absolutely great product. 

JUNE 2021 UPDATE / Boneless Pads: I recently got a set of Boneless Pro Slim knee pads. THEY. ARE. AWESOME. A longer review of them can be found here. Much lower profile/smaller than my PDs, but offer great protection for mini ramp and street. These are great product and worth a hard look if you are considering getting pads. I'd rate these as #1 on my all-purpose knee pad list.   

Knee-Gaskets: I recently reviewed Old Bones and Killer 187 knee-gaskets. That review can be found here.

ELBOW PADS

All of the above manufactures make elbow pads to their corresponding knee pad price-point. This is to say that the Pro-tec “street elbow” pads is going to be the same quality and protection level as their street knee pad (e.g. cheap), and Pro-Designed elbow pads are going to be top-notch. One last thing to point out Killer 187 elbow pads also have that “scalene” design, which creates the same issues as their knee pads, but on your elbow.

WRIST GUARDS

I’d like to clarify that wrist guards are not designed to wholly prevent a broken wrist/arm any more than knee pads are designed to prevent a hyper-extended knee. Wrist guards are intended to help minimize sprains and similar soft tissue damage. Yes, they may help prevent breaks to the smaller bones in wrist/hand, but don’t think your hands are bullet proof if you are wearing wrist guards. Personally, I hardly ever wear wrist guards, but every older skater should own a set. Why? Because if you hurt/sprain your wrist (and you will), wearing a wrist guard will help prevent it from getting worse (of course, you may not have gotten that injury in the first place if you had been wearing wrist guards). Fortunately I don’t do this that often, but when I do, having wrist guards available is a god-send. With these, there is no debate; Pro-Designed makes the best ones. Period. End of story. Nothing better.  

Last, there is some inane mythology around wrist guards that they "don't work" and/or can even cause your arm to break just above the guard. I have two things to say in response. First, if you fell hard enough to break your Radius/Ulna (arm bones), imagine what would have happened to your wrist. Second, do wrist guards work? Yes. You can read the science for yourself right here

 
HELMETS

There are number of different manufactures that produce good, quality, certified helmets. Pro-Tec, Triple 8, S-One, and Bell are all good. I wrote a more in-depth review those helmets here. All helmets fit differently, and people’s heads all come in vastly different shapes and sizes. What fits me well, might be a nightmare for you. So, if you want a helmet, you are strongly encouraged to go try them on somewhere (if possible). A good fitting helmet you will hardly notice. An ill-fitting one will either give you a pounding headache in 10 minutes (because it’s too tight), or provide inadequate protection (because it’s too loose). Can’t find the exact style and color you want? Simple, just go try helmets on somewhere, and determine the brand/size that most comfortably fits. Once you have that info, just order the exact one you want on-line somewhere. Make sure to cover it with stickers.  



IMPORTANT: ONLY BUY A CERTIFIED HELMET. REPEAT. ONLY BUY A CERTIFIED HELMET. Non-certified helmets are useless, and do almost nothing for actual protection. They should be banned from sale due to their misleading nature (in fact, they are banned in California). If you have a non-certified helmet (or your kid does), throw it out, and get a real helmet. This video is an absolute must watch on the impact difference between certified and non-certified helmets. Please watch it. 

 Below are a few other links to more information about certified helmets.

https://helmets.org/skatepam.htm 

https://helmets.org/dualcert.htm

https://www.cpsc.gov/safety-education/safety-guides/sports-fitness-and-recreation-bicycles/which-helmet-which-activity


HIP/TAIL BONE PADS

Review of Triple 8, Tortoise, G-Force, and rHip clHips Coming soon!


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