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Shoulder pads are the Kevin McCallister of protective gear—that sometimes pesky, seldom appreciated younger brother that maybe your parents forgot once or twice while traveling during the holidays…it happens…twice.
But like Kevin McCallister, shoulder pads always demonstrate their importance when called upon; namely, when you find yourself caught between a shooter and the net or a man and the ball. They absorb the force of an impact and protect your vital organs.
As with goalie chest protectors, US Lacrosse is making a major leap forward in the coming year with the adoption of the NOCSAE ND200 standard for upper body protective equipment, meant to prevent Commotio Cordis (cardiac arrest). This standard of equipment will be mandatory for field players beginning on January 1, 2022 at all levels of the sport.
The guide goes over the best shoulder pads already on the market that meet the new standard of protection.
Best Lacrosse Shoulder Pads
As with all guides on Lax Drip, we scoured the market to find the best of the best when it comes to shoulder pads, looking at factors such as price, protection, mobility, and customer feedback. Most importantly, every pad on this list meets the changing NOCSAE ND200 standard that will be required from 2022 and on.
But why wait till 2022? If you need new shoulder pads, it doesn’t make sense to buy a pair that doesn’t meet this standard because you will only be allowed to use them for less than a year.
All of the options below do meet this standard, helping you make sure you find the best pair of lacrosse shoulder pads or liners that you can use for years to come.
Note that “full shoulder pads” usually have removable upper bicep guards and more shoulder protection whereas liners have no arm protection, smaller pads on the shoulder, and are designed for maximum mobility.
1) Maverik Max EKG Speed Shoulder Pad Liner
Coming out of the gate strong with the original ND200-compliant shoulder pad, the Maverik Max EKG Speed Liner. This was the first ND200-certified pad on the market all the way back in 2019, and it has more than proved its staying power.
The Max EKG Liner features the External Kardiac Guard—a reinforced plate over the vulnerable center sternum area meant to mitigate the risk of Commotio Cordis from impact. The add-on is lightweight and does not restrict movement to the rest of the pad.
Anaform plates at the front and back, along notably vulnerable areas, provide protection you can trust that will keep you on the field at full strength.
But, this being the “OG” also means it may be a generation behind the compliant tech currently hitting the market. The main functional knock on the Max EKG is the width of the shoulder strap. Some players have noted that this element can be intrusive to an extended windup on an overhand shot.
Otherwise, the sleek design to this liner makes it a perfect option for D poles who do not need any extra coverage.
2) Maverik Max EKG Shoulder Pad
The Max EKG Shoulder Pad shares all of the same tech benefits as the more scaled-down liner but with the added element of upper arm and shoulder protection.
The EKG center chest plate also makes an appearance here to bring this pad up to the ND200 standard. Protection also wraps around your torso with Anaform plating around the rib cage and spine.
Maverik continues to make gear that customizes to your preferred fit and play with its ComfortFit arch and detachable upper arm pads.
But this brings us to a major drawback: aside from some clunky, potentially restrictive shoulder caps, the upper arm attachment has a questionable quality to it. The actual elements for connecting these pads to the main piece are insecure and prone to failure.
Still, the EKG is a solid option for those short stick players who prefer to strip away any extra arm padding when they want, and don’t mind the extra clunk for the sake of going hard for any 50/50 balls.
3) Nike Vapor Elite Shoulder Pad Liner
Drip Level: 4.8/5
- Type: Liner
- Meets NOCSAE ND200: Yes
- Key Features:
- Ultra-lightweight and flexible padding
- Adjustable straps for customized fit
- Built-in ventilation for increased airflow
Nike enters the fray with the Vapor Elite Shoulder Pad Liner.
This ultra-scaled down liner provides protection in key areas, including added reinforcement along the chest to meet the new ND200 standard. It sheds any supplemental coverage to provide the most lightweight and flexible wear imaginable.
But, all that stripping back may come at a cost as users have noted a lack of back protection. The pad does have coverage that wraps to the back but the cushioning it provides is questionable.
The Vapor Elite Liner is a great pad to consider for any defenseman that’s secure enough in their play that they do not need to carry any extra coverage for the ultimate worst case scenario…basically, a D pole who does not try to back into any wind up shots from the top of the box
4) Nike Vapor Shoulder Pad
Drip Level: 4.6/5
- Type: Full shoulder pad
- Meets NOCSAE ND200: Yes
- Key Features:
- Ultra-lightweight padding
- Ergonomic design for comfort and mobility
- Stretch zones for a flexible fit
If there’s a liner, you know there’s going to be a complete shoulder pad to complement it, and here it is—the full Nike Vapor Shoulder Pad.
The Nike Vapor shares much of the same quality as its liner counterpart, sporting a trimmed down shell with tech that promotes flexibility without sacrificing too much in way of protection at key areas.
Users have noted that the upper arm pad is actually solid—that’s kind of an anomaly in my experience with such pieces. It makes the Vapor transferable to the box game as well when the fields are frozen over.
The major knock with the Vapor though comes in its over-dependence on Velcro for strap security and attachments. The connecting elements have a tendency to loosen or even fall off completely after a short time.
Hopefully, this is a problem Nike will sort out going forward because the Vapor seems like a great candidate for those players looking for a pad that can make it on the grass and concrete.
Best Beginner & Youth Lacrosse Shoulder Pads
As with all things lax, there is a noted difference in gear between adult and youth sizes. When it comes to the younger crowd, liners aren’t really a thing as pads give players more flexibility to experiment between positions safely.
How do you know when your young laxer is ready for his first adult pads? Well, that leap to a larger size comes around 14 years old for most, but chest size is the real indicator you want to base that decision on. You can see a sample lacrosse shoulder pad size chart here.
But before that day comes, here are some solid youth options for your player.
1) Maverik MX EKG Shoulder Pad
Maverik is like a midfielder hopped up on Red Bull, covering every yard of the shoulder pad game, this time in the youth market with the MX EKG Shoulder Pad.
This scaled-down version of the Max EKG boasts much of the same tech and protection as its adult counterpart. The EKG center pad carries over to bring this piece up to the ND200 standard.
Anaform plating wraps from front to back providing extra peace of mind to the wearer at the ribs and spine. The customizable upper arm also carries over here so this makes it a great shoulder pad for your player to scale back if they are comfortable/so desire to.
The main knock is also a carry over from the adult sizing—the upper arm attachments may have some quality issues so just something to be aware of before you add it to your cart.
2) Maverik Charger EKG
Oh, look…another Maverik pad…dang, these guys do not quit! And neither does the Charger EKG.
The Charger is a more affordable option to the MX EKG with a focus on chest protection first and foremost. The EKG plate, of course, makes an appearance along with detachable upper arm elements for customization.
As with all the other Maverik shoulder pads, the upper arm connection to the main pad does have the same quality issues noted, enough so that one user broke out the sewing kit to remedy the situation.
Additionally, the cheaper price tag is a testament to the scaled back tech here—do not expect the same level of wrap around protection with the Charger.
The Charger, though, is a great option for players not interested in breaking the bank, especially when they’ll have grown out of these pads in no time.
3) STX Stallion 200+
With standards of protection shifting, STX gave their flagship Stallion 200 pads a facelift and it’s more than just adding a plus sign to the end.
The Stallion 200+ is the most affordable youth shoulder pad on the market, built upon the trusted framework of the 200. Hard plastic shoulder caps and extended coverage along the back with added chest protection optimize security in key impact zones.
A widened neck opening provides mobility around your helmet and the arm elements, like every other youth option, are detachable to give you some customization options.
The main rubs for the Stallion 200+ are a lack of user feedback specific to this iteration of the 200, so durability and specific issues have not come to light yet if there are any. You should also keep in mind that this is built upon a retail shoulder pad so it does lack some of the quality of its higher end counterparts.
Ultimately, the Stallion 200+ is a great option for those who trust STX and the familiar Stallion 200 line and value affordability because, before long, you’re gonna be sizing these bad boys up.
Full Lacrosse Shoulder Pads vs. Liners
We want to dive a bit more into the differences between liners and full pads so you can determine which is best for you. I imagine this question popped up for those newer to the sport as they went through the list above.
We’ll start with liners. Liners are scaled back versions of full shoulder pads. In comparison, a liner lacks the shoulder capping and upper arm attachments that make their full counterparts a bit more hefty but a lot more protective around the shoulder and arms.
You’ll notice many liners appear to just be the central component of a larger full pad model, and that’s because THAT is exactly what they are.
Liners provide necessary coverage to vital regions around your chest and back that tend to be in harm’s way across the board.
Liners are a great option of defensemen as they really do not require the added clunkiness of shoulder caps and upper arm pads. Middies may also look to liners over pads as they tend to be less intrusive to play overall and much lighter/more streamlined in comparison.
If you are purchasing pads for a youth player, we advise not purchasing a liner. The lack of true physical control in the youth game makes full pads a much safer option for your young laxer, and also gives them the flexibility to explore every field position safely as they grow into the game.
Moving onto full shoulder pads. Full models tend to provide more customizable options for coverage based on your preference/style of play. Many full shoulder pads provide detachable pads at the upper arm and shoulder that can be stripped away as you grow more comfortable on the field or move primarily into a position where such coverage is not a priority.
Full pads are the best option for attacking players, especially those primary attackmen around the cage. Wayward checks from poles and desperate middies have a tendency to not land where intended, so the extra padding along the shoulders and arms will be very much appreciated.
Full pads may also be a great option for newer middies who may be trying to get comfortable in the position. The added protection they provide will give you confidence diving in for ground balls until you’re ready to yank away the extra padding.
Finding Shoulder Pads That Meet the NOCSAE ND200 Standard
In an important move for player safety, US Lacrosse is requiring all shoulder pads and liners to meet NOCSAE ND200 standards at all levels of the sport beginning in 2022. This standard is not a design change but solely a measurement of protection in the effort to reduce impact forces that heighten the risk of commotio cordis (cardiac arrest due to a blow to the heart area).
ND200 compliant products are certified by the Safety Equipment Institute and should include the NOCSAE Lacrosse label on the tag. You should also look for this label on the packaging of any shoulder pad or liner you purchase.
Beginning on January 1, 2022, if your shoulder pads do not meet the ND200 standard and bear the tagging to indicate compliance, you will not be allowed to take the field. So, if you’re planning to take the field in ten months plus change, you may want to start upgrading your shoulder pads now.
Lacrosse Shoulder Pad Buying Guide
With the changing lacrosse shoulder pad safety standard, manufacturers are still playing catchup to increase the number of options that meet the 2022 rule change. Over the next year, we expect a lot of new shoulder pads to hit the market.
While we will keep this guide updated as new shoulder pads come out, here are some things you should look for if you want to figure out how good a pair is on your own.
It goes without saying, protection is why you buy lacrosse shoulder pads. You want to navigate every facet of the game with the peace of mind that you are protected, whether it be your ribs, shoulders or chest.
This isn’t football, so why do we need shoulder pads you may be asking? Well, if you’ve ever taken a 50/50 ball on the ground, you’ve no doubt heard the clash of shoulder pads that comes with it.
Beyond man on man contact, if you’ve ever been caught between the net and a shot happy attackman, you know the importance of cushioning to withstand the potential blow of a wayward shot.
Conversely, you’ll be thanking your lucky stars for the protection as a short stick that is the unenviable recipient of long pole slash to the shoulder blade.
2) Comfort & Flexibility
Always number two on our lists but never in our hearts, comfort and flexibility are hugely important things to consider second to protection. There is nothing worse than a clunky set of pads to weigh you down on the field that don’t even fit right.
You should keep an eye out for things like anaform plating and foam cushioning at areas more prone to intense shifting, such as around your arms and ribs. Padding that matches your movement rather than constricting it is key.
The shoulder joint is another key area to keep an eye on—at least one of the pads on our list had a noted rigidity around the shoulder that was intrusive to overhand shots. This is something to keep in mind depending upon the type of play you normally find yourself in.
Lastly, customizability goes hand in hand with comfort. Look for pads that provide secure detachable options and plenty of tightening points at key tether areas, such as your waist and chest, to ensure a secure fit. There’s nothing worse than loose pads playing the bongos on your chest while you’re sprinting down the field.
It goes without saying that you want your money’s worth when you invest in shoulder pads, so durability is key to longevity. You’re already splurging to keep up with safety standards so better to go all in on a product that will last.
The primary marker of durability is of course the product itself. Just visually analyzing a pad can pinpoint some key vulnerabilities such as faulty Velcro work or overexposure of seams. As a rule of thumb, clasps tend to be better than Velcro, and less stitching is always best.
Keep an eye on the detachable elements as well. Connecting points on full pads have a tendency to be less than secure as users drag on, so do your due diligence and see what other users say about the product.
Another good marker is the brand name and price of course. We all know the trusted/our preferred outfits when it comes to gear, so go with your gut and a company that’s built your trust over the seasons.
Price is the other side of the coin—the more expensive, the better the quality of material and the more durable it should be. Both of these elements are not hard and fast rules but worth keeping in consideration.
There’s nothing worse than shoulder pads turning into a twenty-pound weighted vest halfway through a game cause it’s soaked up your sweat like a sponge.
Look for pads that promote breathability with built-in ventilation to the design that keeps air recycled close to your body and prioritizes coolness and dryness. Moisture wicking fabric liners are also key—anything that moves your sweat without absorbing it.
Others will also thank you for keeping in mind the above cause, like arm pads and gloves, shoulder pads are one of the main culprits of lax funk on and off the field.
5) Customer Reviews
Customer reviews are worth major consideration before you splurge on shoulder pads. Keep in mind, there may be a bit of gap in the feedback on ND200 compliant products given they are just making it to the market.
Still, do your due diligence and seek out every website and resource you can for some first hand input on how any of the above four elements are for a given product. Other users can provide actual feedback to the wear and performance of a shoulder pad.
Additionally, reviews can be helpful in finding out any quirks to a pad’s fit or the buying process. Such feedback can be helpful in avoiding the pitfalls that may have ensnared other customers.
And don’t forget to leave your own review for whatever pad or liner you choose—it’s always good practice to pay it forward.
Find something that fits your budget…this is easier said than done when it comes to an investment like shoulder pads but it’s still worthy of consideration.
With gear such as shoulder pads though, it may be better to stick to as high a price point as you can afford – such protection isn’t an area where you want to cut corners. Still, if you go with a cheaper option, keep in mind that you may be giving up certain benefits on the field and in the longevity of the product.
Unfortunately, with the upgrade to compliance, sales for shoulder pads may be few and far between. As a silver lining though, pad options that were already compliant in 2020 may still be overstocked given the wash of that season for much of the country, so be on the lookout for some deals as we move closer to Spring.
Lacrosse Shoulder Pad Size Chart
Here’s a general shoulder pad size chart to consider when it comes to finding a pair that best fits you or your young laxer. Please keep in mind that certain company sizes may run bigger or smaller, so best to consult their own size charts before making a purchase.
190 lbs +