Looking for body protection to wear when mountain biking? We've tried and tested the best protective vests, back protectors and more to help keep you covered.

Fuelled by ever-improving, safer and more stable bikes, we’ve all got faster downhill on trails that now pack in more extreme and challenging features. Thankfully, MTB body armour has also moved with the times, so there are now plenty of slick, lightweight and low-profile options to suit riders that regularly enjoy more technical terrain. 

Complete the protection package with one of the best full face mountain bike helmets you can afford – after all, you’ve only got one brain. And while you have two knees, you need both of them, so pop on some great MTB knee pads too.

Fox D30 Protection vest

Fox’s Baseframe Pro vest boasts excellent protection.

1. Fox Racing Baseframe Pro D30

Best money-no-object protection vest

Weight: 1,053g | Sizes: S – XXL | Colours: Black | Women’s version: Yes | Rating: 10/10

Reasons to buy:

  • Excellent breathability and ventilation
  • No excess movement

Reasons to avoid:

  • Heavy
  • No storage
  • Top dollar

Heavy duty, the Fox Racing Baseframe Pro D30 is one of the best protection vests on the market if safety is your top priority. The main armour uses D30, which is soft and conforming to flow with body’s movements until it’s struck, at which point it instantaneously locks together and becomes rigid to resist penetration and defend against impacts.

The Baseframe front has Level 1 certification and the rear full CE Level 2 motocross protection. Once in place and zipped in – you need to thread arms inside – you feel really protected. Being more of a DH than an enduro product means all the protection adds weight, and there are no pockets or stashes for hydration bladders. The price is also top dollar, but we can live with all this considering how well Fox has nailed the fit and function.

Read our full review of the Fox Racing Baseframe Pro D30

iXS Flow protection vest

The iXS Flow protection vest is so comfortable we forgot we were wearing it.

2. iXS Flow Protective Vest

Best protection vest for comfort

Weight: 675g | Sizes: XS – XXL | Colours: Grey | Women’s version: No | Rating: 9 /10

Reasons to buy:

  • High protection rating
  • Very comfortable
  • Low-profile look and fit
  • Good breathability

Reasons to avoid:

  • Not as light as some vests

If you’re after low-profile sleeveless back protection with the highest impact rating, the iXS Flow protection vest is a great option. When we tested it we said, “this is arguably the most comfortable and invisible piece of body armour that we’ve tested”. That’s because it’s constructed from thin, lightweight fabric with an internal pocket which takes a slide-in protective back panel to cover a broad portion of the back. This panel is constructed from iXS’s own X-Matter material, which hardens on impact, but stays flexible on the body when warmed up. Rated at EU Level 2, it’s designed to handle crashes at high speeds, yet it doesn’t feel bulky.

Overall in our opinion this is the most comfortable protection vest we’ve tested, especially at this high impact protection rating.

Read our full review of the iXS Flow Protective Vest

Leatt 3DF Airfit vest

Leatt’s 3DF Airfit vest comes with the highest certification.

3. Leatt 3DF AirFit Body Vest

Best vest for protection

Weight: 1,008g | Sizes: S – XXL | Colours: Black | Women’s version: No | Rating: 9 /10

Reasons to buy:

  • Full motorsports-level impact certification
  • Good ventilation
  • long and short sleeve versions available

Reasons to avoid:

  • Heavy

The Leatt 3DF might not be explicitly targeted at downhill and enduro racers, but this protection vest is the only product on this list with full motorsports-level impact certification on both chest and back panels, so if you’re likely to be getting serious speed or serious air, this should be well up your shortlist.

The foam protection pads are flexible while riding, but harden upon impact to absorb energy. They sit in pouches in the vest so you can take them out and wash the liner fabric. And despite the level of protection, we had no problem with ventilation. Our only gripe is the extra weight.

Read our full review of the Leatt 3DF AirFit Body Vest

100% Tarka Protection Vest

100% Tarka Protection Vest impressed us when we tested it.

4. 100% Tarka Protection Vest

Best front and rear coverage vest

Weight: 780g | Sizes: S – XXL | Colours: Black | Women’s Version: No | Rating: 9 /10

Reasons to buy:

  • Chest and back protection panels
  • Great ventilation
  • Long and short sleeve versions also available
  • Great value

Reasons to avoid:

  • Back panel doesn’t cover coccyx

We really liked the combination of weight and protection offered by the 100% Tarka vest. It has both front and back protection panels, with the latter being seriously chunky and certified to motobike level 2. Despite the level of protection and coverage, the Tarka doesn’t restrict movement while riding, it’s comfortable, and the price is great considering the quality.

Read our full review of the 100% Tarka Protection Vest

Alpinestars Paragon Plus Protection vest 

Alpinestars Paragon Plus Protection vest comes with added practicality.

5. Alpinestars Paragon Plus Protection Vest

Best lightweight protection vest

Weight: 460g | Sizes: XS – XL | Colours: Black/Grey | Women’s version:  No | Rating: 8 /10

Reasons to buy:

  • Practical design with multiple pockets and hydration bladder compatibility
  • Light enough that you’ll forget you’re wearing it

Reasons to avoid:

  • Back can ride up and allow draughts
  • Back protector doesn’t indicate which side is inner and which is outer
  • Tail of the protector can get folded over when inserted into the vest

Alpinestars has been in the two-wheel protection game longer than most, and the Paragon vest is a great example of that experience and knowledge. Lightweight, it’s the kind of vest you could wear for a day’s pedalling in the Alps or at a bike park without noticing. The back has extra cargo capacity too, with three separate pockets to carry gear when riding, as well as the option to stuff a hydration bladder piggybacked in the sleeve alongside the removable back protection panel. The pockets on the flank are also padded, adding protection for a phone for example, and help stop items from digging-in in the event of any crash.

Alpinestars’s vest is a great price and very comfortable, but the spine protector isn’t quite as secure and planted as some rivals. It can also ride up a bit at the back.

Read the full review of the Alpinestars Paragon Plus Protection Vest

How we tested

While it’s impractical (and downright dangerous) to seek out crashes to test protection kit, frequent use by experienced riders gives a good insight into comfort, fit and function. We prioritised freedom of movement and paid close attention to pad coverage, heat management and moisture wicking, as well as ensuring any zips, seams and fabrics were up to the task of repeated use and frequent rubbing and movement.

We also took into account each item’s impact protection rating, which is independently certified.

What to look for in impact protection vests and body armour

If you’re racing, especially downhill or enduro, or riding harder, faster or on more technical trails, you may want to consider body protection above and beyond just helmets and knee-pads. Mountain bike body armour will help keep your torso, and particular risk areas such as the chest, spine, coccyx and shoulders, protected in the event of a crash.

1. Materials and fabric

The fabric and cut of material any protection pads are fixed to is crucial to cooling, comfort, sweat absorption and even how smelly it gets. Most vests use stretchy, perforated mesh synthetic fabrics with wicking properties, with some better than others at drying or dumping rider moisture. A closer fit ensures less wriggling and better insulation too.

2. Fit

A snug fit ensures less potential movement of pads and panels and also helps keep protection low profile for a sleeker look under clothing. Softer, floppier fabrics vs the tighter squeeze of a compression fit will be a personal choice.

3. Protection levels

Many brands offer multiple levels of protection, from simple back panels to short sleeve options with shoulder pads, through to long sleeve jerseys also incorporating elbow guards. Some products squeeze in extra pads to protect kidneys, coccyx and ribs (and even pockets to stash ride essentials), which are all useful additions provided they don’t add bulk.

4. Pad construction

Many pads here use impact-hardening polymers that remain flexible in normal use but harden under high-velocity impacts. Names like D30, Sas-Tec and X-Matter essentially describe similar technologies, with the only potential drawback being the materials can be a bit stiff in cold weather until body heat ‘loosens’ the padding. Other constructions include EVA polystyrene, similar to helmet liners, built onto a flexible matrix.

5. Certification

EU protection certification is split onto two levels, 1 and 2, referring to the amount of impact force the padding absorbs. CE level One is for forces transmitted by a 5kg weight from 1m to the wearer of under 18kN (no single value exceeding 24kN), whereas CE level 2 explains forces lower than 9kN (no single value exceeding 12kN). The level 2 cert is usually for motorsport use where speeds and impacts are potentially higher.

6. Weight and durability

The overall weight of any body armour has a big impact on how bulky it feels to ride in, but it’s a delicate balance to ensure protection and coverage is good and also use sturdy materials that stand the test of time. The best fitting jackets are comfortable and secure.

7. Women’s or unisex fit

Some brands will do a women’s specific version of their protector vests. These will be designed to take into account the narrower waist, narrower shoulders, curvier chest and wider hips that many women have. Not all women will find them necessary, and may find that the unisex fit works better for them, while other women will appreciate the better fit that these adaptations offer.

It’s not simply about aesthetics; since these garments rely on a good, secure fit to ensure the protective pads do their job, a good fit is necessary to stop body armour riding up or moving around, or simply just being too uncomfortable to wear.

Don’t need quite this much protection? Opt for one of the best mountain bike trail helmets and some MTB knee pads, pop on a brilliant pair of mountain bike gloves, and don’t forget some glasses!