Elbow pads are mainly about comfort and mobility. If you cant freely move your arms, you aren't going to be doing much in a hockey game.
The measurements to worry about when finding elbow pads are a player's height and the length from about mid-bicep to mid-forearm. The bicep to forearm measurement is giving you a general idea of the distance from the bottom of your shoulder pads' bicep guard to the top cuff of your gloves. Something to keep in mind is that you should always use judgment as these size measurements only help to give you an idea of the likely best size and do not take into account differences in arm circumference, which will influence the fit of the pad.
Most elbow pads today on the market are hard caps, covered with a softer foam and then a layer of fabric. These offer great protection on falls, slashes and other gameplay hazards. The top-of-the-line elbow pads have recently introduced compression sleeves to keep the elbow pad better locked in - we love this. As you look up and down the lines between higher end models and the ones below, the major differences will be in weight, comfort, and fit. Higher end pads are designed to be more protective, through more advanced and generally lighter foams. Most have more anatomic designs, allowing them to sit more comfortably and lower profiling on your arms for a less bulky feel. Many will also have improved strapping systems for a more secure fit.
Some companies do still produce a lower model that comes in a soft cap option. These soft pads offer more mobility, but significantly less protection. They are great for young players, looking for a great amount of movement as they learn the game and for adult players, playing in less physical hockey who are willing to sacrifice protection for some extra mobility.
With elbow pads, there's pretty much nothing worse than falling and suddenly your elbow pad decides it wants to move 3 inches down your arm and you end up banging your elbow straight on the ice. Our advice when you've chosen one that you think you like, try to shake it off. See how easily it moves. You may be able to move it a little bit if you really shake your arm around, but it should be difficult and not move a lot.
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