Best Back Protectors for Skiing and Snowboarding

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Looking for the best back protectors for skiing and snowboarding is a smart move for any mountain goer. 

Have you heard about the story of Charlie Guest? This Scottish World Cup skier was venturing through a giant slalom course in 2015. Suddenly, she lost control and tumbled into a forest to break her back over a giant boulder. If she hadn’t been wearing a back protector, she might’ve lost her career forever! 

Sadly, back protectors aren’t that common between skiers and snowboarders. But as Charlie Guest tells us, “There are rocks, trees, everything. You could easily go off and hit something.” 

So why risk something that might change your whole life for the worse? Read on to find out the best back protectors for skiing and snowboarding.

Comparison Chart

Product Shell Material Length (M) Weight Price Range
Ridbiker Back Protector Polypropylene 22.4 in 1.15 lb $$
Pellor Back Protection Vest PE Plastic 19.3 in 1 lb $$
POC Spine Protector Vest Patented VPD 25.5 - 28 in 2 lbs $$$$
POC Spine Protector Jacket Patented VPD 25.5 - 28 in 3.2 lbs $$$
POC Back Protector Air Backpack Patented VPD 25.5 - 28 in 1.65 lbs. $$$$

Best Back Protectors for Skiing and Snowboarding

At a Glance

  • Material: Polypropylene
  • Length: 22.4 inches
  • Weight: 1.15 pounds

Favorite Features

The Details

More times than not, skiers refuse to wear a back protector because they don’t like how it weighs them down. If this has been an issue for you, you’ll love this protector from Ridbiker. 

First off, this protector features a polypropylene construction — a material that scientists call “the steel of the plastic industry.” Don’t fret, though; this doesn’t mean that you’ll be carrying an unwieldy armor on your back. Polypropylene manages to provide outstanding toughness with a relatively low density.

Lucky for us, Ridbiker didn’t stop at the material selection. They also designed the back shell with a curved turtle-like outline, which can never disrupt your arms and elbows. However, this design also detracts from the overall safety, particularly below the lumbar region. 

Like most skiing back protectors, Ridbiker drilled a bunch of small holes in the shell to promote breathability. Additionally, they added four sets of directional vents to further enhance the airflow during long skiing sessions. 

On the front, this back protector tightens with velcro straps. I absolutely like how wide these straps are; this will guarantee rock-solid stability in the most challenging ski races. Unfortunately, some users complained about early velcro fraying, which will definitely impact the tightness.

At a Glance

  • Material: Polyethylene
  • Length: 19.3 inches
  • Weight: 1 pound

Favorite Features

The Details

If you can’t resist the risky hype of backcountry skiing, sufficing with a back protector might not be ideal. In that case, you should definitely consider this body armor from Pellor. 

In addition to the full-size back shell, this armor comes with equally-rigid chest protection. These two parts connect via two elastic waist straps that tighten with velcro, allowing you to get the tightest fit possible. And of course, you can raise or lower the protective shells by adjusting the two shoulder straps.

With a robust polyethylene construction, this protector brilliantly combines flexibility with tear resistance. This way, you’ll keep injuries at bay without having to sacrifice mobility and maneuverability.

Is it perfect? Not exactly. The back shell extends well in all directions to provide the ultimate protection. However, it overextends a bit in the waist region. Some skiers reported that this part tends to hit their elbows, especially while performing tight maneuvers with poles. Snowboarders, on the other hand, didn’t face such issues.

At a Glance

  • Material: POC patented VPD technology
  • Length: 25.5 – 28 inches
  • Weight: 2 pounds

Favorite Features

The Details

Can’t seem to withstand hard-shell protectors? Well, that leaves you with soft-shell products. And on that matter, POC should be your best pet. 

The thing that makes POC’s product stand out is their patented VPD construction — which is short for “Visco-Elastic Polymer Dough”. 

Without getting into too technical details, this material has a unique structure that shifts between two physical states. By default, this material is astoundingly flexible; after wearing it long enough, you may even forget that you’re wearing a back protector. Upon impacts, the molecules coalesce, making the vest stiff enough to absorb the force! 

Unfortunately, this protective material is exclusively placed over the back. The chest area features a light mesh build that doesn’t provide any sort of protection. But to be fair, this won’t be an issue for people who don’t like being cast in a stiff barrel of plastic. 

To promote convenience, this vest closes with a sturdy zipper. Yet, if you think the zipper won’t be tight enough, you can use the extra elastic waistband. 

By the nature of the beast, a vest with such innovative technology won’t be that friendly to your budget. Still, it’s a worthy investment that clearly excels over the affordable, entry-level protectors.

At a Glance

  • Material: POC patented VPD technology
  • Length: 25.5 – 28 inches
  • Weight: 3.2 pounds

Favorite Features

The Details

Thankfully, POC is smart enough to realize how skiers can vary in their protective gear choices. That’s why they introduce their unique VPD technology in a full jacket suit that feels way more secure than the previous vest.

In addition to the back shell, POC places VPD shells over the chest, shoulders, and elbows. And since this material tightness only upon impact, these extra shells don’t weigh you down by any means. 

But I must say, I don’t really like where the shoulder pads are placed. The largest thickness is positioned over the top of your shoulder, leaving the upper arm mostly exposed. This is quite absurd since you’re more likely to hit your upper arm than the top of your shoulders, especially during snowboarding. 

Owing to the chest shell placement, POC had to place the zipper at the left side — this doesn’t affect the performance whatsoever, yet it might feel a bit weird at first. 

At the end of each sleeve, there’s a strap that POC calls “crash retention strap (CRS)”. This part tightens the sleeve over your forearm, preventing the elbow protector from sliding out of place in cases of impacts.

At a Glance

  • Material: POC patented VPD technology
  • Length: 25.5 – 28 inches
  • Weight: 1.65 pounds

Favorite Features

The Details

Some skiers don’t want people to know that they’re wearing a back protector in order to look tougher and cooler. And frankly, there’s nothing wrong with that! You can showcase your sense of adventure without compromising your safety by opting for this backpack from POC. 

At first glance, this backpack won’t seem different from any other bag. However, it’s equipped with the same VPD shell that we saw in the previous protectors. And best of all, nobody can see his shell, not even from the padded surface. 

When empty, this backpack weighs about 750 g, which is ideal for long days on the mountain. The backpack provides up to 13 L of storage to boot.

The only thing we don’t love is the pockets. The main pocket doesn’t have enough spacers to store multiple belongings. And the side pockets are too small to hold anything. Nevertheless, I like the buckle pocket at the front; it can be used to safely store your goggles to protect them from fogging.

More Back Protectors for Skiing and Snowboarding

Why Should You Wear Back Protectors for Skiing and Snowboarding?

If you’re still reluctant to wear a back protector, check this section out. We discuss several factors that may help illuminate why wearing back protection on the slopes can be important.

Back Injuries Are Alarmingly Common

Each year, more than 600,000 people suffer varying degrees of skiing-related injuries. 12% of those people encounter spinal injuries as a result of back fractures. Sadly, the percentage of patients who fully recover doesn’t exceed 1%.

In Switzerland, another shocking study revealed that skiing and snowboarding account for 23% of all sports-related injuries. The same report found that snowboarding has a higher likelihood of causing back injuries when compared to skiing. 

With that said, it should be clear that back protectors aren’t just vanity. Never skip out on them because they can be your final defense line before having to spend the rest of your life in a wheelchair!

Slow Speed Won’t Keep You Safe

Whenever I speak about the importance of back protectors, people often argue that it’s not necessary unless you’re skiing at an extreme speed. I’m sorry to break it to you, but this isn’t necessarily true. 

As the National Ski Areas Association (NSAA) reports, “Most of the fatal injuries are above-average skiers and snowboarders who are going at high rates of speed on the margins of intermediate trails (blue).” 

This is pretty alarming because we tend to consider blue slopes to be fairly safe — at least safer than the red and black ones. But as it turns out, the average skills of the people who often ski down these slopes increase the likelihood of unfortunate accidents.

You Can’t Trust the Snow

If you’re a fan of backcountry skiing, wearing a back protector becomes a must. 

Why? Well, fresh snow is incredibly tricky. These soft layers can obscure stumps and boulders to make the surface look flat and obstacle-free. Sadly, you won’t know about those obstacles until after hitting them with your board or skis.

What to Consider Before Getting a Back Protector

Hopefully, you should be well aware of the advantages and importance of back protectors by now. To help get the best product, there are a few things you need to bear in mind. 

Hard-Shell vs. Soft-Shell Protectors

Back protectors come in one of two designs: hard-shell and soft-shell. Each design has a different set of advantages and disadvantages. 

Hard-Shell: Incredible Protection With Less Flexibility

Brands make hard-shell protectors by using tough plastic materials, namely polyethylene and polypropylene. Oftentimes, these materials are arranged as consecutive panels over a soft padding foam. 

As you might already know, these types of plastic have impeccable toughness. Should you land over rocks or branches, they’ll absorb the shock and dissipate it over a large area to prevent serious injuries. They’ll also hold their ground against sharp materials due to their robust puncture resistance. 

Unfortunately, physical superiority can also be a crucial disadvantage. Having that armor wrapped around your body might feel limiting, especially when you’re trying to perform tricky freestyle moves.

Soft-Shell: An Upcoming Alternative

About 10 years ago, soft-shell protectors had no value at all. Their EVA construction couldn’t provide the same sturdy performance that hard-shell protectors promised. But thankfully, this is gradually changing. 

Today, several brands are introducing revolutionary alternatives. For instance, POC’s VDP shells will feel as flexible as a shirt while you’re skiing; But when impacts happen, the molecules will rearrange to make the shield as hard as a rock! 

Unfortunately , these materials are still lacking in the field of puncture resistance and given the proprietary technology, they are often fairly expensive. 

Pick the Right Size

Naturally, the back protector must entirely cover your back in order to provide enough protection. It should extend from the base of your neck to the tailbone. 

To get a perfect size, ask one of your friends to measure your back for you. Sit on a chair and tilt your head forward. Then, ask your friend to start measuring from the first visible vertebra in your neck. Afterward, the tape measure should extend to your butt — that’s the ideal height. 

As for the width, it’s not always that straightforward. You should refer to the sizing chart of the product you’ll purchase since brands use varying measuring approaches.

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Final Thoughts

The very best back protectors for skiing and snowboarding are ones utilizing new-age technology to strike a balance between maximum comfort and protection, like the POC VPD line of products. 

However, the price difference is still quite drastic when compared to cheaper, but less flexible products utilizing hard plastics.

Both options will provide good protection in the event of a fall, though the hard plastics are more puncture proof. First decide how much comfort and flexibility are worth to you, then narrow your search from there.

Good luck and stay safe!

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