Essential Snowboarding Protective Gear [Ultimate Guide Before You Ride]
Injuries are a definite risk in snowboarding.
Nobody wants to think about wiping out and breaking bones. But snowboarding is a risky sport. Even if you’re not pulling off insane tricks, you’re still moving at some crazy speeds while trying to keep control of a plank of wood attached to your feet.
Things go wrong.
And if you’re not protected by the right gear and clothing, those injuries can be pretty severe.
Your question now is, what clothing do you need to have to lower the possibility of hurting yourself when you wipe out? This article has the answers. And in addition to running through the essential gear you need, we’re also going to explain why you need it and give you some insight into how common snowboarding injuries are.
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What, you wanted more than that?
Okay, snowboard protective gear is needed because injuries are pretty common on the slopes. According to Sports Medicine Australia, hospitals in Victoria dealt with 383 hospital admissions related to snowboarding injuries between 2004 and 2007. That’s a rate of about 90 per year. Emergency department submissions were even higher, with 503 during the same period equating to 125 annually.
The same organization also breaks down the stats into the most common causes of injury. Unsurprisingly, falls are the biggest culprit. However, snowboarders also get injured after being hit or struck by objects. Lose control of your board (or be in the path of somebody who’s lost control), and you’re in line for an impact injury that can cause serious damage.
Fractures were the most common injuries found in the data that Sports Medicine Australia collected, accounting for 36% of injuries. Sprains and strains came a close second at 33%, with muscle and tendon injuries accounting for 7%. Superficial injuries, such as bruising, brought up the rear at 6%. The organization is also quick to point out that many of these injuries happen during the first week of somebody learning how to snowboard.
Now, we know what you’re thinking.
That’s just Australia. What about the rest of the world? Maybe Aussies are clumsy and get themselves hurt more often. Do they even have snow in Australia?
First of all, there are plenty of talented Australian snowboarders. Second, stats from other sources show us that these injury rates are pretty consistent no matter where you are in the world.
A study published in the Western Journal of Medicine produced its own figures. Researchers examined snowboarding injury patterns in recreational snowboarders over four years. They also compared these injury patterns to alpine skiers just to get a taste of whether snowboarding is a more dangerous sport.
Spoiler alert – it is.
The study concluded that snowboarding has a comparable or higher rate of injury than alpine skiing. It also dug into where these injuries are most likely to occur. It found that 19% of snowboarders injure their wrists compared to 2% of skiers.
Snowboarders also get more ankle injuries than skiers, with 16% versus the skiers’ 6%. But there’s some good news too. The study discovered that skiers are more likely to sustain knee and thumb injuries.
Interestingly, the study had similar findings to those of Sports Medicine Australia. We mentioned earlier that Sports Medicine Australia pointed out that a large portion of snowboarding injuries happen during the first week of learning the sport. The Western Journal of Medicine study builds on that by showing that 49% of snowboarding injuries occur in beginners. That compares unfavorably to skiers, with only 18% experiencing injuries while learning that sport.
We’re not done yet.
Another study published in the Western Journal of Medicine looked further back in history to examine how many injuries happened due to snowboarding in 1994.
27,000 in the United States alone. That’s a rate of almost 74 injuries per day!
Why are we presenting all of these stats to you?
Understanding the risks involved in snowboarding, and the injuries it can cause, ensures you respect the dangers the sport presents. Looking cool by snowboarding without a helmet and pads isn’t going to be so fun when you wipe out and potentially break some bones.
Protective snowboarding equipment is needed because it reduces injury rates and could protect you from some major problems. With the right gear, a crash that would break a bone could sprain it instead. Or, you might only get superficial injuries, or none at all, because the gear absorbs the impact.
The easy answer to this question is that you should wear protective gear whenever you snowboard. Even if you’re not looking to pull off any amazing tricks, falls can still occur. And when you fall, you impact with some tightly-packed snow that can cause the sprains, bruising, and fractures we’ve already mentioned.
However, some types of protective gear are more critical than others.
A helmet is a must. Head injuries are no joke.
Concussions account for about 20% of skiing and snowboarding injuries every year. Repeated concussions can lead to chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), which is a condition that leads to mood changes, confusion, and memory loss. Helmets reduce the risk of concussions and make it less likely that you’ll crack your skull if you wipe out.
Other essentials include wrist and knee guards. After all, anybody who’s gotten their board’s toe end stuck in the snow has experienced what it feels like to go flying face first toward the ground. Your instinct is to put your hands out and try to land on your knees so you can protect your face. Wrist injuries are so common because of this instinct, meaning good wrist guards can protect you.
This gear covers the essentials. But plenty of other pieces of clothing protect your body when you’re on the board. Thankfully, protective equipment is available for men, women, and children at affordable prices, so you don’t have to compromise when protecting yourself.
Imagine that you’re trying a trick for the first time. You come off a small ramp, tuck your knees in to grab the board, and start rotating. But you can’t quite complete the rotation, which means you don’t get your board back under you in time for the landing. Instead, you go spiralling off the ramp and end up landing on your tailbone.
Impacting with the snow is probably going to hurt. But what if there’s a rock or other hard object in the snow? That’s a recipe for a cracked tailbone if you have nothing in place to absorb the impact. But the right protective gear, such as Rippl’s Impact Shorts, would have absorbed that impact with their padding. You get to carry on unscathed and don’t have to make a trip to the emergency room.
That scenario demonstrates how important protective gear is. These items of clothing work because they can absorb most of the impacts caused by falls and collisions, so your body doesn’t have to.
Granted, you need to wear the right types of protective gear. And there’s no denying that some types of gear are more important than others. Prioritizing the equipment that prevents the most common injuries, such as head injuries, wrist fractures, and ankle injuries, is a good start. But no matter what protective gear you buy, it’s always going to guard you against injuries better than wearing no gear at all.
The need for protective gear is pretty well established at this point. You know that snowboarding injuries are fairly common, especially when you’re first learning. Plus, the nature of the sport means you’re likely going to fall a lot, leading to your body making repeated contact with the ground. If you’re a step above the beginner level, you also have to worry about falling on harder surfaces, such as rails and half-pipes.
This knowledge leads us to some big questions.
What are the most common snowboarding injuries? And what can you do to protect yourself against those injuries? Let’s list the injuries and gear that all snowboarders should have.
Injury No.1 – Lower Abdomen, Upper Legs, and Tailbone Injuries
- Even the most experienced snowboarders take tumbles that land them directly on their tailbones from time to time. Any trick that involves rotation comes with a chance of landing on your midsection. But you could just as easily fall onto your bottom or abdominals when you’re just gliding along the snow.
- Chance of this injury – very likely.
- The best protection against this injury is Rippl’s Impact Shorts.
- Rippl Impact Shorts are cost-effective, form-fitting, and easily slide under your snowboarding pants. They offer support to your lower back and upper legs. Plus, they’re flexible enough to ensure you don’t feel hindered when going for tricks. These shorts are made using breathable and quick-drying material to ensure you’re back on the slope in no time.
This photo posted by a Reddit user is the perfect example of what can happen with a snowboard, speed and some rocks. Had he been wearing some protective gear like Impact shorts this would have been far less worse.
Injury No. 2 – Wrists
- Any time you fall forward, you’re going to put your hands out to stop yourself from landing directly on your face. Your instincts kick in, and you find yourself absorbing the impact of your fall almost directly on your wrists. Wrist injuries are prevalent, with 19% of snowboarders spraining or fracturing their wrists at some point.
- Chance of this injury – very likely.
- Snowboarding wrist guards are the best protection against wrist injuries.
- In a review published in the Clinical Journal of Sports Medicine, researchers discovered that one injury is averted for every 50 snowboarders who wear wrist guards. These guards offer much-needed support to your wrists by absorbing the force of an impact, so your bones don’t have to. They can make the difference between breaking or spraining your wrist after a hard fall.
Injury No. 3 – Knees
- Some falls cause people to land on their knees before their momentum can carry them over. These jolts may cause issues with joints and ligaments. Snowboarders who take on half-pipes and other obstacles are also more likely to experience knee injuries. Falling after almost landing a trick could lead to sliding down a half-pipe wall on your knees.
- Chance of this injury – fairly likely.
- Rippl’s Impact Knee Pads offer stellar protection against knee injuries when snowboarding.
- Knee pads offer exactly what they say they offer – padding. They absorb impacts, so your kneecaps don’t have to. Rippl’s knee pads are specifically designed to flex and move with your body to ensure they don’t prevent you from performing tricks. They’re stretchable while offering a secure fit, meaning they won’t creep down your legs. Plus, the breathable materials used mean they dry quickly enough for you to keep them on for the entire day
Injury No. 4 – Ankles
- According to Physiopedia, ankles are involved in anywhere between 12% and 17% of snowboarding injuries. There’s even a specific condition called Snowboarder’s Ankle, a fracture of the lateral process of the Talus. The prevalence of these kinds of injuries shouldn’t be too surprising, given that your feet are strapped onto your snowboard. If the board gets caught or you land awkwardly, there isn’t much room for your ankle to bend.
- Chance of this injury – very likely.
- An ankle brace can offer some protection by supporting the ankle.
- Ankle braces are more commonly associated with recovery from ankle injuries instead of preventing them. But these braces are handy because they compress your ankle and offer some support. A solid brace may prevent your ankle from bending as far as it otherwise would, which reduces the stress placed on bones, muscles, and tendons. As a side note, it’s also worth choosing hard boots ahead of soft boots. Physiopedia’s article states that wearing soft boots almost doubles the risk of an ankle injury.
Injury No. 5 - Head
- Head injuries occur between 09 and 0.46 times per 1,000 snowboarding outings. That may not sound like much at first. But when you consider the fact that there are 7.56 million snowboarders in the United States, all of whom are likely to snowboard several times per year, the numbers start piling up. About 22% of all head injuries in snowboarding are severe enough to cause loss of consciousness or concussion.
- Chance of this injury – fairly likely.
- A good and well-fitting helmet is the best protection against head injuries.
- According to Boston Children’s Hospital, wearing a helmet reduces the possibility of snowboarding-related head injuries by up to 60%. Helmets guard you against jarring impacts with snow and obstacles. But the key here is that the helmet must fit your head properly. A helmet that fits loosely leaves too much space for your head to rattle around, which could contribute to concussions or loss of consciousness.
Injury No. 6 – Shoulder Dislocations and Fractures
- According to one study conducted in the British Medical Journal, shoulder injuries account for between 8% and 16% of all snowboarding injuries. Again, that shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise. It’s possible that you’ll land on your side if you fall while snowboarding. What’s more, the momentum of your fall could lead to you sliding on your arm, which raises the risk of dislocation and sprains.
- Chance of this injury – fairly likely.
- A shoulder brace is the best protection against these types of injuries.
- Shoulder braces wrap around your chest and feature a pad directly over your shoulder. They absorb the impact of your fall, though they may not be able to prevent the momentum that could lead to you sliding along the ground. Shoulder braces also offer some minor upper body support, though this isn’t essential given how few snowboarding injuries relate to the chest.
Injury No. 7 – Back
- One study published in the British Medical Journal reveals that spinal injuries are more common in snowboarding than many realize. The study states that this type of injury occurs 1 times per 100,000 snowboarding visitors. While most of these back injuries involve bruising and minor muscle problems, some are severe enough to cause serious damage to the spinal cord. This is a particular problem if the snowboarder falls while navigating a hard object.
- Chance of this injury – fairly unlikely.
- Torso protectors often provide support and armor for your back.
- Think of torso protectors as a type of body armor explicitly made for snowboarding. They’re typically designed to be worn underneath your jacket and have form-fitting designs that support your upper body. Many have padding at key points, including on the shoulders, elbows, and arms, in addition to the protection they offer to your spine. While wearing one isn’t a guarantee that you’ll escape a wipeout unscathed, they lower the chances of spinal injuries due to the support they offer.
Injury No. 8 – Trunk
- Trunk injuries, which cover any damage to the chest and torso, are among the least common in snowboarding. One study published in American Family Physician (AFP) states that they account for 8% of all snowboarding injuries. That puts trunk injuries below wrist, ankle, head, and knee issues. Sustaining a trunk injury means you’ve landed on your front. They may be more common when taking on obstacles. For example, somebody grinding a rail could slip and land chest-first on the rail.
- Chance of this injury – fairly unlikely
- Just like with back injuries, torso protectors offer good protection against trunk injuries.
- As mentioned above, torso protectors offer support and some padding that can absorb impacts when you fall. Note that you’ll generally wear these protectors under several layers of clothing too. Your jacket and other outerwear combine with protectors to guard against trunk injuries. Perhaps the padding in standard snowboarding clothes is why trunk injuries are less prevalent than injuries to your legs and head.
Injury No. 9 – Elbows and Arms
- You might assume that arm injuries are fairly common, given the high possibility of wrist injuries. But that isn’t the case. According to AFP data, elbow injuries are the least common snowboarding injuries, accounting for just 4.4%. There are several reasons this may be, with the most likely being that the wrists absorb most impacts that involve the arms. Even if the snowboarder lands on their side, the elbow, and surrounding arm, have a large enough surface area to spread the impact.
- Chance of this injury – very unlikely.
- Elbow pads can protect against elbow and arm injuries.
- Just like knee pads protect your kneecaps against impacts, so too do elbow pads guard your elbow joints. These pads are easy to wear and can absorb impacts. However, some snowboarders may find that they restrict movement when trying to grab their boards for tricks.