Crashing sucks, but getting hurt because you weren’t wearing the right gear stings just a little bit more. You all know to wear your helmets, jackets, pants, gloves, and boots – but what are you wearing under all that? If you’re not wearing at least a back protector then you’re missing out on a relatively inexpensive piece of kit that can make a big difference. Add in a chest protector, and you have two components that can further absorb some of the impact energy of hitting the ground before your body does.
If you aren’t familiar, back and chest protectors are basically plastic exoskeletons with multi-density, impact-absorbing padding. Back protectors look similar to an armadillo’s shell, with numerous layers that articulate with the movement of your back, but also are difficult to hyperextend or bend backward. Chest protectors are basically trapezoidal pads that rest between your jacket and chest.
Here, we’ve compiled a list of back and chest protectors you might want to consider before your next ride. While these products are highly rated, they are just a sample of what’s out there. Before we begin, it’s worth mentioning that, if you have the means, we recommend wearing an airbag vest instead of a back and chest protector. The level of protection from an airbag is far superior. We made an airbag buyer’s guide to show you what options are currently on the market if you’re interested. Can’t pop for an airbag right now? No problem. Here’s the next best thing.
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While Alpinestars is considered one of the leaders in the airbag game, it hasn’t forgotten about back protectors either, and the Nucleon KR-3 is among the company’s best. The KR-3 is highly flexible and breathable thanks to its honeycomb construction that allows air to flow through it. But there’s also a hard shell backed with viscoelastic PU foam to help protect. Nucleon PU foam on the central spine offers first-rate impact absorption, while horizontal flex grooves allow the piece to move with your range of motion. As an added bonus, there are also adjustable rib protectors to help deflect impact energy to your sides. For added comfort, the shoulder straps can also be removed so they don’t get tangled under your riding gear – a nice, underrated touch.
The Forcefield Pro L2K Evo is a back protector over ten years in the making. The sleek, slim, and low-profile back protector fits into your riding jacket without any obstruction, and it’s breathable to get some airflow back there when you’re sweaty. Constructed using Kevlar thread for strength and durability, the NitrexEvo shock-absorbing material is designed to be soft and comfortable yet provide maximum protection when you need it, even after multiple hits. The internal construction features multiple layers that are stitched and perforated in such a way that allows only limited movement – this movement follows the natural range of the human back, but also the pumping motion allows air to pass through for better ventilation. Complete with adjustable shoulder and waist straps, the Pro L2K Evo can mold to virtually any body type.
The Rev’It! Slingshot back protector is a little different. It uses a harness system to envelope the CE level 2 RV-style back protector. This harness is comfortable and breathable with a built-in kidney belt with off-road use in mind. 3D mesh helps reduce heat and sweat, and the back protector itself is removable for cleaning purposes. Unlike some other back protectors, the harness of the Slingshot features a sternum strap to keep everything in place up stairs. It also makes for a good companion under dirt gear, street gear, or with Rev’It’s Slingshot riding gear, made specifically without a back protector so you can add this one in.
Dainese were the inventors of the back protector, so it’s only right to include the company here. The Wave D1 Air back protector has the classic shape that’s not too dissimilar from the original back protector Dainese introduced several decades ago to help protect its grand prix racers. Homologated to EN 1621.2 Standard Level 2, this back protector has rigid external corrugated plates for better impact energy distribution and a lightweight core made of aluminum honeycomb and Crash Absorb, a special visco-elastic, water repellant rubber that has excellent shape retention and energy absorption properties to make it both comfortable to wear and highly protective in a crash. Shoulder and waist straps allow for a tailored fit, or you can remove them both if you just want to insert the back protector by itself.
Moving on to chest protectors, the Spidi Warrior is a good representation of what to expect. Shaped appropriately to protect the rider’s sternum, the Warrior is composed of three layers of square block structures designed to distribute the shock of an impact evenly. The junctions are designed to allow very flexible movement – so much so that the Warrior chest protector can easily fold for storage purposes. With a thickness of 15mm and weighing in at 140g (4.9 oz), it’s light and compact protection.
At the top of this list is an Alpinestars Nucleon back protector. Here is the companion Nucleon KR-Cell CiR chest protector – the company’s highest performing impact armor for the chest. Flexible and breathable, it’s meant to be worn between a jacket or suit and the rider’s body, or placed into dedicated pockets on select apparel. The microstructure of the protector, with its honeycomb design, allows for maximum impact absorption as well as breathability and comfort. Contoured to a rider’s shape, the mesh lining on the inside is soft against the skin. Certified to CE level 2.
We couldn’t include a Forcefield back protector without also including the Forcefield Elite chest protector. Designed to be as thin as reasonably possible, this slim design is breathable and yet soft enough to curve around the body. The Forcefield Nitrex Evo armor distributes crash energy throughout the protector and is meant to withstand numerous hits. Adjustable straps help tailor the fit to the individual wearer.
Known for its neck braces in the dirt world, Leatt also makes other protective gear like this Airflex chest protector. The slim and ergonomic design is also lightweight and very well vented. You’ll find an I-Mesh impact protector in the chest, but you’ll also get back protection via Leatt’s AirFlex soft impact gel. The multi-layer, multi-plate articulating design allows the rider to move naturally, and of course, the BraceOn system is ready to accept Leatt’s neck brace, if you desire to wear it.
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