We’ve told you a lot about skates and skating, but we haven’t said much about protective equipment other than that you should wear it. It can be overwhelming trying to find what’s out there and figure out what you need for what you want to do. In this post we’re going to explore protective equipment and who should wear what and when.
NOTE: This post assumes a skater is an adult. If you’re under eighteen years of age, you should always ask your parents what kind of safety gear they expect you to wear while skating.
Who should wear protective equipment? Why?
As you might guess, in a best-case scenario everyone who does something that’s potentially hazardous to their safety should wear protective equipment at all times while doing that activity. Motorcyclists, for example, call this ‘ATGATT’ (“all the gear all the time”). However, not every person can or wants to wear safety gear. Still, there are certain people who should seriously consider doing so:
- Skaters who are novices or lack confidence and want to feel safe
- Elderly skaters, who are likely to take longer to heal from injuries
- Outdoor skaters, who are likely to take more significant risks and get hurt more often
- Skaters who can’t risk injury because of work (e.g., massage therapists) or a health condition
What kind of gear is there for roller skaters?
There’s a lot of gear for roller skaters. You can pad all the corners, as it were, and even some of the curves. Common equipment:
- Helmet – Virtually any kind of recreation-related helmet will do (e.g., the sort a person might wear while bicycling, skateboarding, or kayaking), since roller skaters rarely go so fast they need heavy head protection. Helmets are important to use because head injuries are incredibly dangerous; worse, the damage compounds if accumulated too quickly (it’s called ‘second-impact syndrome’).
- Elbow pads – The same sort you’d wear while bicycling or skateboarding, elbow pads mainly help because your elbows are important joints in your arms, and the way you fall will determine how much damage they take. If you’re practicing skating backward, you should really consider wearing elbow pads, because they’ll probably take the brunt of any fall; you won’t realize how much you use your elbows until you can’t.
- Knee pads – Again, the sort you’d wear while doing other recreational activities. Good to wear for forward falls in particular, since humans generally try to fall onto hands and knees to protect our heads and bodies from the worst of the impact. Even gardeners will wear knees pads for comfort and protection if they plan to be kneeling for a long time.
- Wrist guards – Perhaps the least common of the common protective equipment, wrist guards nevertheless helps protect your wrists during a fall by helping absorb or redirect the impact. It’s human nature to throw out our hands to protect our heads when we fall, so the possibility of wrist injury is very real.
Less common equipment:
- Mouth guard – This is used mainly by roller derby teams. It’s exactly like the sort used by boxers, football players, hockey players, and others. There are a couple of different types, but the most common you just pop into your mouth over your top teeth, then go skating.
- Impact shorts – This gear is often used by ice skaters, snowboarders, and others. It kind of looks silly, like padded underwear, but it protects the hips and tailbone in the event of a fall, so it keeps you skating. Wear them under a pair of pants that are slightly larger than your usual and no one will know.
Money is tight. What do I HAVE to have?
If you’re on a budget and don’t know what pieces of equipment to prioritize, look first at your discipline. Is there any gear that’s commonly worn? For example, speed skaters frequently wear only helmets. They should wear more given how fast they go, but speed and aerodynamics demand they minimize bulk. So they balance their likelihood of falling—always possible—with what they need to protect most. For them, healing skinned extremities is less of a problem than healing a concussion, so they wear helmets.
By contrast, roller derby teams engage in competition that has much more physicality to it. Knee pads, elbow pads, wrist guards, mouth guards, and helmets are all necessary for safe play; the only thing you can really get away with not having from the start is a mouth guard.
If you don’t have a discipline or the safety gear participants wear is too varied for you to get a good idea of what’s best, decide what’s best for you. If you’re a recreational skater and you want to wear just a helmet, do that. If you’re a recreational skater and you want to wear everything they wear in roller derby, do that. If your job requires you to have certain parts of your body uninjured, make sure you protect those first. When it comes to it, your safety is always up to you.
When it comes down to it, you need to choose what works for you. Some disciplines will require certain safety equipment, and any conflict you may have you’ll need to overcome (or abandon the discipline). But when it comes to recreational skating you can choose whatever gear—or no gear, though we don’t recommend that—you like. And while it’s true that even wearing all available protective equipment won’t prevent all injuries, it will reduce the severity of the damage and whatever recovery time comes with that. Isn’t that worth it?