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What equipment do football players wear? Protective gear checklist for NFL and NCAA

As is the case with any sport, there is equipment involved. Yet, when it comes to the game of football the list of requirements is a little longer.

As is the case with any sport, there is equipment involved. Yet, when it comes to the game of football the list of requirements is a little longer.

Whether we’re talking about the college game or the NFL, in the game of football, there are several pieces of equipment that you will see players using. Yet, some of those such as helmet visors are optional. With that in mind, it’s important to know the difference between what players like to wear, and what they are obligated to wear during games. Let’s take a look.

Football Equipment

From its earliest days, the sport of football has always been gritty, physically demanding, and quite frankly unforgiving when it comes to the effects on players’ bodies. The need for protection as you can probably imagine has been at the center of it all, and so, here’s a look at the items that can be considered a pre-requisite to play.

The Helmet

So, we’ve already established that football is a physical sport, to say the least. To that end, there is most definitely a need for proper protection as players constantly subject their bodies to the brutal physical demands of the game. What are these pieces of equipment? For starters, we’ve got the helmet which can be considered the most essential of all items on this list as it protects the head of the player from impact. Indeed, this has become a major concern across the league with growing debate around the issue of CTE, as well as several high-profile players suffering concussions in recent seasons.

Shoulder Pads

Next up we’ve got the shoulder pads which can be considered the next in line in terms of importance after the helmet. Shoulder pads as their namesake suggests cover the shoulders, however, they also cover the chest and upper back, two areas that are inevitably under threat during games. While they can vary in design depending on the player’s position, the idea is the same: Protection of the player’s upper body. It’s important to understand that while they don’t outrightly prevent injury, they significantly reduce the risk of it.

Thigh Pads

The trick with thigh pads is about finding the right balance. That’s to say, which ones can give a player full mobility as speed is everything in football, while also offering the requisite protection to the thighs. After all the thighs are often the area targeted by defenders when trying to bring down a speedy running back or escaping wide receiver.

Knee Pads

If it wasn’t already clear, football is a very physical sport. Like the thigh pads described above, knee pads offer protection to an area that can often be targeted by defenders or is the first place to make an impact when players are brought down by their opponents. All too often we see ACL-related injuries occur in football, bringing an end to the campaigns of many players at critical moments. Interestingly, knee pads are also used to help reduce the wear and tear on the joint itself as they can assist with support during erratic movements.


It may sound strange, but pants in football are an absolutely critical part of a player’s list of equipment. The wrong pair of pants can make or break a player’s ability to perform if they don’t offer the right amount of ventilation and flexibility. Consider for a moment that they must be tight enough to hold pads in place, while loose enough to give a free range of motion. Incidentally, there are some versions of pants today that come with pads already stitched into them, while others are fitted with pockets or snap attachments to allow for pads to be locked in place.


Given what football requires of the athletes who play it, one can imagine that having the right cleats is paramount and this is regardless of what level of the game one is playing. Apart from traction and weight, there is also the sole plate itself which offers the player a base from which to operate. In football, speed is everything and the cleats players wear are the place where that all begins. Being able to sprint, pivot, jump, and change direction on a dime comes down to having the right footwear. Today, there are of course many companies that manufacture cleats, meaning it’s all about finding the right ones for you.