If you play ice hockey or lacrosse, then you’re no stranger to protective clothing or pads. Soccer players wear shin guards and squash players goggles, it’s just standard equipment. Even so, wearing protective padding is traditionally not worn in basketball, it’s a “non contact” sport. In reality, lots of contact happens both deep under the basket and out on the perimeter. Mostly it’s just a few bumps and pushes, and occasionally a hard full speed collision. As the level of play increases the force, number and frequency of contact increases. Top players actually seek out opposing player bodies and use the contact to their advantage.

Personally I’m regularly subjected to thigh bruises. Every year, I’d estimate that I get one of these bad boys at least three times a year. Typically this injury occurs when a defensive player sticks out their leg to prevent me from flying by them, or when I do the same. Damage can vary… a little one hurts and only slows me down a bit, a bad one features a multicolored bruise and at least a weeks RICE.

To find the best protective basketball shorts I tested four different products. I tested the best products of Under Armour, Nike, Adidas and the McDavid over an entire year. All these products aim to protect three basic areas: The upper thighs, upper hips and the tail bone. As I’m playing at least three times a week, I simply put them into a rotation and they all get a good workout, wash and evaluation.

An important part of this test was to determine the effectiveness of the various padding systems. As a base case I needed to scientifically test the effect of a knee being driven into a thigh. An obvious solution would be to ask a few of my friends to knee me repeatedly in the area. Although my buddies would welcome to chance to do this, this approach was deemed to be hazardous with the male anatomy sharing the same design philosophy as the Death Star. In the end, the best and most scientific way that I could come up with was to simulate hits using a big rubber hammer. With a padded leg from each of the products I tested each short against the other using increasingly heavy blows. I was then able to evaluated the protection of each short against the other and rank their protection.

Here are the results.

Nike”Pro Combat” 

The first thing I noticed with the Nike “Pro Combat” short was that they are very light. Made from a 84% polyester/16% spandex material called Dri-FIT®, this super thin and breathable fabric claims to wick away moisture to keep you dry. This short protects significantly more of the upper leg area than the others. The other products are designed to protect the front of the leg, with  perhaps, 120 degrees of protection around the front of the leg. The Nike “Pro Combat” protects this front area but also the side and back area, approximately 200 degrees of protection. The padding itself provides protection comparable to the McDavid, perhaps a bit harder and less forgiving but very flexible.

The quality and attention to details are apparent. This is very comfortable short as extra attention has been made to make the seams as flat and small as possible.

I must admit to having some uncertainly as to how well these shorts would survive over a year hard service. They looked delicate and they felt soft and thin. So I’m delighted to report that these shorts look and work as good as new after the years schedule of runs. Only the painted Swoosh shows signs of wear.

McDavid “757 Thudd Padd” 

This is great product. It’s made of a high quality 80% nylon and 20% spandex fabric with double stitched HexPads® enclosed from the backside. The short protects all the target areas adequately and is of solid construction. This is what Dwayne Wade had been using for years and the most popular compression short in the locker room.

What makes this short special is the HexPad® technology, specifically the Dual Density Hexpad®. These pads have two notable properties. One they are super flexible. The pad seems to flow in all directions like a piece of cloth, and two, they have a two phase compression profile. The Dual Density construction allows the pads to initially protect with a softer resistance that increases with the pressure. This is special technology.

The quality built short has taken a beating on the court and in my washing machine and after a year’s testing shows little signs of wear. The McDavid short looks and works as good as new.

Under Armour “MPZ Protector” 

This short with it’s multicolor integrated padding looks a super hero costume. A mesh fabric covers the pads and attaches to the 82% polyester/18% spandex short. Compared to the other shorts tested, this short protects a smallest area, while weighing the most. The pads are stiff but flexible enough as they are shaped and formed around the areas protected.

Over the year, the Under Armour shorts began to show their age. Little rips in the material became tears and then holes appeared in the soft material used for the groin area. The short still does it’s job, it just doesn’t look very nice.

Adidas “TechFit” 

This is not the latest version of the padded short from Adidas, the most recent version is called the “Padded Graphic”. We’ll see what we can do to get one for testing shortly. The “Tech Fit” looks pretty good, with a similar design as the McDavid and Nike short. It’s made of a 77% polyester/23% elastane material. They appear to be thin, sleek and silky semi padded underwear. The padding is approximately half as thin as the other shorts compared in this report and subsequently offer the least cushion and impact protection.

In two months time a major flaw appeared. The waistband on this short lost its elasticity and had a tendency to slip down like old underwear. It is way too thin. Over the few months it also began to fall apart at the seams. This was quickly relegated to the bottom of the rotation, on to the bench and then to the garbage bin.

Cost Comfort Ease of Use Looks Quality Effectiveness Overall


“Pro Combat”









“Thudd Padd”








Under Armor



















The Nike “Pro Combat” Padded Shorts came out on top in this report for two main reasons. Extended protection coverage and the overall quality and comfort. The Nike design wraps the upper thigh with padding while managing to fit perfectly and feel fantastic. Built with super high quality materials there is a measurable difference in comfort. The differences can be found in the details; seams, materials and design. They are all done supremely better when compared side by side to the others products tested. The McDavid short comes a close second with their advanced padding system and high quality construction. It just doesn’t fit as comfortably as the “Pro Combat” short despite the impressive padding technology. I’m not sure if the McDavid advanced padding system protects better, but I’m sure that the Nike shorts protects more area.

The results of the padding effectiveness test using the rubber hammer were clear. Getting hit in a padded area provided good protection and getting hit in an open area could be painful. So coverage area has been deemed important in this review. That being determined, I subjected each of the padding systems, (and myself) to increasing strong blows of the impact simulating hammer. They all protected and distributed the force of the blows effectively, with the McDavid protecting marginally better than the others and the Adidas significantly less.

All the shorts were exposed to regular wear, dirty laundry piles and the terror of the washing machine. This test was carried out over and entire year, and this proved critical for one of the shorts tested. In the first four months the extended test conditions quickly exposed the dainty Adidas shorts as fashion junk. Early multiple failures appeared, expanded and the rendered the product useless. After one year the Under Armor short is tattered and damaged but remains serviceable. The solid quality of the McDavid Thudd Pad short is obvious as it continues to work and look great after an entire year. What was surprising was the deceptively strong and sturdy construction of the delicate looking Nike shorts. They continue to work and look like new.

Over the year I didn’t get a injured in any of the areas protected by these padded shorts. I’ve been hit hard in the padded areas and protected from injury. Perhaps more importantly is the confidence that goes with this sort of protection. I’ve found that I’m less worried about getting injured and can play with “reckless abandon”. Get protected and pick up a pair of Nike “Pro Combat” shorts.


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