If you look around on the ski slopes today, you can observe a pleasant change: In contrast to the past, you will hardly notice any skier or snowboarder without a helmet. Nearly 90 percent of all skiers wear the essential head protection on the slopes. The awareness of protection and the right equipment increases in many outdoor activities, also in free riding and ski touring.
Just a bit more than 10 percent of winter athletes wear a back protector. But in addition to a helmet, a protector should be standard equipment for every skier and snowboarder. Because with more than 15 percent, spine and breast injuries are the most common injuries on ski slopes – mostly caused by violent clashes. Even serious spinal cord injuries and damage that has a long healing process or remains incurable can be the result of skiing accidents without a protector.
Therefore, it makes sense to focus on avoiding such spinal injuries and properly protecting our backs! Here’s what you’ll find out about back protectors:
- What functions does a back protection have?
- What are the materials used to make a back protection?
- How do you find a good back protection?
- The right comfortable fit
- Types of protectors
- Protectors for kids
- Care and lifecycle of protectors
WHAT FUNCTIONS DOES A BACK PROTECTION HAVE?
- In case of an impact, a collision or a fall, the back protection prevents from any upper body injury. The force during the impact is spread over the area of the whole protector; therefore, the resulting force is dampened.
- The back protection has an effective hard surface, which prevents pointy objects to get through it such as branches, stones or sticks.
- It also serves as a stabilization for your spinal cord.
WHAT ARE THE MATERIALS USED TO MAKE A BACK PROTECTION?
The materials used in the protection are differentiated by the type of the protection such as hard or soft shell.
At the soft shell back armor, materials need to be flexible and light. They are mostly made out of plastic foams such as Polyurethane (PU) or Ethylene-vinyl acetate (EVA), which are laid into different layers, in order to make it even lighter. The viscoelastic foam materials suit well to the back, because when it gets warm by the body temperature, it becomes adaptable to the shape of the back. After you take it off, the back protector returns into its original shape. This also happens when you fall and the foam materials dampen the impact energy and they harden their structure for a short time. In addition, the protector regains its initial shape; therefore, it is able to absorb more impacts but still regain its original structure and remain protective. This is typical for high-quality armors, but some back protection has to be replaced after just one hard fall, such as those made out of polyester.
In a case of a light fall or minimal impact the material stays soft and dampens the fall gently. On the other hand, if you have a hard crash, the material hardens, in order to absorb the energy and spread it over a bigger area. If the skier or a snowboarder falls on the snow or on flatter ski slope then this softer back protection suits well.
The hard shell protection systems are made out of harder and less flexible plastics such as (Polypropylen (PP) or Polycarbonate (PC)). As a result, the energy at the impact cannot be absorbed so smoothly and it hardly dampens the collision. The back protection, with the soft cushioning foam on the inside and a hard shell protection from the outside, has a high penetration resistance and protects you against pointed objects such as sharp stones and branches.
Naturally is the hard shell protector heavier than a soft protector, because of harder materials used. In addition to reduce weight, the hard plastic plate is divided into several small plates, in order to enabling a best air exchange.
Air exchange ©Komperdell
HOW DO YOU FIND A GOOD BACK PROTECTION?
Apart from personal view, such as good fit, design and comfortable wearing ability, you should make sure that the back protection has a proof of test mark and certification according to the European Standard EN 1621-2, which is primarily for motorcycle back protectors, but was taken into ski sports and is valid from July 2014. During the test, the protector is subjected to shock impact absorption. After the test, the force which reaches the human body, despite of the protector, is measured. In fact, the smaller the value is, the better the protection of your back will be.
The norms divides two levels of protection:
Protection level 1: In case of five impacts on the protectors, the average value cannot be more than 18kN and no single strike can exceed the value of 24kN.
Protection level 2: The residual force should not exceed the value of 9kN on average and a single impact must not be higher than 12kN.
In addition, protectors should be temperature and moisture resistant. Furthermore, the five strokes must lie in a cross-shaped, so called minimal-protection zone, which is specified by every manufacturer. Continuous surfaces are very important for protectors so that the force of impact is spread equally.
THE RIGHT COMFORTABLE FIT
It is of high importance when buying a protector, to pay attention to the fit, because only when the protector suit your back well, it can protect you from spinal and chest injuries properly. In case of a fall with a protector, which is too big, your cervical spine can be severely damaged. Therefore it is important to take time for the purchase and pay attention to several things:
- The back protection should cover the area from cervical vertebra to coccyx, so called tailbone. The protected parts are lumbar spine, thoracic spine and lower cervical spine. In ideal case the protection also covers shoulder blades.
- The size of your normal clothing can be a good indicator when choosing the size of your protector, but in this case the back length is much more important. Both size should be measured by a salesman in order to find a perfect a size.
- Most of the protectors are worn directly on the ski underwear. It is also a good idea to wear your ski clothes when trying out the protector. As a result, you will know for sure that the protector fits under your ski jacket. Furthermore, some protectors can also serve as a 2nd layer clothing, as has a tight fit and is made out of functional material. For example, the protector specifically used for tailbone protection need to fit into your skiing pants.
- Naturally there are different models for women and men, as both have different body characteristics. Women specific features would be a narrower waist belt or pre-formed shoulder straps.
- The fit of the protector should have a tight and close body fit, but it cannot restrict the movement at any point and straps must not cut at any point. This properties can be easily checked when you move your arms at all directions and turn your torso. Caution: An improper fit of the protector can result in ineffective usage and a correct protection cannot be guaranteed!
- A silicone band and inner soft strap prevent the back protector from sliding upwards.
- The protector is too long when it is pushed upwards by sitting down or when you riding downhill.
- If you decide for a light weight protector, you will not regret your decision, because of less effort on skies and as long as it fulfills all necessary standards.
- Material: The protector should be made out of highly breathable and anti-bacterial materials. Furthermore, a air ventilation system which would enable the sweat to evaporate is more than welcomed, but be careful, so that you don’t feel too cold, neither too warm while wearing it.
TYPES OF PROTECTORS
The protectors with a buckling are mostly a hard shell protectors and the straps, mostly situated on shoulders and kidneys, can be adjusted to have the right fit. At first, when you put the protector on, you tighten the kidney strap and then the shoulder strap. This type of protector mostly has a good ventilation; therefore, it does not have to be washed very often, but they are a bit more likely to slip from the back.
The protection vests are usually soft shell and have a different feeling than for example the buckling protectors. In order to ensure the freedom of movement and respiratory activity, manufacturers are using anti-bacterial, temperature regulating and quick-drying flexible materials. Additionally, you can leave one layer of clothing at home, because the tight fit offers a good heating function. For washing, you can just remove the protecting material and put it into washing machine. Additionally, strap on the kidney and silicon bands prevent the protector from slipping. For example; Scott offers protectors with a two-way adjustable waist belt, which allows more comfort and prevent from any space between back and protector. A further advantage of the vest or a jacket is that you can extend it to the all-round protection such as elbows or chest. Additionally, Power Pro Line from Body Glove offers a protection in the back, neck area as well as soft tissues of the lower thoracic area.
Scott have developed a very thin D3O construction, which has a hyper damping technology that softens an especially violent impacts. Protectors with D3O technology are thin and can be worn under a backpack without any restrictions. On the other hand, Body Glove is using a Bioflex Technology, which ensures that you hardly feel the energy absorption during a crash.
The third option in back protectors is to connect the backpack with the function of back protection. In Sport Conrad online shop, you can find a selection of backpacks from Ortovox, which have this integrated function. The protector can be removed and used separately when you do not need a backpack. This integrated function protects from the outside impacts as well as from the backpack contents. These backpacks with a protection feature are very popular among freeriders and ski tourers.
PROTECTORS FOR KIDS
Especially by the children, the spine cord protection is of a great importance. As a matter of fact, it should be taken care of to ensure a right fit for the child and to renew the protector after every major fall or impact. A protector, which is either too small or too big, can cause a great risk of injury and lack of protection, so it basically losses its main function. Komperdell, from many manufacturers making protection for kids, offers back protection for children with 360° round protection in sizes from 116 – 152, thus enabling a clear transition to adult models after last size.
CARE AND LIFECYCLE OF PROTECTORS
Since everyone is sweating at some point in the protector, you should take care of the regular washing. In case of some manufacturers, you need to remove the protection surface before you can wash it. Otherwise, most of the protectors can be washed in a washing machine on 30 degrees Celsius.
When the protector has suffered from a hard hit after a collision or a fall and has defects such as cracks and broken parts, it should be replaced by a new one. Additionally, you should replace the protector usually after 5 years, even if you did not have a hard fall, because the materials are losing their properties after longer period of time.
Even if the protector cannot save you from all possible injuries such as twisting your spinal cord or dislocation, in most cases it prevents much worse consequences. Wearing a back protection gives you feeling of safety and you can perhaps enjoy the downhill even more not worrying about your /safety. At the end, we can hope to see back protectors as often as helmets on the ski slopes.
Photo Header: Dainese/©RobertoBragotto