Essential for just about any playthrough, it's well worth keeping track of the best Light Armor, Heavy Armor, and Shields in Skyrim.
Generally, your armor of choice will be dependent on your playstyle. Classes which require a decent ability to sneak past enemies, and swiftly escape oncoming attackers will benefit from Light Armor. Those who expect to be getting up close and personal, taking plenty of hits but caring less for the stealthy approach will prefer Heavy Armor.
Shields, meanwhile, work as an option for those who prefer Light Armor's benefits, but still want to fight in open melee combat, and thus help to boost the defensive stats of Light Armor wearers, whilst being a tad superfluous for those already wearing a Heavy set.
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What you need to know about Armor and Shields in Skyrim
Before we dive into the specifics of the best sets and individual pieces of kit, there are a couple points to bear in mind:
- If you're looking to craft or enchant your armor, be sure to check out our detailed guide to power-levelling Smithing and Enchanting skills to hit that level cap and craft the best gear in the game as quickly as possible.
- Whilst still an important factor for affecting movement speed, weight is generally less crucial for armor as it is for weaponry, particularly with the weight-removing Perks for the Light and Heavy armor skill trees unlocked. Generally, our rankings are based on the defenses provided, with weight a secondary factor.
- We've ordered the below by full set stats, rather than individual stats, with items that don't belong to a specific set being included in a separate list. Occasionally one item of a set might rank higher than another for defense, but we're only considering items from a set as part of that overall group.
- Unique sets are marked with an asterisk *, whereby we'll note where to find them. All other sets can be acquired through the standard measures of crafting or random loot in the wild.
- When the "Upgraded With" colum contains "N/A" for the required perk, this means that you must boost your Smithing Skill over 100 with potions of Fortify Smithing in order to improve the item beyond Flawless quality. If no upgrade material is noted however, (e.g. for the Masque of Clavicus Vile) then the item cannot be improved at all, regardless of Smithing skill boosts and Perks.
The best Heavy Armor sets in Skyrim ranked
Heavy Armor is your go-to for duel-wielding berserkers, two-handed tanks, and even battlemages who prefer to avoid the Alteration school's Stoneflesh and Ironflesh spells.
Below, we've ranked the best Heavy Armor sets in Skyrim, taking into account not only total defenses but also the sets' weight and their various enchantments and effects.
- Defense and weight values given below are without the shield, as with Heavy Armor you'll rarely be using a shield too.
- Ebony Armor below is listed with the alternative unique Cuirass, Ebony Mail. The Ebony Mail is acquired from the Daedric quest Boethiah's Calling, by looting the body of the Champion of Boethiah. Note that only this part of the standard Ebony Armor set carries the enchantments noted below.
|Armor Set||Total Defense||Weight||Upgrade with||Effect||Enchantable|
|Daedric Armor||108||96||Ebony Ingot, Daedric Smithing||None||Yes|
|Stalhrim Armor||102||59||Stalhrim, Ebony Smithing||25% stronger Resist Frost enchantments||Yes|
|Dragonplate Armor||102||64||Dragon Bone, Dragon Armor||None||Yes|
|Ebony Armor*||96||62||Ebony Ingot, Ebony Smithing||5 Poison damage per second to nearby enemies, Muffle - Ebony Mail part only||Yes, excluding Ebony Mail|
|Falmer Heavy Armor||96||55||Chaurus Chitin, Advanced Armors||None||Yes|
The best Light Armor sets in Skyrim ranked
As we've mentioned, Light Armor functions best for sword 'n' shield players, archers, and stealthy players. That being said, the addition of Deathbrand Armor in the Dragonborn DLC has introduced the 'Deathbrand' playstyle for Light Armor wearers, meaning duel-wielding is finally a very valid option without requiring Heavy Armor for protection.
- Deathbrand Armor is arguably the best armor in the game - certainly if you don't have max-level Smithing and Enchanting skills. It can be found one piece at a time as part of the "Deathbrand" Dragonborn quest.
- Guild Masters Armor is granted when you become the head of the Thieves Guild, during the quest "Under New Management".
- Nightingale Armor is acquired during the Thieves Guild quest "Trinity Restored".
|Armor Set||Total Defense||Weight||Upgrade with||Effect||Enchantable|
|Deathbrand Armor*||78.5||13||Stalhrim, Ebony Smithing||+100 Armor when full set worn; +15 Stamina (cuirass) and +10 Carrying Capacity (boots) for each Deathbrand item worn; Waterbreathing (Helmet); +10% damage from one-handed attacks for each Deathbrand item worn when dueal-wielding (gauntlets)||No|
|Ancient Shrouded Armor||72||7.5||Leather, N/A||+25 Armor when full set worn; Immune to Poison (cuirass); Muffle (boots); +35% Bow damage (cowl); 2x Sneak attack damage from one-handed weapons (gloves)||No|
|Dragonscale Armor||82 (111 with shield)||20 (26 with shield)||Dragon Sclaes, Dragon Armor||None||Yes|
|Guild Master's Armor*||76||17||Leather, N/A||+50 Carrying capacity (cuirass); +35% Pickpocket success (boots); +35% Lockpicking (gloves); 20% better prices (hood)||No|
|Nightingale Armor*||69||18||Void Salts, N/A||+25 Armor when full set worn; +20 Stamina, +15% Resist Frost (cuirass); Muffle (boots); 15% Lockpicking, +15% One-handed damage (gloves); -12% Illusion spell cost (hood)||No|
The best Shields in Skyrim
Shields are an entirely optional choice, and only suited to one-handed combatants, particularly those with Light Armor sets, or high-difficulty playthroughs. A couple points to note:
- Spellbreaker is acquired by completing the Daedric quest "The Only Cure".
- Auriel's Shield is acquired by killing the Falmer Warmonger inside the Forgotten Vale Forest location within the Forgotten Vale, in the Dawnguard questline.
- The Shield of Solitude is acquired by completing the quest "The Wolf Queen Awakened"
- The Shield of Ysgramor is acquired from the final chest in Ysgramor's Tomb, as part of the Companions quest "Glory of the Dead".
- The Dawnguard Rune Shield is acquired from the radient Dawnguard quest "Lost Relic".
- The Aetherial Shield is acquired from crafting it at the Aetherium Forge as part of the quest "Lost to the Ages"
|Spellbreaker*||38||12||Dwarven Metal Ingot, N/A||Wards, protecting you from 50 Magic damage whilst blocking|
|Auriel's Shield*||32||14||Refined Moonstone, Elven Smithing||Stores the energy of blocked attacks, releases the energy when power bashing|
|Shield of Solitude*||32||12||N/A||+30% Magic resist, +35% damage blocked|
|Shield of Ysgramor*||30||12||N/A||+20% Magic resist, +20 Health|
|Dawnguard Rune Shield*||27||6||Steel Ingot, Advanced Armors||+10 Bash damage vs Vampires, blocking for a period of time creates a sun shield, causing 10 damage to nearby enemies|
|Aetherial Shield*||26||12||Dwarven Metal Ingot, N/A||Bashing enemies causes thm to become ethereal for 15 seconds, and thus unable to attack or be attacked|
Want more help with Skyrim? Find out how to join every guild and faction, how to earn Gold fast, learning about XP and levelling to 100, max Crafting skills, max Warrior skills, max Thief skills and max Mage skills, how to get married, where to buy a house, how to start Dawnguard, Hearthfire and Dragonborn DLC expansions. If you're on PC, we have a list of console commands and cheats, and you can learn about the remastered version and how to install mods with our Skyrim guide. Finally, with Switch owners, we have Skyrim amiibo support explained to help unlock special Zelda-themed items.
The best individual armor pieces in Skyrim
Funnily enough, because we've included the Ebony Mail in our Ebony Armor Set, all of the best unique, individual armor pieces are headwear of one kind or another, functioning in the same way as helmets. A couple points to bear in mind:
- All of the Dragon Piest Masks below (everything except the Masque of Clavicus Vile and the Helm of Yngol) are available from looting the Dragon Priests of the same name as the mask in question.
- The Masque of Clavicus Vile is acquired through the Daedric Quest "A Daedra's Best Friend", but only if you refrain from killing Barbas.
- The Helm of Yngol is acquired from Yngol's skeleton in Yngol Barrow after defeating Yngol's Shade. It's significant due to the Frost Resistance spell, which is one of the only ones available on headgear in the game.
|Name||Piece||Armor Type||Defense||Weight||Upgrade with||Effect|
|Konahrik*||Mask||Heavy||24||7||Gold Ingot, Daedric Smithing||Randomly summons a Dragon Priest; chance to knock back enemies, heal you and nearby allies, and grant a fire cloak when on low health|
|Hevnoraak*||Mask||Heavy||23||9||Iron Ingot, Daedric Smithing||Immune to disease and poison|
|Otar*||Mask||Heavy||23||9||Refined Malachite, Daedric Smithing||30% Resist Fire, Frost, and Shock|
|Masque of Clavicus Vile*||Mask||Heavy||23||7||N/A||20% better prices, +10 Speech, +5% Magicka regen|
|Nakriin*||Mask||Heavy||23||9||Ebony Ingont, Daedric Smithing||+50 Magicka, Destruction and Restoration spells cost 20% less|
|Rahgot*||Mask||Heavy||23||9||Orichalcum Ingont, Daedric Smithing||Fortify Stamina 70 points|
|Vokun*||Mask||Heavy||23||9||Steel Ingot, Daedric Smithing||Conjuration, Illusion and Alteration spells cost 20% less|
|Helm of Yngol*||Helmet||Heavy||21||8||Steel Ingot, Advanced Smithing||30% Frost Resistance|
|Krosis*||Mask||Light||21||5||Iron Ingot, Daedric Smithing||Lockpicking, Alchemy and Archery 20% better|
|Volsung*||Mask||Light||21||5||Corundum Ingot, Daedric Smithing||Prices 20% better +20 Carry Capacity, Waterbreathing|