Choosing Skyrim armor isn't easy. If you’re after the best Skyrim armor you’ll likely find all kinds of trinkets and treasures as you plunder the seemingly bottomless depths of dwarven dungeons and mysterious mausoleums. However, although the spoils of exploration in Elder Scrolls Skyrim are often rare and powerful, you’ll need to put in a bit more legwork if you truly want to don the best Skyrim armor.
Which Skyrim armor sets are the best?
It’s well-known that the best armor in Skyrim, in terms of base armor rating, is Dragon armor. There are two types of Dragon armor - Dragonplate and Dragonscale - which correspond to the two kinds of armor in the game: Heavy and Light. Dragon armor has the highest defense value, but other worthwhile armor sets are Daedric, Ebony, and Glass, all of which you’ll be able to craft yourself once your Smithing is sufficiently levelled up.
To be honest, I always wear Daedric armor because I think it looks the coolest, plus its values are so close to the Dragon sets that the difference is almost negligible. Once you start to experiment with the most valuable sets in the game, choosing your armor becomes more a matter of preference than anything else.
Choosing the best Skyrim armor for your playstyle
However, before deciding what the best Skyrim armor is for you, you’ll need to commit to a playstyle. Are you an assassin-type, silently scouring the dimly-lit oubliettes buried far beneath dubious embassies? Or are you the kind of person to leap headfirst into the fray, wielding a walloping warhammer with wicked wisdom? If you tend to lean towards the former, you’ll want light armor, which will make your sneaking more effective and your stamina more manageable. However, if you see yourself as the latter, you’ll want to charge into battle wearing the most elephantine hunks of metal you can find.
The one outlier in this situation is mages. Although combat with swords, axes, warhammers, maces, shields, daggers, and bows is well-suited to standard armor, magic is a different kettle of fish. If you want to run a Battlemage set, perhaps wielding a sword in one hand and ferocious firebolts in the other, you can enchant it for buffs to Magicka regeneration and spell costs. However, a lot of mages simply wear robes, which aren’t the most protective clothing in the world, but have some incredible enchantment potential. In fact, the Archmage’s Robes, which you’re awarded after completing the College of Winterhold storyline, are kitted out with fantastic enchantments. Even on the hardest difficulty, wearing these with the right ensemble of buffed bling can make even the most vulnerable mages devastatingly powerful.
Despite how valuable these particular robes are, armor gained from completing quests isn’t always inherently good. As a rule of thumb, most of the pre-enchanted armor pieces you find are strong, but far from the best. This is because of a perk called “Arcane Blacksmith,“ which you can unlock once your Smithing reaches level 60. With Arcane Blacksmith, you can upgrade magical weapons and armor at a grindstone and workbench, respectively. As a result, you can drastically improve your armor rating while simultaneously retaining the fortifications afforded to you by your enchantments.
How to craft the best Skyrim armor
Smithing is quite an easy perk to level up, so reaching level 60 won’t take long at all. If you craft daggers in Whiterun and enchant them at the Enchanting Table in Dragonsreach, you can sell them for more than you spent on the materials, which enables you to turn a profit while effectively grinding Smithing and Enchanting. Once your enchanting hits level 100, you can actually place two enchantments on any piece of armor and weaponry you want, provided it’s currently disenchanted. If you’ve spent skill points getting enchanting perks, such as the ones that increase the buffs you’re placing on your weapons, you can reap massive benefits from wearing a full suit of enchanted armor. Perhaps you’ll have an extra 100 points of carry weight, or maybe your Magicka will regenerate 50% faster. Either way, two weapons and a full set of armor, as well as a ring and a necklace, gives you access to a whopping 16 enchantments. If you used Greater, Grand, or Black Soul gems and have your Enchanting skill tree maxed out, even an Iron helmet could be worth more than a Daedric breastplate.
So in order to get the best armor in Skyrim, you need to craft it yourself. First you need to check what materials you’ll need; for example, an Iron dagger only requires an iron ingot and some leather strips, whereas you’ll need three dragon scales, two dragon bones, and three pairs of leather strips to craft a Dragonplate breastplate.
For ingots, you’ll need to buy them or smelt ore in a Smelter. These are scattered all across Skyrim, but perhaps the most accessible one is outside Warmaiden’s in Whiterun. Once you’ve got ingots, you can buy leather strips from any blacksmith, as well as fletchers, general stores, and random merchants. For most armor sets, leather strips and ingots are all you’ll need, but for the late-game variants, you’ll often have to jump through some extra hoops to net yourself a full set. For Daedric armor, you’ll need Daedra hearts, which you can buy from an alchemist or get after defeating a Daedra, whereas for Dragon armor you’ll need to take down several colossal dragons.
Enchanting your Skyrim armor
Once you’ve smithed yourself a set you’re happy with, taking it to an enchanting table and applying a plethora of buffs to it can really turn it into something special. Because you’ll have chosen your set based on your own playstyle, you can apply buffs that correspond to that. Maybe you want to benefit from increased Stamina, or perhaps you want to make yourself resistant to fire and frost. Either way, once you’ve enchanted your set, you’ll essentially have a customized build that’s even better than the likes of Nightingale Armor and Thieves’ Guild Armor - and that’s before you upgrade it at the workbench! Thanks to the aforementioned Arcane Enchanter, you can upgrade all of your armor until its labeled “Exquisite,” at which point it will have its highest possible defense rating.
So if you want the best armor, smith it yourself and work your magic on it. Afterwards, head back to the forge and reinforce it at the workbench. By the time you’re finished, you’ll be walking around Skyrim like the Dragonborn should be - kitted out in magical armor crafted with demon hearts and dragon scales.