Carotid angioplasty and stenting (CAS) is rapidly becoming an acceptable alternative to carotid endarterectomy in many patients. Much of the success of CAS is credited to advances in equipment dedicated to this minimally invasive approach. Lower profile delivery systems, tapered stent designs and most importantly, development of mechanical cerebral embolic protection devices (EPDs) have contributed to a reduction in periprocedural neurological complications that now rival results of carotid endarterectomy. Despite a lack of level one evidence in support of EPDs, a meta-analysis as well as two recent institutional reports of CAS with and without EPDs suggest a reduced stroke risk when a mechanical protection device is incorporated as part of the procedure. Since the original description by Theron and colleagues, embolic protection systems are markedly improved in ease of use and effectiveness. The three primary groups of EPDs are distal balloon occlusion, distal filtration and proximal occlusion. Although the ideal EPD has yet to materialize, this review provides insight into current design systems and the accompanying strengths and weaknesses of each.