The common padloper is a small, rather flat tortoise. Its shell usually has varied colouration, ranging between olive-green and brown. The shields of the carapace are flat, with large raised areolae, and a thin black edging.
Like its larger relative, the greater padloper, and unlike the other padlopers, it has only four toes on its front feet, as well as its hind feet. The average length is 110mm, though females are larger than males. Their adult weight ranges from 140-300 g. It has a sharp, distinctly hooked beak.
Orange-brown male, showing the larger, pointed head and beak
The males are smaller than the females, and can be distinguished by their slightly longer tails and their distinctive heads. Males have larger heads, with a larger beak and a more pointy snout. The noses of dominant males also become bright orange or red in the breeding season.
In colour, males are frequently uniformly orange to light brown (compared to the deeper olive brown of the females). Males also have more lightly coloured bellies, though they do not exhibit the plastral concavity that many other tortoise species do.