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This paper studies the elastic contact in filaments induced by surface adhesion, which plays an important role in the mechanical response of fibrous materials (e.g., fiber friction, sliding, compression hysteresis, etc.). During the process, a simple 3D elastic contact model was proposed. The filaments were assumed to be uniform, smooth elastic cylinders, and the adhesive force between filaments in contact was estimated according to Bradley’s approach (Bradley 1932 Phil. Mag. 13 853) that relies on the filament configurations before deformation. Under the action of fiber surface adhesion, the elastic deformation and the size of the contact zone were determined in closed-form based on the DMT theory (Derjaguin et al. 1975 J. Colloid Interface Sci. 53 314). Effects of filament radius and orientation, surface energies and elasticity on the elastic deformation and the size of the contact zone were explored numerically. The model developed in this work can be used for the study of the mechanisms of filament contacts, friction, sliding and compression hysteresis in fibrous materials subjected to external loading.