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For some mountain bikers brandish the scars they carry on their knees and shins as a source of pride - they wear these badges of past exploits and crashes proudly. The rest of us? We like our skin and wear protective knee pads. Not only do knee pads protect against errant pedal strikes and trailside brush, but they also provide important insurance in bigger crashes, as well as helping keep your knees warm on cold days. But there are a huge range of bike-specific knee pads on the market today, with an overwhelming number of options. We help you find the right style and fit of kneepads for you and the trails you like to ride.Cross Country & Lightweight Mountain Bike Knee PadsWhile cross country riders might not be hitting the same big jumps and drops of some other disciplines, they’re still traveling fast through rocks and trees, and the consequences of slamming a knee are just as dire. For most XC riders, a low-profile foam or D30 mtb knee pads, without straps, is the way to go. This style of pad will be unobtrusive until they need it. They pedal well, don’t get in the way, and offer some protection. The key is finding a pad that you can wear all day, both up and downhill.Knee Pads By Riding TypeThere’s a knee pad for every kind of mountain biker, and there are a lot of different kinds of mountain bikers. Kneepads can benefit everyone from hardcore cross country racers, to shuttle-only gravity riders. So to find the best mtb knee padsfor you, it’s helpful to figure out when you’re going to be wearing it, to help determine what you need it to do. Here’s our breakdown of the most common mountain bike disciplines, and what features to look for in a knee pad for each.Trail Mountain Bike Knee PadsThe definition of “trail” is a broad spectrum that represents a lot of different takes on mountain biking. So it’s a good idea to establish where in that spectrum you sit. Then look for a low profile foam or D30 pad that fits well, breathes well, and doesn’t rub. If your “trail” riding falls closer to the “I don’t race enduros but they look really fun” side of the spectrum, it’s not a bad idea to go with something a little beefier. There are plenty of pads out there that split this difference, they feature a little extra padding over minimal style pads, and a plastic shell, but are still low profile, and comfortable to pedal in, without going the full hot and heavy gravity pad route.Downhill / Freeride Mountain Bike Knee PadsFinally, for pure gravity riders, your mountain bike knee pads needs are simple. It’s all about protection. If you’re riding lifts or shuttling, it’s not very important to have a pad that pedals well, instead you’re looking for something that will stay put and keep you safe through high-speed crashes. It’s all about coverage. Look for something with good shin and knee coverage and a plastic shell that fits you well.Enduro Mountain Bike Knee PadsWhile Enduro was originally just a race format, it’s evolved into a whole style of riding. If you put up with the uphills in order to savour the rowdiest downs you can pedal to, these are the pads for you. For enduro riders, protection, and ease of changing out the pads trumps everything else. It’s not really that important that the pad pedal that well, you can always just take them off and put them in your pack for longer transfers, or just push them down around your ankles for shorter pedaling stints. So look for a pad with good protection, and a hard shell. It should also have protection around the inside of the knees to protect them from frame strikes. And then make sure it’s easy to get on and off without taking your riding shoes off. That will make it much easier to change into and out of the pad between stages and transfers.Mountain Bike Knee Pad FitFit is the most important part of buying bike kneepads. Poorly fitting pads will be uncomfortable, won’t stay in place, and won’t protect you as well. And while you may be used to just buying a “Large” in everything, cycling knee pads have more specific fit requirements. So, before you even start shopping, it’s a good idea to measure your legs to get a feel for what size you should be looking at.You’ll need to take two measurements, and a friend with a fabric measuring tape makes this process much easier. First, measure the diameter of your lower thigh, about three or four inches above the top of your knee. Wrap the measuring tape snugly, but not too tight around the thigh, and write down that dimension. Then do the same for your calf, an inch or two above the thickest part. These two measurements are key to finding the right size sports knee pads.Every knee pads manufacturer uses a different sizing convention for their pads, so even though your numbers line up with a “Medium” in one brand, don’t just assume that you’re a medium in every brand. Instead check their recommended thigh and calf measurements for each size. Each kneepad brand will have its own sizing chart that corresponds to those two measurements.With those measurements in hand, you are much more likely to find a pair of knee pads that fit. However, it’s still not a bad idea to try a few pairs on to get a feel for how snug of a fit you like.Mountain Bike Knee Pad Materials & TechnologiesThere are a few different materials knee pads can use to protect you, and they all perform differently, so it’s important to know what you’re looking for.Engineered FoamMost bicycle knee pads use some sort of foam, either on its own, or in conjunction with a hard shell. It’s light, it breathes well, and it provides decent protection against smaller impacts. However, without a hard shell, it doesn’t offer much protection against bigger impacts into sharp objects. So it’s best used in conjunction with a hard shell, or on lower impact areas, like inside the knees.D30 / Non-Newtonian MaterialsD30 foam, and similar materials, combine the best attributes of hard shell, and soft foam knee pads. These materials stay soft and flexible while you’re pedalling, but harden instantly on impact. So you can have the ease of motion, low weight, and breathability of a foam knee pad, with much of the impact protection of a hard shell pad. These are a great compromise for many riders, but they aren’t quite as invisible feeling as a lightweight foam pad, and don’t offer quite as much protection as a full hardshell pad.Plastic ShellMost knee pads designed for gravity or enduro riding feature some sort of plastic shell over a foam padding. The shell helps protect against bigger impacts, but it doesn’t breathe as well, and can make it harder to use your knee’s full articulation. So if you’re pedaling a lot, make sure your knee pads can move well with your legs, and don’t get too sweaty.Mountain Bike Knee Pads with Straps vs SleevesThere are two main ways that riding knee pads are designed to stay on: with and without straps. Kneepads with straps are usually heavier-duty, and the straps help them stay up and in place. Knee pads with straps make it possible to dial in your fit, and give you more wiggle room if you have less average dimensions. The downside is that the straps are more likely to rub and chafe when riding.Strapless knee pads are typically just sleeves of elastic material with padding. They rely on their fabric stretch to keep them up. This makes them lighter, and helps them move with your legs better, but also means that your fit has to be perfect. Strapless knee pads can get bunched up and rub a little as well, but they generally do this less than knee pads with straps.The biggest thing to consider when deciding how you want your pads to stay up is whether or not you’re planning on taking them off mid-ride. For XC and trail riders, who don’t want to stop at every grade change, strapless pads are the way to go. They stay comfortable all day, without moving around.For more gravity-oriented riders, kneepads with straps are generally a good call. Many of this style of pad can be taken off and put on without removing your shoes. So you can put them in your pack on the way up, an only pad up for the way down. This keeps your knees cool, and allows you to use heavier, more protective knee pads without the discomfort on the way up.
Almost every rider who has swung a leg over a mountain bike has skinned a knee, or worse. Mountain bike knee pads help save you the pain and lost skin, making them all but a necessity for riding. Nowadays, there are so many options for riders of all types, ranging from low-profile sleeve style mountain bike pads, to full-on hard shell shin and knee pads for downhill riding. Looking for some advice on how to choose? Check out our full guide to choosing mtb knee pads. Here, we’ll be breaking down the best mountain bike knee pads.1.POC Joint VPD 2.0 Knee GuardsThe soft feel of and flexible VPD padding of these knee pads makes them an instant favorite. With coverage from the upper knee to the upper shin, these pads have nice coverage without being overly bulky. This versatility is what makes them one of our picks for best mountain bike knee pads.A larger strap up top, and a small strap in the middle ensure a snug slip-free fit. The additional strap is a nice add-on for riders who might have issues with other pads slipping or binding at the knee. This works well for riders with smaller legs, too. These aren’t the best pedallers on the list, but they are totally fine for 60-90 minute pedals - if you’re out for longer you might want to slide them down to your ankles or stash them in your pack. That said the protection is top-notch.2.Sweet Protection Knee Pads With a great balance between protection and low-bulkiness, the Sweet Protection Knee Pads are the favorite of many riders. Sleeve style, with a top strap, the pad stays up well, yet remains relatively low profile. One of the best perks of these mtb knee pads is that the you can remove the padding to wash them, helping control grime and odor. This feature is especially nice, as the sleeve isn’t the most breathable out there, however, it does stay up well, and pedal well. Overall, the flexible pad is comfortable, with a nice level of protection for everyday riding.3.Dakine Slayer Knee PadsA low-profile, sleeve style pad the Dakine Slayer is a nice option for riders who want to prioritize a slim unobtrusive fit over protection, as the Slayer only has a soft pad. The 4-way-stretch mesh back makes the pad breathe a little bit better than some options, and Polygiene odor control technology keeps them from getting smelly. This is good because you’ll definitely want to keep these sports knee pads on throughout your whole ride, being a slimmer sleeve design, they don’t fit over shoes well or sit at your ankles as other pads do. Silicone grip at either end of the pad and a curved pad help the sleeves stay in place while pedaling.4.Fox Launch Pro Knee GuardsFor riders looking to send it a little bit harder, stepping up your level of protection might be a good idea. The Fox Launch Pro knee pads are one step up from the Enduro Pro knee guards, with more padding. Straps at the top and bottom of the knee pad do a nice job of keeping the pads in place through pedaling and falls alike. This is a thicker pad, so you might not want to pedal in it all the time, though it does that fairly well. The open sleeve design means you’re not going to be able to fit it over your shoes, but you can slide it down towards your ankles, or take your shoes off to transition. This is our pick for the best mtb knee pad for riders taking on gnarly trails that want a higher level of protection, while still being able to pedal - think enduro and all mountain with these knee pads. 5.Troy Lee Designs Speed Knee SleevesAnother low-profile sleeve, the Troy Lee Designs Speed sleeves are perhaps the lowest profile pads on our list, with no straps and a D3O pad. Similar to POC’s VPD material, D3O is soft until it hardens on impact. A silicone band at the top of the sleeve keeps it from slipping and bunching behind your knee. These are the best knee pads on our list for riders looking for some protection from impacts and abrasions, without sacrificing mobility and comfort.
Bicycle knee pads are an essential part of every mountain biker, for most of my riding I really appreciate patellar protection. There are those who think wearing pads makes you more likely to take risks and bail. In fact paranoia from not wearing protection is likely to push me into the rhubarb. The other thing about wearing protection in a few areas (hands, head and knees in my case) is that you can alter your landing plan based on padding location. Except for the helmet. I wouldn't recommend aiming your helmet into something hard, unless the alternative is facial disfigurement.Excellent protection and attention to detail are hallmarks of the Vuino Heavy Duty knee pads. The graphic treatment on the knees is silicone and it seems to be sticky enough that it could impede sliding. Thus far I've had no problems though. And yes - I should have been wearing shin pads the other day.If I am going to wear pads I see little point in wearing minimalist versions. If you are dealing with the warmth, weight and hassle of protection, it really sucks when you crash and get injured anyway. If it's the difference between wearing nothing or something minimal, that likely makes sense, but for rides on the North Shore I always pad up, and I'm fussy about my knee protection.ProtectionVuino chose a polymer dough for the main protection of this pad and it's apparently an in-house version. I've had other pads that were nicely pliable when no impact was applied, but then failed to adequately stiffen when hit. These do that job admirably and I've taken several good diggers wearing them without injuring myself. Once I was actually surprised to come out unscathed because the impact was nasty.The polymer padded area is long and covers well and is augmented by two lower tech foam pads on the inside and outside of the knees. I often smack my leg above the knee and while there is no extra padding here, the presence of the heavy wide strap offers some abrasion resistance.ComfortableThe back of each pad is made of velcro mesh so it breathes well and doesn't soak up sweat. On the first few rides I felt a little pedalling abrasion at the back of my knee but since then there has been none. I generally push my pads down to my ankles for the climb but inevitably there are times when I have an extended pedal padded up and there is no bunching, rubbing or moving. And once they are pulled up into place they never slip down, likely thanks to well placed silicone grippers and excellent fit.I like the addition of some protection below the knee on the front of the pad.You really never know what you're gonna get. Sometimes an established name will come out with a product that looks great but either sucks or doesn't work for you. Other times a small, oddly named company knocks it out of the park. And then abandons that name.I like these so much I have tried not to wear anything else for months. They hit every mark and represent my high water mark for knee protection.
I gave up on better-than-nothing knee pads ages ago. After trying a tonne of different options of non-newtonian knee warmers, I decided it was hard-shells or nothing. Usually nothing. It's not that I don't understand that the materials continued to develop as options beyond D3O-brand have permeated the market. The dynamic doughs now respond faster to impacts, are less susceptible to stiffening in cold weather, and companies have become much better at shaping the material compared when they first came on the scene. No doubts. But, knee pads are not a new product category by any means and I think there's a strong argument that good fits have been available for a long, long time. Even the most instant change in armour gel viscosity doesn't offer the same protection to sharp-pointed impacts as a hardshell pad.Flipped, even the best hardshell pads are not dreamy to pedal in. I usually climb with mine around my ankles and then pull them up for descents. Actually, I usually leave them at home but for riding trails where there's a decent guarantee that I'm going to bail or the odd time I'm riding a chairlift or shuttling. In other words, it has been years and years since I regularly wore armour besides gloves and a helmet.This brings me to the knees. Just given our uncertain times I have been trying to wear riding knee pads a lot more; trying - I can't always bring myself to do it - and my hard shell pads of choice have long been Leatt. So, when the green & orange armour arrived at NSMB, I figured I would at least put them on. Then I went for a short pedal. Then I went for a long pedal. And wouldn't you bloody know it, I can ride for hours with these pads in place and they are really, really comfortable. Annoyingly comfortable. No real excuse not to wear them, comfortable. I would prefer not to wear them but have barely done a ride without them since, comfortable. Now to be clear, they are a whole bunch warmer than wearing nothing. I know that isn't a big shock to anyone. They do breathe better than many, most, even all other knees I've tried. But, I still make a grumpy face when I pull them up on a hot day and think about all the additional sweating I'll be doing.And when I'm alone in the dark on a rainy night, find myself suddenly swimming through the air, and then land on some wet-weather-approved rock armouring, I am much more aware of the impact than wearing a hardshell. And that's hitting the deck on a relatively smooth surface. In fact, I have a certain thought ritual I go through each time I'm picking myself up off the forest floor. What would be different if I was wearing my knees? What would be different if I was wearing nothing?In many ways, I wish I had never put them on. The damn things are even unnoticeably nice to pedal in, for hours, in the pissing rain, when I'm riding in pants. I've even started wearing them on hot days because I really have no excuse not to. I actually feel a bit guilty, in a 'what if?' kind of way, if I leave them at home. Even as they have started to bag out a bit with use it's rare that I have to adjust them on the trail even after repeated climbs or hike-a-bike sections.The rest of the pad are pre-curved, I think it's worth noting that they are not over-shaped. I've spent plenty of hours spinning gears and standing and mashing my one-speed and climbing is comfortable - both seated and standing. Other pre-curved pads I've tried feel like they are resisting against some standing pedaling motions.Unicorns? Leatt has been making protective knee pads for quite a while now, and I do quite like my hardshell pads but I wouldn't put them above other hardshell pads I have used in the past that fit well. Including the distant past. Though I do love that they don't use Velcro.Is it just straight up lucky that they happen to fit me really well or have impact-hardening materials, and shaping them, improved that much in the last couple of years? They're slim, light, and nicely contoured. I'm suddenly interested in checking out other D3O-style beloved polymer-dough pads.If you're in the same boat as me in thinking best knee pads are a good idea. Now that I've apparently committed to wearing armour every ride, if you have a favourite better-than-nothing non-Newtonian knee warmer that's great for all-day pedaling, I'd love to hear.