Check out our handy buyer's guide to knee pads.
What to look for in the best mountain bike knee pads. Hard or soft? Pull-on or wrap-on? Which brands make the best? Why wear knee pads at all?
Here’s how best to protect your patellas.
Our current pick of the best mountain bike knee pads
7idp Transition mountain bike knee pads
The Transition has a light construction consisting of a thin Lycra sock with full-length ventilated panels, held in place by silicon gripper strips at both the top and bottom. The pad itself is heat-moldable foam and feels thicker and protective. It took slightly longer to conform to the knee when on, but once it’s shaped itself to the knee it proved super comfortable and I had no problems wearing the Transition on big rides. The Lycra sleeve goes quite a long way up your thigh, which can be useful for eliminating chilly breezes but it can also overlap with undershorts if they’re particularly long. In use the thin construction makes for good ventilation – only the area behind the pad gets sweaty on hot days. Without any extra straps to fine-tune the fit, correct sizing is important but the medium size tested felt snug and the pad didn’t move once on. It also never felt constrictive or uncomfortable.
Sweet Protection Bearsuit mountain bike knee pads
The Bearsuit is pretty much as basic a kneepad as you could design. It is essentially a perforated, stretchy tube that has a gripper strip along the top edge and a Sas-Tec pad over the kneecap for protection. No straps, no webbing: as I said simple. As such it pays to make sure it fits well around the thigh or you’ll forever be pulling it up. Thankfully the size medium fitted me well and I had no such issues – the Bearsuit staying firmly put over some seriously long days in the saddle. Sas-Tec is a Viscoelastic foam that moulds around the knee with your body heat. As kneepads go the level of protection is fairly light but suits the ride-all-day nature of the pad well and should be sufficient in all but the nastiest of crashes. A lighter stretch panel at the back of the knee stops bunching and adds a little extra ventilation but it still feels a little warm in hot weather. It doesn’t stop the Bearsuit from being a great lightweight option for trail riders though and, after a few months of regular use, it’s showing no signs of wear.
Dainese Trail Skins 2 mountain bike knee pads
All the tweaks and improvements do add £20 (compared to the old trail Skins) to the price but the Trail Skin 2 is still very good value because it such great quality. It’s also comfortable, breathable and has the right level of on-trail protection for risk takers and the accident-prone.
- Read the full review of the Dainese Trail Skins 2 knee pads
- Buy Now: Dainese Trail SKins 2 knee pads at Chain Reaction Cycles from £62.99
Specialized Atlas mountain bike knee pads
The Atlas pads make wearing kneepads just that little bit easier for general trail riding, being both light and comfortable. Whilst they certainly do not offer the protection of more substantial kneepads they help limit the damage from the inevitable. The price is possibly a tenner higher than some comparable products, but you’ll use these pads again and again and again.
Ion K-Lite Zip-off mountain bike knee pads
Part of a new breed of easy-to-remove kneepads, Ion’s K-Lite Zip is lightweight and relatively slim-line, but still packs loads of protection. On top of a hard shell cup (to better distribute any crash forces), Ion uses an impact-hardening German polymer called SAS-TEC.
Race Face Ambush mountain bike knee pads
Comfort is excellent — once the Ambush pads are on, you soon forget you’re wearing them and the terry-towelling lining capably mops up sweat and keeps you cool in hot weather. The Race Faces are a little bit heavier than some guards with DH levels of protection, but also extremely comfortable to hike, pedal or climb in, even for extended periods.
Troy Lee Designs KG5400 Shock Doctor mountain bike knee pads
There’s a good reason why you’ll see these puppies in this magazine so often — our staff repeatedly choose them above all others, and after completing thousands of trail miles, they still look decent, have held their shape and are working perfectly.
Knee pads are the new helmets
What we mean by this is that it’s now standard to wear knee pads just like it is standard to wear a helmet.
Back in the early days of mountain biking the only protection seen on normal riders was a helmet – sometimes riders didn’t even bother with them! Nowadays knee pads are no longer an unusual sight on trail riders. Indeed, it’s becoming odd to see riders not wearing knee pads.
Mountain bike knee pads: why wear knee pads?
Why has it become standard? Partly this is due to two things.
Firstly, riders are generally riding more technical trails than they used to and/or riding trails faster than they used to. Thus the frequency and consequences of coming off are higher.
The other reason is that modern knee pads are not uncomfortable to wear. Much like improvements in helmets, knee pads are lighter, more airy and less chafe-prone than pads of old.
Of course, you don’t have to wear knee pads. It’s entirely up to you. We’d recommend wearing them on every ride and just getting used to them and having it become second nature. You can never predict on what rides you’ll crash. Indeed, it’s often the casual local loops that see the worst crashes!
As well as protecting you from more serious injuries, knee pads main time is spent preventing your knees from the common scrapes and cuts you get from mountain biking. They also help to keep you a bit warmer in colder and wetter weather.
Mountain bike knee pads: what to look for
Knee pads don’t vary a great deal in general design or concept. Most pads are a tube of fabric with a hole in the back of the knee, some sort of pad or plastic at the front and a Velcro strap at the top and bottom cuffs.
Hard or soft mountain bike knee pads?
The biggest variation in them is whether they’re soft or hard. Hard pads have a rigid bit of plastic cupping around the knee. Although these can be bulkier and less breathable some riders do find that they stay in place better than softer pads.
There are also some knee pads that are both soft AND hard at the same time. These use ‘magic’ forms of material that are pliable and soft until they receive an impact, at which point they stiffen up and go hard. Pads with this sort of stuff in them can be more expensive and they aren’t as breathable as regular soft pads but they can be very comfy to wear and, well, they’re pretty trick.
Soft pads may seem a bit of an odd or risky choice. And although technically not as protective as a hard plastic cup, they do protect you from the vast majority of crash damage (cuts, scrapes, mild bruising).
Soft pads are typically more comfortable and less sweaty to wear than hard pads, which is actually a very good point to note. If you’re more likely to wear the pads in the first place because they’re comfy then that is inherently safe than owning a set of hard pads that you never actually wear because they’re too sweaty and stiff.
Pull-on or wrap-on mountain bike knee pads?
The other aspect that varies is how you put on or remove the pads. Pull-on or wrap-on are the options.
The more common variety is pull-on knee pads. As it says, you pull them on over your foot and up into place. These can be awkward to do if you’ve already got your riding shoes on (a handy hint here is to pull them on with the front at the rear; that way is passes over your heel easier).
Wrap-on pads can be removed or put on without having to remove your shoes. They’re a bit more user-friendly and the idea is that you can put the pads on as-and-when required ie. you can remove them when you know you have an extended bit of fireroad climbing or tarmac bashing to do.
Sizing is a key issue with knee pads. It’s good idea to check out the product listing details for leg opening sizing info – or visit the manufacturer’s website for info if it’s not listed on the retail shop’s page.