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?
We’ve whittled down the plethora of available pads to this summation of the best mountain bike knee pads, with two striding away with top honours.
Whether you like flying down steep, technical trails, or you prefer a more sedate pace, some form of knee protection while riding is a good idea. Even the best, or most careful riders, make mistakes and, while not all accidents end up with a trip to A&E, the last thing you want is to curtail a ride because you’ve gashed a knee open. We realise wearing kneepads is a personal choice, but think of them as an insurance policy for you and your mates – no one wants a trip to casualty, particularly if you’re not the one that’s injured.
When buying your first set of pads you could go for a heavy duty knee/shin, which extends all the way from the knee to the ankle. This offers the most protection, but if you’re pedalling all day, this style of pad can get pretty hot and uncomfortable. For trail riding, we’d recommend a lighter weight design. Most still have a reinforced pad to shrug off gravel rash and small impacts, but they’re more comfortable and don’t get as clammy when you turn up the heat.
Comfort is a key consideration when wearing knee pads, and the only way to put this to the test is to use all the pads on all-day trail rides, involving extensive climbing and descending. During test rides we made a note of any chaffing or soreness, especially at the back of the knee, and whether the pad stayed in place or needed constant adjustment. We also kept an eye on durability because pulling the pads on and off can put extra stress on the lightweight material, especially at the upper seam. Obviously crashing can damage the face fabric but we accepted a certain amount of wear and tear in this area.
Best mountain bike knee pads
- Alpine Star Paragon
- Bliss ARG Minimalist
- Troy Lee Designs KG5400 Shock Doctor
- Race Face Ambush
- Dainese Trail Skins 2
- Bluegrass Skinny
- Hebo Defender
- 7iDP Sam Hill
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Really good fit and offers the right amount of protection for everyday trail riding
Price: £79.99 | Weight: 341g | Sizes: S to XL
Pro: Very supportive
Pro: Possible to self-tune with removeable inserts
Con: Need to remove Sastec inserts before washing
Con: Warmer than you might think
The overall fit of the Sam Hill is super snug and I never had to pull it up once while riding. 7idp is offering the Sam Hill in four sizes and with the silicone/mesh back it’s dead easy to pull on. This mesh also seems a lot more durable – a lot of lightweight knee pads I’ve tested eventually rip at the calf as you pull them on and off.
Size up for a good fit and you’ll be fine
Price: £46.00 | Weight: 322g | Sizes: XS to XXL
Pro: Good comfort at a good price
Pro: More of padded knee warmer than full-on protection
Con: More of padded knee warmer than full-on protection
Con: Skinny fit
If you’ve never heard of Hebo, don’t worry – neither had we until recently. The Spanish brand is well-known in motocross and moto trial circles, but it’s making a big push into mountain biking with a full range of clothing and protection pieces.
Bluegrass Skinny knee pads
Its minimalist design is an advantage
Price: £49.00 | Weight: 237g | Sizes: S to XL
Pro: Light and minimalist
Pro: No straps for cinching size
Con: Some leg-creep
Con: No straps for cinching size
The Skinny wouldn’t be our first choice for bike park riding, where consequences are more serious, but then that’s not its remit. For most normal riding the stable and comfortable design make it one of the best lightweight pads on the market.
Bliss Protection ARG Minimalist knee pads
Not cheap but easily one of the most comfortable
Pro: Armourgel flexibility is super comfy
Pro: Lengthy design means extra warmth
Con: Not a lot of complaints at this price!
Con: Lengthy design means extra warmth
The new version still has a three-piece Armourgel pad bonded externally to the outside of the Lycra body but it’s now pre-curved to fit better – so much so that the whole thing curls up once you remove it from the packaging. It doesn’t bunch up at the sides when pedalling hard like the old pad and hugs the knee better than any pad here. The Lycra chassis wouldn’t normally offer a lot of support but with its pre-shaped pad, the ARG Minimalist feels surprisingly solid. To stop slipping, it gets wide elasticised hems top and bottom with a thin dots of silicone on the thigh. The upper portion of the pad is longer too, so can be tucked underneath your riding shorts. Flat lock stitching at all the seams ensures there’s nothing internally to irritate the skin.
AlpineStars Paragon kneepad
Packed with features, comfortable and great value
Pro: Very well made despite value price tag
Pro: Pull ’em on and forget about ’em
Con: Not many niggles with this great pad
Con: More expensive than it used to be
With its profiled pad and flat, inward-facing, internal seams the Paragon is pretty plush and also doesn’t slide around too much while pedalling. However, the bottom edge of the Lycra does tend to bunch up after a while, causing the edge of the knee pad to rub on the shin area – it’s almost as if there’s a lack of support in the mesh material. The thin mesh is also prone to tearing and there are already few nicks at the back of the calf, where we’ve snagged a pedal, and several scuffs over the knee.
Dainese Trail Skins 2 knee guard
Such great quality
Price: £69.99 | Sizes: S to XL
Pro: More flexible than they look
Pro: Doesn’t creep down your leg
Con: Price has crept up compared to v1.0
Con: Polarising looks
This updated version of their classic Trail Skins pad uses a single piece of honeycomb outer padm as opposed to the previous two piece arrangement. Contrary to expectation, this actually improves the fit and conforming fitment. The doubled-up elastic on the lower hem also does a great job of preventing annoying pad droop. Not cheap but Dainese really know how to make protective wear.
Race Face Ambush Knee D30 Guard
You can put them on without taking off your shoes
Price: £69.99 | Weight: 510g | Sizes: S to XXL
Pro: Much more protection than lighter pads
Pro: Easy to put on and remove mid-ride
Con: A bit bulky
Con: On the heavy side
The Ambush pads were so snug they quickly became a go-to pad while testing in the Alps, offering performance comparable to the also excellent Scott Grenade Pro IIs. The better ventilation, lighter weight and £25 cheaper price seal the deal in Race Face’s favour as a worthy test winner.
What to look for in best mountain bike knee pads
Kneepads are available in overlapping (small/medium, medium/large) or single sizes, such as small, medium and large. Individual sizes offer a better fit but as always it makes sense to try beforehand because they do vary between manufacturers.
To reduce weight, the base material for the majority of the lightweight kneepads is either Lycra or a thin neoprene. A Kevlar cover is often placed over the knee area to increase scuff resistance.
To stop unwanted movement, lightweight pads use a silicone gripper or an elastic hem, like you’d find in a pair of Lycra shorts. Silicone tape can cause a bit of soreness so what feels comfy in the shop may not after a few hours riding.
To really batten down the hatches some knee pads have an additional Velcro strap, either at the top or bottom. Look for a long strip of Velcro and a strap that doesn’t bunch up or narrow as you pull it tight, which can cause it to dig in.
The protective cap used in most of the knee pads is often an impact-resistant foam but some are high-tech materials, such as D3O or Armourgel. These stiffen under impact and reduce the amount of force felt at the knee. Smart materials are lighter but they are more expensive.
Knee pads are either left and right specific or can be worn on either leg. There’s often a label inside telling you what pad goes on what knee.
Cutaways at the back of the knee stop rubbing of the ligaments and also increases air flow. On some designs the kneecap is also left uncovered or has a honeycomb/perforated surface to channel air directly over the knee.