Seven of very, very best mountain bike knee pads. Hard or soft? Pull-on or wrap-on? Which brands make the best? Here's all you need to know.
We’ve whittled down the plethora of available pads to this summation of the best mountain bike knee pads, with a select few pairs striding away with the 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 knee pads is a personal choice, but think of them as an insurance policy for you and your mates – no one wants a trip to casualty. At the end of the day good knee pads should behave like the best mountain bike helmets, in that you quickly forget you’re wearing them once you start your ride.
How we tested the best mountain bike knee pads
Comfort is a key consideration when wearing a knee pad, and the only way tp p[ut this to the test is to use alt he pads on all-day trail rides, involving extensive climbing and descending. During test rides we made a note of any chaffing or soreness, and whether the pad stayed in place. 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. All the sample pads are medium size and the weight listed in the specification is for a pair.
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Brilliant day-today trail-riding pads that don’t impede your pedalling
Weight: 341g | Sizes: S to XL | Rating: 9/10
Pros: Very supportive. Possible to self-tune with removable inserts. Cons: Need to remove Sastec inserts before washing. Warmer than you might think.
The overall fit of the Sam Hill is super snug and never slipped down during testing. 7idp is offering the Sam Hill in four sizes and with the silicone/mesh back it’s very easy to pull on. This mesh also seems a lot more durable – a lot of lightweight knee pads we’ve tested eventually rip at the calf as you pull them on and off. With its mesh construction and perforated Sastec bumper, the Sam Hill is lightweight but it does run pretty warm. That’s okay for this time of year but high summer you’re going to sweat a bit than some. That said, for a knee pad that fits this good and offers the right amount of protection for everyday trail riding, it’s a small price to pay.
Minimalist design is a bonus
Weight: 237g | Sizes: S XL | Rating: 9/10
Pros: Light and minimalist Cons: Some leg-creep
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. There are no adjustable straps to hold the Skinny in place, but the cut of the thin, well-ventilated mesh sleeve, coupled with bands of silicon at the top and bottom, keep the Skinny locked in place under most circumstances. Like many other pads of this type there is always a little bit of downward creep under prolonged pedaling. But thanks to the additional stabilising band of elastic situated at the top of the calf and its lower slathering of silicon it refuses to migrate south.
Good value pads
Weight: 246g | Sizes: XS-XL | Rating: 9/10
Pro: Very well made despite value price tag 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 pedaling. 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. We’ve awarded the Paragon top marks in past tests because it’s packed with features, feels comfortable on the bike, comes in a ton of sizes and is great value. It’s seen price hikes recently, but it’s still the best value pad on test;. we just felt the 7iDP Sam Hill was harder wearing and more comfortable.
Best premium pad with heavy duty protection
Weight: 482g | Sizes: S-XL | Rating: 10/10
Pros: Our current favourite heavy-duty pad of choice Cons: Money, money, money. Heavy.
The 100% Surpass is one of the burlier kneepads out there, rated to CE Level 2 it’s designed to absorb maximum impact force. Protection starts with a hard plastic shell sitting over your kneecap, backed up by a layer of squishy foam on the inside next to your skin. Coverage is extended all around the shell with chunky foam padding, giving you more square footage of protection than most pads on the market, particularly on the inside where you’re most likely to whack your knee into the bike. The best pad in the world is no good if it moves around in a crash or slips down when you ride, but 100% has nailed it here too – the Surpass stays put beautifully, with rock-solid stability that glues it to your knees. The protection is as good as it gets too, nowhere on the Surpass is lacking foam or cushioning, and the extended coverage down your shin and around the sides of the knee is particularly cheering. It’s a superb pad, if a little pricey.
You’ll barely know you’re wearing them
Weight: 122g | Sizes: S-XL | Rating: 9/10
Pros: Superlight and super stable Cons: You may want more protection for more extreme terrain
The Scott Mission Evo knee pads are the lightest and most discrete design we’ve ever tested. So flighty you won’t even know you’re wearing them, they actually cover a decent section of the knee, with extended padding over the top of the shin. Remarkably stable thanks to broad bands and dotty silicone dimples, the Mission Evos may not be best suited to a scorpion into a rock garden, but they’re a great solution for trail rides where you want protection and absolute freedom of movement.
Size up and you’ll be fine
Weight: 322g | Sizes: XS-XXL | Rating: 9/10
Pros: Good comfort at a good price. More of padded knee warmer than full-on protection. Cons: More of padded knee warmer than full-on protection. 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. The light weight meaning it’s ideal for quick evening spins or long days in the saddle when you want a bit of protection without making pedaling an uncomfortable chore. The four-way stretch material keeps freedom of movement high, while the perforated memory foam pads stopped me from cuts and grazes on the few times I’ve crashed wearing them. Silicone grippers top and bottom do a decent job of holding the Defender in place, but you’ll need to size up for a good fit.
One of the most comfortable
Weight: 226g | Sizes: XS-XL | Rating: 9/10
Pros: Good fit and flexibility Cons: SasTec pad is not removable, so hand wash only
Sweet Protection’s Knee Guard is the lighter of its two offerings and is essentially a simple sleeve. There’s a viscoelastic pad over the knee cap that remains flexible in normal use but hardens in an impact, and the fit, although strange at first, works well, with a tight cuff around the thigh and looser fit at the calf. The pad isn’t removable, so retain its properties Sweet Protection recommends hand washing, which is a pain, but the Knee Guards are a good length and its easy to forget you’ve got them on.
What to look for in best mountain bike knee pads:
When buying your first set of pads you could go for a heavy duty nee/shin, which extends all the way from the knee to the ankle. This offers the most protection, but if you’re pedaling 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 gravel rash and small impacts, but they’re more comfortable and don’t get as clammy when you turn up the heat.
To stop unwanted movement, knee 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.
Knee pads are either left and right specific or can be worn on either leg. There’s often a label inside telling you want pad goes on what knee. If in doubt, go for the configuration that shows the brand logo on the outside of the legs, as that’s often the way they’ve been deliberately designed.
Cutaways at the back of the knee stop rubbing of the ligaments and also increase air flow. On some designs the kneecap is also left uncovered or has a honeycomb/perforated surface to channel air directly over the knee.
The protective cap used in most of the knee pads is often an impact-resistant foam, but some use hi-tech materials, such as D30 or Armourgel. These stiffen under impact and reduce the amount of force felt at the knee. Smart material are lighter but they are ore expensive.
To reduce weight, the base material for the majority of knee pads is either Lycra or a thin neoprene. A Kevlar cover is often placed over the knee area to increase scuff resistance.
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 of Velcro and a strap that doesn’t bunch up or narrow as you pull it tights, which can cause it to dig in.
It’s best to think about knee pads in three different categories: lightweight, trail and heavy duty. The lightest pads are designed to offer abrasion protection at best, they sacrifice extra protection for breathability, low weight and breathability. Trail knee pads are the go to option for most of us, comfortable enough to ride all day in but tough enough to protect your patellas in a proper crash – at their best they’re lightweight and breathable and offers a good level of protection with malleable pads made from materials like D30 and Sas-Tec. Then there are enduro pads, better able to absorb impacts, they often have extended coverage down your shin, a plastic or TPU shell and offer maximum protection – the tradeoff is they’re often hotter to wear, stick out more and are less comfortable.
Know your riding
Get started by working out which is best for your kind of riding, there’s no point lugging around more material than you need to, pedaling in a pad that’s designed for downhill only. Mountain biking is fun, and we want to keep it that way. In the same vein, if you spend lots of time at the bike park it makes total sense to compromise on breathability and pedaling performance, so if you do hit the deck you’ll be able to bounce back up again without a trip to A&E.
The best mountain bike knee pads in the world are useless if they’re not comfortable and you end up leaving them in the car. Plenty of what makes wearing a kneepad a nice experience is the fit, get this right and it’ll stay squarely in place when riding (or crashing), and ideally will be so unobtrusive as to disappear when you’re wearing it. Most brands give you a detailed fit guide based on thigh and calf diameter. Knee pads 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.
There are two types of fit, those that slip on via your foot like a sock, and those that fully open to strap around your knee. They both have advantages and disadvantages, slip on designs are generally lighter and less fussy but you do have to take you shoes off to don them. Fitted knee pads can be taken on and off when you need them on a ride, without having to take your shoes off. If your riding consists of one or two big ups lasting over an hour, fitted pads might suit you better, but if you’re constantly gradient hopping then something you fit and forget is the ideal.
Kneepads vary in length from very short enough to just cover your knees, like the Sweet Protection, to long enough to slide under your chamois and still reach half way down your shin, like the 7idp Sam Hill Lite Knee. Why is this important? If you’re tall, longer pads are recommended, first to avoid the t@@t gap between your shorts and knee pads, and second so they actually fit your longer limbs.