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.
Solid, secure, snug pads from the road brand
Weight: 358g | Sizes: XS-XL | Rating: 9/10
Reasons to buy: Stable and doesn’t move. Doesn’t restrict pedaling. Good coverage. Comfortable.
Reasons to avoid: There are lighter, cheaper and/or better ventilated pads (although few better in all respects)
Rapha uses a Lycra sleeve, which has a four-way stretch but unlike most is has an ergonomic cut, so fits really well around the back of the knee. For the pad, Rapha has collaborated with a third-party, Rheon Labs. It’s basically an active polymer like D3O, so is soft and flexible when you’re just riding along but then it intelligently strengthens when subjected to an impact force. The Rapha Trail isn’t the lightest knee pad, it’s not the cheapest or the best vented and while the level of protection is high, other pads here are just as good. What it does do is balance all those things really well but what gets it over the finish line first is the comfort. They say if the gloves fit you’ll wear it and the Rapha Trail has been our go to choice on recent rides.
One of the most comfortable
Weight: 226g | Sizes: XS-XL | Rating: 9/10
Reasons to buy: Good fit and flexibility
Reasons to avoid: 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.
Brilliant day-today trail-riding pads that don’t impede your pedalling
Weight: 341g | Sizes: S to XL | Rating: 9/10
Reasons to buy: Very supportive. Possible to self-tune with removable inserts.
Reasons to avoid: 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
Reasons to buy: Light and minimalist
Reasons to avoid: 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.
Best premium pad with heavy duty protection
Weight: 482g | Sizes: S-XL | Rating: 10/10
Reasons to buy: Our current favourite heavy-duty pad of choice
Reasons to avoid: 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
Reasons to buy: Superlight and super stable
Reasons to avoid: 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.
Excellent lightweight knee pads from Kali
Weight: 252g | Sizes: S-XL | Rating: 10/10
Reasons to buy: Snug, comfortable fit. Lightweight. Long enough to hide pasty skin!
Reasons to avoid: No lateral protection. Can expose skin in a crash if worn with shorts.
The Mission 2.0 Knee Guard is a pull-on pad and consists of lightweight four-way stretch Spandex sock overlaid with a 3D-moulded pad and abrasion resistant skin. There are no straps or Velcro, it just relies on the stretchiness of the material and silicone grippers on the hems to keep it up. The Mission 2.0 does glide on though, and fits amazingly snugly over the knee. It only offers mid-level protection, but it’s a supremely comfortable kneepad that fits so well I forgot I was wearing it. Which means, for those of you that are new to knee protection, or hate any feeling of restriction, this is the one to get.
Best for quality construction
Weight: 323g | Sizes: S-XL | Rating: 9/10
Reasons to buy: Really nice balance of protection versus weight/comfort. Top quality construction and finish. Very stable
Reasons to avoid: Very expensive. Not as much protection under the knee cap as some similar pads for pedal strikes. Not the coolest
The POC Oseus VPD knee pad is targeted as a do-it-all protector, with the Swedish brand claiming they’re good for trail riding through to DH use. The VPD part describes POC’s own harden-on-impact polymer that’s pre-shaped in a very ergonomic, pedal-friendly, cupped-out shape around the knee cap, and there are also two separate smaller padded VPD zones on the sides. All POCs materials are top notch, as is the build quality, and fit and stability when riding is excellent. Despite the smaller coverage area, these pads feel really protective where it matters most and completely wrap the knee, even if they don’t extend very far down the shin.
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.
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.
What stops knee pads from slipping down?
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.
Are all knee pads leg-specific?
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.
Will I get too hot in knee pads?
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.
What are smart materials and how do they help in a crash?
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.
What are the pads usually sewn on to?
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.
Do I need to look for knee pads with Velcro straps?
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. They’re not strictly necessary though, and some of our favourite and most stable pads don’t use them.
How much protection do I need?
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.
How do I choose the right size knee pads?
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.
Sleeve or wrap-around design?
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.
Is it worth looking for integrated shin protection?
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.