Family mountain biking is a great way of having active, outdoor family time, but the occasional ‘off’ is likely as kids test boundaries. It is important to choose protection gear that keeps them safe but doesn’t get in the way of enjoying the trails. We have picked out some of the most comfortable protection wear to keep your kids safe and smiling.
With an increasing range of the best kids mountain bikes out there, you can set your little ones up for serious fun on the trails. But they have to stay safe, whether from grazed knees and elbows or more serious crashes as the stakes get higher. With more and more kids enjoying riding, the market has upped their game in terms of comfort and style.
We tested a range of pads and helmets on pedally, cross country style rides of over an hour, and on faster downhill trails, often in hot and muggy conditions. We looked for the most comfortable protection gea, looking for the holy grail of kids protection – we wanted to see if the kids could forget they were wearing protection at all!
G-Form Youth Pro-x3 Elbow Guards
Best kids elbow protection: comfortable elbow protection for the littlest arms.
Sizes: 18 – 20cm or 20 – 24cm (bicep size) | Colour: Black | Rating: 9/10
Reasons to buy: These are slim fitting, and stay snug on the tiniest of elbows. They are light weight and have a wide gripper, meaning they don’t slip down.
Reasons to avoid: The ‘moisture wicking’ is not as good as it could be and they get a bit warm.
G-form make a good range of kids protection gear, and these elbow pads are part of a range that includes full arm sleeves, knee and shin pads. Unlike some we tested, these stay put on even the littlest arms. The grippers round the top have a thick line of silicone so they don’t slip down. The pad is light weight, grooved rubber so it flexes easily. They are just enough for smaller children to protect from grazes and bumps.
The fabric is mostly nylon so they don’t breathe well and did get hot on the hottest rides. That said, there was no push- back on wearing these and they were rated as ‘cool’ by the 8 year old.
Fox YTH Enduro Knee Sleeves
Best kids knee pads: great for ‘enduro’ style rides, pedalling and descending fun
Size: One size, roughly for children aged 8+ | Colour: Black | Rating: 9/10
Reasons to buy: These pads are supremely comfortable, designed for pedalling and staying ‘up’ even on long days out.
Reasons to avoid: With only one size available, it’s worth trying them on if you can.
The Enduro pads are lightweight and soft, meaning they flex around the knee and stay in place. There is a wide silicone gripper made that keeps the pads up, even with straight legs and lots of bouncing over roots and rocks.
The mesh round the back of the knee is a nice touch, letting a bit of air flow circulate. The pad itself is made of tough foam and can be pulled out of its pocket so the sleeve can be washed.
We loved these pads for rides with lots of climbing, even in the sweatiest depths of the heat wave.
Alpinestars Paragon Lite knee protection
Best for ultimate kids knee protection: bike parks and uplift days
Sizes: S/M, L/XL | Colour: Black | Rating: 8/10
Reasons to buy: Offer heavy-duty protection for more technical terrain and riskier riding
Reasons to avoid: Heavier than alternatives like the Fox knee pads
These pads offer heavy duty protection for riskier riding, and are a favourite for bike park days with uplift. The silicone grippers don’t always prevent the pads from sliding down but when in place, they offer excellent abrasion protection, tested out a few times ‘for real’!
The pad insert is not removable but you can hand wash or sponge clean them. It feels like chain mail, and flexes easily to the shape of the knee. The pads can be rolled together like a pair of socks for storage.
You might need to cut off the itchy labels, but otherwise they are comfortable to ride in, although preferably on less pedally routes and on cooler days.
Endura MT500JR Helmet
Best kids mountain bike helmet
Size: One size, 51 – 58cm | Colours: White or blue | Features: Removeable peak | Rating: 9/10
Reasons to buy: The MT500jr helmet looks the business, with a sturdy peak (removable) and it is exceptionally light weight.
Reasons to avoid: Fit adjustment wheel is hard to use for little hands
We love that Endura have developed a kids MT500 range. This helmet looks amazing, with the innovative honeycomb lining standing out in a bright green (it also comes in white with green). The mesh is what Endura calls their Koroyd insert, which is an innovative material that protects and keeps the weight low.
It looks awesome, too, and the kids love the design. The peak can be removed with an allen key, but is bolted in place, which makes it sturdy. The peak is a decent size, too, and really helps keep the sun out of little eyes.
The adjustment system keeps the helmet snug but the wheel is a little hard to grasp hold of for smaller riders.
Fox RS Proframe Clyzo full face helmet
Best full-face helmet for kids
Size: Adult helmet available in size small, which fits children | Colours: Red/White, Orange/Black | Rating: 9/10
Reasons to buy: Supremely comfortable, different sized cheek pads, surprisingly light, snug and safe fit
Reasons to avoid: Pricy
If you’re looking for maximum confidence in your child’s safety on challenging downhill and enduro runs where speed picks up and crashes have greater consequences, this is the helmet we recommend.
Full face helmets are not cheap. However, the RS Proframe offers incredible adjustability, unlike some of the youth options. Opting for a small RS Proframe for our oldest child will therefore increase the length of time the helmet can be used. Mum or Dad might fit into it as well – added bonus!
The RS Proframe Clyzo is my 9 year old’s first full face helmet. It is supremely comfortable thanks to its adjustability, and the weight is surprisingly light given its inevitable bulk. The MIPS protection brings peace of mind to her parents when she’s really pushing her limits on a trail. Her favourite features are the big spongy, comfortable cheek pads (and it comes with extras, of different sizes) and the magnetic chin strap.
This makes her totally independent getting set up in the lid, even with thick gloves on. The BOA adjustment wheel is easy to access and the fit feels “snug and safe”. The helmet also comes with a GoPro under-visor mount, which will be fun in the future. This has brought a new level of
confidence to the oldest child; I wish she’d had one sooner.
How we tested
Children aged 4, 8 and 9 tested the pads and helmets over the course of three months in
late Spring and Summer. They were asked to feed back on what they liked and didn’t, and I
also keep a close eye on the fail safe ‘whinge-ometer’ which is a good indicator of children’s
enjoyment levels. Rides involved pedalling as well as more technical descending. Rides
included group rides with the mountain bike club, and family rides.
What to look for in the best protection gear
It is much easier to buy protection gear in person than online, because the fit is essential to
its functionality and comfort. However, this can be tricky, as few places stock a good range
of kids helmets and pads. Try bike hire shops that rent kids bikes for helmets and pads to try on – they often have a selection.
If buying online, check the size guides carefully!
What size bike helmet does my child need?
Kid’s bike helmets are listed by size, according to the circumference of their head. You’ll need either soft measuring tape, or a length of string or cord which you can then measure against a ruler or tape measure afterwards.
To find your child’s head measurement, loop it horizontally around your child’s head. It should measure the widest part of the head, which means about two finger-widths above the eyebrows, and above the ears.
Once you have this measurement, you can check it against the manufacturers size guide to find out which size is right for your kid.
Remember that kids’ heads change shape as they grow and helmets that start slipping backwards are no longer safe and need replacing.
Can I use skate pads instead of mountain bike pads?
There are a lot of cheap, plastic pads on the market designed for skating. They might be ok
on shorter rides but our experience is that they slip, dig in and get very uncomfortable very
quickly. The newer, mountain bike-specific pads are softer, lighter weight and are more
likely to be worn. The protection doesn’t work as well if the pads get left at home.
Can I buy a second hand helmet?
No. Don’t take the risk. Minor, invisible cracks can massively impinge a helmet’s protective
capacity. There is no way to be sure that a used helmet is safe to use from a visual inspection.
Does my child need a full face helmet?
Full face helmets can provide the ultimate protection for face and head. They might be
overkill for gentler, flatter riding, however. If you’re worried about the cost of a full face, it’s
worth checking out the adjustable helmets because you might be able to share one with
your child, if it’s only for occasional use.
How early can I get my kid mountain biking?
You can start your child on a balance bike whenever they’re ready, introducing easy off road
trails and pump tracks. And even earlier, you can take them out on the trails on a shotgun
seat or trailer. We found shotgun seats are a great way to introduce the buzz of riding down
flowy trails, even before they can pedal themselves.
Take a look at our kids mountain bike buyers guide for some ideas for bikes that can help get the little ones excited by mountain biking from the get go. We’ve also tried and tested the best kids mountain bike clothing.