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?
We’ll start straight in with the reviews and then follow up with our conclusions and finish this guide off with some general knee pad buying advice…
Our current pick of the best mountain bike knee pads
Like a lot of the lightweight knee pads on test, the Paragon Knee Guard doesn’t have any adjustment straps, so it’s dead important to buy the correct size. Thankfully Alpine Stars offers the Paragon Knee Guard in five single sizes so you have every chance of getting this spot on.
The Paragon features a lightweight stretch mesh material chassis, which is overlaid with a rip-stop fabric at the knee area to prevent small splits becoming full-on tears. The knee cap is made from a cross-shaped piece of foam and this overlaps onto the sides for a bit of lateral protection. It’s also sewn inside a mesh pocket, which is perforated to increase air flow and Lycra lined for comfort.
With it’s 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.
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 a 10% price hike recently but it’s still the best value pad on test; we just felt the Bliss was harder wearing and more comfortable.
Bliss Protection ARG Minimalist
Bliss Protection has made some significant changes to its ARG Minimalist knee pad since we tested it 12months ago. 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.
Like D3O, the Armourgel used for the knee protector is a smart material that stiffens during impacts but remains flexible and mouldable the rest of the time. The technology is effective but it does tend to provide a hard barrier between you and the ground rather than something like a crumple zone.
To improve airflow the knee protector also features an open re-entrant structure, which means it’s perforated to increase ventilation. This really does channel heat away from the front off the knee and forming holes into the material also reduces weight, making this one of the lightest on test.
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.
The Minimalst isn’t cheap and doesn’t offer ultimate protection but it is easily one of the most comfortable. Since fit, comfort and breathability are top priorities with lightweight knee pad the Bliss Minimalist has it all.
Endura Singletrack Lite
This is a new lightweight knee pad form Endura using an X-shaped PU foam insert sandwiched inside a lightweight Lycra sleev. To increase air flow the foam insert has some holes formed into it and there’s a breathable mesh panel at the back of the knee, which also limits irritation in this area. The knee cap is pre-shaped to better fit the knee and also comes with a scuff-resistant face panel to reduce wear and tear.
With its lightweight construction, deep elasticated seams and minimal silicone gripper the Singletrack Lite reminds us off a roadie leg warmer and it fits like one too. The upper section of the pad is long enough to sit under an inner short and we didn’t experience any slipping during out test rides. The other advantage with not having to pull it up as often is you put a lot less stress on the top of the pad.
Breathability is up there with the best here, and it the recent early summer heat the Singletrack was one of the least clammy to ride in. And even when it did get a bit sticky the Lycra always dried out pretty quickly. A couple of other things worth pointing out – the Singletrack Lite is symmetrical and can be worn on either knee and its machine washable, so you can just throw it in with your regular riding gear.
Due to the simple pocket construction the knee pad isn’t that stable and we reckon it can roll over if you end up sliding down the trail on your knees, but there’s enough meat in the pad to take the edge off medium size impacts and it can easily deal with gravel rash and general scuffs.
The Singletrack Lite is one of the best pads for prolonged warm weather riding but what stops it scoring more is the slightly flimsy protection and limited sizes.
Fox Launch Enduro
The bright red Launch Enduro is a simple slip-on soft knee pad in the same vein as the Troy Lee and Sweet Protection designs. It features a lightweight neoprene body, which is pre-shaped to ensure a snug fit, even when you knee is bent to 90degrees. At the rear there’s panel of lightweight material to relieve stress on the tendons and on the front is a protective foam cap, bonded externally to the chassis and is shielded with an abrasion-resistant coating.
Due to the neoprene material being naturally stretchy, the Launch Enduro is incredibly snug fitting but to ensure it doesn’t slip down there’s also a thin strip of Silicone gripper on the inside of the top seam. All the joins are flat lock stitched and the Launch Enduro is left and right specific. Fox handily prints this in big letters on the inside so you don’t have to look through layers of labels or guess.
When pedalling the Launch Enduro is incredibly supportive and is one of the most comfortable pads here. The thin pad won’t save you from significant falls or rock strikes but it does offer great scuff resistance and for the majority of trail rides, isn’t that’s all you need?
Out biggest grip with the Launch Enduro is the neoprene construction – it can get pretty clammy on the front and back of the knee in warmer weather. This is double edged sword though because we actually think it’d make a great option for colder conditions or winter use and since it’s also relatively low profile, and light too, you could easily wear it under a pair of waterproof trousers or skinny jeans.
IXS Flow Evo+
The IXS Flow Evo+ is not stranger to the MBR knee pad test and is back again this year. It was designed in collaboration with MTB legend Hans Rey and features a XMatter foam protector, which moulds to the profile of your knee and also has a slow rebound property, which IXS claims is better than standard PU Foam at absorbing impact energy.
To reduce wear and tearing the knee it’s covered with a hard wearing Kevlar material and to hold the pad in pace the pad comes with an adjustable Velcro strap. This features hook and loop along its entire length – not just at one end – so you have a full range of adjustment. If you look close you’ll also see right and left print on the end of the strap, so you know what pad goes on what knee.
The body of the pad is made from a lightweight and breathable AeroMesh fabric, which gets an anti-bacterial treatment and means it shouldn’t retain odour and as result you shouldn’t have to wash it as often. Not that should be a problem because the knee cap is the only one here that’s removable, so you can wash the pad with out effecting it cushioning properties.
We have a couple of gripes with the Flow Evo+ – the silicone on the upper hem is a little harsh on the skin and the pad is also a bit short in this area, so can leave the top of the knee exposed. The lower portion of the pad also features a sharp edge, which again can cause a little bit of redness on the shin area after a few hours on the bike. At over £70 it also seems a little bit overpriced when compared to the competition.
Poc VPD Air Legs
Poc sent a sample of its Joint VPD air knee the last time we tested lightweight knee pads. It was solidly built but it was too short, uncomfortable and was significantly more at the till than anything else on test. The new VPD Air Legs is still pricey but the first thing we noticed was how comfortable it was, even riding hard on a hot day. The Lycra construction feels light on the leg and to improve air flow further, Poc places a ventilated textile on the inside of the knee and also perforates the protective cap.
Fit is exceptional, with a really long upper cuff, which doesn’t pinch or rub and just enough silicone inside the upper hem to keep the knee pad in place. The lower hem is plain elastic, so there’s no irritation on the boney shin.
To limit movement when pedalling the protective cap is pre-shaped (in a sort of cam-shell) so it fits snug over the knee but unfortunately the way it’s held in the chassis – loosely inside a double layer of material – does mean it will move quite easily if you end up sliding onto your knees. To resist abrasions, the front of the pad gets a hardwearing protective layer but there are no side pads to kick in.
After a full day riding we couldn’t wait to ditch the old Joint VPD but the Air Legs is a pleasure to ride in. It’s still expensive for a lightweight Lycra pad and Poc only offers three individual sizes, rather than the five elsewhere, but the fit and shape is on a different level to the Joint VPD. If you’re prepared to pay a premium for the Poc name, this is really comfortable and breathable lightweight trail pad.
A lot of companies make G-Form knock offs but it was the first with this lightweight design and the Pro-X is second-generation pad with much meatier padding and the company’s new RPT (rate-dependent technology), self-hardening smart material. The pad on the MkII is shaped to fit better but there’s still a little bit of bunch on the sides of the pad. To save weight the sleeve is gets a Lycra face fabric with a technical mesh back panel to enhance breathability and moisture wicking. The Pro-X is available in six sizes, although the large tested did feel a too tight at the calf. And the silicone gripper on the top edge also pulled on the skin, leaving a red mark. The Pro-X is super lightweight, has a good level of protection and unlike other pads using smart materials is also machine washable, which is good because dirt does collect in all the channels.
This is a long knee warmer style pad that you can literally tuck underneath you liner shorts to keep it in place. It is the longest pad we’ve ever tested but it’s also one of the lightest. Protection comes from high-density memory foam insert that extends across the top and down the sides. You can’t see it but this is actually stamped in a hex pattern allowing it to mould easier to the knee. The K_Sleeve is also side specific and Ion does the smart thing and writes this on the outside of the pad, so you don’t have to rummage about looking for the info on the label. To increase wicking there’s a super breathable mesh back panel, which is also none chafing and, if you do sweat buckets, it also gets an anti-odour treatment. Like the Race Face Charge tested elsewhere, the K_Sleeve only offers minimal protection but is super comfy and prefect as winter leg wear.
Leatt Airflex Pro
We tested Leatt’s original ultra slim AirFlex knee guard two years ago and it felt flimsy and didn’t fit snug. The Pro is much more meaty and now features additional side and upper knee impact protection. To increase airflow the centre kneecap is perforated and it’s built onto a sleeve made from Leatt’s new highly vented and breathable MoistureCool and AirMesh fabrics. Both are antimicrobial and so far have been pretty hardwearing. The Pro does bunch up where the side pads come together and, like all open designs, it does fill with dirt. However, the cap material is hardwearing, offers plenty of protection, even for gravity riding, and it’s doesn’t move due to printed silicon inside the cup and comfy grippers top and bottom. Just so you know what knee goes in what pad Leatt even writes left and right on the outside.
Six Six One Recon
With its lightweight sleeve with a waffle style protector, the Recon is a lot like the G-Form Pro-X. It even uses a smart urethane protector using the branded XRD Technology. Like the D3O, the idea is that it forms to your body shape in normal riding conditions but then freezes under impact. Fit round the back is great with a stretch mesh panel and an elastic strap over the calf. 661 also goes easy on the gripper, using a minimal strip on the inside of the elastic hems. A unique feature of the Recon is the Padlock connection, a simple press-stud system that lets you attach the kneepad to 661’s Evo Short to keep it in place. The Recon is less substantial than the TSG and G-form kneepads and does bunch up a bit at the sides but it is more affordable and is lighter.
TSG Joint Knee Sleeve
The TSG Joint Knee Sleeve also features a waffle style PU foam pad. It’s not made from clever compared to G-form’s self-hardening smart material but it has a bit more meat to it and is supplemented via extra side pads. With the built in articulation it’s properly form fitting and moulds easily to the shape of your knee when bent. To save weight and to reduce irritation of the tendons on the back of the knee, TSG runs a flexible Lycra sleeve with vented mesh back complete with a cut-out. The Lycra material is sporting a few nicks in places but it’s quick drying, which is great because unlike most pads with D30 or similar, the TSG pad is machine washable. For a lightweight waffle pad the Joint offers a high level of protection, it’s also stays there due to some terry material directly over the patella area. Left and right specific, what stops it getting top marks is the lack of sizes and price.
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.
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.
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.
The best mountain bike knee pads
It’s a fact that the lighter a knee pad the more you’ll have to compromise on it’s ability to protect you or to be more specific to make sure the big impacts, the ones that can break bones, are mitigated in some way. To achieve this most lightweight knee pads have central knee protector to absorb the initial impact but the problem is you don’t always land directly on the front of your knee, you can land to the side and you can also slide down the trail, which can roll the knee pad out of the way leaving you exposed.
Unfortunately, this is the price you have to pay if you want a lightweight and breathable knee pad that you can ride in all day long. Our advice is any knee pad, no matter how lightweight or flimsy is better than bare skin.
When buying a lightweight knee pad you’ll need to weight up protection versus comfort and in this test there are some pads that are a little bit more protective. These include the IXS Flow Evo+ and to a lesser extend the Alpinestars Paragon. All are solidly built and, in the case of the IXS, are way more stable on the knee with very little movement when cranking hard. The Paragon is the stand out pad of this pair because it’s snug fitting, comes in five individual sizes and is the best value.
Lightweight knee pads are often simple sleeves that pull on just like a sock, with a foam protector either bonded to the outside or sandwiched between two layers of material. The Fox Launch Enduro and Bearsuit Knee Guard use snug fitting neoprene construction where as pads such as the Poc VPD Air Legs and Endura Singletrack Lite use Lycra. All of these are reasonably comfortable on long trail rides but vary slightly in terms of breathability and fit and in the case of the Poc pad, the price.
To reduce weight and bulk, but still retain as much protection as possible, several manufacturers are using smart materials like D3O for the knee cap. These are soft and flexible when inert but go hard when they encounter an impact. These high-tech materials are effective but they do cost more than standard PU foam and in the case of the Troy Lee Designs knee sleeve do increase the price of the knee pad considerably.
The Bliss ARG Minimalist also use a smart foam but overall it feels more substantial, maybe due to the slight increase in weight but we suspect also because it really moulds to the shape of your knee. The fit is easily the best here and it’s also one of the most breathable. The Bliss ARG Minimalist doesn’t quite have the locked down feel you get with knee pads that strap in place or feature a more solid plastic protector, but it’s the best fitting lightweight knee pad here and easily deserves top marks.
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: need to know
Regardless whether you like flying down steep, technical trails or you are a rider that takes a more sedate pace, some form of knee protection while riding is a good idea. Even the best riders or the most careful make mistakes and, while most accidents don’t always 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 and not just for you, your mates won’t want a trip to casualty either.
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 pretty hot and uncomfortable. For trail riding, we’d go for a lighter weight design. Most still have a reinforced pad to shrug off gravel rash and small impacts but they’re more comfortable to and don’t get as clammy when you turn up the heat.
There are over 30 manufacturers producing lightweight knee pads for the trail rider, all with different features and benefits. We’ve whittled this down to the 12 best, with one hobbling away with top honours.
How we test
Comfort is a key consideration when wearing a lightweight knee pad 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.
All the sample pads are medium size and the weight listed in the specification is for a pair.
Mountain bike knee pads: what to look for
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.