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.
Kneepads have quickly become an essential part of our riding clobber, as ubiquitous as the helmet you’ll be hard pushed to see a ride with their knobbly knees on display. That’s because the technology behind kneeguards has come on in leaps and bounds, gone is the sweaty, heavy and chaffing stuff of just a few years back, replaced instead by materials that seem to defy science, blending great protection with true comfort. Honestly, in 2021 there really is no need to avoid wearing a good set of knee guards.
They do have to be good though, and that’s what this guide is all about – hooking you up with the best kneepads and dodging the rotters. With so many out there this guide is somewhat self selecting, we’ve tested dozens but picked only those that score well. The best on test is the 100% Surpass Knee Guard. It’s a heavy duty option and offers CE Level 2 protection rather than the usual Level 1, but it’s so well designed and easy to pedal in we can recommend it for everything from trail riding to enduro racing. At the other end of the spectrum is the 7idp Sam Hill Lite Knee pad, it’s got the bare minimum protection so reserved for cruisy days or XC epics, but it feels like you’ve got nothing on. In a good way.
Best mountain bike knee pads
- 7iDP Sam Hill
- Hebo Defender
- Bluegrass Skinny
- Bliss ARG Minimalist
- Alpinestars Paragon
‘View Deal’ links
You will notice that beneath each of the best mountain bike knee pads product summary is a ‘View Deal’ link. If you click on one of these links then mbr may receive a small amount of money from the retailer should you go to purchase the product from them. Don’t worry, this does not affect the amount you pay.
7iDP Sam Hill knee pad
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. Possible to self-tune with removable inserts.
Con: 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.
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. More of padded knee warmer than full-on protection.
Con: 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.
Bluegrass Skinny knee pads
Its minimalist design is an advantage
Price: £49.00 | Weight: 237g | Sizes: S to XL
Pro: Light and minimalist
Con: 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.
Sweet Protection Knee Guards
Not cheap but easily one of the most comfortable
Price: £58.99 | Weight: 226g | Sizes: XS-XL
Pro: Good fit and flexibility
Con: Sas-Tec 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.
Bliss Protection ARG Minimalist knee pads
Not cheap but easily one of the most comfortable
Pro: Armourgel flexibility is super comfy
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 knee pad
Packed with features, comfortable and great value
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 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.
100% Surpass Knee Guard
Superb pad, if a little pricey
Pro: Our current favourite pad of choice
Con: Money money money
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.
What to look for in best mountain bike knee pads
It’s best to think about kneepads 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 kneepads 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, pedalling 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 pedalling 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.
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 xx, 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 kneepads, and second so they actually fit your longer limbs.