As mountain bikes have evolved, so has riding. The majority of riders are not only going faster, but also pushing their limits farther and, unfortunately with these evolutions, crashing harder. Not too worry, though, there's a multitude of very good knee pads for every type of MTB riding available. Let us help you choose the best knee pads for your style of riding.
Fit and retention
Gone are the days of bulky, heavy, uncomfortable knee protection. Just like everything else, knee pads have evolved into a variety of shapes, sizes and levels of body shielding.
Lighter weight versions with less protection are almost always slip on, meaning you slide them over your feet and they don't have any straps. Medium and heavier duty knee pads often incorporate straps at the top (and sometimes at the bottom) to make sure the pads stay in place.
The actual protection comes in a number of different forms. Lighter duty pads use flexible padding that stiffens upon impact, while heavier duty pads utilize a dedicated knee cup that tends to be thicker and should do a better job of saving your knees when things go pear shaped.
Some of the more gravity focused knee pads use a hard shell that provides more safety, but compromises on fit, pedaling and breathability.
Also, like most things in life, there's an unwritten code of style. It's generally more acceptable to wear lighter knee pads than being that person with full-on, heavy-duty downhill pads on a XC race bike.
While far from a comprehensive list, here are five knee pads broken down by the type of rider and bike typically used.
Troy Lee Designs Raid
Best for: Hard chargers who earn their turns and need more leg protection
Blurring the line between trail friendly and enduro-ready are Troy Lee Designs' Raid knee pads.
Despite being the biggest and burliest of the group, they still manage to pedal exceptionally well. The fit is held snug with a rubber gripper and a Velcro strap up top.
The knee cups are the least form fitting, but nothing that makes you look deformed. They do provide the most coverage, with the D30 padding extending a bit above, below and around the knee and upper shin. If your daily driver is a slacked out 160mm smasher, yet you still haul your carcass up hills just to get zesty on the downs, these are a very solid option.
Best for: All-mountain riders on a budget
As protection increases, so do knee pads' structures. The biggest difference is the introduction of a dedicated knee cup.
Alpinestars' Paragon knee pads take care of business with thick polyurethane knee cups shaped to fit the knee. The cups are perforated to prevent overheating.
The rear of the pads are mesh so they're thin, airy, and make pedaling a bearable task. Riders with 120mm-140mm full-squish bikes take notice.
Sweet Protection Bear Light
Best for: Riders who need knee cap protection and want a shorter length
Riding into the middle zone of protection are Sweet Protection's Bear Light knee pads.
These pads feature pronounced visco elastic knee cups that should dissipate most strikes to the patella. What they're not dissipating is heat as the cups aren't perforated in any way.
Outside of the padding, the rest of the pads are well thought out with thin, slick material behind the knees, and thicker material on the sides.
They're noticeably shorter than the other pads here, but do have rubber grippers at the top and bottom plus a Velcro strap to seriously lock them in place. Another note is that while I have Mediums on test, they're the most snug of this bunch.
Best for: Cross country riders looking for a bit of protection
G-Form's Pro-X knee pads are the lightest of the group, and the most cross country friendly.
They're thin, pedal with ease, are easy to carry in a pack, and still offer decent protection thanks to the flexible, impact-absorbing RPT pads.
If you're a recovering Lycra addict and still believe hardtails rule the roost, these are a gentle entry into keeping your knees scar free.
Troy Lee Designs Speed Knee Sleeves
Best for: Riders who are learning to enjoy the downs as much as the ups
Moving up in weight and protection, Troy Lee Designs' Speed Knee Sleeves fit the bill. While a bit heavier than the G-Forms above, especially in the material behind the knee, they still pedal well.
The protection comes from 4mm-thick D30 padding that firms up upon impact, which fends off hits and scrapes. They're definitely warmer than the G-Form pads, but the protection is a bit better especially for abrasions.
They're XC friendly, yet not outclassed on most fast trail rides with a 120mm travel rig.