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On the hunt for some new mountain bike knee pads? We bought 18 of the most compelling pads on the market to test and compare side by side. There are loads of options on the market, and finding the right knee pads can be a challenge. Whether you're looking for a light-duty, pedal-friendly pair for trail riding or something burly for gravity riding, we've tried them all. We pored over the details and features of each model before testing them for countless hours out on the trails. From everyday trail rides to days at the bike park, we put each model through its paces in a broad range of weather conditions and riding styles before rating them across several important performance metrics. Read on to find the best mountain bike knee pads for your riding style and budget.
There are many disciplines within mountain biking. Whether you live for long, rowdy downhills or logging heavy miles in the alpine, you want the best and most sensible protection for your next mountain bike ride. Our crew of mountain bike fanatics have ridden and reviewed the best bike gear available, from knee pads to gloves. We also have in-depth reviews covering the best helmets available, both half-shell bike helmets and full-face helmet models for downhill riding.
Editor's Note: This review was updated on November 7, 2022, with the addition of the Rapha Trail Knee Pads, Sweet Protection Knee Guards, Endura MT500 Hard Shell Knee Pads, and the POC Oseus VPD.
Weight (per pair): 445 grams | Safety Certifications: CE EN 1621-1
REASONS TO BUY
Unrivaled comfort levels
Substantial, confidence-inspiring protection
REASONS TO AVOID
Not the best choice for long rides
The Fox Racing Launch D3O pads quickly rose to the top of our field of mountain bike knee pads. This model has an extremely well-executed, quality design. The fit is near-perfect, and the comfort level is very high. They use pliable D3O padding that is comfortable and soft under normal use but hardens upon impact. These pads trend towards the more protective end of the spectrum and are an excellent choice for riders who value real protection riding aggressive terrain or crash somewhat regularly. All of this protection is met with respectable pedaling abilities. They are not the best choice for huge pedal-heavy rides, but they work great for the average 1-2.5 hour outing. These high-quality pads are ideal for trail, all-mountain, and enduro riders who want serious knee protection without sacrificing comfort.
Still, these pads aren't quite perfect. The Launch D3O are heavy and on the bulkier side of the spectrum. As a result, they can get a little toasty on warmer days. Riders in hot climates may want to look towards pads with better airflow. And, given the relative bulk, they simply can't offer the same pedal-friendliness as some of the lighter-duty options in this review. Regardless, the Launch D30 is one of our favorite knee pads for their excellent combination of protection and comfort.
Dakine updated the Slayer since our test cycle ended. The new version features Cordura on the outer for additional abrasion resistance.
The Dakine Slayer knee pads are a quality option at a reasonable price. These pads have well-rounded on-trail performance that beautifully balances pedal-friendliness and protection. Best of all, the fit is excellent — snug without being too tight. On top of that, they sell for less than half the price of some of the more expensive options in this review. Well-rounded performance at an attractive price? Sign us up.
We love most elements of these knee pads. One area that could use some improvement is the level of ventilation. For a mid-duty knee pad, they are a little clammy. The sleeve is tightly knit with a relatively thick material that doesn't let much heat escape. The all-fabric construction may also be prone to ripping or tearing more easily in the event of a crash compared to pads armored with plastic or rubber.
Weight (per pair): 256 grams | Safety Certifications: CE EN 1621-1
REASONS TO BUY
Smart and substantial protection
Great balance of protection and pedal-friendliness
REASONS TO AVOID
The upper sleeve could be longer
A bit warm
The Leatt Airflex Pro offers a brilliant combination of protection and pedal-friendliness, giving you a knee pad that is comfortable in a lot of situations. They have enough armor to be worn at a bike park or ripping shuttle laps, but they can just as easily embark on a 30-mile trail ride. The protection is strategically placed and has a pliable main armor patch made out of 3D-molded silicone. Auxiliary foam padding is situated on both sides of the knee and in the center above the knee cap. They are also impressively comfortable, stay in place well, and don't chafe or irritate the skin over the course of a long ride. Additionally, they are on the lighter side of the spectrum and reasonably priced.
As we noted above, we love the versatility of these knee pads. That said, some people might point out that a set of knee pads that can do everything doesn't stand out as extremely impressive in any one area. These pads can't match the protection of some of the beefiest options, and they also don't pedal quite as well as some of the lighter, thinner options. Also, they don't breathe particularly well, which could be important for riders in warmer climates. Beyond that, we feel the Airflex Pro provides a stellar combination of protection, comfort, and pedal-friendliness.
Weight (per pair): 420 grams | Safety Certifications: CE EN 1621/1
REASONS TO BUY
High-quality materials and craftsmanship
Superb amounts of protection
REASONS TO AVOID
Not very pedal-friendly
If you are seeking maximum protection, the 7iDP Project Knee are the mountain bike knee pads for you. They have the most robust padding in our test, and the long, heavy-duty sleeve provides additional leg coverage and protection. The impressive quality of the construction really stood out to us. These pads use tougher and thicker materials than the other pads in our test, giving them a robust built to last feel. We do not doubt that these pads can take a beating and are an excellent option for hard-chargers, shuttle monkeys, and even some bike park rats. Considering all the protection they offer, we also found them to be surprisingly comfortable with a great fit.
While we love the Project Knee pads, they have a somewhat limited bandwidth. They are not a very pedal-friendly option; there is a lot of bulk, and the materials are so thick that they are quite warm. It seems that climbing and ventilation were not a priority in the design process; getting radical was. These pads are also quite expensive, but we feel the quality, performance (within the intended application), and durability are impressive enough to warrant the cost for the right rider.
Weight (per pair): 222 grams | Safety Certifications: Not specified
REASONS TO BUY
Breathable and cool
REASONS TO AVOID
The short sleeve length can cause the dreaded "pad gap"
The Sweet Protection Knee Guards are minimalist, light-duty knee pads that top the charts for their pedal-friendliness. These lightweight knee guards beautifully conform to your kneecap throughout the pedal stroke and do not restrict the motion in any way. The short overall sleeve length and small armor patch make it easy to forget you are wearing knee pads when cranking uphill. The soft SAS TEC armor plate is comfortable and the sleeve material is pleasant against the skin. If you're searching for some lightweight knee pads that virtually disappear until you needs them, these are our top recommendation.
The reason these pads can deliver such a pleasant pedaling experience is the thin and minimal padding. Therefore, they only offer a light level of protection compared to burlier options. We have slight concerns about the fabric on the front of the pads as it seems like it could potentially rip if dragged across the trail at speed. Due to the fairly short length of the sleeve, there is a real chance for a pad gap between the bottom of your shorts and the top of the knee pads. Still, these are the pads we reach for long days in the saddle where just a little knee protection is all we need.
Weight (per pair): 372 grams | Safety Certifications: Level 3, type B
REASONS TO BUY
Moderate level of protection for everyday trail riding
Quality materials and construction
REASONS TO AVOID
Long sleeve is not ideal for hot climates
A little expensive
If comfort is a top priority, the Rapha Trail Knee Pads are a tremendous choice. These pads are incredibly comfortable thanks to an excellent fit and quality materials. The RHEON Lab armor patch is fairly large and provides excellent mid-duty protection, and it conforms nicely to the kneecap and remains comfortable hours into a ride. The consistent fit is secure and these pads stay in place whether you're grinding up a long climb or charging back downhill. We feel these are a great pedal-friendly option for riders who seek a little more protection than the more minimalist pads provide.
While Trail Knee Pads do breathe well enough, the overall length of the sleeve is quite long. On warm or hot rides, these pads can feel quite toasty. A set of pads that don't cover so much of your leg will inherently allow for better airflow. They are also on the more expensive end of the spectrum, though we feel that the price is justified by the impressive blend of comfort and quality.
Weight (per pair): 363 grams | Safety Certifications: EN 1621-1
REASONS TO BUY
Just enough protection for most trail and all-mountain riding
REASONS TO AVOID
Not burly enough for super-aggressive riders on rough trails
Sleeve could be subject to tearing after a few crashes
The Leatt Airflex Hybrid earned high honors for an excellent combination of moderate protection, comfort, and pedal-friendliness. A huge number of riders have no desire to push the limits of speed or to ride gnarly trails. For every enduro bro trying to KOM a rowdy downhill, there are five casual riders who just want to get out on the trails and have a fun rip. That's where the Leatt Airlex Hybrid pads come in. They offer enough protection to feel like they are substantial without being overly bulky and annoying to wear. They are low-profile, comfortable, and offer adequate protection for most trail and all-mountain riding. The fit is fantastic, and they are quite pleasant while pedaling. They are more protective than the super minimalist models while being on the slender side of the mid-duty pads.
While we think these are a great option for trail and all-mountain riders, they don't offer the level of protection that we feel is necessary for full-on gravity riding. If you ride lifts with your downhill bike and really like to push the envelope of speed and aggression, these probably are not the pads for you. Another concern we did have about Airflex Hybrid is the longevity of the knit fabric that comprises the sleeve. That said, if you're looking for a sensible set of knee pads for everyday riding, we feel these are a great option.
Our lead mountain bike knee pad tester is Pat Donahue. This Central Washington resident is an industry veteran and is closing in on two decades of mountain biking experience in a variety of disciplines. Pat was formerly the Senior Mountain Bike Review Editor for OutdoorGearLab. He has a particularly strong appetite for rough and steep trails making him the perfect candidate to test knee pads. Also, he has plenty of experience crashing on those rough and steep trails, which only makes him a better fit for the job. Pat was assisted by our current Senior Mountain Bike Review Editor, Jeremy Benson, for the testing of the pads in this review. Benson has been riding mountain bikes for nearly three decades and has taken his fair share of crashes in that time. He has an extensive collection of scars, and these days he chooses to protect his knees with quality knee pads. As a lover of long rides, Benson prioritizes pedal-friendliness, breathability, and comfort in the pads he chooses.
Our testers are addicted to mountain biking, and finding the best gear for the job is one of our top priorities. As a result, we are constantly on the lookout for the best new mountain bike knee pads. Our test class includes a wide range of models and manufacturers. Our selection includes big, burly knee pads designed to send it and go fast as well as super light, minimalist models that prioritize pedal friendliness. We rated our tested pads on five metrics: protection, fit and comfort, pedal-friendliness, ventilation and breathability, and durability. The combined scores from our ratings helps us determine our award winners and top recommendations.
Analysis and Test Results
Our testers spent several weeks riding in these knee pads over all sorts of terrain. We carefully analyzed each pad as it relates to our scoring metrics to help you find the best option for your riding style and budget. Read on to learn which models performed best in each of our targeted metrics.
We don't judge products based on their price, but we are always in search of the best value. Sometimes a high price correlates to higher quality and performance. A prime example is the POC Joint VPD System pads. They are the most expensive pads in our test, but also delivered high comfort levels. The Fox Racing Launch D3O lands in the middle of the pack in terms of price and offer excellent performance — making them a particularly strong value. The Leatt Airflex Pro is the most well-rounded model in our review and they are competitively priced. Finally, the Dakine Slayer blends an appealing price tag with a solid all-around performance, just what we love to see.
Mountain bikers wear knee pads to protect themselves in the somewhat inevitable event of a crash. New riders and those pushing their limits in aggressive terrain are typically more likely to crash and may benefit from more protective knee pads. Experienced trail riders and those who don't crash often may prefer something more minimal like a mid or light-duty model. Obviously, protection is a critical metric when evaluating knee pads. Protection levels are worth 30% of our overall scores.
We did not attempt to intentionally crash to test the protective properties of our test knee pads. Instead, we spent an unreasonable amount of time wearing each pair and painstakingly evaluating the quality, thickness, and placement of the armor. Some pads use armor that is loaded with technical features and design; others take a more straightforward approach.
The 7iDP Project Knee is a top performer in this metric. If you are seeking a knee pad that prioritizes protection above all else, these pads are for you. They feature a long sleeve built from a tightly knit and durable fabric. There is a main armor patch on top of the knee cap that is thick and substantial while also being quite flexible. On the exterior of the knee pad, there is a harder plastic patch that adds a layer of protection and allows the pad to slide over surfaces in the event of a crash. The Project Knee also offers some secondary protection that runs around the perimeter of the main armor patch, a great feature for all of those times where you don't crash directly on the front of your knee. Given all of this protection and burly construction, these pads don't breathe very well and aren't nearly as pedal-friendly as lighter weight and less protective options, but they sure will help preserve your precious knees.
The 100% Surpass is another highly protective knee pad. They have a hard-plastic armor plate that is a decent size with auxiliary padding placed around this area and around the inside and outside of the knee. In addition, there is foam padding above the knee cap to protect against your knees being smashed into the handlebars. The majority of the armor is coated with either plastic or rubber to help the pads survive crashes without major rips or tears.
The second tier of protection is occupied by a couple of high-end knee pads. The Troy Lee Designs Raid Knee Guard offer very impressive levels of protection in a bit of a sleeker package. The padding is soft and extremely comfortable but hardens upon impact. Auxiliary padding runs down the inside and outside of the main armor patch to protect these vulnerable areas. The Raid pads have a bit less padded surface area compared to the most protective options in this review but are still plenty beefy for bike park days or burly shuttle laps. The Fox Racing Launch D3O are very similar but offer just a touch less protective padding in the knee cap. The IXS Carve Evo+ and Endura MT500 Hard Shell Knee Pads both deserve an honorable mention here. They both offer similar levels of protection as the Fox Racing Launch D3O and Troy Lee Designs Raid.
The Leatt Airflex Pro also posts an excellent score in terms of protection. For how versatile they are, the protection levels are quite impressive. That is a very high compliment. The POC Oseus VPD Knee is worth noting as a great aggressive-trail riding knee pad. They feel a bit more bulky and restrictive compared to the Leatt Airflex Pro, but the protection levels are very solid.
The Dakine Slayer offers a reasonable amount of protection as well. They have enough padding to work well for the average trail rider but definitely don't have the chops for gravity riding. The ultra-comfortable Rapha Trail Knee Pads offer similar levels of sensible, all-day protection that should work very well for a huge percentage of trail riders
If the idea of sleek and pedal-friendly knee pads is appealing to you, the Leatt Airflex Hybrid delivers more protection than the ultra-light options. The Airflex Hybrid delivers a bit of enhanced protection while remaining sleek, low-profile, and reasonably light. Light and minimal pads like the Sweet Protection Knee Guards or the Fox Racing Enduro Knee Sleeve simply can't stand up in this category. These pads are designed to maximize pedal-friendliness and comfort with just a little protection for minor crashes.
Fit and Comfort
Every mountain biker wants a comfortable knee pad that fits them well. A well-designed fit and a high comfort level are both critical when searching for the perfect pad. Some pads may have nice protective features, but if they can't deliver a quality fit and pleasant feel, you won't want to wear them. Determining our scores for this metric was quite simple. We just wore these pads often and for long periods. We rode as much as we could in each set, but we also wore them while writing and editing this review, while cooking dinner, and while walking the dog. All of this to root out any quirks that may rear their ugly heads.
We had a few standout performers in terms of fit and comfort. The Fox Racing Launch D3O pads deliver a dialed, plush, and precise fit. The knee sleeve is perfectly articulated and feels very natural. The D3O padding is exceptionally plush and is strikingly pleasant against the knee throughout the pedal stroke considering how protective they are. The fit is precise and consistent, and there is no excess material or unnatural pressure points. We feel they are nearly perfect.
The Rapha Trail Knee Pads are one of the most comfortable models we've ever tested as a result of their consistent and perfectly dialed fit. The quality of the materials is apparent and they are comfortable against the leg even when soaked in sweat. The RHEON Lab armor patch is pliable and comfortable against the kneecap. Whether you are climbing or descending, these pads don't shift around in the least and remain comfortable.
The POC Joint VPD System are another top performer in this metric. These pads make their money off of a plush fit. If you want your knee pads to feel pillowy and soft at all times, these are a great option. The all-fabric construction avoids any plastic or rubber that could irritate the skin. The comfort level and dialed fit are met with a slightly shorter overall sleeve length.
The Leatt Airflex Hybrid has a fit that we would describe as extremely precise. Yes, the materials are exceptionally comfortable against the leg, but the precision of the fit is excellent. Despite the length of the sleeve, the design is well-executed, and there are no pinch points or deviations in snugness.
The Dakine Slayer has a tremendous fit as well. The sleeve conforms nicely to the leg, and there is no excess material whatsoever. These pads are nice and snug without ever feeling too tight.
The Fox Racing Enduro Knee Sleeve is another exceptionally comfortable pad. Just keep in mind that these minimalist pads offer very, very little protection. As a result, there is no clumsy armor interfering with comfort levels, but you put yourself at more risk. The soft and simple armor patch feels great against the knee, while the simple sleeve conforms well to the leg and doesn't move around when pedaling. The Enduro is the second lightest set of pads in our test, coming in at 99 grams per leg and 198 grams for the pair.
The Leatt Airflex Pro delivers a quality fit and solid comfort levels despite having more protective bulk compared to a model like the Enduro Knee Sleeve. These pads are clearly well-designed and well-executed. The pads stay in place, and they are pleasant on small-to-mid-sized rides. The 7iDP Project Knee is another option with a well-sorted fit. Given the obvious heft of these beefy, award-winning pads, they are toasty. That said, they are impressively comfortable considering the level of protection they offer.
Pedal-friendliness is another critical metric. A knee pad can have all of the protection in the world, but if they are not pedal-friendly, they may be relatively useless for some riders. Of course, this metric is all relative, and making an educated purchase decision hinges on the most sensible combination of protection and pedal-friendliness that suits your riding style.
To determine the scores for pedal-friendliness, we simply pedaled — a lot. We wore all of these pads on multiple long climbs, short sprints, and casual meanders. While it is immediately apparent which knee pads are the most pedal-friendly, it is essential to put in the time on longer rides to see if any subtleties emerge or they begin to irritate you a couple of hours in.
It shouldn't come as a huge surprise that some of the very simple, sleek, and lightweight knee pads scored very well in this metric. The Sweet Protection Knee Guards were our favorite for rides with loads of climbing. The Fox Racing Enduro Knee Sleeve and the Troy Lee Designs Speed Knee Sleeve also posted high scores in terms of pedal-friendliness. All three of these minimalist options are about as close as you can get to feeling like you are not wearing knee pads at all. The pedal motion while wearing these pads is significantly better than any other pads in our test.
The Sweet Protection pads stood out as just a bit more impressive compared to the Fox and Troy Lee Designs because the SAS TEC armor plate felt a bit more dialed. The armor is more ergonomic and conformed to the kneecap a bit more consistently. Even at the top of the pedal stroke, the armor found in the Sweet Protection was the most pliable.
While the aforementioned minimalist options offer high levels of pedal-friendliness, they aren't very protective. The Leatt Airflex Hybrid also provides a high level of pedal-friendliness while delivering a bit more protection. These knee pads strike a nice balance of real protection while still prioritizing an unrestricted pedal stroke. If you like the sound of the ultra-minimalist knee pads but think you need a bit more protection, these pads are an excellent choice.
The Rapha Trail Knee Pads and POC Joint VPD System Knee are both reasonably pedal-friendly pads with mid-duty protection. These pads are plenty protective for the majority of riders without feeling excessively bulky.
The Leatt Airflex Pro pads deliver the absolute best blend of pedal-friendliness and protection. They can't match the breezy pedaling feel of the flimsy, lightweight pads, but they deliver far more protection. That said, they probably wouldn't be our first choice for an all-day backcountry epic, though they could certainly pull it off.
Ventilation and Breathability
Riding in the summer can be a toasty endeavor, with Southwest or Southern California riders seeing temperatures well into the triple digits. Riders on the East Coast will see warm temperatures with suffocating humidity. Nobody wants to wear hot and clammy knee pads while suffering through a mid-summer ride.
It shouldn't come as a surprise that the lightest and simplest pads also deliver the best ventilation. This is quite logical: less material = cooler knee pads. The Sweet Protection Knee Guards, Troy Lee Designs Speed Knee Sleeve, Fox Racing Enduro Knee Sleeve, and Alpinestars Paragon Plus deliver the best ventilation and airflow. The absence of any hard or semi-hard plastic works in their favor in this regard. When you are charging down a trail at speed, you can feel a bit of air penetrate the armor and pass through to the knee as it only needs to pass through a thin, soft piece of foam. These pads still aren't exactly cool, but they do offer the best airflow.
The Leatt Airflex Hybrid are next in line. These pads certainly have a long sleeve and more robust armor compared to the ultra-light minimalist options. That said, they are still relatively slender pads and promote solid airflow. The 7iDP Sam Hill are even more protective while still retaining above-average ventilation. The Sam Hill Pads use a very thin sleeve material that allows air to pass through and moisture to escape. The sleeve is very long, but the material is exceptionally cool and comfortable. The Rapha Trail Knee Pads also feature a long sleeve design. While this long sleeve is detrimental to airflow, the high-quality four-way stretch material is extremely pleasant on the leg, even when soaked in sweat.
The Leatt Airflex Pro and Fox Racing Launch D3O also fare decently here. While both are warmer and less ventilated than a featherweight, minimalist option, they deliver a good balance of protection, ventilation, pedal-friendliness, durability, and fit/comfort. The Airflex has a MoistureCool panel of light mesh in the rear of the pad that allows heat to escape, and both have cutouts on the back of the knee.
While mountain bike knee pads are a significantly smaller purchase compared to a bicycle or a wheelset, they still require you to drop some of your hard-earned cash. Nobody wants to spend money on a pair of knee pads that will be torn to shreds after one crash or start to have threads unravel within a month or two of ownership. Durability is only worth 10% of our final score, yet we feel it is an important metric worth considering.
We didn't crash in every single pair of knee pads. As a result, we can't objectively and accurately discuss how each set of pads react in the event of a crash. We can, however, carefully evaluate the construction and layout of each model based on decades of riding and crashing experience and comment on our perception of how they will survive the rigors of mountain biking.
The 100% Surpass is a clear standout in this metric. If you think you may be hitting the deck here and there, these pads will have the longest lifespan. The reason is, the majority of the padding is armored with plastic or rubber material. This helps them resist ripping to shreds if you crash and slide across the earth. Pads with all-fabric construction will get shredded far more easily.
Construction quality is a crucial consideration with regard to durability. The 7iDP Project Knee pads are built to last. They use a burly, knit construction with a heavy-duty material that will resist cutting and tearing far better than most any other pad in our test. Again, the hard, plastic armor plate on the knee cap allows these pads to survive crashes more effectively than pads with fabric-covered knee pads.
The Endura MT500 Hard Shell Knee Pads are ready to rumble. The thick and meaty construction is met with a hard plastic shell at the kneecap. The hard-shell construction will help these pads withstand the forces of being dragged across the trail at speed.
The IXS Carve Evo+ are rugged. They don't have a hard plastic outer armor plate, but the materials are thick, burly, and mean. From the minute we strapped these bad boys on, they were ready for the gnar. The combination of generous amounts of armor with thick and reinforced regions made these pads stand out.
The Leatt Airflex Pro also features a quality design. The rubberized knee armor should withstand some abuse while the stitching and seams are relatively well-hidden and burly-looking. The Surpass and Project Knee are by far the best choices for a pad that will survive hard-charging for seasons on end, but the Airflex Pro is right up there too.
The Fox Racing Launch D3O and Troy Lee Designs Raid Knee Guard are excellent and protective knee pads as well. That said, they both have a fabric exterior that could be more prone to ripping in the event of a crash compared to hard-shell designs. If you might be crashing frequently, it could be worth considering a knee pad with a harder exterior.
Navigating mountains of jargon and technical materials found on mountain bike knee pads can be overwhelming. There are a mind-bending amount of options on the market. Between the similar marketing copy and aesthetics, all of these pads can start to blend together in the mind of the average consumer. That said, there really are enormous differences between all of the knee pads in our review. The best advice we can offer is to be very honest about your needs and find a pair that best suits your terrain, riding style, and penchant for crashing.
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